07 October 2021

Growing food in a balcony garden or other small spaces

Photo by Sandie Clarke on Unsplash

Growing vegetable plants doesn't require more than decent soil, lots of sunlight and paying attention. Notice that "a lot of room" isn't on that list. It's entirely possible to grow vegetables in pots for a balcony garden if all you have is a balcony.

When I lived in Florida, I grew things like tomatoes and herbs on my balcony. The growing seasons work differently in warmer climates but with some experimenting, I was able to grow and harvest things from there and it was incredibly satisfying.

But now that I live in Pennsylvania I have an actual yard and six years ago I built myself a real kitchen garden.

My kitchen garden with beans, okra, cabbage, lettuce and arugula. This is how it looks in the spring. I grow an autumn garden of different veg after I harvest all the spring stuff

My early gardening education consisted of figuring out how to grow things in small spaces and that early training is hard to shake. My kitchen garden (actually gardens because I've built two more in recent years) is small. However because I work with the soil so much and study everything there is to study about companion planting, I get a lot out of my small spaces.

I like vegetable gardening for many of the same reasons I like other things like photography or baking. As with any of those pursuits, I will always be improving and learning and I will never fully master any of it. My goal is always to improve my proficiency.

With that said, I experiment a lot. Sometimes those experiments work and sometimes they fail spectacularly. This year's bold experiment was growing corn and the less said about that the better.

In the photo above you can see that there's a raised bed garden directly behind what I call my kitchen garden. That's a dedicated tomato garden. I figured out a couple of years ago that tomatoes have such specific needs that are different from say, cabbage, that it's easier to grow them in their own garden.

What I mean by that is that tomatoes need slightly acidic soil but they need calcium at the same time. Calcium raises the Ph of soil so I have to be able to counteract that alkalinity with sulphur and magnesium. Acidic soils and many other vegetables don't play well together, hence the separate bed for tomatoes.

While you'll never fully feed yourself from vegetables you grow yourself (unless you have about 50 acres to dedicate to veg farming), what you can do is supplement your diet. Preparing food I grew myself is on of my great pleasures.

Growing some of my own food has also got me hooked on home canning and that came about as a necessity. Until I learned how to stagger my planting so I could stagger my harvest, everything would be ready to harvest at the same time. There are only two of us and as much as we like cabbage, we can't possibly eat 12 heads of cabbage when 12 heads are ready to pick.

But what we can and do eat is sauerkraut and fermenting my own kraut was my entry to the world of home canning and food preservation.

Growing vegetables has opened up a world to me and I know stuff about biology, soil ecology, hydrology, chemistry and so many more things it makes my head spin sometimes. I accumulate knowledge over time and get better and better at the task at hand. And frankly isn't that the whole point of being alive? I think so anyway.

So start small and play around with gardening. If you're anything like me, you'll end up with a new obsession.

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