Want to grow your own vegetables? You don’t need a big garden for self-sufficiency. You can realize your dream of a snack oasis on your balcony or terrace. Especially for beginners, a small garden that requires less maintenance is even beneficial. Here you can find out what is necessary urban farming and what you need to know before planting your balcony garden.
Especially if considering larger planters, you should inform yourself about the load-bearing capacity of your balcony before creating your balcony garden. As a rule of thumb, you can expect a standard balcony to support 300 kg/m2, regardless of material and construction. Ask your landlord if you are not sure, though. Calculate the weight of planters, plants, soil substrate and water. When dry, substrate has a density of about 0.4-0.5 kg/l. Water itself has a density of about 1 kg/l. You get the mass of the substrate by multiplying the density by the volume. The water content of substrate is usually between 20-40 %.
„Substrate“: Usually industrially produced mixture of various mineral and organic materials used for growing and cultivating plants.
What you can plant depends on the orientation of your balcony. Depending on how much sun your balcony gets, it can be divided into:
over 6 h sun
The south balcony is suitable for Mediterranean, sun-loving plants (for example, tomatoes, zucchini or chili) because it provides lots of heat and brightness. Due to the prolonged direct sunlight, plants dry out faster, which is why the need for care is highest here. In summer, daily watering may be necessary. With sufficient shade, for example, a sun sail, on the south balcony also all the crops that grow on the west and east balcony can be planted.
approx. 4-6 h sun „semi-shady“
The west and east balcony provides the ideal location for most crops, as it has sunny and shady places. Here, for example, kohlrabi, lettuce or beet thrive.
approx. 3-4 h sun „(semi)shady“
The north balcony gets the least light. Note that your plants need at least 3 hours of direct sun to grow. After all, photosynthesis works only with light. The choice of plants on the north balcony is the most limited, but the care of the plants is also the easiest. Here, plants such as radishes, carrots or arugula grow.
Note that the sun hours are rough guidelines. It may be the case that your balcony gets less light during the day (e.g. due to trees or houses that cast shadows) despite matching balcony orientation. If your balcony is located between two main cardinal points, it is best to orientate yourself by the number of sunshine hours.
When choosing planters for your balcony garden, you can distinguish between different sizes, shapes, colors and materials. Sizes from 80x40x35 cm are advantageous for plant communities. Rectangular pots are optimal for the limited space on your balcony. They also provide more space for the roots of your plants. Especially aesthetic and sustainable are raised beds or wooden planter boxes. While balcony boxes are only suitable for small crops, wooden planters and vegetable boxes can be used for all types of crops, assuming they offer at least 35 cm of depth. For wooden containers, it is also advisable to use an inner lining of pond liner to protect the wood and retain heat inside the bed. You can find out more about pots and foils as well as their respective advantages and disadvantages here.
Never use plastic bags or tarpaulins! These thin films often tear, become leaky and have a negative effect on plant growth due to the harmful substances!
Special seed breedings are commercially available for balcony vegetables. These cultivars grow compactly but still have a high yield. However, depending on the pot size, all types of crops can be grown on the balcony. Instead of using new breedings (F1 hybrids), use robust, proven varieties! You can also base your choice of cultivars on the growth habit. High-growing tomatoes, for example, are suitable as a screen, whereas bush tomatoes grow very low. Think about how much time and effort you want to put into your kitchen garden and choose your cultivars according to the care requirements of the plants.
„F1 Hybrid“: Cultivars resulting from the crossing of two inbred lines that cannot be propagated. Plants are „disposable“ with uniform appearances and characteristics.
„Old Varieties“: Cultivars that have adapted to local conditions over centuries and are particularly robust.
Use only absolutely mature compost, bokashi or humus for your container plants. As a substrate, for example, coconut fibers is suitable, a peat alternative, that provides loose soil. Soil additives, such as rock dust or perlite additionally promote the quality of the soil. To improve soil activity in limited soil space, you can „inoculate“ the substrate with EM-A, or add garden soil or worm humus. You can read more about the optimal substrate here.
„Humus“: Inanimate organic soil matter composed of dead plants, roots, and soil organisms, which is constantly, rebuilt and decomposed.
„EM“: Effective Microorganisms (EM) are a concentrated mixture of beneficial microorganisms, bacteria, and fungi that activate soil algae, promote root development and strengthen the plant. EM-A(ctive) is an activated and ready-to-use solution made from water, Effective Microorganisms primary solution, and sugar cane molasses, among others.
„Bokashi“: Alternative to conventional garden compost, in which kitchen waste is fermented with the help of effective microorganisms and turned into valuable humus. Fermentation takes place in an airtight bucket, which makes „composting“ possible even in a city apartment.
As a long-term fertilizer, you can use nitrogen-rich horn shavings or sheep wool. For acute nutrient supply, especially for nutrient-loving plants, it is best to use nettle or comfrey liquid manure, vinasse, or organic tomato fertilizer. You can find more about fertilization here.
„Vinasse“: Residue resulting from the fermentation of sugar cane molasses. This viscous syrup is obtained as a by-product of sugar extraction.
Want specific information and step-by-step instructions on how to grow a kitchen garden -from preparation to harvest?
Hi, I’m Lisa from Permapot. I’ve been growing my own vegetables in my small urban garden and on my terrace for 4 years now. With Permapot I would like to make it easier for you to get started with urban gardening!
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