Our balcony garden began with that sincere question born out of a love of gardening since childhood coupled with complete denial that we live in an apartment. When the current health crisis began, we were determined to avoid the shops as much as possible and to try and live as ‘off the grid’ so to speak as we could manage, even though we live in an apartment!
Through our high producing balcony vegetable garden we only make 1 to 2 visits a month to the greengrocer, yet we eat something fresh from our balcony garden with most meals. How did we do it?
growing what’s in season now
Are you limited in space? I challenge you to give it a ‘grow’ and see how you go.
Let’s start a balcony gardeningrevolution!
Inspire others to balcony garden and share your pics on Instagram, tagging, #giveitagrow
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.
What is 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.
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.
( mm / dd )
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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.
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.
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
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 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.
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.
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
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.
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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
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.
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…
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!
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.
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.
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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…
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.