April 11, 2015

How your Balcony can Feed You.

AG article photo 1

What to Use and Plant to Maximize a Small Space

I just moved from a huge farm with massive gardens, chickens, goats and even a donkey, to a one bedroom apartment.

I actually love being able to walk to get groceries and run errands, but I will be honest, organic vegetables are shockingly expensive.

I was also getting tired of my boyfriend’s cost complaints of my green juices—and to be fair, he was totally right (just don’t tell him that).

I always thought I needed a yard to grow food, but this summer I’m letting my balcony feed me.

First you have to decide what you are going to garden in, containers or a raised bed. Containers are super easy to find, they are portable, but they can’t fit a whole lot and they will dry out fast. Click here for some container gardening ideas.

A raised bed you will have to build, but it will hold more plants and retain water much better. Most veggies need one foot for their roots, so make sure whatever you use is at least one foot deep.

If you do build a raised bed, just keep in mind that pressure treated wood contains chemicals that will leach out into your soil, which is what your veggies eat and in turn you will eat too. Instead, I used cedar.

How I Built The Bed

1. Measure the area where the bed will go. Our bed is 10x2x1.

2. Since we don’t have a lot of tools, I took my measurements to Home Depot and they cut all the pieces of wood for us,
and even gave us scrap wood that we used in the corners to reinforce the bed.

3. The bottom of our bed is made from cedar fence posts. Since it is not one solid piece, we lined the bed with cardboard, which will allow water to drain out, but keep our soil inside the bed.

AG article photo 2

Now you have to fill them up. Get the best quality soil you can afford. Amp up your soil quality by adding worm castings, mushroom compost, and glacier rock dust (crushed rocks that contain trace minerals and elements that are missing from soils today). By amping up your soil quality your veggies will be stronger, taste sweeter and be even healthier for you.

How I Filled The Bed

1. Calculate how much soil you will need for your custom raised bed. Think back to school (or our friend Google) to calculate volume (Length x Width x Height). This will help you to estimate how much soil to buy.

2. I bought two bales of Sunshine Mix #4, two bags of mushroom compost, two bags of worm castings and one large bag of rock dust.

3. I emptied one bale of soil mix into the bed, and broke it up with my hands so there were no large clumps, this will help the roots of the plants to easily grow through the soil.

4. I emptied one bag of mushroom compost, one bag of worm castings and half the rock dust into the bed, and mixed everything together with my hands.

5. I repeated this process with the remaining soil mix, compost, castings and rock dust to fill my bed.

6. I then watered my dirt garden to make sure the dirt didn’t fly away in the wind, and to see if once it compressed down with water if I needed more soil, which I did not.

You almost have a balcony garden, you just need some plants!

Now of course, you can grow almost anything in containers, but since we are short on space, let’s plant things to get the most bang for your buck. Always look for patio varieties, these beauties are compact and high yielding, and you guessed it, meant to grow in a container or small space.

Top Five Plants For Your Balcony (& Why I Think So)

1. Greens: They are the most nutrient dense food on the plant, you can harvest some leaves and it will keep growing and producing for you all season, and they are expensive to buy.

2. Herbs: They are super easy to grow, create the biggest taste difference in your cooking, you can use them all season and they are very expensive to buy.

3. Tomatoes: There is a huge taste difference between homegrown and store bought, they are big producers and you can eat them in so many different ways.

4. Peas and Beans: The more you pick the more they grow, they are super easy to store and you can use the peas and beans to plant next year.

5. Edible Flowers: They are hard to find anywhere because they do not store very well, they are loaded with antioxidants, you will have the most beautiful salads and they will attract beneficial insects to help pollinate your garden and keep the harmful insects at bay. My favorite are nasturtiums (which taste like pepper), dill and pansies.

Since I knew what I wanted to plant, I made a list and took it to the nursery. I got a variety of greens, different colors, textures, and tastes to mix it up. Plants like swiss chard, kale, arugula, romaine lettuce and collard greens. The peas, beans, nasturtiums, dill and collard greens I got from seed instead, because they grow easily from seed and are much cheaper than buying plant starts.

Pay attention to the weather; right now for me, it is still a little too cold for tomatoes, so I am waiting to get them until it warms up. Make sure you Google your last day of frost, this is when it is safe to plant out most veggies.

I use the Square Foot Gardening spacing, created by Mel Bartholomew, to maximize production in my small space. The idea is to mark off one foot squares and plant one type per square according to spacing guidelines. Check it out here. This is super helpful if you are new to gardening. As you can see in the picture, I did not map it all out.

My garden is going to grow huge, and plants will be super tight, since it is right on my balcony I will be out there everyday. I will be harvesting leaves off plants that are taking over to constantly manage the jungle situation that will certainly take place. If you will not be harvesting and managing your jungle, leave more space than I have.

My balcony may not be a farm with fresh eggs, but it will grow into a beautiful oasis this summer, with more privacy, and I can feel good about making the cement jungle a little greener. Not to mention my boyfriend won’t cringe when I throw a handful of Kale into my juicer.

If you are inspired to pot up some veggies, share this on Facebook or Twitter and we can all cut down our grocery bills, for good.


Author: Amanda Greenthumb

Editor: Emily Bartran

Photos: Author’s Own


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