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.

 

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