Uses for Comfrey in an organic balcony garden

The organic fertiliser that you must grow in your balcony garden

Comfrey is the ideal homegrown organic fertiliser

When I set out to write this blog post my objective was to research and bring light to self-sufficient organic fertiliser solutions available to every balcony and small space gardener. I expected to talk about compost and worm farms but I was absolutely astonished to discover that Comfrey, a plant that I grew up knowing about for its homeopathic properties would become my favourite homegrown organic fertiliser for our balcony garden.

Comfrey is the ideal Permaculture organic solution to fertilisers

Comfrey is a great dynamic accumulator

Comfrey has a very long taproot. That taproot digs deep under the earth to mine all the nutrients. Comfrey sucks those nutrients up through the leaves, recycling soil nutrients and giving fresh life to your soil.

Comfrey is a soil fertiliser

Comfrey is high in potassium and nitrogen. Potassium and nitrogen are valuable elements that assist fruits, vegetables and herbs to flourish and fruit.

Comfrey is a compost activator

Healthy compost requires a good balance of green matter, like leaves fruits or vegetables, and browns, such as dried, fallen leaves and even cardboard. ‘Brown matter’ is rich in carbon. Adequate nitrogen is needed to get the microbial activity in your compost heap really working. Comfrey is very high in nitrogen as well as phosphorus and other trace elements. Comfrey ‘activates’ compost, helping the composting process to occur quickly, decreasing odours that  occur when there is an imbalance.

Happy compost leads to happy worms and happy worms lead to a flourishing productive and healthy soil, alive with good microbial activity. Healthy soils lead to healthy and happy plants.

Comfrey composts quickly, making it an available source of fertiliser for your other plants.

Comfrey can kill powdery mildew by preventing spores from sprouting

In a previous post we talked about how to prevent, manage and treat powdery mildew in a small garden. 

A preparation of Comfrey tea (not to be drunken) with a tiny dash of soapy water has been found to prevent powdery mildew spores from growing. 

Comfrey is a medicinal warrior in the alternative medicine cabinet

Although not the focus of this post, using leaves, a poultice or properly prepared compress on skin ailments like sunburn, eczema or even superficial cuts or scrapes, may have anti-inflammatory properties and assist with topical cellular repair.

Bathing in a Comfrey leaf bath after childbirth may even assist with perennial recovery. Comfrey must never be eaten though as it has been found to cause liver damage in laboratory studies. We recommend you seek advice from a qualified practitioner before using Comfrey, other than in the garden. 

Comfrey’s appearance, identifying Comfrey

Comfrey has small beautiful abundant purple or white/cream, hanging clusters of flowers, clustered around stalk. It has long, deep green leaves. Comfrey is known for its very long tap root that digs deep into the earth. 

Comfrey is from the Borage family but also has an appearance similar to Foxglove. Be careful though as Foxglove is poisonous. Comfrey leaves are toothed and have an almost serrated appearance, whereas foxglove leaves are smooth.

Ideal growing conditions

Comfrey self seeds easily if allowed to do so and is a hardy plant to grow. It will grow better in richer soils however will dig deep to mine out the essential nutrients from deep within soil beds. It will bring those nutrients up into its leaves, making them more accessible to other plants.

Comfrey can grow up to 3 feet tall although I have found when grown in a pot it is much smaller.

How to make comfrey tea for your garden

Pick a handful of Comfrey leaves and steep in water. Set and forget them out of the way in a covered bucket.

Warning, Comfrey tea does smell, ideally if you can prepare Comfrey tea somewhere away from living quarters, such as a garage or even better, behind a common garden shed, that is best.

Shred leaves and dig them into soil

If you would prefer a less smelly way of using Comfrey but still with all the benefits, you can simply shred the leaves with your fingers and place them on the soil or dig them into your garden bed. I like to put them in the hole when planting a new plant. 

Comfrey is the best organic fertiliser to grow on a balcony

Comfrey in balcony gardens, attracts bees due to the flowers, breaks up the soil because of the tap root and is an ever ready soil fertiliser. They are beautiful plants and quite easy to grow. Let us know what you think in the comments below. 

Read more about How to start a balcony garden

Thanks for reading and happy growing!

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Toddlers hand holding a strawberry with parents hand around it

COVID-19, how gardening has helped my family survive social isolation in a unit with a toddler

Everyone must stay home”, Scott Morrison, the Australian Prime Minister announces in his now daily press release. Tony and I sit in silence, blinking and just waiting. Journalists throw questions at the seasoned PM and he responds with a veil of political candour cloaking the most shocking global crisis of most of our lives. Our 18 month old toddler plays on the floor with his black and yellow diggers, moving piles of kinetic sand around a deep container.

I want to cry but I don’t. I want to ask, “but when will this end”, But I don’t. I want to go for a long boozy dinner with Tony and some friends and say, “Wow! That was a really intense movie. I’m glad it’s over…” But, most shocking, I can’t… because the horror is real. My baby boy looks at me and says “mummy, dig, digger”, and I smile with the reassurance that I don’t feel.

We have spent many a day blowing bubbles on our balcony and watching them drift away

How do you facilitate resilience and growth for a toddler when social isolating in a unit?

Each and every day of my baby boys life he has felt the breeze blow against his face, watched the leaves fluttering on the trees and experienced the various fragrances met by going outside to explore. Thankfully we we’re able to go for a daily walk but that was the only adventure out of our unit that our son experienced.

