There is nothing better than growing your own food. And the best part is it’s more accessible than you think! With more people opting to downsize into condos or townhomes, you might think that your gardening days are behind you, but there are tons of edible plants that you can grow right on your balcony! It’s a win-win. Since grocery prices continue to rise and inflation becomes a concern, you can make this fun hobby into a tool that will save you some money on your grocery bill!
Here’s everything you need to know about growing edible plants from your balcony!
Before you excitedly rush to your nearest grocery store or garden center to get your plants, there are a few important factors that you should think about when you plan out your garden to ensure that you are setting yourself up for success.
We cannot stress this enough: your sunlight exposure will determine the type of plants that you can successfully grow. Sunlight is the life force for plants as it is necessary for photosynthesis. Unless you plan to incorporate artificial lighting, you will have to determine the amount of light you are working with before you pick the plants that will grow for you. For example, too much sunlight can cause leaf scalding and burning or cause your plants to dry out too quickly. On the other hand, too little sunlight will cause stunted growth and can leave your plants prone to overwatering and rot.
One way to evaluate how much sunlight your porch or balcony receives is based on direction. For example, Southern exposure tends to be the strongest, as it receives light nearly the entire day. Eastern exposure will get more light in the morning, which tends to be more gentle, while Western exposure gets more direct light in the afternoon, which tends to be hotter and stronger. Northern exposure receives the lowest amount of light.
Other factors that can reduce the amount of light include other buildings or trees casting shade. If you aren’t sure, spend a sunny day monitoring how much light your space receives!
One of the best parts about gardening is that you are not necessarily limited to growing native plants. However, we do have to make accommodations since we live in a country that experiences variable spring and summer weather. It’s a good rule of thumb to hold off on planting outdoors until the last possible frost date. In Barrie, Ontario, that date is May 12, according to the Farmer’s Almanac, but most people hold off until the May long weekend just to be safe. An unexpected frost can kill your tender plants!
Next, you will want to ensure you have a means to water your plants and deal with excess water. This includes a tap, a hose or a bucket from your kitchen sink! Find out what works for you. Unfortunately, you cannot rely simply on rainwater, particularly on scorching hot summer days, so it helps to go into it with a watering plan.
All plants require pots with drainage. This prevents the water from pooling at the bottom of the pot, which can lead to root rot. While it’s important to ensure that your pots have drainage, you may want to consider a tray to place underneath your plants, so the excess water doesn’t soak the balcony beneath you if you live on the top floor!
The next choice you will want to decide is whether you are starting with seeds or seedlings. If you are a beginner, seedlings are the way to go, as germinating seeds can be a lengthy and delicate process. However, you may want to experiment with starting your seeds indoors to get a jumpstart on the growing season. Make sure to read the back of your seed packet and follow directions carefully, and start your seeds 6-8 weeks before the last frost date indoors.
Lastly, if you plan to grow more than one plant together in the same pot, check to ensure that they are good companions with one another. Some plants should be kept separate as they can ruin the flavour, crowd out their competitor, or have completely different care requirements.
Herbs are one of the best beginner-friendly plants to grow that don’t occupy a ton of space since they are compact and bushy. Lemon balm, mint, rosemary and basil are excellent herbs to grow that will enhance your mealtime experience. Also, since they don’t bear fruit, they are plants that you can harvest throughout the season, which is a bonus!
Lettuce is one of the best places to start with balcony gardening, especially if you are in a lower-light situation! Like herbs, you can harvest your lettuce throughout the growing season. Not only that, but there is plenty to choose from: iceberg, spinach, romaine, and so many more. Growing your own lettuce takes your summer salads up a notch and lets you happily skip that part of the grocery aisle.
If you know someone who has a zucchini plant in their garden, you’ll know that this is a VERY bountiful plant that will give you plenty of harvests all summer long. This is certainly one of the easier plants to get to fruit, and it makes for a very filling side, but also often used as a replacement for carbs with Zucchini pasta or even Zucchini brownies.
While tomatoes have a slightly nuanced way of producing fruit, they are so rewarding once you get the hang of them. Once you taste homegrown tomatoes, you will never want to go back to store-bought! You can also experiment with cherry tomatoes versus larger beefsteak varieties or even get fancy and try some colourful heirloom tomatoes.
Peppers are another fun vegetable that you can grow on your balcony. A rule of thumb regarding these veggies - the smaller the pepper, the more harvest you will get. Bell peppers tend to take a bit longer to grow, but if you love adding spice to your summer cooking, you can try jalapenos or habaneros!
We couldn’t leave out some fresh fruit because there really is nothing better! Strawberries tend to be more beginner-friendly, and they will produce a lot of fruit for you to enjoy. The best part about growing strawberries on a balcony is that you avoid their #1 fan: the rabbit! However, depending on your setup, you may have to ward off some squirrels. Nevertheless, they are delicious and so worth the effort to grow yourself (and you will save on your grocery bill!)
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