For those of us dwelling in apartments in today’s urban landscape, it’s easy to feel like we are out of touch with nature sometimes. But there’s an easy way of cozying up to Mother Earth, while barely stepping out of home sweet home: planting a balcony garden.
It may sound intimidating, but growing herbs, flowers and vegetables isn’t all that difficult – no matter how big or small your balcony may be. There are just a few materials you need (containers, plants, soil and water) to reach the many benefits of your own little garden, from fresh produce to liven up home cooked meals and a terrace that’s easy on the eyes.
Here are a few beginners’ tips for setting up your own balcony garden:
• Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
This hobby doesn’t need to be expensive! If you really want to save a buck, start from seeds. This will cost only a few cents, and you’ll also have the satisfaction of knowing you did it all from scratch. Likewise, don’t sink money into fancy new pots. Anything from old paint cans to recycled dresser drawers can be used as gardening containers. If you don’t find something lying around your place or your parents’, chances are you definitely will at a second-hand store or garage sale.
• Ask a local expert
The toughest part of starting a balcony garden is to understand the conditions of your outdoor space. While vegetables need 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight, many greens and herbs can grow with much less, and some plants need more tender loving care than others. Take a weekend to check your balcony every couple hours, jotting down notes on how much shade and direct sunlight you get throughout the day. Make a list of anything interesting, for example a big tree that could block a certain area from the sunlight. Take these notes to a local flower store or garden centre, and ask for their firsthand advice according to what you’ve found.
• Take more notes
Don’t stop jotting down what’s happening in your pots. In fact, keep a diary through the entire season – every time you see a change, there you have it for future reference. These notes will help you evaluate later why some plants grow and others don’t. Labeling is also very important to this process – use Post-It notes on toothpicks in the soil or draw a diagram in your diary.
• Keep it simple
If this is your first stab at developing a green thumb, start with plants that are notorious for being easy to grow. Herbs like parsley, basil, thyme, sage and oregano require moderate sunlight (they can even be grown indoors beside the window!) and only need to be watered sparsely. You can also plant perennials instead of annuals. Not only do they come in a beautiful array of colours, they can also be potted and protected through the winter to grow again the following year.
• Patience is a virtue
A watched pot doesn’t boil, and a watched plant doesn’t grow either! Gardening takes time, consistent effort and also the acceptance that, at the end of all this work, there’s no guarantee that you’ll have a full garden! You can control the elements the best that you can, but it’s essential to understand this process of learning by trial and error will take more than one season. Keep researching and trying new things, until you find what works best on your own balcony.