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|Tips for Balcony Gardeners|
|Written by Roy Joulos|
Plants add a great deal to our quality of life -- from cleaning the air we breathe to keeping us in touch with nature. Fresh, home-grown herbs and vegetables not only taste so much better than supermarket produce, they're convenient, and you know exactly where they came from and what was used, or not used, on them.
While hydroponic and vertical gardening systems have been developed to maximize the yield in small spaces, starting a balcony garden needn't cost much. Start with the right materials and choose plants that are right for your conditions, and you'll soon be eating from the pots on your porch.
Start by planting the right plants for the amount of sunlight you have. Most herbs and vegetables require six to eight hours of direct sunlight a day. So what do you do if you have just one balcony and it doesn't get that much sun? Choose edibles that can take partial sun/shade (three to six hours of sun in the morning or early afternoon) or light shade (two to three hours of direct sun or highly shaded all day).
Partial shade herbs include cilantro and parsley (both prefer cooler weather), dill, bee balm, spearmint and chamomile. Light shade herbs include garlic, chives, peppermint and rosemary. Partial or light shade veggies include lettuce, broccoli, green onion, collards, cabbage, peas, carrots, strawberries, beans and sweet potatoes. Remember that pale-colored surfaces increase the light your plants receive and plants with short-growing seasons usually need the full six to eight hours of light per day.
Choose the right pots. Bigger pots require less water and are less likely to blow over on high-rise balconies. Terra cotta allows moisture to escape fairly quickly, which is helpful for people who like to water a lot. Non-porous plastic or glazed pots hold water longer and are better for windy balconies, where soil dries out quickly. Using brightly colored containers can add style and visual interest to your garden.
Most vegetable plants require even watering so don't let them dry out completely or get soggy. Apply water directly to the soil.
Make sure your containers have a drainage holes or a drainage system. If they have an attached tray to catch excess water, don't allow the plant's roots to sit in the water, as it promotes rot and fungus. Either empty the tray regularly, or use a design that holds the water away from the roots.
Use the right dirt. It's important to use dirt that allows for good drainage. Most edible plants don't like to sit in wet dirt, and soil without good drainage tends to become compacted -- a difficult medium for plants that like to stretch their roots out. You can buy a sterile soil-less potting mix, a soil-based potting mix or mix up your own batch using 1 part compost, 1 part perlite and 1 part potting soil. Don't use garden soil or top soil, which won't allow adequate drainage. On windy balconies, top-dress your container with small rocks to keep the oil from drying out too quickly.
Finally, rely on self-pollinating plants or plants that don't need pollination by insects (unless you're willing to hand pollinate) as you're not likely to see many bees buzzing around a high rise. Don't worry about pollination for root vegetables, such as carrots and potatoes. Self pollinators include beans, peas, tomatoes and peppers.
Roy Joulus is CEO of Greenbo, which creates urban agricultural products. Pictured above is their Greenbo XL flowerbox, which is designed to hang securely on any balcony railing up to six inches wide. For more information, visit Greenbo.co. You can also find their products on Amazon.com.