Imagine this. Dinner time! What to eat? Just step out onto your porch or balcony and see what is ripe. Think you have too small of a space? Think it can’t be done? There are a whole lot of people who have joined in the balcony growing community who would disagree.
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Plan, Plan, Plan
The first step you need to do with this limited space is plan. You need to make use of every square inch that you have. But, you also need to allow room for friends to visit and to harvest your crops as well. Don’t start too big and burn yourself out. Start small and experiment with different crops seeing how they perform in your actual climate. It is still a good idea to have a final plan drawn with your ultimate garden laid out.
Check your restrictions and consider your neighbors
If you are in a home and growing on your porch you should not have as much of an issue regarding this. But, if you are growing on a balcony with neighbors below be sure to consider them as well. The first thing you should do is check with your landlord and make sure there are no restrictions regarding balcony gardening. Also consider your neighbors below and any water runoff you may have.
Pick Your Crops
Not all crops are going to thrive under balcony conditions. Depending on what floor you are on you need to consider the wind level. Small seedlings must be protected in heavy winds. Also, some crops just don’t do well in container gardens. Pick plants that you know you like to start with. Here is a list of some plants that do well in containers. Please keep in mind your sun/ shade conditions as well. Plants like tomatoes will want full sun for at least 6 hours a day. Root crops such as carrots and radishes, as well as lettuce, will tolerate shade. Also, pick varieties that are sized for containers. Remember that if you get plants that will vine you will need to build a trellis or some other type of support.
Once you are ready to plant make sure that you choose a good quality container soil. You want a mix that is light and fluffy and drains well.
Also, make sure that you choose the proper pot. A lot of people will choose to use recycled materials, and I am all for that. Just make sure that the containers are not too heavy. Plastic and fiberglass pots will be lighter than terra cotta pots. The new fabric pots are super light weight. Also, plants in terra cotta will dry out faster. Make sure that you have a large enough container for the roots to grow and be happy.
Make sure that you plant taller crops to the back of your porch as they will throw shade and may prevent shorter plants from growing.
Make sure to plant sun loving crops such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants in a sunny area that gets at least 6 hours of sun per day. Shade loving plants such as green leafy plants, lettuce, spinach, onions, radishes and carrots will tolerate the shade better.
Caring For Your Crops
As mentioned above, you want to consider your neighbors below when watering. Make sure that your containers have holes to drain. Most people will opt for saucers under the pots to catch the excess water. You should never leave your plants sitting in water. Also, if you are clever enough you may be able to set up some kind of recycling system.
Check water levels daily. Plants in containers will dry out faster than plants in the ground.
You will need to fertilize more often than you would in the ground. There just is not as much natural activity in a pot versus the soil in the ground. If you have room for a small composter or worm farm consider drawing one of them into your plans.
Don’t forget to utilize vertical space as well. For vining plants you will add trellises. Don’t forget your wall space. You can place plants against the wall if there is enough sunlight there. Have a gutter with a downspout? Consider placing brackets along the downspout and putting pots in them. There are also wall pouches that you can fill and hang from your wall. Just be sure that moisture is not a problem when you place these.
Don’t forget hanging baskets. There are upside down tomato planters . You plant the tomatoes facing down to the ground and then hang this from your porch. I have used these and found that they produced comparably to my tomatoes in the dirt. They really do work! Strawberries will do well in a hanging basket. Nasturtiums are edible flowers and they would do well in a basket also.
It was once thought impossible to grow your own garden unless you had a big plot of land. That is just not true anymore. Containers are the rage. People want to be able to grow their own food…anywhere. And, you can. So, start small, but just start. No more excuses.
Please let us know (in the comments below) what you are currently growing on your balcony or porch and what kind of success you are having.
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Mint, it is tasty, it is easy, it is fun to grow. A few years back we lived in a small town that had a family owned nursery. One of their specialties was different types of herbs. They grew them in 4″ pots and sold them for $2 each. So, it was not only fun to experiment, it was also pretty darn inexpensive. I remember one day we were kicking around seeing what was new. The patriarch of the family came over to talk to us. He was saying that it was pretty boring living in a family of botanists. He said the conversation at the dinner table consisted of new varieties and how plant trials were growing etc. It sounded like lovely dinner conversation to me. But, I guess I was born with dirt on my hands.
