Lessons from the balcony: mid-summer

lessons_post_cover1Hello and welcome to my first gardening post in a while! A recent dental surgery took me out of commission, but I’m happy to say that I’m back to the garden.

For this post, I’m going to share with you my experience with gardening on a fire escape balcony so far, most importantly the plants that did great and ones that I’ll save for my community garden plot in the future.

The most important lesson I’ve learned so far has to do with the squirrels… No matter how much you protect your plants, there will be damage, and you just need to make your peace with the idea. That said, there can be a lot of damage, or a tiny bit, so definitely lots of things can be done on the anti-squirrel front! I’ve written about my squirrel-related tricks before, and I can’t say that I came up with any new ones since then…

Now that we’re done talking about the furry rascals, let’s move on to more positive subjects. Like how the various plants are doing on my balcony:

  • Greens. I love greens, and thankfully, they love me back! Salad greens are generally a safe choice for small and shady gardens, since most of them actually prefer low sunlight. The ones I have growing on the balcony at the moment are:
    • Lettuce (Oakleaf)img_31991
    • Arugula (Roquette)img_32051
    • Watercressimg_32001
    • Bok choy (White stem)img_32011
  • Herbs are also generally ok with shade. What I have now are:
    • Mint (peppermint, spearmint and Melissa)img_31961
    • Oreganoimg_31921
    • Basilimg_31911
    • Sage and thyme have been doing quite well, until they got chomped down by the squirrels… Will plant again, with more protection!
  • Nightshades seem to be having mixed feelings about the balcony:
    • The gypsy pepper is doing great and setting some fruit, even though it is in a somewhat shady locationimg_31971
    • This eggplant (Asian fingers), on the other hand, is sitting in full sun, has beautiful healthy foliage, sets out lots of flowers, which I dutifully pollinate, but I can’t find any setting fruit. I will take it to the community garden this week to see if it changes anything.eggplant1
  • Cucumbers and squash. These are hard to make up my mind about. On one hand, they grow well on my balcony, so what more can I ask for? On the other hand, they are very susceptible to squirrel-related damage, because their stems are so fragile, even when mature. I have moved all zucchinis to the community garden a while ago, but am still trying with a couple of cucumber plants. Those that survive the sharp teeth produce a lot of flowers and set fruit, although I do have to hand-pollinate them for this. So far, it seems that these plants require a bit too much attention on the balcony…img_32061
  • Roots, tubers and the like.
    • The potato tower project ended in failure, but I feel it’s worth giving it another shot in Fall!
    • Asparagus seems to be enjoying itself. I was not supposed to harvest any this year (to establish the roots), but have high expectations for next spring!img_31811
    • Beets are probably not getting enough sun on the second level of green wall #2, and the gutter planter is likely too shallow for them to develop decent-sized roots. I’ll try again in pots.img_31871
    • Ginger is doing surprisingly well in its current location, despite very limited sunlight and constant squirrel raids. In the future, I’d like to move it to a large plastic pot, to provide better protection from uprooting.img_32031
  • Berries seem to be doing quite well. All of the plants are first-year, so I can’t boast of large harvests, but it’s a start!
    • Raspberries are sitting in the sunniest spot on the balcony, and aside from a recent mysterious death of several plants (likely squirrel-related), they are growing fine and setting out berry buds.img_31861
    • I’ve had about four berries from this dwarf blueberry bush, and they were delicious!img_31841
    • The top level of green wall #2 seems to be a great fit for strawberries. And now that I’ve learned to shield them from the squirrels, they are producing flowers and setting fruit, which are then devoured by the tiny gardeners.img_31951
  • Flowers. When I was first setting up this balcony garden, I had a lot of perennial flowers, like Dianthus and Mums, but I got quickly tired of the squirrels biting off the flower heads, so I moved those to the community garden. The annuals seem to be doing better under my circumstances, probably because they are smaller, so I can wrap and protect them better.
    • Marigolds are arguably the easiest flower to grow, and they are definitely living up to this reputation on my balcony!img_31931
    • Nasturtium is setting out beautiful foliage, but I have yet to see any flowers. I’m fairly sure low sunlight is to blame here.img_31981

So all in all, I have a pretty good selection of plants to work with on the balcony! I’d love to find a black currant bush, because the berries are delicious, and it is less picky about sunlight.

Here are some other things I learned:

  • A worm bin on a balcony is a great idea! It takes little space (because the setup is vertical) and provides me with a bucket-full of vermicompost every month! And I can attest that even in the summer heat it does not smell.
  • Grow bags and other soft-sided containers are not a good fit for me. I like those and have used them in ground-level garden previously with great success. The problem is that it is hard to secure netting and other squirrel barrier materials around the soft pots.
  • Green walls are working great, especially the wall #2, which I made out of rain gutters. Wall #1 is functional, but I do not like the way it looks, so will be redesigning. And the vertical gardening potting mix I use with those setups is doing a great job in terms of water retention.
  • Oh, and did I mention that the squirrels are evil personified? I know I have, but it’s a sore spot 🙂


How are your gardens doing?


One thought on “Lessons from the balcony: mid-summer

  1. Pingback: Community garden update: after a week of neglect – The Fire Escape Garden

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