Before COVID-19, we felt we were in an ideal situation. We live in a new apartment, situated 6 minutes by bus from a major train station and very close to a large shopping complex. Our apartment has a nice communal garden and we seemed like the only ones to really spend time in it. We have horses nearby and major bush land and we are only 20 minutes from the ocean.

We didn’t want to live in a house yet because, with starting a family, we felt it would be so much maintenance…

COVID-19 is bringing so much horror, pain and suffering to so many. I do not write this seeking sympathy but to show others how we are coping and in the hope that other people may find comfort from our approach.

I felt a lot of fear in the beginning of lock-down and wondered how I would cope with such intense isolation. Let alone, how I would support my toddler to continue to grow and thrive.

Toddler tantrums are real and intense displays of emotion

I started working from home when we went into lockdown and my toddler was mostly here too. My boy was not in day care because he had become so sick as a one year old going into the day care environment. We were lucky because between my son’s aunts, grandmas, Tony and I, we were able to look after our boy while I worked.

While I tried to work from home, my son would realise I was barricaded in his bedroom and would often come barging in or cry at the door. It was heart wrenching to know he had nowhere else to go, despite our families best efforts, and yet he was truly distressed by being so close to his mum and yet so far. Prior to lockdown he had a routine where he would see other children six days per week. Our son would ask to go to the park and we would say, “we can’t do that today, sweetie”, or to the library, and eventually he even asked to go to the shops. To everything the response was the same, “not today, there is a nasty virus”.

Relief came through our food garden on our 3×4 metre balcony…

As the sun rose each and every day, it was like it pulled us and our baby boy out onto our balcony. Tony and I learned gardening and growing our own food crops from our grandparents from a very young age. We have always had a garden but it was just a part of our home. What COVID-19 did was boost the central importance of gardening to be front and foremost in our home. Through gardening, our toddler found fun, learning and adventure, and we found daily mindful escape, all from our balcony.

Through hours and days spent inside, looking at the same, unmoving walls, the central change seemed to be a layer of dust and cat fur ever descending. Waiting in lockdown in our apartment felt like we were experiencing tremors from an earthquakes epicentre. Ours walls seemed to be a constant reminder that the world was in crisis. Our garden on the other hand offered creativity, learning, mindfulness and resourcefulness.

Our balcony food garden is a daily source of magic

As though it has its own life blood, our balcony garden changes with every day. There is a continual sense of journey among those plants as they flourish and bloom. Each day there are amazing transformations and surprises and tending the soil and feeling the cool gritty earth in my hands has grounded me on lonely days where I deeply longed for connection from within lockdown.

Harvesting, cooking and eating balcony grown food brings a level of indescribable love and connection between our home and our family. As though we are one with our garden, it nourishes our wellbeing, physically and psychologically.

Balcony gardening nurtured our toddlers wellbeing and growth

Our boy was 16 months old when COVID-19 reached our shores. He was just starting to really connect with the world around him. Our son was realising his own personhood, that he was an individual, separate from me and he was learning to speak. Our boy has an inquisitive mind and constraining him to a unit was very hard. However, we gave our son his own garden bed. He planted a range of seeds and we taught him how to water. The wonder in his eyes as he watched them germinate and reach up through the soil to make their own beautiful and strong leaves was magical.

Our son rejoices in spending time outside. He loves the fresh air, the feel of the soil and the excitement of growing his own plants. The wonder of watching a seedling differentiate into different vegetables is a great miracle of life for both us and our boy. Then to harvest and eat the vegetables gives our toddler a sense of pride as he helped to grow the food on our table.

Toddler gardening

Balcony gardening has decreased our need to go to the supermarket

Beyond the benefits to our well-being from gardening, we also saw a very practical advantage to balcony food gardening. Every time we went to the balcony to harvest food, we were decreasing the time spent in a supermarket and potential risk of catching COVID-19.

We feel a greater connection to the food we grow and have lovingly tended it and watched it day in day out evolve. Gardening is a mindfulness activity. It has profound positive benefits for mental health. Gardening has benefited myself and my family immeasurably through coping with being confined to our unit.

Garden harvest toddler
Our toddler was happy to try all of this home-grown salad. After all, he helped to grow it!

Where to in 2021?

I do not mean to write this like we are past lock-down. As I write this, our family, ten minutes from here, have been placed in lockdown again and there are cases of COVID-19 popping up through Sydney, as there are throughout the world. I hope that this post may inspire others who are living in an apartment and coping with social isolation to begin gardening and find comfort, peace and solace like found through gardening.

Through our gardens there is escape, mystery, abundance, health, wellbeing and magic. May 2021 bring some peaceful resolution for all.


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How to start a balcony garden

Planning is key

Are you looking to start growing a balcony food garden? Balcony and small space gardens are a labour of love capable of providing you with a huge range of ever ready fresh, zero-carbon footprint, foods, available whenever you need them.

8-10 week balcony gardening food harvest

Whether you are looking for a continual supply of fresh herbs that can be adapted into each and every meal or whether you love your fresh garden salads, Mediterranean cooking or Asian stirfries, the layout and structure of your balcony garden depends on your culinary tastes.

No matter what gardening experience you bring, or the size or shape of your balcony, courtyard or small garden, you can live a more sustainable life by growing food at home.

