Home Gardening Can Produce a Balcony Farm Bumper Crop
You may not be able to feed a family on what you can produce on your balcony or patio, but you’ll have the fun of watching things grow plus the special flavor of homegrown vegetables to help fill out a few meals.
Here is some advice on setting up your balcony farm:
You’ll need an area that has direct sunlight, enough support for heavy containers, easy access to water, and protection from strong winds. Anything that holds dirt and doesn’t dissolve can be used as a planner if you add drainage holes. Three ¾ inch holes per square foot of bottom is a good rule of thumb. If your container is plastic, drill along the sides near the base to keep it from weakening. To keep holes unclogged, either line the planter bottom with an inch of gravel or cover the holes with fine mesh wire and line the bottom with one inch of peat moss.
A treated soil mix will eliminate weeds and fungus. The store-bought kind is fine for a couple of tomatoes, but if you’re farming on a larger scale, you’ll save money by mixing your own in these proportions: one-third good black dirt, one-third coarse sand or perlite, one-sixth peat moss, and one-sixth processed or dried manure. Or try one of the synthetic mixes developed for commercial growers carried at your garden store.
They’re ideal for containers, but heavy watering may wash out nutrients so you’ll need to fertilize according to the accompanying chart. The code (e.g. 5-10-10) indicates first the per cent of nitrogen, second the per cent phosphorus and third the percent potassium in commercial fertilizers. Buy dry fertilizer and mix it into the top one-inch of soil.
Here are some general tips before we go into picking your balcony’s summer residents. Water outdoor plants when you can stick your finger about one inch into the soil and still hit dry or even slightly moist dirt. Be sure containers drain well. Four hours of direct sunlight daily (six for fruit-bearing plants) is the absolute minimum most plants need to thrive, and six to eight is better. To control pests, dust your plants (except for edibles like lettuce and spinach) weekly in the early morning when dew will help hold the dust on leaves. Or combine them with plants such as marigold, nasturtium, tansy and henbit which discourage pests naturally while adding color and fragrance.
If you have to leave your plants alone for a couple of weeks while you’re on vacation, use self-watering pots, or set up a reservoir by putting wicks into the drainage holes and setting pots on stones or wood blocks above the water level in a large tray. Mulch large containers with a heavy layer of vermiculite or sawdust, and group plants closely together and shade them with anything which won’t blow away.
Because it’s too late to start most plants from seed, pick up young ones at your garden center. Some easy-to-grow annuals which mix well in vegetable gardens are marigold, petunia, zinnias, pansy, nasturtium, sweet alyssum, verbena, and snapdragon. The chart lists some favorite fruit-bearing plants. Because tomatoes can produce the highest yield of any container plants, they deserve- to top your list.
The best plant to buy is stocky and bushy. Prune it down to one stem, set it in 1 soil just up to the bottom leaves, and tie loosely to a stake. Pinch off suckers (useless growth where branches join the stem) at the tip after they’ve formed at least two leaves. For full-sized varieties, use a five-foot tall circular cage of six-inch wire mesh for support. If you let one of the suckers develop into a second stem, you’ll get more tomatoes and the extra foliage will provide better sun protection.
Balcony Gardens bring another dimension to your life!