Small Space Gardening: 5 Tips for Starting a Balcony Container Garden

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Inspired by memories of my grandfather's amazing gardens, paired with a love of the novel, The Secret Garden, I set out to transform my 100 square foot balcony into a "Secret Victory Garden Lounge" to call my own. Decorating a lounge-retreat falls within my comfort zone, but growing flowers and vegetables does not. Armed with some advice from local gardening experts, I've taken the plunge and started sowing this weekend using the following tips and techniques...

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  1. Choose your seeds wisely. Since I'm new to the area, I consulted a local expert in regards to what to grow and when to sow it specific to my new neighborhood. Online sources like SproutRobot are also super helpful for providing regional advice, and the site will send you email reminders for when to plant specific type of seeds. If these plants will eventually live in containers, make sure to select seeds that have the container designation (it's usually on the lower right hand corner of the seed packet).

  2. Start inside. Some plants, like most tomato varieties, will want to be planted indoors in a greenhouse before being transplanted outside. The local expert I consulted suggested doing this for all of the seeds I was considering planting, since I was not transplanting them to a full bed, but instead to large outdoor containers. I picked up a small greenhouse starter kit for this purpose, and was pleased the kit included expanding pellets of dirt, obviating the need to schlep dirt to my apartment.
  3. Label. In the excitement of starting a garden, you might forget this important task: make sure to label the rows after you plant the seeds, as the sprouts are difficult to tell apart. I used what I had on hand, post-it notes, but I should have used twigs or popsicle sticks and a permanent marker to label my garden.
  4. Group wisely. Keeping in mind I would have full sun where the plants would eventually live, I only chose seeds compatible with this exposure location, and grouped by transplant and harvest schedules. Grouping by transplant and harvest will make it easier to visually see when the plants are ready for the next phase.
  5. Take Notes. Seed packets are full of valuable information, so I transcribed the relevant info into a Google Drive Spreadsheet, alongside specific plant information (what I sowed, when, and where). I will also keep track of the lighting conditions and first sprout data; I can later use this spreadsheet to refer to when seeking the help of my nearby gardening pro. This might seem like overkill, but for someone with geek inclinations for data and who really wants to grow beautiful and delicious things, keeping track of all these factors make earning a green thumb a realistic endeavor.

Hopefully my seeds will sprout in about a week or so, and I'm looking forward to documenting the process of putting my outdoor retreat together.

Have you grown a successfully balcony green space? What are your tips?


(Images: Joelle Alcaidinho)

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