After living without any outdoor space of my own for 5 years, last year we moved and I gained an empty balcony. A blank canvas. When you live without any outdoor gardening space you realise just how much you previously took it for granted. I had never been a gardener, despite my mother avidly encouraging me through my youth. However, spurred on by the gift of some blueberry bushes and the notion of ‘feeding off my (rented) land’ I decided to give growing a go.
After hearing tales of how difficult growing veg could be, and knowing little about the ‘correct’ growing methods I started out with low expectations, perhaps I’d have a tomato or two by the end of summer.
I started from seed, nurturing them on the windowsill. A few days on, a rippling on the soil surface and the breakthrough of greenery caused a grin to adorn my face. The pure pleasure of watching something grow from next to nothing is one of life’s simple satisfactions.
A few factors influenced my plant choices; what couldn’t I buy from supermarkets (purple carrots), what was expensive to buy (mangetout), what tasted significantly better fresh (runner beans), and what could I fit on a balcony! Many venture into growing-your-own with tomatoes so I threw in some seeds. Far, far too many seeds as it turned out when I had around 50 tomato seedlings to try and re-home! A learning curve…
Of course I made many errors, none were detrimental. I remember exclaims from my boyfriend’s mother, “You didn’t harden off your tomatoes?!”. ‘Harden off’ meant nothing to me (for novices and others not ‘in-the-know’ this refers to the process of acclimatising your plants to the outer world). As a result my tomatoes grew slowly, but they still fruited. Nothing lost, some more knowledge gained.
By the end of summer, we had enjoyed plentiful runner beans, mangetout and tomatoes. They tasted incredible, perhaps enhanced by the knowledge of where they’d grown and what they’d been exposed to. There’s something incredibly rewarding about stepping outside and harvesting your crop to eat then and there. No more than a few paces between plant and pan.
If you think you don’t have enough space, think outside the box. Even a windowsill can flourish with chilies, herbs, lettuce leaves to name a few. If you think you can’t grow anything, try it anyway, maybe it’ll work. Get inspired by what others do, I watched a TED talk on growing salad in a New York apartment with no space using vertical, hydroponic platforms. Incredible!
So, one summer on I’ve learnt what did and didn’t work for me. Carrots can’t just be plonked in soil and expected to grow as a single straight root, they need more care and soil preparation which at the moment I don’t have time for. Shelling peas didn’t give me a good yield, I got approximately 30 peas from a whole summer – it wasn’t worth it, especially compared to the mangetout yield which kept us going for weeks. So this year I’m eager to try more – sweetcorn, peppers, courgettes, broad beans. Maybe they’ll work, maybe they won’t.
Novel gardener trying to make the most out of limited space!