My husband and I recently moved to an apartment. I am seeking ideas for inexpensive vegetable patio gardening. There isn't much direct sunlight on our patio.
Hardiness Zone: 8a
Michelle from Dallas, TX
Growing vegetables on your patio certainly doesn't need to be expensive. The lack of sunlight, however, could prove to be a problem. For successful growth, most vegetables will need a minimum of 5 hours of direct sunlight a day. Some will need even more. "Leafy" vegetables (cabbage, lettuce) will tolerate the least amount of light, but vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers and carrots will need more sun. You'll have to experiment to see what grows best. To maximize the light you have, use strategically placed shiny materials and light colored rocks around your containers to reflect light back onto the plants.
The most inexpensive way to start vegetables is from seed. Varieties labeled "patio, bush, or dwarf" are often bred specifically for container gardening. Saving seeds from year to year will cut down on expenses even further, but you'll need to start with heirloom seeds and avoid hybrids if you want offspring true to the parent plants.
Just about anything that can hold a soil can be fashioned into a container: pails, trashcans, dishpans, plastic detergent or cat litter containers (cut down), wooden or wicker baskets, or even old leather or rubber boots. I like containers made from plastic materials, even though they tend to deteriorate over time with repeated sun exposure. They don't dry out as fast a terra cotta, transfer heat or rust like metal, and you can usually recycle them when you're done using them. If you use plastic containers, try not to spend much on them. Crops with shallow roots, like radishes, beets and onions, will grow just fine in old cake pans. Provide cages or trellises for climbers like beans, peas and cucumbers to save space, or plant them in hanging baskets and let their vines trail downward. If you don't have anything suitable on hand, shop around at flea markets, rummage sales or dollar stores. Make sure your containers have adequate drainage holes on the bottom.
In regards to a growing medium, plan on using a very light soil or a soil-less mix-something that will drain rapidly, yet hold nutrients and keep the plant's roots consistently moist. You'll need to water your vegetables daily and feed them frequently with a 1/2 strength liquid fertilizer like fish emulsion.
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Although most vegetables grow best in direct sun, I wouldn't rule anything out until I've tried it. Remember, some varieties will do better than others too. Once you find one that does well, if it's an heirloom, just save the seed for next time. If it's not an heirloom, make a note of that variety, so you'll be able to look for it next season. Mix varities and grow smaller veggies around the taller ones in the same container. Plant a patio tomato plant, some garlic, and some lettuce or radishes with a marigold in the container too. A pot of herbs would be a nice addition to any kitchen. Use old plant pots and large tin cans too. Staggered sizes will look nice and you'll get more food. Adding flowers will give the patio some interest, and remember that some flowers can be eaten. Remember to water the containers daily, they dry out faster than a normal garden will.
The biggest expense will be the containers. Have you thought of using 50 gallon plastic drum containers? Many soda pop manufacturers will sell them to you very inexpensively. They can be cut in half for two containers of a great size. 5-gallon buckets also work well. Check with restaurants and/or fast food places. They often buy pickles and other stuff in them, and will give them to you rather than throw them out. Make sure that you poke holes in the bottom and place stones, used aluminum cans, styrofoam packing peanuts, or something else in the bottom for drainage. If the plastic containers are a strange color, you can paint them with special paint for plastic.
To increase the light around your plants, place mirrors or aluminum foil (or any other reflective surface) behind them. Good luck!
I've grown a few herbs in containers, mainly basil and garlic chives (similar to green onions). The chives are still alive after 3 years but they haven't gotten much bigger. The basil, which is an annual, prefers being in the ground, but in a big enough pot, should do fine. Not getting full sun in Dallas is probably a good thing for most plants! I've read of people planting jalapenos in big pots. If you bring them in over the winter, they can live for years. Here in coastal AL, mine is in it's 3rd growing season, but it's in the ground next to my house. I cover it the few times the temp dips below freezing. Good luck!
I'd HOARD ANY amount of direct sun, but PLANT as close to it as possible: Basil, peppers, Society Garlic,
Correction: Since it's so late, plan on planting in early Spring, not Fall, of course, LOL. Unless you want to try starting lettuces, cabbage, turnips, and radishes, which I understand should survive lighter winters, but this year might be a heavy winter for our zone because of the extreme heat from the Summer. With indirect sun, most things will not grow well, even in this zone/heat. If you have almost no direct sun, it's more possible to grow something, but if you are in the shade all of the time, you might reconsider and just go for the few cactus plants that will winter over, shade loving succulents that are proven to make it here, or see if you can transfer to a better apartment within the complex when closer to lease renewal, with the preferred morning sunlight, for best plant growth.
You just can't beat the early morning sun to brighten up your breakfast, even for great reading the paper before starting the day.
Most plants THRIVE on morning sunlight, unless they are desert varieties, I understand. (I have little morning/Eastern facing planting areas AND it's to my back, so I was stuck with having to wait for shade from trees to grow to combat the sunny South and Western exposures, which love junipers of all sorts from Bonsai and creeping to their cousins, the Cedars.
My largest windows face the shady North, which is perhaps the worst of all worlds for growing plants. I do have a wonderful ficus tree about 8' tall and 3' wide in my West facing entry that has done well for many years, but has special needs and needs a very light touch from my doting hands. It would also learn to grow from the Northern light, if I had patience with the gradual moving of it. I have to almost neglect it for it to grow! lol
I"ve had luck with Peruvian Tree Cactus in the shade, with Sansavera, with Airplane Plant, Prayer plants, Ivies, most hothouse/florist plants. However, I could not grow a single veggie without better exposure. They just need more sun than the North gives, in order to produce anything edible.
Remember that the earth tilts N. on it's axis in the Winter and gives more shade than in the Summer, but I would not want to give you false hope that you will have more sun in the Summer. Check with others who might have lived in your complex longer who have the same facing balcony/patio to see if they had more sun in Summer, or luck with veggie growing. Sound good? God bless you, dear heart. : )
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