How to grow vegetables on your apartment balcony

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nyc garden by Carl Tashian

New York City balcony garden, “nyc garden” Photo: Carl Tashian, Flickr CC BY

I started container gardening out of happy necessity: a virulent strain of the gardening bug bit me while I was still living at my parent’s house, where I could build a plot in the yard. But when I moved into a condo, the balcony offered the best square-footage I could get that was close at hand.

If you’ve lived in a condo or apartment, you’re familiar with the traditional barrel planter blossoming with pansies and marigolds. But if you can think outside the barrel, you can start to use containers to grow vegetables in compelling variety.

What you’ll need

First, find a south- or west-facing area that gets plenty of sunshine–six hours or more a day. A southern exposure is best, but I grew tomatoes and other sun-thirsty plants on my westward balcony without an issue.

A word on pots: terra cotta and ceramic are lovely, but on a balcony they might not work well for you. They’re heavy, when what you want is light. Since they’re porous, they’ll dry out fairly rapidly on a balcony with good sun exposure, especially if you’re gardening from an apartment on an upper floor where it’s windy.

Plastic pots minimize the drying-out issue, and there are ways to dress up or disguise them. Wooden planters are also a nice alternative, and you can easily add casters to them to make your garden movable, which is sometimes important for a small space.

On soil: You might already know that you can’t dig dirt from the yard and put it in a pot and expect good growth. Even if you had a lenient landlord who chose to look the other way, your dirt might well turn to cement in a container. A good container soil should be light and fluffy to allow good root growth.

Make your own potting soil

MiracleGro still wants your money, of course, so they make a bagged potting soil you can pick up anywhere from a home improvement store to your local pharmacy. Those precious little bags can get expensive if you’re going to have more than a couple of containers. But there’s another way, and it only requires a little more work.

At your local garden center or general store you can buy the ingredients for a simple, homemade potting soil: peat moss (or coconut fiber) and compost. I bought 3 cubic feet of peat moss for under $10, and with that amount I can start seedlings and mix a potting soil for many containers. Get a 5-gallon bucket, combine the compost and peat in roughly equal amounts, and you’re set. In fact, you might be able to come by some food-grade 5-gallon buckets for very little money from a restaurant, brewery, or other operation. Drill holes in the bottom for drainage and you’ve got yourself a great planter for tomatoes.

Ready to start planting? Here are five easy plants to begin with.

What are you having success with growing on your balcony? Tell us in the comments below.

Kate Oden

Kate Oden is a writing professional from central New Hampshire who is also working to reclaim a half-acre yard from the deer and bears.

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