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growing vegetables in shade

Vegetable Garden

How to Grow Your Own Food on a Balcony Garden

January 23, 2021

How to Grow Your Own Food on a Balcony Garden

How to Grow Your Own Food on a Balcony Garden

If 2020 taught us anything, it was that getting outside into gardens or walking in parks and spending time immersed in nature was good for us. Seeds became almost impossible to buy as online suppliers of fruit, herbs and vegetables opened and shut their websites to cater for demand. Garden centres were busy providing online and postal services, cars gathered outside garden and forestry walks as their owners took the time to get some exercise. Gardening photos were shared across all social media channels beguiling us with their vibrancy and enthusiasts prowess.

That was all well and good for those of us who’ve been trying to encourage everyone to grow their own food or get outside for years, or who have some space to potter around. What about the folk who were stuck in apartments with tiny balconies, unable to get out and share in all the fun? It must have been very difficult to sit back and watch our enthusiasm as spring turned into summer, watching our gardens blossom from bare soil to an oasis of colour and calm.

The good news is that a balcony does not have to limit your growing experiences. With food supply chains expected to falter due to new import regulations this year might be the one to have a go at growing food, even if it’s just a few tubs of salad leaves.

In no particular order, for the next few minutes I’ll be sharing some considerations you might like to take into account if you’re wondering how to grow your own food on a balcony garden this year.

Flowers & Vegetables growing on a balcony

Photo Credit: Samantha Murray

Wind

Wind direction is a factor in any garden, but especially important on balconies. The wind can damage, break or blow over plants and planters and provide a ‘wind chill’ element that can freeze them half to death. Moisture can be whipped from plants leaves and compost may dry out quicker than you can sneeze.

If you have glass surrounding your balcony, it will benefit by stopping the wind in its tracks, while providing some additional warmth, acting like the side of a greenhouse. If not, you might like to consider adding a clear screen, securing your planters, choosing plants wisely, and adding a mulch on top of the compost to prevent drying.

Weight

Safety is always a priority in the garden and balconies are no exception. Ensure your balcony is capable of taking the weight of plants and planters. Think how heavy a bag of compost is then multiply it by the amount of containers you’re planning for your balcony. The weight of water will add even more of a load, especially if the containers become waterlogged.

Pallet Garden in GoresbridgeBalconies are covered under the Building Regulations but the boom years saw some shoddy workmanship. If you’re unsure, check with the owner or management company. In the meantime there are steps you can take to reduce the weight.

  • Choose light weight containers.
  • Mix potting compost with perlite as per the instructions on the bag. Perlite is a type of volcanic rock that should be available in all garden centres.
  • If using large containers, don’t fill them up completely with soil. Crush some aluminium cans or food grade plastic and place in the bottom third of the container, before covering with a piece of weed proof membrane and topping up with compost. The fabric will allow water to filter through, while protecting the growing medium from the recycled materials.
  • Some multi purpose composts, which are ideal for for container growing, weigh more than others. Shop around and look for peat free or sustainably sourced peat where possible. Enrich Soil Solutions have a great range of products if you’re struggling to find something suitable.
  • Use the walls. Put up some vertical planters to take some weight off the balcony floor.

Fruit and Vegetables that Grow in ShadeShade & Sun

Choosing the sunniest spot to grow your fruit and vegetables is a mantra you’ll often hear but if you’re in a flat or apartment, you might not have a choice. If you are north facing with limited sunlight, there are still some vegetables you can grow. A more detailed article can be found here. South facing and you’ll have to consider shading to protect plants from being over exposed.

Choosing Containers

Balconies provide an opportunity to have a bit of fun with containers, either using upcycled household items or colourful pots from garden centres. You can find a more detailed post about container gardening here. A few tips worth considering include:

  • Use the largest container possible or you will have to water more often.
  • Unglazed Terracotta can get frost damaged.
  • Plastic pots can dry out as they heat up so consider irrigation.
  • If using upcycled materials, consider the following:

“Plastic that is safe to grow food in/with should have recycling numbers 1, 2, 4 and 5 on the bottom. Plastic with a 3 has PVC in it. In time chemicals leach out contaminating soil, which in turn contaminates the food. Styrofoam is made of plastic number 6 and has cancerous effects, Number 7 contains bisphenol A which is harmful to the behavioral growth of children.”

  • You can grow pretty much any plant in a container if the container is large enough and you have ensured there is suitable drainage. As mentioned, the main considerations are the direction your balcony faces and how exposed it is. Tender plants such as basil may not survive windy conditions and thyme really dislikes it too.
  • Variegated herbs can be slower growing, so good for containers.
  • Perennials should ideally be replanted in fresh compost each year which is a good time to check the roots for pests
  • If buying plants, choose dwarf varieties, varieties that are expensive or unusual to buy, herbs, or fruit that can be trained vertically to save space.

Watering

By its very nature, container gardening requires more watering than planting into soil or raised beds and windy conditions can add to the drying effects.

To save you popping out there twice a day with a watering can during the growing season, consider investing in a drip feed irrigation system, or stand plants on capillary matting. Look out for containers that have built in water reservoirs or stand pots in trays to catch excess water.

