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 2021.

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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 2021.

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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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This site uses affiliate links which mean I receive a commission from items purchased through this site. This commission is of no cost to any purchaser.