What is Mint?
Mint is a perennial herb that is very easy to grow. (A perennial is a plant that lives more than 2 years.) In fact if it is not kept in check it may become invasive. It has a square stem with opposite leaves. The roots of mint are shallow and easy to pull out. The plant has runners under the ground. These will come up as new plants.
What types of Mint are Available?
There are quite a few different flavors of mint available. There are pineapple, chocolate, orange, spearmint, peppermint and lemon balm. I have personally owned all of these plants. It is amazing how much they smell like pineapple, chocolate and orange. They are easily identifiable. Just pick a couple of leaves and rub them between your fingers.
How do you plant Mint?
Mint can be started from seed, but it is about a 90 day time from planting to harvest. Plus some of the mint seeds do not have a high germination rate – meaning not all of the seeds you plant will grow. Most people choose not to do this as the plant is so easy to propagate from cuttings. You can take a cutting off your mint plant, take off the leaves towards the bottom, and place it in a glass of water, or dip it in some rooting hormone and then plant it in soil. You can even cut the runners which have a new plant formed and place that in soil to grow.
How do you grow Mint?
Plant your mint in soil that drains well. They should be placed 18 – 24″ apart. It will grow in full sun, or in morning sun with afternoon shade. Some people chose to plant their mint in a pot inside another pot when growing in a container. That keeps the mint from taking over the entire pot. You should keep your plants in control by pulling or cutting any volunteer plants that are not wanted. You can either discard of these, or you can pot them up as new plants. Be careful where you discard your mint, as it may just end up growing there. You can either selectively harvest only taking leaves when wanted, or you can do a full harvest 2 – 3 times a year. I would do a full harvest when I am planning on dehydrating or storing the leaves in any other manner, or using them for jam, etc. The young leaves will have more flavor than the old ones. You should harvest before the plant flowers, although the flowers are usually edible as well. Be sure to keep the tops pinched off for bushier more compact plants.
Mint is also a great plant to grow on a windowsill. It would be an excellent first plant for a child learning gardening. You can start it in a glass of water so you can watch the roots grow. Just think how fun that would be!
Avoid using too much fertilizer as this will cause the plant to flower sooner. You are looking for the leaves with these plants, although the flowers are pretty.
Mint should be planted outside after the last frost of the season. The roots will survive the winter into zone 5 – 8 . The plants should be trimmed and heavily mulched. The tops of the plants may live in zones 8 – 10. They are slightly frost tolerant. Or, if you want to use your mint year round you can just dig some up, plant it in a pot and take it indoors for the winter.
What can you use Mint for?
Mint has a lot of different uses. Of course mint leaves are great in drinks such as ice tea. You can also use spearmint for a mint julep and any of the flavored varieties for a mojito. Some mints have medicinal properties. They can be used as a digestive aid or a breath freshener. You can use mint in pesto, in baking, to make extracts, jams, sauces, in salads, etc.
Benefits of Planting Mint
Mint can attract beneficial insects to your garden such as predatory wasps. These cut down on the caterpillar and grub population, as they feed them to their young. Mint also may repel mice, ants, flies, spiders and deer.
Once you have started your mint plants you will probably never need to buy the same variety again due to the abundance of leaves plus the ease of propagating this plant. So, go out and get a good selection of “flavored” mints and see just how easy they are to grow.
Growing vertically is an excellent option when your space is limited and you are looking to increase your yield. There are some plants that naturally grow vertically, but there are also planters where you can “stack” your crops to save precious space. Let’s take a look at some of these.
Why Grow Vertically?
Well, there is the obvious point that I have already discussed about saving space. But, believe it or not there are other advantages to growing this way as well. Harvesting is easier. You do not have to bend down the entire time you are picking. Plants are healthier and give higher yields. There is greater air circulation around the roots and greater exposure to light.
Probably my first exposure to growing vertically was a strawberry tower. I used one of these about 30 years ago to grow my herbs. I totally enjoyed it. Today there are so many different type of vertical planters.