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Work backwards, from plate to garden

I broadly categorise six different types of balcony food garden plant choices:

  • Container herb garden; thyme, basil, coriander, parsley, oregano, chives
  • Mediterranean garden; basil, tomatoes, cucumber, garlic and onion chives
  • Asian garden; shallots, bok Choi, Chinese celery, water spinach, Chinese broccoli
  • Climbers; watermelon, cucumbers, zucchini, rockmelon, squash, pumpkin, yes, pumpkin
  • Salad Central; continual picking lettuce, cherry tomatoes, capsicum, chives, parsley, rocket
  • The soup kitchen; peas, beans, carrots, potatoes

Choose your pots

Although I do recommend trying a small pot garden for a couple of months before making a big purchase, if you have gardening experience and know what’s involved in maintaining your garden then I recommend using a stackable solution like a vertical garden. This decreases the footprint but increases the amount of produce that you can grow tremendously.

Choosing the right vertical garden

We have grown two flourishing tower gardens for three years now and are absolute converts to this style of gardening. In fact we were discussing recently our bucket dream of one day having a massive property and we still feel that we would have two tower gardens by the entrance to our home because visually they are spectacular and practically, they are the most efficient use of space within a small garden like a balcony.

Tower gardens are amazing for starting a balcony food garden. You can produce a lot of fresh, organic food, with a very small footprint.

Tower Gardens also offer other benefits like they save on water and I have found the highest proportion of earthworms out of all our planters seem to live in the tower garden. Compost breaks down the fastest in the tower gardens and the plants seem to thrive the most in those gardens.

Nutrients are able to flow through the different levels of the tower gardens, so when you do you something like a liquid feed, nutrients will go further which saves you money.

Choosing the right tower garden

Our two tower gardens are from IKEA and they have been very good. There are more sophisticated options available now though and if we were buying today, we would be choosing an option that was heavy duty and already on wheels such as the Large 5 Tier Stacking Planter Vertical Garden with Heavy Duty Trolley Wheels (Terracotta)

We have put wheels on all our planters except the tower gardens as we are worried about destabilising them. However, we need to turn the gardens frequently which causes us more manual work. We strongly recommend a tower garden that is very heavy duty and sturdy and that does have wheels so that it is movable.

Planting up your tower garden

We recommend adding some good quality potting mix with light weight Perlite potting mix and compost. By investing in good quality soil at the start, you give your plants a helping hand to begin their growing journey.

Growing from seed

Growing from seed saves money and effort in the Longrun. If you have ever struggled in the past with growing from seed do not give up. Seeds germinate very well in a warm environment like a windowsill or you can use a Mini greenhouse seed raising tray to help the process along.

Seeds can be costly in the beginning and there are many seeds in the packet. However, a packet of seeds usually lasts us about three years. To save storage space, we like buying Vegetable and herb multipacks and find these the best value for money

Caring for your tower garden

We find we tend to spend about 5 to 10 minutes a day caring for our balcony garden through, pest control, pruning, watering and weeding and the fun bit, planting and harvesting. Nowadays, the garden is so well-established we tend to spend about five minutes a day harvesting food. We tend to spend at least an hour a day outside, just enjoying the garden with a nice glass of wine, home-made dips and home-grown nibbles.

You will need to water your tower gardens every other day with a small amount of water into the top container. The water will infiltrate down and should collect in the bottom tray reservoir. You can tell if your garden needs to be watered by putting your finger about an inch into the soil. If it feels dry or if you notice any of your plants wilting, give them a drink.

Feeding your garden

There is no better plant food than compost. we petitioned our Owners Corporation to install compost bins on common property. They are working brilliantly and many residents are contributing. Compost is available to everyone to use and it is also serving to decrease the smell in our bin area and to feed the gardens on common property.

If you are unable to have a compost area on common property, we recommend a small composting unit, such as the Maze Indoor Kitchen Composter with 500ml Liquid Bokashi unit. This is an odour free, indoor composting unit that works quickly to break down all the food, including meats and fish, that you put in there. They are compact and very user-friendly and appropriate for apartment living. Another option is using a worm farm directly on your balcony to directly improve the soil. We also recommend a high-quality liquid fertiliser every two weeks such as Maxi crop organic seaweed liquid fertiliser

Next step is to plan your meals

Nothing beats the taste of home-grown food.

There is wonderful joy in harvesting food that you have grown from your balcony and plating it up into an amazing delicacy. It is this process that keeps us going and inspires us to grow more in the space that we have. It’s also this joy that inspires us to promote balcony gardening to others.

Please join us in our balcony gardening journey by following us on Instagram at balcony_self_sufficiency and follow this blog for more balcony gardening tips and tricks.

This post contains affiliate links to help you find the products that will help you in starting your balcony garden. They are at no cost to you.


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White cabbage moth butterfly caterpillar organic pest control

How to beat pests naturally and grow an organic balcony food garden

Pest control in balcony and small space food gardens is a massive topic and a series of blog posts will deep dive into some practical tips and tricks for conquering the pests.

Our biggest predators have been caterpillars and slugs, although the Summer months have also brought their share of aphids and the dreaded mealybugs. Allowing the natural eco-system to evolve has supported the garden to manage pests naturally. We have several small spiders living on our balcony. Flowers are interspersed through our garden and these attract birds which eat the caterpillars and slugs.

