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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