There are pouches with pockets sewn into them for individual plants, similar to a shoe holder. In fact I have even seen articles where people recycle and use their old shoe hangers for this. I think I would be careful with this, you want the holder to be of a breathable fabric. In my mind I see old style shoe holders made out of rigid plastic.
There are planters where it appears that pots have been strategically stacked on top of each other. A nice feature to look for in this type of planter is to see if there are any wheels or a cart below it. You may need to turn the container to get all of your plants the needed sunlight. If you are growing indoors you can probably set up your lights so that this is not a problem.
You can take an old set of stairs and add planter boxes to each step. This is a picture of a herb/flower garden combination I did a couple of years ago.
My Herb Garden
Yet another way to recycle pallets. You can close off the back, sides and bottom of the pallets with landscape fabric. Put your soil between the exposed slats and plant your plants. I would leave this lay flat on the ground for a week or so allowing the plants to become rooted and established. That way they will not droop or potentially fall out when you hang the planter.
Growing with trellises, supports
There are some plants that want to grow vertically naturally. These would include tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, etc. You should supply them with support whether you are growing in a container or in the dirt. Make sure that your support is sturdy and securely fastened. You can purchase trellises or you can recycle and make your own. I have watched my husband go into our woods and come out with three sticks of the approximate same size. He placed them in a tepee type configuration and wound this together with rope. He says this is something he learned in the Boy Scouts. I am not sure of that, but I am sure that it was virtually free (the rope was laying around but it had been purchased at one point) and the plants loved it and did well.
If you are growing these types of plants in containers make sure that you have a large enough container for the job. There are some tomato planters out there that are all set up except for the dirt and the plant. Some of them even have lights so you can use them inside.
There are quite a few hydroponic systems out there that have multiple layers. These can be purchased, but I sure that they can be a pretty easy diy project as well. These systems are great because you get more food in less space as with all of the vertical systems. But, hydroponic systems have a tendency to have an increased yield over some other growing systems. Plus, crops will grow faster, harvesting is easier, you have less pests and disease with these systems. And you will have less problems with pets and wildlife with the systems, especially if you are growing them indoors.
Be sure to plant your bigger plants, or plants that tend to droop toward the bottom of “stacking planters”. You do not want these bigger plants hanging down and shading your smaller, more upright plants.
Use potting soil that is not as heavy as regular soil. You want to use the same type of soil as we recommend with any container gardening. You want a soil that will not dry out too quickly. You need something with peat moss, perlite, etc. Something fluffy.
Be very careful about how you set up your water. Of course with hydroponic systems or stacking systems watering is usually an integral part of the set up of the system. Let’s say that you are hanging pouches and planters from a fence wall or an exterior wall on your house. You want to make sure that you have the watering set up so that it does not lay on or run down the wall. You do not want to cause any water damage or leave water streaks on the surfaces.
Plant crops with similar needs such as having the same growth rate. This will ensure uniformity in your vertical garden. Also, consider plants with the same needs regarding sun vs shade. Make sure that your containers are not shaded by another structure if they are outside.
Make sure that you hanging planters are securely fastened. Also, check roots periodically to make sure that they are not growing into siding or just becoming a problem in general.
If you are growing inside be sure to set up your system in a sunny area, or supply them with the proper type of lighting. Options available are LED (light emitting diodes) lights, HID (high intensity discharge) lights and fluorescent lighting.
“I don’t have enough room to grow my own food” is definitely not an acceptable response anymore. Take advantage of one or a mix of these vertical growing systems to grow food for you and your family year round. Tammy
There are several ways to set up an irrigation system depending on the type of gardening you are doing. When used with a timer this is absolutely the best way to water your plants. No more forgetting to water or forgetting to turn the hose off when you are watering. Just a nice even daily (or every 2 or 3 days) watering. Inconsistent watering is one of the main causes of blossom end rot in tomatoes and causes multiple issues with any plant. If your plant is too dry it will wilt and possibly die. If it is too wet you can drown it. When properly set up an irrigation will yield up to an 75% – 80% water savings. Irrigation systems are usually used with pressure regulators to lower the pressure of the water in a system. A direct water line will usually have too much pressure for these types of systems.