We believe in organic gardening as a long-term solution

We garden organically so do not use snail or slug pellets or chemicals to deter any of our pests for several reasons:
  • Chemical pesticides are a short-term solution- They work by killing the pest but often kill beneficial insects too which can lead to more of the original pest with less beneficial pests
  • Birds, cats, dogs and even children can accidently ingest harmful snail and slug pellets which can be lethal.
  • Spraying pesticides on plants that are for human consumption means ultimately you too end up ingesting the pesticide
  • The pesticide can end up in the soil, leading to microbiome imbalance in the soil which leads to further problems down the track and inhibiting plant growth
  • Birds, cats and dogs sometimes end up eating slugs, snails or caterpillars that have died from pesticide. This can then harm or even kill them.
  • We see the health of our balcony food garden as intrinsically linked to our families health. It is too important to use harmful chemicals.
  • In small space gardening, if you spray chemicals there is a high chance that spray could enter your home.

What are organic solutions to pesticide for a balcony food garden

  1. Plant flowers- We used to have a big problem with mealybugs and aphids but we planted a beneficial insect mix of seeds and we have had this incredible increase in the activity of ladybugs and even birds in our garden. These feed on the pests in our balcony garden and help the natural balance of our garden stay in check. We are now visited daily by birds in the local area.
  2. Try a snail and slug beer trap- place some beer in a saucer, big enough for the snails and slugs to fall into and leave overnight. Be sure to cover it so the poor birds don’t get more than they bargain for with their breakfast…
  3. Manual removal- The benefit of small space gardens in that it is actually not that difficult to spend 5 minutes a day checking for snails and slugs by torch light in the evening, and caterpillars during the day. You can relocate them to bush land or parks nearby and the birds will thank you for the feast! Tony and I laugh that before we started a family, we would bond late at night over a glass of wine in a candlelit room. Now, we have just as much fun bonding, still often with a glass of wine but now while on a slug and caterpillar hunt! We still find it just as fun though!
  4. Install a bee hotel- We are planning on installing a bee hotel for the native stingless bees. We have a lot of them in our area so why not give them somewhere to stay. There is a wonderful range on the market. Eco-Friendly Bug House Hotel – Insect Nest Box for Gardens and Yards
  5. Focus on the health of your soil rather than on the problem at hand- often pests are opportunistic. Aphids for instance tend to thrive when a plant is not very healthy. By ensuring your plants have enough light, air-flow and well nourished soil, your plants health can improve and that can prevent pest problems.
  6. Try a milk bath for powdery mildew
  7. Decoy butterflies- Believe it or not, the white cabbage butterfly moth is very territorial. We had a great time erecting our stunt double butterflies and have noticed a decrease although not total elimination, in our caterpillars. See video of the process below. Decoy butterfly video- numbers decreased initially but some have been reappearing
  8. Order beneficial bugs to destroy pests- We ordered Cryptolaemus larvae, the natural predator, of the mealy bug. Mealy bugs are incredibly destructive and infestations take off very quickly and spread from plant to plant. They will kill a plant if not dealt with. Only the females are visible to the naked eye. They feed on plant juices. Cryptolaemus for mealy bugs

Your balcony garden is its own micro-ecosystem

When you start seeing your balcony or small space garden as an ecosystem just like any other, you realise that by making slight changes you can actually maximise its ability to work symbiotically and the amount of work that you need to do decreases.

This blog contains affiliate links that allow you to find the items mentioned and that support our website at no cost to you.

How to start a balcony garden


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How to grow an organic balcony food garden

We are small kitchen garden experts specialising in self sufficient, organic food gardens. We believe anyone can grow their food no matter the size of your home. Balconies, patios, decks, pergolas, sunrooms, sunny rooms and windowsills all offer opportunities for growing.

No matter what your challenge, we’ve probably encountered it and enjoy offering solutions. We aim to be a one stop shop resource for balcony and small space food gardens. We believe in wellbeing and positive mental health through gardening and believe it’s never too early to get gardening which is why our toddler is our head gardener…

Showcasing an 8-10 week balcony garden crop.
The sky is the limit. Give it a go…

Our balcony garden is 3×4 metres. We enjoy a NorEast corner position and have a green oasis wrapping around our space.

We have always enjoyed gardening but when the COVID-19 pandemic took off we were particularly mindful of our isolation but also not wanting to be dependant on the supermarket for our food.

Best Productive plants to grow for a kitchen garden

Anything that produces a high yield and has a small footprint is generally pretty good for a kitchen garden. If it happens to be hardy then that is even better.

Companion planting for pest control and happy crops

Companion planting is very important, especially for a food garden in a small space like a balcony. A lot of companion planting is intuitive. By thinking about cuisines, you are halfway towards successful companion planting. I grow tomatoes, capsicum and marigolds together to repel pests naturally.

I also grow salad greens together, runner beans together and a stirfry garden bed. The one consistency though is every garden bed has a mix of beneficial insect flowers growing scattered among the other plants.

How to create natural privacy in an apartment

We rely a lot on climbing plants so anything that produces a vine is well loved in our balcony garden because that also creates natural privacy and shade and utilises height. We plant seeds weekly, replacing what we harvest and always direct where they are to grow. Bringing plants in from a nursery raises the possibility of introducing parasites or unwanted microbes into the ecosystem. Planting seeds virtually eliminates this possibility, is cheaper and is extremely easy, especially once it becomes routine.

Love a good garden harvest. Everyone of them carries surprises.



