Rule #1: Ask For Permission
If you live in a condominium or a town home, be sure you receive approval from your co-op board or HOA, (or if you rent, your landlord) before planting or modifying your balcony or patio space in any way. Most have very specific rules in place regarding gardening and landscaping - for example weight loads for balconies, and what type of alterations, if any, can be made to exterior walls.
Build Beds Out of Boxes
A small corner on a balcony can usually accommodate several 2 x 2 foot wooden boxes (6-inches deep) for growing vegetables and flowers. Fill them with a light weight potting soil and make an attractive display by stacking them at different heights using concrete blocks. For climbing plants, attach a vertical frame to the side of the boxes and tack on some netting.
Capitalize On the Sun
Vegetables require plenty of sunlight - at least 6 hours or more a day. What you can grow depends on how your outdoor space is orientated to the sun. Crops like tomatoes, peppers, and beans will be happiest in a warm, light-filled exposure to the south or west. Lettuce and root vegetables need less sun and can be grown in northern and eastern exposures, where sunlight is more limited. To maximize the amount of sun your plants receive, try using mirrors, light colored paint, and shiny accessories in the space to help capture and reflect the light.
Compost in Your Kitchen
Kitchen compost pails are the perfect way to recycle food scraps in apartments, small homes, and condominiums, because they allow you to produce compost directly in an airtight pail, which eliminates the odors. Larger systems could be placed on a rooftop, or - if the law allows - on a fire escape for shared use by several neighbors. For the more adventurous types, a shallow 2 x 2 foot box located in a broom closet is adequate space for vermicomposting (composting with worms). Worm boxes placed outdoors in colder climates need to be well insulated.
Consider Your Neighbors
Be sure to consider your neighbors (and their pets) when planning your garden space. More than likely your garden will be considered a welcome addition, providing that your plants don't block any scenic views and your container garden doesn't "rain" down on your neighbor's balcony every time you water your plants.
Get Creative with Containers
The latest trend in gardening is to mix flowers and vegetable crops within the same container. This is great news for gardeners with limited space, and easy to do as long as you choose plants that have similar overall growing requirements (e.g. both need full sun). When designing containers, the traditional concept of thriller (a "look-at-me" plant), fillers (middle level plants that fill in the gaps), and spillers (the trailing elements) still applies. Look for dwarf varieties of vegetables that are specially bred to grow in containers.
Plant for Pollution Tolerance
Trees and plants growing near busy city streets need to be able to endure constant exposure to soot, salt, car exhaust, and other toxins. They must also be able to withstand heat from the pavement, drought-like conditions, and tolerate growing in acidic soils. Tree species like oak, ash, elm, ginkgo, linden, and gray birch, are considered more "pollution-tolerant". For flowers, native species are usually more adaptable to sparse conditions. If you want to plant roses, choose some of the heartier Rugosa varieties. Keep the foliage of your trees and plants clean and healthy by occasionally spraying them with water or wiping their leaves clean with a damp sponge.
Plant Fruit Trees in Pots
A few well-placed dwarf varieties of apple, plum, pear, and cherry trees can make an attractive backdrop while giving you a delicious harvest. These small, attractive trees reach a height of 5 to 7 feet and bear fruit quickly. Figs, citrus, and soft fruits like strawberries and blueberries also do well in containers. Check the pollination requirements of each fruit. You may need more than one variety unless the tree is self-fertilizing. Make sure you use planters with wheels to make moving and rotating heavy pots easier.
Utilize Railings and Window Boxes
If your railings wide and flat, simply set a railing box on top of it and bolt it securely into place. Holders are also available for hanging standard size boxes on metal railings. Hang them on the outside of your railings to save balcony space. Hang them on the inside if you're worried about things falling to the ground. Use window boxes to grow dwarf vegetables like tomatoes or peppers and your favorite herbs. Some easy-care choices are sage, chives, thyme, oregano, and basil. If you're above the first floor, be sure to put a drip tray or saucer underneath your pots and planters to prevent any excess water from dripping down below.