Drip irrigation is used when you are doing container gardening. This is the type of irrigation system that we used to use on our front porch. We had both hanging baskets and pots set around the edge of the porch. There are complete kits available to do this. Typical parts would include distribution tubing, a pressure regulator, a filter screen, an installation tool to make the holes for the emitters and stakes, end plugs to close off the end of the tubing and a few other parts. You are able to adjust these so that you have an emitter in each pot that you need to water. This kit pictured even comes with a timer.
Drip Tape Irrigation
This is what we use in our garden. In fact the picture at the top of the article with red plastic mulch is my personal garden. We have been doing pretty much the same setup for about 20 years now. It works well for us. This can be used in raised garden beds or standard gardens. We garden in 4′ wide raised garden beds. We plant our seeds and seedlings in 1′ from each edge. We have 2 rows of drip tape in the 4′ wide area, spaced at about 1′ 6″ in from the edge. We put our drip irrigation system down and then we cover it with plastic garden mulch. Then we plant our seeds or seedlings. We have ours on a timer set for 15 minutes every other day. With the water savings from the drip irrigation and the moisture retention from the mulch, we really do not use much water. Even in our summer heat of 100 degree days we do not change from the 15 minutes every other day.
There are drip irrigation kits available. They will have the drip tape which has holes predrilled and all of the fittings you need. A pressure regulator should be used with this system as well. Don’t forget the timer! These don’t usually come in the kits. You simply lay your tape out and staple it down with included ground staples, put all of your fittings together and you are ready to water. They even have goof plugs in case you poke a hole in your tape by mistake. Trust me, it happens occasionally. Oops.
DIY Drip Irrigation System
d-i-y pvc garden irrigation sytem
d-i-y pvc garden irrigation system
For all of you who like a d-i-y project, this one is simple enough to make. You should use schedule 40 PVC pipe 3/4″ in diameter. Drill 1/16″ holes in the appropriate spacing for your plants. You can place this with the holes up or down depending on your preference. Also, if you have a small area you want to do a heavier watering you can drill holes opposite each other. Lay the pipe so that these are pointing out. You will get quite a bit of coverage from this method. If you are doing smaller plants that are spaced closer together you can drill your holes about every 6″. For larger plants like tomatoes you should have holes where the plants are at and an extra 2 – 3 holes in between. I only plant my tomatoes at 3′ apart. I would just do one hole in the center of the plants and one at each plant. I know other people will space their tomatoes as far as 4′ or 5′ apart. For this you would want the 2 – 3 holes in between. You want to make sure that your garden surface is level so that the water will flow. You can lay these out in pretty much any configuration that you want, but you should have ball valves so you can shut off sections or rows. In addition you will need fittings such as t’s, elbows, end caps, pipe cement etc.
Spray Drip Irrigation System
This is perfect if you have a greenhouse or have your plants spaced closely together. The spray heads are adjustable from a light to a heavier spray. This system even comes with a timer!
Greenhouse Watering System
I have always had a similar system in my personal greenhouses. The picture above is from my Halls Magnum that I used to own. Unfortunately it got left in a move. I loved that greenhouse! It is tubing hanging from the top of the greenhouse with spray heads at appropriate spacing. You can see it at the top of the sidewall. The blue is a flexible conduit with wiring for the ventilation system. Again, a time and plant saver.
In conclusion, I would not even attempt to garden without an automatic watering system. As busy as we all are it is just too easy to forget, even though we spend hours in our gardens. Plus, the plants seem to really thrive with a consistent watering schedule. And that is really what it is all about – healthy, high yielding plants.
That’s me and my Dad. I doubt if we were doing much planning at that point. Looks like we were just trying to get our shovels in the dirt. Dad is gone, my hair is gray, but he has instilled a lifelong love of gardening in my soul. I have pretty much always had a garden, even at houses where I rented. I had great landlords. I think we should all go out and motivate a child to get started gardening…..today. Yep, let’s do this today. It will be the best gift we could give them. All of that being said, let’s get into the subject of planning a garden.
1) Keep it simple.
