I have to forewarn you, these ideas are not pretty. If you read high-end gardening magazines and fantasize about having an award winning garden designer create a garden on your deck, then just skip this post. But if your number one goal is to grow as many fruits, vegetables, and herbs as possible, then read on. These ideas aren’t pretty, but they will maximize your use of your space.
All of these ideas assume that you have a full sun balcony with railings. But you should be able to adapt the ideas somewhat if you have a less than idea vegetable growing environment.
Hang Grow Bags on the Outside of Your Railing
Park Seed sells these grow bags that hang off the ground and have 10 holes in the front where you can plant all sorts of edibles. Other manufacturers make something similar, but their’s is the best price I’ve found. Hang these bags six inches apart on the outside of your balcony railings (assuming that your landlord/HOA doesn’t have a rule against this sort of thing). You can plant the bags with strawberries, leaf lettuces, herbs, and edible flowers (like nasturtium). You can also experiment with hanging bags/buckets meant to grow vegetables upside down alongside the grow bags.
Use Plant Stands to Grow Two Plants in One Footprint
If you raise your taller plants off the ground and place them on benches or plant stands, then you’ve freed up the space beneath them for smaller vegetables, herbs, salad greens, and edible flowers. You can find benches for cheap at places like Ikea. They are selling the bench pictured above for $13.99. Ikea also has a stool that could be used as a plant stand for only $5.99. Heck, you could even use cinder blocks or milk crates to hold up wood planks to make your benches.
Then you could grow big beefsteak and roma tomato plants up top and windowbox varieties of cherry tomatoes like Tumbling Tom and Bonsai down below. There are lots of herbs you could grow without much headroom too, like Basil ‘Greek Yevani’ which only gets six inches high. I grew that variety last year and it has a great basil flavor and a surprising amount of leaves in a small amount of space. If the upper shelf shades the lower space a little, there are plenty of edible plants that will tolerate the shade, or even prefer it.
Start Seeds Indoors All Season Long
Many people start seeds indoors at the beginning of the growing season to get a head start while the weather is still too cold outside to grow plants outside. But don’t stop there. Succession planting allows you to grow more plants in the same space by immediately planting a second crop when the first crop is finished. You can have your second crop waiting in the wings by starting those seeds indoors. This time, instead of counting backwards from your last frost date, count backwards from your expected maturity date of the first crop. So if a seed packet says to sow the seeds indoors 4-6 weeks before your last frost, and your first crop takes 90 days to mature, start the second crop indoors 7-9 weeks after planting your first crop.
Do you have a great idea for cramming more edibles into a small space? Share it in the comments!