Lockdown Videos

During the first COVID lockdown in 2020, Samantha Murray shared some videos and photo updates onto the Community Gardens Ireland Facebook Page from her Dublin balcony and has kindly given me permission to use them here. She was an inspiration to many. Take a look at one of Sam’s videos below that she published in April. You can find more on the Facebook page, including tips on some of the more unusual containers she used to start off seeds such as avocado shells.

For more garden hacks on using recycled kitchen waste to save you some money and the recycling centres from the additional waste, take a look at the Greenside Up YouTube channel here.

If you’ve figured out the best or unusual ways to grow your own food on a balcony garden and have any further tips or observations, please leave them in the comments. With more people growing their own food than ever, we’d love to hear your tips and help the communities of people growing food everywhere, no matter what their size or experience.

Vegetable Garden

Best Fruit and Vegetables that Grow in Shade

January 16, 2016


Vegetables that Grow in Shade

“Help, I want to grow my own vegetables but my garden is shady. I’ve heard fruit and veg like to grow in sunny places, can I grow anything at all?”

Vegetables to grow in shade

This is one of two questions I was recently asked and it’s a good one. Most of us aren’t blessed with the perfect growing conditions and if we want to grow vegetables successfully, we have to learn to plant to suit our circumstances.

Like many of us, fruit and vegetables enjoy soaking up the light and ideally, 10 to 12 hours will give them plenty to keep them happy. Unfortunately we don’t always get what we want. The following gives tips on the best fruit and vegetables that grow in shade so if that’s the kind of garden you have, why not give some of them a go.

There are varying degrees of shade and recognising what you have in your garden is a good start in helping you to create a vegetable garden. 

Full shade

I’m not aware of any fruit and vegetables that will grow well in gardens that are in full shade. If you know of any then please leave a comment below. If this is all you have, you might have to give up on the vegetable growing idea and join a community garden instead! There are however, some shrubs and ferns that will happily grow without much light; take a look at the RHS list if you need some help.

Vegetables that grow in shade

Partial Shade

Partial shade is considered anything from two to six hours without sunshine. and it can be tricky for some vegetables and great for others. The time of the day your garden receives sunlight can be an important factor too. Spinach and lettuce can go to seed quickly if they get too hot so will appreciate a bit of shade, as will coriander and chard.

Dappled Shade

Dappled shade is often caused by hedgerows or trees where the light filters through. In our own front garden, the area that receives the dappled shade is quite bright as it’s south-facing. Trimming the hedges or carefully removing a lower branch or two or even raising the canopy of the trees to allow more light in to your garden can be a great way of brightening up the area. If you’re not sure how to do this yourself, seek  advice from a qualified landscaper or horticulturist.

Fruit and Vegetables that Grow in Shade

Choosing what vegetables to grow in a shady garden

If your garden is shady on and off throughout the day, you might like to try growing large leafed vegetables such as kale and cabbage, swiss chard and spinach or lettuce and rocket, whose large leaves will soak up the sun when they see it.

Dwarf, baby or early varieties of beans, baby carrots and even some bush varieties of baby tomatoes can grow well in gardens that are sunny in the morning but shady after lunch .

If your garden is shady in the morning and then bright later on, try growing peas and runner beans that climb on vines.

Vegetables that grow in shadeMost herbs enjoy sunlight but there are several that will grow well in shade, particularly coriander which again is prone to bolting, lemon balm and other herbs in the mint family.

Fruit that originates in woodland areas such as the different currants, gooseberries, blackberries, and raspberries should produce a good crop in dappled shade.

Fruit and flowers need sunshine

If you have to consider shade in your garden, keep in mind that anything we grow for fruit and flowers needs lots of sunshine but anything we eat with leaves or roots will tolerate varying degrees of shade.

6 Top Tips for Shady Vegetable Gardens

  1. Make sure your soil is as healthy as it can be. Shady garden plants will have enough of a challenge without adding an unhealthy soil into the equation. Add compost or well-rotted manure annually and practice good crop rotation techniques if you can.
  2. Keep up with the weeds. Plants growing nearby that we don’t need will compete for light, moisture and nutrients so if you don’t need ‘em, weed ‘em.
  3. Start vegetable seeds in modules and then transplant the seedlings outside when they’re larger. If you have a cold frame, move the seedlings into it before planting them out into the soil which will allow them to acclimatise. Starting seedlings indoors will give them a good start in life and a better chance of growth and survival.
  4. Watch out for slugs and snails who thrive in shady areas. Lay down beer traps or try any of the other methods mentioned in this ‘15 ways to deal with slugs organically’ article.
  5. Give vegetables lots of space. Airflow and too much moisture can often be a problem in shady gardens so make sure there’s lots of space between plants which will cut the risk of disease.
  6. If you’re surrounded by dark walls or fences, try brightening them up with white paint which will help reflect light around the garden. We tried this in Goresbridge Community Garden on the dull grey walls and the transformation was immediate. The light, wood chip paths helped too.

Vegetables that grow in shade

Have you tried growing fruit or vegetables in the shade? How did you get on?

If you’d like more tips about growing and cooking fruit and vegetables, sign up for the Greenside Up newsletter and you’ll receive monthly links to articles that can help you cook and grow your own more confidently and successfully.

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