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Apartment vegetable garden

There’s a garden growing in my apartment- interview with a vegetable gardening expert

Magical small space apartment garden 

On the seventh floor of a Melbourne apartment complex lives Sherry and her magical and productive food and flower garden.

I was lucky enough to interview Sherry about her garden and to hear about all its wonders and challenges and her secrets to successful balcony vegetable gardening. 

How did you learn to garden?

Sherry began her gardening adventure a couple of years ago. With a keen interest in gardening, she was inspired by the gardens of others that she followed on Instagram, of all places.

Instagram has a wonderful, friendly and inspirational community of gardeners providing regular updates about their growing journey.

Sherry now has a growing Instagram gardening following and inspires others to give balcony gardening a go. 

You can grow a lot with about 18 square metres of balcony

Sherry has two large balconies, one Nor-West balcony is approximately 12 metres in length. Her second balcony is six square metres and faces North. She gets sunlight most of the year from about 9am until sunset so has an ideal aspect for a thriving balcony garden.

Sherry learned a lot from books like, Grow. Food. Anywhere: The New Guide to Small-Space Gardening by the Little Veggie Patch. Gardening books have been very helpful in teaching her what she needs to know to grow a successful balcony vegetable garden.

There is a community garden situated downstairs on the common property that Sherry contributes to. Having the benefits of a larger garden and a personal thriving apartment garden provides so many opportunities for growing and enjoying fresh food. 

What are your favourite things to grow?

Sherry has a thriving chilli garden with six different varieties including jalapenos, thai super spicy, ebony’s fire, thai, hot cayenne and is currently germinating a ghost chilli from seed! She uses her various chilli plants in lots of different Asian cooking recipes. She makes her own cooking stock from home-grown plants including celery, chillies and other fresh home-grown herbs and vegetables. Sherry also enjoys making home-made dumplings out of her home-grown veggies.

Chillies on a wooden plate with flowers

Sherry grows a range of delicious chillies

What major challenges do you face in your apartment garden and how have you overcome them?

  • The howling Melbournian wind has been a big challenge. Living on the seventh floor and having two balconies and a building corner, the wind sheer can inhibit plant growth. Sherry has a small green-house which means that plants don’t need to be planted out until they are strong enough to cope better with the howling wind. 

  • Having a roof overhead is very challenging because it creates shade that actually inhibits plant growth. Especially in Summer when the sun is much higher in the sky. Sherry has found, and we here at Balcony Self-Sufficiency agree that, the prime grow time in our balcony garden, with a roof overhead is actually Spring, as the suns heat intensifies and Autumn, before the cool, short days really set in. By focusing on Autumn and Spring as the peak growing seasons, and planting accordingly, Sherry’s garden is able to thrive most of the year.

  • Pests are always a problem in gardens, even if you’re on the seventh floor. Sherry ordered beneficial insects from Bugs for Bugs in order to manage an outbreak of aphids organically. She reports that it was rewarding to see the challenge of having an insect problem, in her case aphids and spider mites, and to address the issue organically. The beneficial insects really helped and then eventually “flew away” to join the local ecosystem.

Favourite apartment gardening strategies

Sherry has found sturdy vertical gardens with wheels are great for increasing productivity of the garden and maximising harvests.

Using tall vertical planters has enabled Sherry to grow a huge volume of edible plants including celery and silverbeet in a small area. The gardens also look wonderful!

Tower garden with salad greens

Tower gardens are a wonderful option for small gardens.

Check out Sherry’s thriving tower garden

Sherry also has a wonderful hydroponic garden set-up inside her apartment, complete with grow light. The little garden is situated beside Sherry’s desk so she is able to enjoy ‘tickling’ the leaves and enjoying the aromatic scent of the fresh basil and other vegetables.

Grow bags improve the growth and harvest in Sherry’s apartment garden

Sherry loves utilising grow bags for many of her edibles and flowers. Grow bags are fascinating planting options as they have ‘air-wicking’ properties, enabling air to pass through the felt fabric. This sends a stop growing signal to plant roots, preventing the plants from becoming pot bound. This promotes nutrient and water uptake and improved plant productivity as the plant is best able to access the nutrients it needs to grow.

Sherry has started her grow bags business and if you’d like to support her and get one of these beautiful grow bags you can contact Sherry via Instagram @garden_in_my_apartment

Check out Sherry’s grow bags.


Apartment garden worm farm

Sherry installed an inground worm farm into her balcony garden and has enjoyed improved soil productivity which contributes to plant growth.

To see more of Sherry’s garden and get inspired about your own balcony garden, head to garden_in_my_apartment on instagram. Or visit ABC’s feature story, How to build a vegetable garden on an apartment balcony.


Subscribe to our blog for your chance to win a free copy of our children’s gardening book, coming soon in 2022.

Apartment living is here to stay but so is urban farming- grow your own balcony vegetable garden

 home-grown vegetables in metal containers in apartment
Container vegetable gardens are very productive and rewarding

The balcony vegetable garden- world of health and self-sufficiency

Growing up I imagined being able to grow my own food, just like my grandparents. Our lives are very different now though. We live in an apartment in medium density housing, yet we discovered our balcony vegetable garden can supply our family with most of our fresh vegetables, all our fresh herbs and even many fruits.