If you are just getting started, keep it simple. Don’t burn yourself out with too large of a space. Or, plants that need special care. Stay with the standard veggies that you see in your small hometown grocery store…lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, onions, beans, herbs etc. If you go too big at first and get too many plants with special needs, you are heading for failure. If you are experimenting with new veggies, try a few plants at first. There is no sense having a bumper crop of tomatillos to find out that you don’t like tomatillos. Then what do you do? Throw them out? Give them to your neighbors? Just try one or two plants of new vegetables.
2) Learn Your Zone
This should really be first. It is THE most important piece of knowledge in gardening. This dictates what you can grow and when you should grow it. If you are a first time gardener you will have to learn that carrots and tomatoes grow at different times of year. Learn your zone, learn when to plant. Here is a link to the USDA zones chart.
3) Figure out how many plants you need. If you are going to start your own tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, herbs, etc start them about 6 – 8 weeks before you will plant them in the ground. If you are new to gardening, it is probably a good idea to buy your plants at least the first year. No sense adding an extra layer of stress.
4) Pick your perfect garden spot. This should be an area that has at least 6 – 8 hours of sunlight a day. If you only have a shady spot you will probably not be able to grow some of the crops you want. Make sure that you have enough space to plant the plants that you have calculated that you need.
5) Decide on what type of garden you are going to plant. Are you going with raised beds? Maybe a lasagne garden, maybe vertical gardening, or maybe just a good old fashion dig in the dirt standard garden bed. Maybe you are in a limited space and will need to start with container gardening. They will all work. Just figure out what is best for you.
6) Gather your tools. If you are doing a standard gardening, or even raised garden beds, you will probably need a tiller. We have been using a rear tine tiller for years. They are a lot easier to operate that a front tine tiller. Or, you may have a space small enough that you can dig it up with a good shovel. You will want a rake, a trowel, a hose or irrigation system, a timer for your irrigation, garden trellises or support for your climbing plants. Make sure that you have a water source nearby. You don’t want to be carrying buckets of water to your garden. And, nobody likes to drag water hoses hundreds of feet, especially me. (That is a pet peeve in case you didn’t notice. I can’t stand dragging a water hose behind me.Grrr)
7) Work your soil. You need to work your soil when it is moist, not wet. You want it to be dry enough that it will crumble easily when you squeeze it. Turn it over at least 12″ deep. Add 2 – 3 inches of compost and turn it into your bed. Cover it with a thick layer of natural mulch, or with plastic garden mulch if that is the way you are going to garden. Be sure to put your irrigation system down first if you are using plastic garden mulch. You may want to have your soil tested. To do this you can go to your local extension office and get a container. You then take a sample and return it to them. They will give you a report with recommendations on what amendments you need to add to your soil.
8) Figure out how you are going to use your vegetables. Are you going to only eat fresh? Or, are you going to preserve some vegetables for the winter? We do a lot of preserving, so our garden is way bigger than necessary for 2 people. We can, we dehydrate, we freeze. We keep and use our veggies all year long. I will discuss how we do this in later posts. Or, if you want fresh veggies all of the season you may want to do succession planting. This is waiting a couple of weeks and planting the same crop in a different spot in the garden. Once the first crop gives out you will be harvesting from the new plants. Be sure to allow room for this if you are going to grow this way.
9) Network. Go to the garden shows. See if you can find the booths manned by the Master Gardeners. They will be able to answer all kinds of questions for you. Go to your local extension office. They may have fliers and information for free that you will find useful.
10) Have fun. This is not a do or die situation. It is a learning curve. Remember, we all have our failures. Even seasoned gardeners. I lost all of my zucchini plants last year after harvesting one or two plants. My neighbor lost his also. We still don’t know why this happened. Sometimes things just aren’t going to work. And don’t forget the bugs that are not on your side. This is just part of gardening. When we run into an obstacle we try to overcome it. Don’t let this be a deterrent to you. Get out in the sun and get a garden planted. Your mind and soul will thank you. Not to mention your body being grateful for real honest to goodness food. Get out there and get growing.
