Grow Big in Small Spaces

Grow Big in Small Spaces

Sharing the love of small space growing with the clients of APIA Australia recently

 

Build a thriving garden on your balcony


The most common gardening myth is that you need space to build a garden. For city dwellers, growing a veggie patch or fruit tree can feel impossible with limited space. However, when set up correctly, porches, courtyards, and small balconies are fantastic gardening environments. 

We spoke to urban balcony gardener, Wendy, to understand the process of building a thriving garden bed. Her passion stemmed from watching her parents build a lush and plentiful garden in her childhood home. Spending her younger years amongst large tomatoes and Asian greens, she continued to pursue this passion in her adult life. Today, she thoroughly enjoys spending time in her balcony garden, tending to what she calls her “piece of paradise”.

Wendy is happy working in the garden.

While she might have a bit of a naturally green thumb, Wendy draws inspiration from the techniques of gardeners across the globe – spanning across Indian gardeners, who have mastered growing produce in both humid and dry climates to Italian gardeners who are artfully growing within the concrete confines of their high-rise balconies.

Armed with garden inspiration from around the world, Wendy has built an impressive balcony garden – growing produce ranging from large grapevines, herbs, cucumbers, pumpkins and fruit trees. Whether your garden is brimming with plants or you’re a novice looking to buy your first bag of soil, here are Wendy’s top tips to make your vines sing.

Know your grow-zone

Before you head to the nursery, understand the conditions of your garden – this is what Wendy calls her “grow-zone”. For example, when setting up a new garden, always consider factors like the amount of sunlight your plants will be exposed to, whether you're facing the sea and how much wind or rainfall your garden receives. Gardens at higher altitudes will be cooler than gardens at sea level so plant perennials suitable to cool conditions. To reduce the risk of frosting, create paths for airflow in your grow-zone. With these conditions in mind, you may have to adjust what you can grow and how you structure your garden.

Wendy garden

Make the most of your space

A common misconception is that you need a large area to grow produce. Building a successful garden is possible when you utilise the space to its full potential. Wendy says, “if you have room for a pot, you have room for a garden”. Gardeners often build a tiered system by layering plants and growing vertically. To do this, attach plant containers to walls or fences, or secure mesh to walls to encourage your plants to climb. Grapevines, kiwi fruits, squash and tomatoes are great for vertical gardens. Make sure your mesh frame is sturdy enough to support the plants; for example, zucchinis and tomatoes can get heavy. For the plants that don’t climb, consider elevating them with plant trolleys as these are easy to manoeuvre.

Grapes from wendy garden

Invest in quality soil

Wendy’s secret to a successful garden starts at the soil level, as this is the life force and foundation of your produce. Quality soil has a healthy mix of fine sand, clay and organic matter providing essential nutrients and the appropriate drainage for your produce. It’s imperative you select a potting mix with the Australian standards ticks on the side. By investing in a premium mix, you’re providing your plants with the much-needed nutrients they need to thrive and are adhering to the Australian biological hazard standards.

Create a circular ecosystem with compost

Great soil and composting go hand-in-hand. Wendy takes the approach of a “closed ecosystem” where any waste she generates goes back into the soil. The most effective way to establish a closed system is by composting with two key material types: green materials (e.g. fruit and vegetable scraps, used tea, coffee grounds, crushed eggshells, grass clippings, old flowers and weeds) and brown materials (e.g. straw, paper and cardboard, dry leaves and woody prunings.) 

worfarm from wendy's balcony garden

When layering your compost, the golden ratio is two parts brown materials, one part green materials.

To help break down the compost Wendy uses a worm farm. Once the worms have churned through the waste, Wendy adds the worm castings to the garden. Gardeners call the worm castings “black gold” as the substance is vitamin-rich and helps bring out the nutrients in your soil. With healthy and regular composting, your garden won’t need to be fertilised frequently—it’s better for the soil and it’s easier for you to maintain.

Grow your favourite produce

When setting up your garden, select the fruits, vegetables and herbs that will provide the most value. It’s important to consider the food pairings you like to cook with (e.g. tomato and basil or mint and cabbage). If space is at a premium, Wendy recommends starting your garden with leafy greens as “they're full of antioxidants, and are easy to grow.” 

Wendu cutting stems from her balcony garden

Even in a restricted environment, growing your produce is very achievable. By researching your climate, creating a tiered garden and setting up a circular ecosystem with compost, you’re able to make informed decisions on how to build a thriving urban garden. Hear Wendy’s story and learn how you too can enjoy the fruits of your labour.

 




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