By Nancy Redfeather, July 2021
A time long ago, when I first began teaching, I realized I wanted to start growing some of my own food, but I didn’t have any land, so I started a home garden in containers across the front of my second story balcony of my apartment in Seal Beach California. As time went on and I saw what I could grow and my garden grew and grew until there was literally no room left!
So many people today have the same yearning I had - to grow some of your food, herbs or flowers, but don’t yet have access to land. So you grow in pots and containers on your balcony, lanai or porch, or even on a sunny windowsill in your kitchen!
BIG Container Gardening
My friend, Mike Reitz from Kohala, grows all his herbs, flowers, and vegetables in big containers. He likes the ease of working with them, as there is less bending over - we all can appreciate that! He uses 50 & 100 gallon livestock watering troughs you can buy at ACE Hardware. You can see his land is on quite a slope and it’s fairly rocky, creating in-ground gardening challenges. I asked him about the size of the troughs and what he uses as a growing medium.
Here was his unique and creative reply...
“Yeah, livestock troughs. When I started, I figured the 50 gal ones would work--and they do--but primarily for shallower, or wide rooting plants. Definitely won't work for carrots--LOL! Eventually I added a 100 gallon, which the tomatoes--and most kitchen garden veggies--seem to love. The 100 gallon comes with a drain plug which I leave open. The 50 gal. does not, so each gets 2 half-inch holes drilled out. I make a tub “lasagna” recipe for my growing medium. I start with a dozen tree limb chucks--10 to 12 inches in length, 1" to 1.5" in diameter, scattered across the bottom and interspersed with about the same number of baseball to softball sized rocks depending on tub depth, and then a sprinkling of pea stone sized "gravel" to fill in the gaps. Doubles as a drainage layer and something gnarly for the fungus to chew on. Here things shift more from lasagna to casserole with stuff dumped in in layers but then mixed around with a hand fork or trowels. The "stuff" is mostly a mix of potting and local soil with a good dose of organics which, in my case, happens to be a few tubes of coconut coir I lucked into, and a decent shovelful of compost every few inches of depth, and then watered. If you're lucky enough to have access to composted manure, mix some into the lower layers...but be a little careful as you might find that addition to be a little too rich and hot. Basically, toss in anything from dolomite to earthworms which you'd use to build up your regular garden soil and planting hills. Then once a year or so depending on how heavy your usage is, roll up a couple wheelbarrows, partially shovel out the tub and rebuild/remix it. Of course, you could always also use raised beds made from recycled lumber or a material like Trex.”
Tips for a Balcony Garden or a Garden in a Sunny Window
OK, so growing in these large containers is one way to have a home garden. But what if you have NO outdoor space only a balcony or small lanai? Here are a few things I learned from my first balcony garden.
· Use a range of different kinds and sizes of pots that all have ample trays underneath to catch water. Bigger pots will make it easier to grow plants! You could also build or buy a raised bed.
· Most vegetables like some sunlight, so if your space is more on the low light side, I would try growing chard, lettuce, carrots, radishes, brassicas, beets, herbs, kale, and leeks.
· Usually you can start your seeds directly into the pots they will be growing in.
· Add some compost to your organic potting mix and start a mini composting system. See video below for some very creative suggestions.
I recently looked at a lot of videos on growing balcony gardens and finally found one I thought was utterly inspiring. I hope you have time to look at this unique video made by a young mother on a very small balcony. It’s only 12 minutes and spans one year.
She said: “My rental apartment has a quite small balcony which is usually empty and scorching hot when summer comes. But not this year. I have embarked on the journey to turn my balcony into a green haven. After a few months I realized that to nurture a garden is to feed not just the body, but the soul.”
Then I found this amazing 9 minute video that shows how a young woman growing a garden in her house on a table in a sunny window. This shows ingenuity!
Lastly, I just couldn’t resist these Teeny Tiny Gardens like the ones on this website made by a woman who was looking to “relax after work".
So, even if you don’t have a piece of land to grow on, there are so many ways that you can nurture your urge to grow vegetables, herbs, and flowers! I’d LOVE to see some of your creative container, balcony, lanai, table, windowsill or tiny gardens. Please send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Small is indeed beautiful.