Monday, March 19, 2012

Balcony Container Garden

I shop for groceries 3-4 times a week. I like to buy the freshest meat and produce and that requires going to the store frequently. Day after day, I am faced with the choice to buy the pricier organic or the pesticide laden conventional produce. Living on a budget is hard, especially when it's important to you to eat clean, organic food.

To solve this problem, I decided to plant my own garden. I live in an apartment with a long narrow balcony. I started to research how to make a container garden. It's simple really and the materials I used, while unconventional, seem to be working out great.

I used 3 rubbermaid type tubs along with other pots to plant my garden. The most important thing when using any type of container is drainage. Your plants need moist soil but their roots can't be sitting in water for a long period or they will rot. I cut triangular holes in the bottom of my rubbermaid containers. To get the holes started, I used a nail heated with a lighter and then pounded into the bottom of the container with a hammer. It wasn't the simplest way to do it but it did work with the limited materials I already had. Once the nail had penetrated the container, I used a sharp knife to cut the triangular holes. They were about 1/2 - 3/4 inches wide.

I layered lava rock across the bottom of each container. I tried to stick to the larger rocks with a diameter of around 1-2 inches. I then topped the rocks with coffee filters before pouring organic soil on top. I also mixed in a little organic fertilizer into the top 2-3 inches of soil.

Currently, I have strawberry plants (which are already producing fruit), a cherry tomato plant, cucumber plant, multiple types of lettuce, basil, mint, chives, and onions. The things that seem to be taking the longest to grow are the lettuces. The tomato plant is starting to bud and has shot up nearly a foot since I planted it three weeks ago! It's all going really well, and that's saying a lot for a self proclaimed plant killer. I guess I just never took the time to really research how to properly garden.

During research, I found that these were the most important things to consider:
1) Drainage! You're plants will die if their roots sit in water for too long. They will start to rot. Drainage is not just about making holes at the bottom of the planter, it's also about making sure the holes don't get clogged with soil and that containers are off the ground where they can't drain properly. I have my large containers on bricks so that the water doesn't build up underneath.
2) Amount of sunlight. Make sure when buying plants to check how much light they need and how much light the area you want to put them in gets. All the plants I chose were full sunlight since my balcony gets light all day long.
3) Use potting soil! You need soil specifically for potting. If you get regular soil for planting in the ground, you won't be getting enough nutrients to have a thriving container garden.
4) Use fertilizer. I found organic fertilizer/plant food at Wal Mart.
5) Do your own research! This post is just to give you an idea of how to go about container gardening. Trust me when I say, I am not an expert at this... in fact, this is my first thriving garden ever.

For some reason, these pictures came out extremely bright although it didn't appear so on my camera's screen. These are just a few photos of when I first planted the garden and then a few more of the garden after 3 weeks. There were a few lettuce plants that were a little wilted in some photos but I'd like to report that they are all doing fine now.

Arugula- week 1

Arugula- week 3

Strawberries - Week 1

Strawberries - Week 3

Lettuce - Week 1

Lettuce - week 3

Basil - week 1

Basil - week 3

Tomato - week 1

Tomato - week 3

Chives - week 1

Chives - week 3

Cucumber - week 1

Cucumber - week 3

Overall - week 1

Overall - Week 3

UPDATE: It is now week four and a half and some of my plants are ready to eat! The arugula is more than ready.

This morning, I went outside a took a close look at the leaves of my lettuce and what did I find? Only hundreds of aphids!!! Hurdle number one is here and I'm going to do my best to correct the problem. I'll update in a few days.


  1. What a great idea for planting vegetables.although I have a yard it is smaller and does not have any room for spices or veggies. I never though about using plastic bins or even dish pans..but I will now..thanks for the idea~~Debb