Monday, May 28, 2012

Urban Gardening: Tiny Balcony Garden

 With this weekend marking the unofficial start of the summer season I thought I'd share a bit about our great outdoors.  One of the biggest compromises we've made for urban living has been (very) limited outdoor space.

Currently we have a small balcony that we make the most of.  We have two $7 camping chairs (one for me, one for jb), a $3 toddler plastic chair (for Leo) and a $10 camping table - all of which I got on sale and lugged home from the pharmacy nearby.  Not the fanciest set up, but I don't mind leaving them out in the elements and it makes it possible for us all to sit and enjoy a meal (or a snack) outside.  Add the charcoal grill we got on freecycle and we are able to enjoy our spring and summer evenings outside with just a small amount of sq. footage.

If we ever end up in a big city brownstone/rowhouse with a sprawling yard the first thing I'd do is build some phenomenal raised beds and plant a big garden that we could get fresh food from all summer long.  Unfortunately, that's not in the cards right now.  The best we can do is a small container garden.  I'm not a very good gardener, but I learn a little more each year - and even if we don't end up with a fruitful crop, I think it's worth it allow Leo (and soon bug) to observe the growth and nurturing of a plant from seed/seedling to edible leaves/fruit/veggies.

We've managed to get a pretty good variety of plants into our small space, and we will note which ones do best in smaller containers - because we don't have the room to go much bigger!  Here is a rundown of what we've planted this season:

1.  Cherry Tomatoes - in the hanging basket in the top left corner of this picture.  These plants are supposed to be really good producers and do really well in hanging baskets.

2. Cucumbers - first year doing this plant.  I'm worried there just isn't enough space - but if we do get some we will eat them with gusto.
3. Spearmint - great for the summer rolls we eat often in hotter weather and for adding a couple leaves to lemonade.
4. Rosemary - I like to use sprigs of this in a rosemary chicken recipe with a side of roasted potatoes and asparagus.
5. Mini Eggplant - these are a first also, and I have the same worries about them being a bit ambitious for the space.
6. Strawberries - We've had good luck with these in the past - and even if we only get a handful of fruits I think this will impress Leo the most.  There's nothing like eating ripe fruit right off the plant!

7.  Blueberry Bushes - These are the largest containers we have (on the sides of the rack) and everything I've read says these plants are finicky and need a lot more space.  Still, I figured we could give them a shot and the little white flowers are already turning into little green berries.

8.  Thyme - I've never used thyme much - any suggestions?
9.  Chives - A little onion flavor for soups, eggs, or salads.
10. Mini Bell Peppers - I'm hoping these have a good flavor and we can use them in salads.
11. Lavender - Great in lemonade, iced tea and just to fragrance the home.
12. Dill - a little yogurt, lemon juice, salt and some sliced cucumbers (from the store if our plant doesn't make it) - yum.
13. Basil - I already over-pruned this poor plant.  I hope it bounces back.  I should get a few more either way because we go through basil quickly - and LOVE making fresh pesto.

That's a lot of garden for such a small space.  I'll update later in the season to let you know exactly how much has survived and what we've been been able to use in summer dishes.  Have you had luck with edible plants in small containers?  I'd love to hear what low-space high-yield plants people have been growing!


  1. Thyme is great in anything savory. We put it on chicken, meat, fish, eggs, etc. Really nice with anything citrus-y, like a marinade. It's a great sub for oregano in pasta sauces, too.

    If you have room for one more small pot, try planting some marjoram -- it's another one of our "goes with everything" herbs. We use it a ton and it's almost impossible to kill. You can also infuse vodka with it (and a little rosemary, too) and it's DELICIOUS. ;)

  2. I started a balcony garden last year (my first year with a balcony) and had a surprisingly good result. I grew tomatoes (regular and cherry) and an assortment of fresh herbs. The most successful was basil, which I grew from seed - I ended up with about 20-25 plants and had enough to give basil to family/friends/random strangers in my apartment. It was cheap and wonderful.

  3. Thanks! A citrusy marinade sounds divine! Will definitely be trying that.

  4. Yes! Basil is so great. It's practically a weed - which mean I don't usually kill it. And if I could make enough fresh pesto to freeze and use through the winter, I'll be very happy!

  5. I love alll of the vibrant colors on your porch!

  6. Thanks! I couldn't be too picky about the colors since it was a sale and we were on a budget - but I think it ended up working in a weird way!

  7. If you make your own salad dressing, thyme is great in it! I usually do olive oil, fresh lemon juice, freshly pressed garlic, salt and pepper, and then a few sprigs of thyme (leaves only) mixed in. It somehow makes everything taste fresher and lighter!

  8. MarthaPA5/31/2012

    What an awesome little space! I say every year I'm going to try container gardening, but never get very far. Our outside area is very much shaded with little direct sunlight! Maybe this year I will find a cherry tomato plant. I love to have fresh lavender and basil too!!! Good luck with your crop!!!

  9. anonymous6/03/2012

    Thyme is great in scrambled eggs . . or with shallots and butter and mushrooms and garlic, on toast . . or in a ratatouille . . I love thyme. I'm going to make a thyme sugar syrup to put in with a summer gin cocktail sometime soon.

    Have you considered sugar snap peas? They grow fast-- very impressive vines with gorgeous flowers-- very easy in a container-- and impressive for little kids because you eat right off the vine. I had a 5-gallon jug I planted them in, which I surrounded with a cheap cut of chicken wire and they just shot up. However, don't eat too many at once or you can get a belly ache. this is a constant risk as they are very delicious raw :)

    radishes are also fun with kids because they grow so fast and take very little space, and are beautiful. They are a favorite at a children's garden I know about. To eat them you can slice them on a piece of nice bread with butter, sliced radishes, and then kosher salt . . really good.

  10. Snap peas are a fantastic suggestion! They are a favorite in our house and I'd never considered them for our garden.

    The Thyme toast also sounds amazing. Shallots is another thing that I've rarely had in my kitchen. I need to branch out!


  11. Very inspirational! Just moved to a new apartment with plenty of balcony space... but we have long winters and that almost discourages me from planting much this year, since we are getting a late start. That, and I have a black thumb... but I miss my fresh herbs and do want to use these great balconies!

  12. It's a year later and the blueberries bushes are still going strong. I highly recommend getting some. The birds usually any berries before we can get to them, but I love having them!