Many would-be gardeners don't realise that living in a certain place actually determines the type of garden you will have and the plants that grow happily and healthily. If you grow your own vegetables and fruit then where you live determines what you grow to- you can't really fight your conditions of nature.
There is so much information on the internet about what seeds to sow and what plants are suitable for the seasons in your area. But the important thing is to really understand what your grow area or zone looks and feels like to your plants. Even within those parameters, there are micro-climates that are created by the environment you're living in which may require a re-think of what might be suitable for a home garden in your area compared to your Balcony, for example. Here I will try to highlight and distil some of the important considerations in the planning process that work for me on the Balcony and this applies equally to any small space!
Before rushing out and planting whatever you see it’s best to familiarise yourself with your climate zone. Too often, you will see posts or magazines talking about the seasonal plants available, however, the decision about which plants and when to sow seeds is best made when you know what grow well in your area.
I have made every mistake in the book over my years gardening in backyards and now my Balcony and possibly the most have been made here because the conditions are quite different from my ground-dwelling garden days! Plants that are not in their optimum environment are likely to be stressed and more susceptible to succumb to pests and diseases. In Australia, the zones are mainly divided into warm temperate, cool temperate, tropical and subtropical and arid (the first 4 being the most populated areas of Australia and I’ll focus on these).
You will find much commentary at the start of seasons about what “seeds to sow now”, “what plants to plant now”.
That’s the big question!
Reasons for Seeds Sowing: Know where your food comes from. You can grow more varieties than what is available to buy at the grocer, cost savings (each packet contains lots of seeds compared to the price of the vegetable/flowers themselves), it's easy!
Reasons for buying starter seedlings:
Seeds take time to grow so starters give you a head start, if you're new to gardening, growing from seed can be daunting when you're beginning, the trays for your seeds can take up room in an optimum position which you might not have on a Balcony or small space.
The how to and answers to questions are easily come by if you refer to some of the excellent resources available online.
General seed guides will recommend generic plantings but it’s important to know exactly when to sow or plant.
For example in Cool zones it is important to plant cool season crops so they have time to mature in the cool weather; if they are planted too late they will bolt to seed as soon as the weather warms up in spring; too early and the soil may not be warm enough for the crop.
Here on the Balcony I rely on references that provide seed sowing and planting guides by zone for the reasons that I have stated above in the zone information. A fabulous free resource is Gardenate which has an app that tells you exactly what to plant and when for your region.
Some popular vegetables they suggest to plant in Autumn are:-
Temperate zone: peas, carrots and broccoli.
Cool zone: peas, carrots and cauliflower.
Sub-tropical zone: beans, cucumber, pak choy.
Arid zone: tomato, zucchini and capsicum.
Tropical zone: sweet corn, lettuce, strawberries.
Specialty purveyors of organic seeds will also provide specific information about this too. I use a combination of seeds and seedlings.
Understanding your climate zone is just the beginning, every garden location, even on a Balcony or patio, has local 'microclimate' variations.
Autumn and Winter sunshine comes in at a different angle and the sunny spots on your Balcony or Patio and small space may disappear in Autumn and Winter. A wise gardener will be familiar with the location of the sunny patches at each time of year and parts of the day! Good news for shady Balconies and small spaced gardens is that a lot of the leafy greens of the colder months don’t need a lot of sun, unlike the fruiting Summer varieties of favourite plants!
If you live on a hill, each aspect - north, south, east and west - will have slightly different climatic variations. The eastern side will get morning sun, which is not as hot as afternoon sun but more likely to cause frost damage. The southern side will be much cooler than the northern. The western side will be hotter and drier.
The wind exposure will also be different: the eastern side may receive cooling breezes; the southern, destructive strong winds. Lower areas will receive more frost usually than higher areas, as the cold air drains downhill at night and settles in the low-lying areas. Apartment living can expose you to all these considerations.
Growing in containers means you can shift your plants into areas of your space where more optimum conditions exist. Root Pouch Grow Bags have two handles
Some simple words of truth about maximising your space in a small space garden situation. Sharing the love of small space growing with the clients of APIA Australia recently talking about how to build a thriving garden on your balcony. The most common gardening myth is that you need space to build a garden - let's bust that myth!