Dreaming of fresh vegetables? Picked right outside your door? Or maybe you would prefer some fresh fruit? You may think that this is not possible where you live, but container gardening may be the answer for you. There are a surprising number of plants that will do well in planters. Maybe you live in an apartment with only a small balcony. Maybe you are renting a house and the landlord won’t let you dig a garden. Or, maybe you just want to be able to walk outside your door and pick your favorite herb while you are cooking. Then container gardening may just be what you need.
What is it?
Container gardening is simply growing plants in buckets, specialty containers, troughs, elevated planters, window boxes, strawberry pots, hydroponic systems, etc. You are really only limited by your imagination on this. Just be sure that there is a hole in the bottom of the plant pots for good drainage. If you let your plants sit in water they will die. Out of room? Grow Vertically!
What do I need?
To get started you will need a few items.
Containers – these can be just about anything as previously discussed. But, one important factor is the size. Consider the size of the plant when it is in production. It is all but impossible to transplant a grown plant into a larger pot successfully. Are you going to try tomatoes? Make sure to have at least a 24 – 30 inch container. Maybe you are going for radishes and carrots. Make sure your pot is deep enough. Lettuce will grow nicely in a nursery flat or similar container. As I was writing this post I was thinking about a nice strawberry pot I used to have next to my kitchen door. I filled it up with cooking herbs. There is a local nursery that specializes in all sorts of herbs, with lots of variegated varieties. This makes for a beautiful container. Later in the spring I am going to go get some and plant them. I will make a post and a video about this later.
Soil – It is best not to dig up dirt from your backyard to place in a container. For the beginner I would suggest going to your local nursery to see what they have available. Be sure to tell them you are going to be growing in a container. A lot of places will have a mix by the tractor bucketful, or less if needed. If they don’t recommend their mix for containers they will probably have a bag of soil that they think is good for your purposes. For those of you who are more advanced, you can mix up your own favorite mixture using peat, vericulite, compost, bark, etc.
Fertilizer – To save time and effort later on, it is OK to use a slow release fertilizer such as Osmocote when planting. If you prefer you can water with a dilute fertilizer solution with every other watering.
Location – Pick the sunniest location that you can. Also, you want to keep in mind if there is a lot of wind in the location. Try to protect your plants from harsh winds. Containers will dry out a lot faster than plants in the ground, especially in heavy winds. Not to mention the damage to your plants, fruits and vegetables. If you have pots that have plants on both sides, such as a strawberry pot, you may want to place the container on some sort of turning mechanism. I find that an old lazy susan works well, as long as it is heavy enough to hold the pot you are using. That way you can rotate the plants to the sun.
Plants or seeds – You may have started your own seedlings, or you may have purchased plants that are ready to go into your planters. Some vegetables can be started from seeds. I would definitely start the fast growing plants such as lettuce and radishes directly in my container. If you are buying fruit trees, be sure that they are labeled for container growing.
What can I grow?
There are a whole lot more options today than there used to be. As with any planting, make sure you are putting your plants in at the proper time of year. Also, make sure that the variety you are getting can be grown in your zone. Don’t know your zone? That is rule 1 of gardening – know your growing zone. Check it out here if you are not sure.
Blueberries – These are my favorite.
Strawberries – although I prefer to grow these in the ground due to the runners.
Fruit trees – There are many different types of fruit trees for containers.
Carrots – I prefer the shorter varieties for containers.
Lettuce – This is so simple to grow, and it produces within 65 days or so. I prefer the loose leaf rather than the head lettuce for this purpose.
Potatoes – There are special containers for growing these.
Tomatoes – There are also special containers for growing these.
Green Onions – Sometimes referred to as scallions.
Garlic – I grew a bumper crop of garlic in window planters last year.
Radishes – These are typically ready in just over a month. Don’t crowd them.
Peppers – Be sure to have some support for these plants.
Squash – Although due to the sprawling nature of these plants I prefer the garden. Make sure to use a larger container.
Edible Flowers – Calendula and Nasturtiums are 2 that come to mind. Plus you get the added benefit of color from the blooms.
In closing, don’t let your location discourage you from growing your own food. Even the smallest balcony will hold a couple of plants. For those of you with no balcony, we will be discussing growing your veggies inside in a later post. Because we believe you can “grow your own food anywhere”.
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