Gardening and permaculture have become all the rage recently, and I’m absolutely thrilled to be a part of it. Luckily for me, I’ve spent the majority of my time converting about an acre of property, which has allowed me to experiment with water catchment systems, a food forest, and an abundance of things. However, it hasn’t stopped me from investigating growing food on patios, in pots, and all around my living spaces. And that’s what’s on the agenda today – how to make your patio or balcony an abundant source of food.
Well aware that most folks don’t have an expansive space at their disposal, the permaculture gurus have not failed to pay attention to converting tiny spaces into productive and enjoyable gardens. And, the idea isn’t only that the garden grows food, but that it is also a place to spend time, to enjoy a bit of greenery wherever that balcony may be, and to use our spaces wisely and frequently as opposed to forgetting them. How many balconies or patios turn into empty spaces with a set of garden furniture? Some plant life is the perfect thing to draw you out of the house, with reason.
1. Consider the Entire Space
Obviously the size of a balcony or patio can very dramatically, but fear not – no matter what you’ve got, you’ve got something that can be worked with. Most likely, you’ll want to use this space, close to your living quarters, to grow edible plants that you can munch on quickly and often. As well, in such a limited space, it’s important to keep in mind the vertical area you can work with. Can you set up a spot to grow edible vines up the wall? Can you hang plants from anywhere? Is this also an area to sit, exercise or entertain, and if so, what spatial requirements are needed for that? Think through the space before starting.
2. Choose the Right Plants
Growing a garden doesn’t always have to mean neat little rows of carrots, cucumbers, and tomatoes. There are loads of edible options out there, and be careful in choosing the right stuff for your space. Herbs and salad greens should probably top the list, as they can be harvest daily (just take the amount you need), require little space and soil to grow, and are healthfully beneficial. Vines – grapes, kiwis, cucumbers, etc.—might grow well up the wall. Many legumes are easy to grow and can be eaten as leafy greens while awaiting the beans or peas. And, there are lots of edible flowers to consider. Find out what grows in your area and make the most of it. Just remember to go with a variety.
3. Design for Maximum Output
The trick here is to push the design as far as possible, striving to get as much food and eco-diversity into the space as you can while still getting to use it as you want to. Fill every area that isn’t needed for something else, from the ground on up. Don’t waste the walls or roof: Install a simple trellis, put up a few shelves for more pot plants. Hang things when possible as lots of food will grow that way. And, make it funky. Take this space to try out those daring decorative ideas too risky for the house: Paint polka dots, intersperse strange figurines everywhere, whatever. Make it a space you look forward to visiting so that you’ll use it.
4. Plan for the Future
Beyond just growing food, now is the perfect time to start thinking about other ways to make the garden useful. Lots of people use wastewater from the kitchen to feed their plants, getting double duty out of the resource. They start composts or worm farms to help dispose of kitchen scraps, as well as fertilizing plants naturally. Reused plastic bottles can make some handy and cool-looking planters. Many people like including small ponds (just a pretty pot full of water will work) with edible plants, and this also provides a good spot for the local wildlife: lizards, insects, frogs, etc.
Then, do it. Start growing food as soon as possible. Start using that abandoned space that’s still included in the rent or house note. Enjoy eating from your own garden. Enjoy watching it grow up into something amazing that’ll impress all your friends. This is an amazingly practical, redeemable use of time. You’ll even eat better for it.
Image source: I.Sáček, senior/ Wikimedia Commons