Suburban farming- the conventional way

I grew up on a big suburban block with a sprawling garden. My grandpa had a large vegetable garden where he grew most of the family vegetables. My grandma sustained and nurtured a citrus orchard and they had various other fruit trees including bananas, persimmons and figs. They also ate seasonally which meant their food always tasted better as it was completely fresh and hadn’t travelled hundreds of kilometres to get here. 

The gardening journey grows from childhood

My grandparents garden was an incredible oasis that inspired me as a toddler as I played and things seemed to grow before my eyes. As a child I helped my grandparents and watched as they organically composted and succession planted out rows and rows of lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, tomatoes and corn. It was the most wonderful and exciting adventure to explore their garden.

Watching as my grandpa pulled back the big leaves wrapped around the head of a giant cauliflower was so exciting. I recall him taking his knife and with neat sweeps, hacking away the leaves and passing me the fresh cauliflower head. Boy did I want to eat those vegetables and they tasted sensational.

Roll on 30 years. I have a family of my own. Property prices are ever increasing as is density of living. We have to live in the Sydney metropolitan area because of family responsibilities and affordability. Will we always? Hopefully not.

Is it such a bad thing? No. However, such a formative part of my childhood was growing up with the experience of suburban farming. Suburban farming taught me about planning as a child. It taught me about planning because I saw the process involved in growing food. I learned about planting seeds at the right time, preparing the soil, nurturing the soil as the plant grows and ultimately harvesting and all the wonderful things that can come from that planning ahead of time.

What suburban gardening taught me as a child

Suburban farming taught me the value of hard work and how resourceful and sustainable one can be by putting in the right effort at the right time. It also taught me how absolutely wonderful fruit, vegetables and herbs are and how much flavour they bring to a meal. In fact I became a vegetarian at the age of eight. Would I have done this if I didn’t have such access to fresh produce? Who knows. But it certainly helped having such an abundance of zero carbon footprint fresh produce growing on the same property that I lived on.

Gardening from a young age led us to a healthy lifestyle

I am not here to preach about being vegetarian but what I will say is having a lifestyle with the amount of fresh produce in it as I had, I experience the benefits of good health on a daily basis. My inflammatory markers are extremely low. Substantially below those of somebody who eats meat. My one challenge is maintaining an adequate iron balance but that’s another story.

I am a farmer at heart. My happiness is nurtured by the plants around me and my wellbeing is sustained by fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs. Yet, I live in an apartment. I am 25 minutes away from the Sydney CBD. I am also raising a toddler who is showing all the signs of loving the garden and its wonders just as much as my partner and I do. We wanted to raise our son with the same connection to nature that we both grew up with. Although we can’t maintain the same scale of food production we grew up with, we are incredibly resourceful and self-sufficient even though we live in an apartment.

We are balcony vegetable garden farmers

When the current health crisis hit, we wanted to be as far away from people, supermarkets and mainstream food production as we could. COVID-19, how gardening has helped my family survive social isolation in a unit with a toddler and we set ourselves a challenge, to grow at least half of all our own fresh food.

We upgraded our then current gardening model of two tower gardens to also include two long tubs and four window ledge planters. We also planted two more passionfruit’s and squeezed a few more things in here and there. Read more about How to start a balcony garden.

We enjoy the challenge of growing all of our herbs, most of our vegetables and many of our fruits in our organic balcony food garden. We grow approximately 80% of our vegetables in our balcony vegetable garden. Read more about Our strategy for growing most of our vegetables and herbs in our balcony garden

Guerrilla vegetable gardeningreclaim some space

We also decided to bite the bullet and reclaim a bunch of land on our common property and in some other local areas that we could see was not being utilised and we planted some plants there that would not ever become pests.

What plants are appropriate for guerrilla gardening?

There are a lot of plants that we would not even consider planting in guerrilla gardening style due to the risk of them becoming pests, but we plant tomatoes, beans, peas and spinach. Basically, anything that grows via taproot or root runners is not appropriate to plant. Things that are good to grow in a guerrilla gardening context are plants that produce via a long period of showing flowers that turn into bulbous fruit or by producing seedpods that then must mature and fall to the ground. This means that they will never become out of hand and spread as noxious weeds as there is a long period of time where people can catch them before they spread.

Join a local community garden

We recently visited the most incredible and flourishing community garden growing close by and I was astonished by the volume of food growing in this small lot beside a railway station. It was $50 to join but you take home much more than that monthly following enjoyable working bees with likeminded locals. What better way to get to know other locals.

We wish more local governments would adopt community gardens in high density areas. Especially when in countries like Australia, we do not have allotments. I’ve genuinely considered moving to the UK over this alone…

We are raising our toddler as an apartment gardener and he loves it

Our son’s world looks remarkably similar to our own upbringings. He is daily watching plants bloom and grow around him. He is harvesting his own vegetables and even some fruits from the plants. Our boy can name most things growing in the garden yet he is two and a half. He gets his hands dirty in the soil and we have to scrub his nails carefully several times a week to get the dirt out.

Our son helps us with every aspect of the gardening journey and is adept at planting seeds. He also loves eating his vegetables and even herbs, as long as he saw them grow in the garden. He likes them even more if he gets to pick them from his balcony vegetable garden. Yet, we live in an apartment.

Are you a farmer at heart but live in an apartment?

If you are like us and love the outdoors, greenery and the joys of growing your own food but live in an apartment, you have so many options for still enjoying growing your own. See How to grow a balcony garden here.

