This is Dom and welcome to my balcony garden! I will be sharing the methods that I use to grow a sustainable, organic garden in a small space.
I wanted to start off by saying that I am by no means an expert in the garden, however, I absolutely love how rewarding our balcony garden is.
There’s nothing quite like enjoying the (literal) fruits of your labour. When I lived on my own, I dabbled into gardening on the balcony of my small one-bedroom apartment because I wanted an aesthetically pleasing outdoor space.
I had the perfect growing conditions, a 32nd floor south facing unit with tons of sunlight. Although it was a tiny space, I tried to grow everything from basic herbs to peppers to corn.
It was completely random, half the garden included plants that weren’t edible and I definitely took on too much at once, which is a mistake a lot of beginner balcony gardeners make when they’re first starting out.
It eventually became overwhelming, as I wasn’t spending enough time at home to give the attention and care that my garden needed to thrive. As such, my first attempt at gardening failed miserably and eventually I just gave up.
When Tiffy and I moved in together, there were a few reasons why I decided to tackle the balcony garden again.
Because Tiffy cooks so often, we were producing so much waste from food scraps that I decided to look into composting methods for apartment living.
One of the most common deterrents to composting in an apartment is the lack of space, along with the foul stench that usually ends up invading your entire living space. It just isn’t a viable option for most people living in apartments and condos.
That’s when I stumbled upon Bokashi Composting. It’s a fast and easy method that is perfect for those living in apartments and condos, with a compact bin and no odours or pests.
I’ll be writing a separate, in-depth guide on Bokashi Composting later on, but it is essentially an anaerobic composting process that uses inoculated bran to ferment kitchen waste into highly nutritious byproducts for your plants. What drew me in while I was doing my research was how easy and simple it looked while also being effective for your balcony garden and house plants.
I have always loved making drinks. While Tiffy is the sole cook in our household (she won’t even let me get near the kitchen), I would consider myself the resident mixologist. As my bar collection has grown over the years, I’ve enjoyed experimenting with different cocktails. After reading “The Drunken Botanist” by Amy Stewart, I became increasingly fascinated with the wide array of plants that could be incorporated into drinks.
I wanted to start growing my own fresh, organic herbs and plants that I could start using for my own beveragino recipes. I’ve included my favourite Mojito recipe below!
NATURAL STRESS RELIEVER
I work as a Sales Manager in a high performing sales environment. Anyone that has ever worked in sales can tell you that it can be extremely stressful. Throw in managing a dozen sales associates, coordinating with different departments, managing inventory, and constantly being in meetings, you rarely get any peace and quiet.
While it has been a rewarding career, I found that I was taking my stress home far too often. I slowly realized as I picked up my gardening hobby that it was helping me minimize my stress levels. Upon doing more research, I discovered that there have been several studies that found gardening has a significant impact on stress.
Gardening can greatly reduce salivary cortisol levels, a stress hormone, as well as fully restore a positive mood. Researchers linked this to increased exposure to sunlight while gardening, getting in touch with nature and creating beauty in your own space. For me, it was really pleasant to get some peace and quiet away from all the craziness in life.
Now that we’ve touched on why we started to start a balcony garden in our home, here are some tips that I’ve used to grow thriving plants in a smaller space!
Ensuring that you’re maximizing all the available space that you have is extremely important, especially when you have limited balcony/patio space to work with.
Vertical growing is a great way to take advantage of this, whether it be stackable planter systems or using fence/railing hanging planters, there are many ways to take advantage of the vertical space you have to work with.
You can also plant complementary plants together in the same pots and planters. This is something that I do to maximize space, reduce pests, and promote further growth!
Location is extremely important. What direction does your balcony/patio face? How many hours of sunlight does your space get per day? Do you have exposure to the elements (rain, snow, wind)?
Most plants require 6-8 hours of direct sunlight a day to thrive, although there are plenty of shade loving plants that could be an option if you don’t have ideal growing conditions.
Make sure you research your plants and make sure you’re growing them in optimal conditions. It’s always a good idea to map out your space prior to planting so that you have a better idea of what goes where.
Quality soil is SO important. Your plants need the proper nutrients to survive. I use my bokashi compost to provide my plants with an extremely rich environment to thrive.
In fact, I rarely ever have to use fertilizers because there is so much beneficial organic material in the soil and the bokashi tea that I use to water the plants. You also have to be mindful of drainage in your pots and how often you’re watering your plants.
Different plants will like different frequencies of watering and the amount of water being retained in the soil. Make sure to do lots of research beforehand so that you’re not over or under-watering your plants!
One of the most common mistakes for beginner gardeners is actually over-watering, as the soil stays wet and the plants develop root rot and end up dying. Most of my containers and planters have drainage holes with a tray at the bottom or some sort of drainage system.
I also highly recommend grow bags, as they allow the plants to breathe better and prevent the issue of root rot. You just have to water more frequently if you decide to grow in these, as the soil dries out faster than it would in plastic or terracotta pots. The main thing is to know what your plants need and keep a close eye on them!
GROW PLANTS YOU LIKE
This one should be a no brainer. Growing stuff you like can make a huge difference in the success of your garden.
Whether it’s veggies you like to eat, herbs for your favourite dishes, or plants for cocktail recipes, growing what you enjoy consuming will motivate you to be out in your garden more and to put more care into it. You have an extra incentive to see these plants succeed so that you can harvest and consume the fruits of your labour.
In my garden, I double down on the plants that I love to eat or use. Different types of mint for my drinks, cilantro, green onion and thai basil for Tiffy’s dishes, a variety of berry plants and a lemon tree (which is my prized possession) all get extra love because we harvest more from these plants.
Alternatively, if you’re not growing edibles, growing plants that you love the look of and find beauty in will go a long way. I have a Laceleaf Japanese Waterfall Maple Tree that I absolutely love. While I’ll never be harvesting anything from it, I spend lots of time pruning and caring for it because I love how it looks in my balcony garden space.
Gardening is an amazing hobby that can be extremely rewarding. I hope you can take some of what you read today and apply it to your own gardens at home, big or small. To cap it all off, I’ve included my absolute favourite EASY drink to make with plants from my balcony garden: the Ginger Mojito!
- ½ cup fresh mint leaves from the garden (or approx. 10 leaves)
- 1 lime
- one tsp white sugar
- 1 ½ fluid ounces white rum
- one cup chilled ginger ale
- 1 cup ice
Slice your lime into even slices or wedges (personal preference). I personally prefer them sliced. Set one aside for garnish.
Place mint leaves, 1 lime slice/wedge into a sturdy glass. Use a muddler to crush the lime and mint to release the lime juice and mint oils. Be careful not to break the leaves down too much or you’ll have bits of mint leaves in your teeth.
Add the remainder of the lime slices/wedges into the glass with the sugar and muddle again. Once the lime juice is released, fill the glass with ice. Pour your rum over the ice and top up with ginger ale. Stir and taste. Top with a sprig of mint and the lime slice/wedge you set aside earlier for garnish.
**Note: If you find this too sweet or you don’t like the taste of ginger ale, you can opt for a regular Mojito as well! Just sub out the ginger ale for club soda and add 2 tsp of sugar instead (or to taste). Super easy!