You don't need a big garden to grow your own food. And with an increasing number of apartment-dwellers, balcony gardens, wall gardens, indoor gardens and community gardens are becoming more popular. The type of balcony garden you choose will depend on how much space and natural light you have, and how much time you want to spend setting it up and maintaining it. With a little thought and planning, however, there are beautiful and edible plants for every type of balcony.
Are there restrictions on your balcony use?
Some body corporate or owner corporations have restrictions in relation to balcony use, from gardens and storage of household items to drying clothes. A balcony garden is generally permitted, but the type of garden – such as trellises, overhanging plants and plants that obscure the window – might be restricted.
What is the weight-bearing capacity of your balcony?
If you can walk on your balcony it is probably strong enough to hold a basic balcony garden, but if you cannot walk on it you should find out about its weight-bearing capacity before loading it up with pots and plants.
How much space do you have?
Even windowsills make great gardens, so don’t be put off if your outdoor space is small. With limited standing space you might consider hanging baskets and planters, trellises and wall gardens.
How much time do you have?
A low effort balcony garden is absolutely possible, but your time and motivation should influence which plants you choose. How many times can you water your plants each day? Do you travel a lot? Let your answers help you decide which plants to choose and how you plan to water them.
How much sun and heat does your balcony get?
Does part of the balcony get more sunlight than the rest? Is the sun there all day or only in the morning or afternoon? How does this change with the seasons? Although many vegetables need several hours of direct sunlight to grow, greens and herbs can get by with much less sun. Some balconies get very hot, and not all plants (e.g. lettuce) thrive in extreme heat, so choose your plants and their positioning wisely.
How much wind and cold does your balcony get?
Not all plants will love the wind, but planting larger plants in front of more sensitive plants will act as a windbreak. You can also try keeping smaller plants closer to the floor for greater wind protection. Bear in mind that plants will dry out faster in windy areas, so extra watering or a watering system will be required. Do your research to find out whether you can leave your plants out in winter, or move them to your indoor garden at the end of the growing season.
Is water easily available?
For some balcony gardens a watering can, bucket or similar will be enough to do your watering but this will depend upon the size of your balcony and the type of plants you choose. If you have a lot of plants or thirsty plants you might like to consider a drip irrigation system or self-watering pots with large dishes. Don't forget to use greywater to feed your garden as much as possible and compost to reduce evaporation.
With time, a balcony garden can be a big contributor to your daily meals, but it's best to start slowly and give yourself time to learn as you go. Get started with a basil plant, a cherry tomato plant and a 'cut and come again' lettuce. Begin with the side dishes then move onto the mains after some trial and error.
The amount of sun, heat, cold and wind should influence the type of plants you choose, as well as your proximity to salt water (i.e. the beach) and how often you are prepared to water them. Speak to your local nursery about which plants will suit your balcony and your lifestyle. Remember that your balcony garden can be as small and simple (herbs in the kitchen) or large and sophisticated (full vegie patch) as you like.
Rather than spend time, money and muscle purchasing pots for your balcony garden, think about what you already have around your house. An old casserole dish or tea pot with holes drilled in the bottom can make a great pot, as can jars, buckets, tin cans and drink containers. Provided there is enough drainage, just about any container will work. Put saucers (again, be inventive) under drainage holes to prevent water from spilling onto and off your balcony, and add a few heavy rocks to protect against wind.
Be careful not to clutter your balcony garden to the point where you have no space to enjoy it. A few hooks for your gardening equipment can look great and save space and, rather than dedicated balcony furniture, take a chair from inside when you want to sit in your garden. If your balcony lacks floor space, consider window boxes, hanging baskets, plant stands, climbing plants, trellises and wall gardens.
Greywater is waste or recycled water from various sources in your house, including your bath, bathroom sink, laundry, kitchen sink and shower. Reusing greywater is a great way to save drinking water, but it is important to familiarise yourself with simple safety precautions before using it.
For a variety of reasons, including lifestyle and ethical choices, some people choose to eat a plant rich diet. To find out more visit the Better Health Channel.
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