Part of being prepared is to have some level of self-sufficiency. Growing a few edibles on your balcony is an excellent start. Many Lettuce varieties grow well in containers, and best of all you can pick your own salad! A balcony kitchen garden can be fun and easy as well as practical.
Starting Your Balcony Kitchen Garden
- Use a high-quality organic potting soil.
- Fertilize plants according to their needs. Potted plants need nutrients.
- Watch how the sunlight moves across the balcony over the course of a day and place the containers in the areas where they will get the right amount of sunlight to thrive. If your balcony does not get good sunlight and you have an outdoor electric outlet consider purchasing some grow lights.
- Containers can dry out fast so water daily or twice a day in extreme heat and consider self-watering pots. Garage sales are a great place to find inexpensive containers.
- Plant a few flowers attract the birds, bees, and butterflies. Hyssop or Anemone might be a good choice. If you have pets, always research the possible toxicity and only plant pet-friendly varieties.
- Grow herbs and lettuce easily in containers.
Most important to only grow in your kitchen garden what you know you will eat, or flowers you find pleasing. Something may be easy to grow, but if you don’t have a use for it, then it’s just wasting valuable growing space on your balcony.
To allow for good drainage and air exchange you need a porous soil, if it’s too sandy it won’t retain the moisture and if too fine like clay it will compact. A good potting soil should be easy to find at your local nursery or the garden section of Lowes or Home Depot. The gardening sales people will be happy to help you pick out an appropriate soil for your purpose.
The containers need to have sufficient size drainage holes, so they allow water to escape. If they clog up, the plants will ‘drown’ and suffer from lack of air to their roots and be susceptible to disease and rot. Containers can get expensive so try the garage sales first. Always wash any used containers with hot soapy water before using.
If you have space and need more light, look for suitable plant shelving and place near an outlet and attach grow lights. If you don’t have access to an outdoor electrical outlet , make sure your plant stand is on rollers so you can move the plants to the light as needed.
Watering your Container Kitchen Garden
Roots of container plants are restricted and need constant care to watch for signs of wilting in particular. It’s easy for pots to heat up and fry the delicate plant roots, and don’t recommend plastic pots due to the potential for overheating. Clay pots are also prone to drying out their soil quickly so keep an eye on these daily or rig up a simple irrigation system.
It is also essential that mulch is put on top of the container, especially when plants are small, pots are big, and there’s lots of soil exposure. This will slow evaporation and keep the surface temperature of the soil cooler.
I’m not an expert of irrigation so I just water my plants in the morning before heading off to work and if it’s a hot day I’ll water again when I get home. A lack of water even for a short time, will more often than not result in the vegetable plants producing less and be more susceptible to disease, or in some varieties, like lettuce, they may bolt to seed.
When you have a small plant in a larger container, and there is a lot of soil exposure, it’s important to place mulch on top of the soil, the mulch slows the evaporation and helps to keep the surface temperature of the soil cooler.
There are many more varieties that do well in a container, and there are many well written and useful books on container gardening.
Keep it simple, start small and don’t go out and buy expensive stands, pots, and lights. Enjoy the fruits and vegetables of your labor. It’s a great feeling to go out and pick a meal, but not when that plate of lettuce ends up costing you a $100 bucks.