We would love you to join our balcony gardening community on Facebook

Follow us on Instagram @balcony_self_sufficiency to see more of our balcony vegetable garden journey.

Subscribe to our blog for your chance to win a free copy of our children’s gardening book, coming later in 2022.

Tower garden growing vegetables

Our strategy for growing most of our vegetables and herbs in our balcony garden

I would like to share with you our strategy for having a perpetually producing organic balcony garden that grows most of our vegetables and all of our herbs.

A lot of people are surprised that we live in a unit and that we grow so much of our own fresh food right

Growing food on our balcony is a journey

Hitting this point of self-sufficiency has been a journey. We have had just as many successes as failures. With lost crops that looked like they were going to be bumper successful only to have them wither, be eaten by caterpillars or affected by something like powdery mildew. Every challenge inspires us to learn more about gardening and has contributed to our respect for gardening and gardeners. We have wonderful respect for our farmers who sustain us, and contribute to our quality of life and wellness.

We began gardening as toddlers

Our growing journey began when Tony and I were each little babies gardening with our families. Separately we both grew up gardening and enjoying growing some of our own fruits and vegetables for our families. When we met, part of the bond that we formed was because we shared this passion in gardening.

Gardening and growing our own produce organically on our balcony garden became the cornerstone of our relationship. When COVID-19 hit, we wanted to develop independence from the big supermarket chains. As we watched the news and saw new COVID-19 cases every day, even just a couple of hundred metres from where we live in the big supermarket. We couldn’t have wanted to be further away from the shops. The thought of going in there to get fresh food was not at all appealing. So, I am a perfectionist and a little bit of a scientist. I was curious about how self-sufficient it’s possible to be by using a balcony garden space. 

My aim in the beginning was to be 30% self-sufficient from the greengrocer.

While my aim in the beginning was to be 30% self-sufficient from the greengrocer, we have achieved about 80% self-sufficiency from the greengrocer, all by growing really creatively in a 3×4 metre balcony garden. Read more here about How to start a balcony garden

Tower gardens and vertical gardens are the best way to grow food in a balcony

We have two tower gardens like these. Each tower garden has a blueberry, and the following plants respectively between the two gardens:

One cherry falls tomato, spinach, chilli, climbing spinach, parsley, basil, oregano and coriander as the mainstays.

Over the last four months we have also grown the following seasonal crops in the tower Gardens:

Potatoes, cucumbers, zucchini and squash.

What foods grow best in a small garden

We have a smaller grow-wall, vertical garden beside our door way to the balcony and in that we grow lots of leafy greens as well as spring onions, chives and shallots. It’s very rare that we actually use onions in our home. We have found onions inefficient to grow in our balcony garden as they take too long. Using the garlic chives, shallots and spring onions, you can reach a level of flavour just as intense and delicious as that of onion and they grow extremely well in small spaces. They are also perpetual in their growth so you able to keep the plants in the ground, cut off the shoots and away you go.

The vertical garden beside our door is in part-shade yet we have found it extremely efficient at growing the Chinese veggies and our greens in general including:

Rocket, baby spinach, bok choy, perpetual lettuce.

Grow sunflowers!

We also have a long planter, almost 2 m. In that planter we have grown a couple of sunflowers which have given us the most rejoicingly beautiful happy smiling faces that have shone down at our neighbours bringing happiness to what could be otherwise just another apartment block balcony. We were very strategic in planting our sunflowers. Sunflowers are recognised for their beautiful large flower faces but they also have a range of benefits including, the seeds are edible. Sunflowers actually purify the soil by sucking up toxins like no other plant, they can actually remove metals from the soil by doing this. Sunflowers attract so many bees and beneficial pollinating insects.

Zucchinis, a watermelon and two large tomato plants, both have hit over 6 feet tall in that garden. I will be honest, as I write this I am trying to figure out who to move as space has become at a premium and we are now at a point where we have lost productivity of some of the vegetables in this bed. The zucchini is nearing the end of its productive life so it may have to go.

Around the base of the big vegetables in that container, we have baby carrots and radishes. We have a continual supply of both and I scatter seeds every other week so we never run out.

Our weekly vegetable shop from the supermarket usually consists of three things that I just cannot grow adequately at home:

1. cauliflower

2. Broccoli

3. Sweet potato

If we can’t grow it now, then we think, maybe we are not meant to eat it at the moment. Eating for seasonality is very important for the carbon footprint of our food and means we eat food tasting better and that is fresher because it didn’t travel as far and hasn’t been in deep freeze…

Share our balcony gardening journey with us!

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Balcony food garden harvest

How to prevent, manage and treat powdery mildew in a small garden

How to prevent, manage and treat powdery mildew in a small garden

Powdery mildew is one of the most common problems to occur in a small garden. It is better to prevent than manage or treat powdery mildew in a small space garden like a patio or balcony garden. Balconies, patios and small footprint gardens where there is a high density of plants are more likely to have plants impacted by powdery mildew as there is often less sunlight, space and air-flow. You can prevent powdery mildew by carefully utilising the space in your balcony or small space garden.
See our You Tube video about no dig balcony gardening and managing powdery mildew
See our You Tube video about no dig balcony gardening and managing powdery mildew

What is powdery mildew?

Leaf  with powdery mildew

Powdery mildew is a fungus commonly found growing in the garden. It grows from spores that may lay dormant in the soil until the conditions are right to start growing. It typically appears as the weather warms but the evenings remain cool. It can begin as a mild dusting of white dots appearing like powder on the leaves of affected plants and can spread so the entire plant is covered with it.

