By: Joyce Lambert
Tall trees and fields of corn may not fit onto your apartment balcony, but don’t let that stop you from growing your own garden fruits and veggies. Sure, having a big backyard garden is nice — it’s also a lot of work — but smaller ones also encourage healthy eating. And when it comes to encouraging children to express their gardening creativity, balcony (or deck) gardens are the perfect place to start, especially with native plants, fruits, and vegetables.
Jazz up salads and with tomatoes grown in stacked planters, hanging baskets, or drooping vines attached to hooks. Cherry and grape tomatoes are good choices for small spaces and small fingers. Other compact varieties to consider are ‘Red Robin,’ ‘Tumbling Tom,’ ‘Patio Hybrid,’ ‘Better Bush,’ and “Bush Beefsteak.’ Be sure to use fertilizers made specifically for tomatoes.
Herbs on the kitchen windowsill are a great way to add a natural dose of color and life to the interior of your home, and you can place fragrant planters on the balcony, too. Your young chef will be more apt to use them when they’re within reach. And herbs starter plants fit nicely in child-sized pots. Chives, oregano, and basil grow quickly and are easy to harvest. Another good thing about herbs is that their spicy aroma can act as an eco-friendly pest control method.
Lettuce is an excellent choice for a balcony garden because it germinates quickly and is usually ready for harvest within a few weeks. Another benefit? You can pick lettuce at an early stage — when leaves are quite tender — or later on when the heads are full. Growing and harvesting lettuce varies depending on the type, but because lettuce is a cool-season crop, it can tolerate a light frost.
Strawberries are easy to grow in small spaces — baskets are perfect! Install planter boxes onto railings or in flats. Strawberries are well-suited for Northwestern states like Oregon or Washington since cooler spring temperatures encourage healthy growth. June-bearing strawberries such as ‘Cabot,’ ‘Jewel,’ and ‘Earliglow’ are common for small spaces. They bear fruit in early summer.
Raspberries grow quickly — place them in single planters. Raspberries bear fruit on canes, and they do need constant pruning. Place the planters along a railing and set a few stakes nearby to encourage canes to grow and spread. Everbearing raspberry cultivars to consider: ‘Caroline,’ ‘’autumn bliss,’ ‘Ruby,’ ‘heritage,’ and “Latham.’ If you prefer a yellow raspberry, try “Goldie,’ or kiwi gold.’ Purple raspberries to brighten up your balcony garden are ‘royalty,’ and ‘Brandywine.’ If you want to black raspberries, plant ‘jewel.’
Green bell peppers, jalapenos, habaneros, bananas, chiles … spice up your palate with peppers of all types. Bell peppers are not spicy — they are among the most common types found in many salads and recipes. Small pepper plants are excellent options for those apartments that have little outdoor living space.
Just because you don’t have a plot of soil and a large backyard, doesn’t mean you cannot grow a rainbow of fruits and vegetables for the dinner table. You’re growing more than just produce, you’re also cultivating the next generation of gardeners. So share the responsibility. Get the kids their own watering can and pint-sized tools to encourage them. Green thumbs come in all sizes!
Jayce Lambert is a graduate student who loves traveling camping, hiking and cycling. Her love of the outdoors is apparent in her dorm room, which she adorns with hanging plants, ferns and plenty of vegetable plants.