Join a Community Garden
Few things are more rewarding than access to a steady supply of delicious fresh vegetables that you have grown yourself. No space of your own? Then consider joining a community garden. It's not as hard as you think and offers you opportunities to meet like-minded people that share similar interests. To find a community garden near you, or to find out how to start a community garden in your community, visit the American Community Garden Association http://acga.localharvest.org/
Tip: succulents are very easy to grow, to propagate (just put a leaf in soil!) & they need very little water. In my apt. bldg. I have put pots on the side of the entry staircase with mixed succulents. I was the first to try to revive the old beds on the side of the bldg. We did so well that the management now employs a gardener, (who over prunes,) but
the roses are lovely. (P.S. didn't ask for permission at first, they were just glad that the areas didn't look so ratty!)
I have over half an acre and I am forced to grow in containers due to a highly invasive Bermuda grass. Your article covers some subjects I hadn't considered before. Thank you.
I'd like to offer a couple of tips concerning the use of food scraps for composting. It's a great idea. Don't forget to include coffee grounds! I've read a lot on the subject. It seems that the grounds offer little nutrition to the soil, but they do lighten up the soil and make it so very workable.
When adding food scraps, be sure that you never include any animal products. No meat, bones, grease, eggs, etc. You wouldn't want your flower and vegetable containers invaded with rats, raccoons and flies.
Some corners of the garden seem to be in a state of perpetual darkness. Cast into shade by a nearby building, shed, or even the shadow of your own house, these areas present a unique and difficult gardening challenge.
Vertical Planting Pouches
I haven't heard of these pouches; how do they work? I don't have a green thumb at all, so any help would be appreciated in knowing if these pouches would be lots easier than trying to plant an entire flower bed!!!
HEY, GREAT idea there kiddo. I was just shopping on line for the pouches and now I'm thinkin' I might just make my own.. Thanks for sharing. God Bless, Kathy
I created a garden out of a parking lot using coffee grounds from Starbucks and coffee chaff from Coffee Bean International. This is my window view as I work from home.
St Johns neighborhood, Portland OR.
How beautiful! You took a few square feet that had been overlooked and neglected and made a wonderful space! I'm sure you have made a lot of people smile when seeing this!
Thank you for your kind comment, TeresaKay.
I grew up on a small farm where we raised practically everything we ate. I've always liked to have some fresh produce growing somewhere. We have downsized to our retirement home and try as I might, I haven't been able to find a suitable place to plant very much of a "Victory Garden."
Yesterday as I was cleaning up around outside, I saw my window boxes which I had taken down for the winter. My frugal, farm girl mind kicked in with this idea. Instead of spending money on the annuals I usually fill them with, I'm going to plant vegetable seeds for plants which will thrive in that kind of container. I've already bought radish, lettuce, and chive seeds (three packs for $1.00!). Since I'll be able to bring them inside at night if the temperature drops, I'm going to get those started right away.
I'm also planning to plant some cucumbers in them because they will be pretty, trailing over the sides. Tomato and pepper plants can be tucked into spots between shrubbery in the back yard. I will again plant potatoes in my very large round pots. Last year I cut the eyes off some potatoes that had sprouted in my vegetable bin, planted them in a big pot and had a nice crop from something I would have just put into the garbage disposer. My grandchildren had a virtual treasure hunt digging them out.
I'm so excited about this project and can't wait to get started. I was going to wait to submit this idea after I had the boxes full and growing and could submit a photo, but I wanted it to be published in time for others to do the same if they like the idea. Why pay for and plant those annual ornamental vines when you can plant something fresh and edible?
By Sandy from Elon, NC
You cut a sprouted potato into a few pieces so there are a couple of sprouts per piece, or use single small potatoes.
Let air dry after you've cut them overnight.
I've been growing parsley in a container in my kitchen all winter. Next winter I will keep an indoor garden of greens so that I can have a nice, fresh salad every few weeks. (I have an outside garden about 8' x 3'.