Why is powdery mildew a problem

Powdery mildew does not penetrate plant leaves however it inhibits the ability of a plant to photosynthesise. Photosynthesis is essential for your plants survival as it is how your plant transform light from the sun into energy. During photosynthesis, plants use light to convert water, carbon dioxide and minerals into oxygen that is released into the air. Ultimately, left untreated, leaves of plants affected by powdery mildew will whither, brown and die back and the plant is likely to die. Powdery mildew is also likely to spread from plant to plant.

What causes powdery mildew?

By managing the growing conditions you can prevent powdery mildew organically. The following factors contribute to the growth of powdery mildew, particularly in a small garden like a balcony or patio area:

  • High density plant environments mean air flow can be tight, increasing the chances of powdery mildew.
  • Often poor light for instance from a roof or awning, can increase the growth of the spores causing powdery mildew.
  • Planting plants that like full sun in too much shade can predispose those plants to powdery mildew.
  • Watering in the afternoon, evening or night so the ground doesn’t have a proper chance to dry out.
  • Foliage getting wet during watering from splashing or being directly watered.
  • Spores spreading from old and diseased leaves.

How to prevent powdery mildew in a small garden

Once powdery mildew sets in, it can be difficult to completely eradicate. There are preventative strategies you can do to minimise the chances of it occurring in the first place such as:

  • Plant plants with adequate space between them. In a balcony setting, it’s great to use vertical garden growing strategies like, Hanging pots which have plenty of ventilation and often great drainage, Grow walls and Tower gardens. You can increase the footprint of your small space garden by utilising these creative planting opportunities.
  • Water in the morning, allowing the ground to dry out as much as possible throughout the day.
  • Do not plant powdery mildew susceptible plants that like the sun, in shade areas. Plants like tomatoes and cucurbits including watermelons, cucumber, rockmelon, zucchinis and pumpkins are particularly prone to powdery mildew and do not fare well in the shade.
  • Install a Balcony Balcony drip irrigation set directly on the ground so that there is minimal or no splashback of water on to plants. Check out our instagram video to see more about drip irrigation systems. Shower watering from higher up increases the humidity in the area and increases the chances of powdery mildew spores propagating and spreading.
  • You can use a small amount of bicarbonate soda diluted with water in a milky solution to prevent powdery mildew.
  • Practice crop rotation on an annual basis so if there are spores in the soil, they are less likely to take hold.

Manage and treat powdery mildew

  • Once powdery mildew really sets in, it is very difficult to eradicate organically. If it is towards the end of the growing season you might want to consider removing the effected plant to protect other plants in the garden which might still be producing fruits or vegetables.
  • If you do remove the plant, make sure you dispose of it appropriately. This is one instance where you do not want to compost those leaves. The fungus spores will lay dormant and potentially spread into next seasons plants.
  • Pruning- at the first sign of powdery mildew, we remove any affected leaves. We inspect our plants daily for pests and fungal infection. We have found powdery mildew is more prevalent on Bush varieties of cucurbits, like the bush crop zucchini. In contrast, our climbing plants which are almost at the roof of our balcony are not affected at all. This is probably because they have a lot more sun and airflow. We have heavily pruned back the bush crop cucurbits which has extended the growing life of those plants.
  • You can treat powdery mildew with an organic spray like Neem oil however Neem oil may be toxic to the pollinators like bees or butterflies so it should only be used very lightly and should be used at the end of the day once the pollinators have finished work. Be very careful not to spray any flowers with Neem oil. If possible, use a mesh to cover your plans for 24 hours after using Neem oil.

Your crop yield should increase with powdery mildew prevented or under control by following the above steps.



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I became a mother- September 2018

After 41.5 weeks of anxious, excitement and waiting, and after 19 hours of intense contractions, 9 of which I felt through every fibre of my being, my helpless little boy took his first breath and was delivered onto his first resting place, my chest.

Feeling intensely overwhelmed and beaming with love, I held him ravenously and tightly cuddling him to my chest. Covered in meconium, amniotic fluids and who knows what else, I held him so tightly and rocked him gently. Loving every morsel of his being and promising to never let him go. It has been the most transformative 8 weeks of my life. As I have held my little boy and watched his incredible fight and determination I have been intensely aware of my own mortality and that of everybody around me. All we have is right now and yet so many of us waste the greatest gift we are ever given- ourselves, and the bountiful love around us.

My baby is at the start of his journey and sometimes I worry that his future is in my hands. I have loved every minute of being his mum and learning his needs.

They say that babies live within an intense emotional world as they are so helpless and lack the psychological reasoning to be able to understand the world around them. This means that they feel all the range of emotion like the rest of us but feel it with an intensity that we can only ever imagine.

No it has not been easy but I am honoured to be his mother. I have had many roles- Nurse, Lawyer, partner, friend and daughter, but no role could have adequately prepared me for feeling qualified to be my little boys mum. The great challenge of motherhood is that there is no real ‘training’. They teach you breastfeeding, bathing and they may show you once how to put on a nappy but the rest is an intuitive dance with your baby, where you try to figure each other out. I feel like I should be wearing ‘L’ plates and should undergo supervision by a guy in a yellow vest with a clip board to be entrusted with this little life that we created out of our love.


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