I read someplace a quote from a California lettuce producer who said "I don't care whats in it, on it, or what it tastes like, so long as the right number fit in the box and the box passes the inspector."
If that doesn't convince you to try growing at least your favorite one or two veggies, what would?
No matter how small your garden plot is, intensive gardening will maximize the productivity of your available space. Intensive gardening does this by utilizing season-extending tools and specific planting techniques.
Short on space? Want to grow herbs or salad foods? Then grow food upwards! Yep, this season I have done this using recycled materials and here's how. I used parts of a pallet (wooden slated base which building products are delivered on in the UK) to make a rectangular frame, secured in the corners with screws to provide some strength.
So far, so good, the food is growing and I am thinking about what else I can grow and have come up with trailing tomatoes! Hmmm, wonder what I can grow for winter?
This is our front door moveable garden, in my garden.
By Mary from Lewiston, NY
In my backyard we have a concrete slab that is about a 1/2 inch thick, that was used for a basketball area. Now, I would like to grow a garden on top.
Does anyone know if this is possible? Not sure if it is possible to drill holes for drainage. Could there be layer system like in living roofs that could work? Please help!
Hardiness Zone: 7a
By cacunnin from Washington DC
I have been growing on my driveway for years everything's in pots or containers of some sort.
This year I have started using Homemade Earth boxes made out of storage containers . Just Google how to make Earth boxes.
You could build a raised bed over it and put small drainage in the wood that you use. Just make sure you use treated wood. You wouldn't want to do all that work and it rot! You could google raised beds and get some really good ideas! Hope this helps!
I am a retired Landscape Architect. Several years ago, we designed a garden on top of a concrete parking area. We created railroad tie boxes of different heights and sizes. Cascading plants on the edges of these boxes softened the edges and topped the ties on the ones high enough to sit on with redwood to protect "sitters" from the tie chemicals. The effect after a couple of years was quite nice.
Thank you so much for all of your help!
I'm starting a gardening project with grades Pre-K to 4. We have a very small section of land. I would like ideas. Thank you.
Hardiness Zone: 6a
By easylikesunday from Philadelphia, PA
I think I would construct a teepee made from bamboo poles (or other poles, if you can salvage them) and plant scarlet runner beans at the bases of each. The plants will grow up the poles and the teepee can be a nice resting area for the kids. The beans make pretty flowers, and the dried beans (which are pretty purple and black) could be cooked in the fall (saving some for the next planting). Jack Be Little pumpkins will also grow vertically, and give you many little pumpkins for the classrooms in the fall.
Many crops will grow on structures. This lets you plant other things below. For instance, you can plant leaf lettuce under a hoop of wire fencing that you are growing beans on. The shade from the beans as they grow will keep the sun and heat from causing the lettuce to bolt as quickly.
When you have limited space, think vertical! Borrow a square foot gardening book from the library for more ideas on growing in small spaces!
To tie it to an education/nutritional lesson, I would make sure that what you plant can be eaten raw and preferably off the plant. Cherry toms, peas, lettuces. You could try some small pumpkins which would be ready for the kids in the fall. You could also add in a few herbs. Mints would be good in that it would engage the kids to smell and taste.
It's nice to share the bounty with nature's critters. Growing sunflowers is quite impressive and the seeds can be toasted or shared with the animals.
If you are doing flowers, I'd go with marigolds. They grow well in very sunny locations. When they are finished, take the heads off the stems, let them dry for a week or so then pull them apart to "salvage" the seds for next Spring. In the Spring, et your soil ready, broad cast the seeds over the area, gently tamp the seeds into the soil and water well. When they are about 3 inches high you can thin them out. You will have a ton of seeds, so the kids can take some home with them also.
If you are looking for high-producing crops to use in a small yard, here are some suggestions . . .
When I put my plants in the ground I lay them on their sides and put the dirt all the way up and over the roots and bottom leaves. Pat the dirt down good. It grows more roots and builds up the plant.