We have all experienced a pinch in our wallets due to the rising cost of food. There are many different ways to ease the sting of inflation in the grocery stores we are dealing with on a daily basis. Whether you are couponing and following sales, making bulk purchases and preserving the excess for later, joining membership stores, or haunting the local farmer’s market at the end of the day, one of the most rewarding means is to plant your own vegetable garden. Nurturing and tending a garden can be a relaxing way to end your hectic day. And consuming fruits and vegetables you have grown will support your goals of leading a healthier lifestyle and improve your overall health. Some other perks of growing a garden are that you will control what types of fertilizers and pesticides are used resulting in healthier, more nutritious food. Gee, that sounds great, but I don’t own a home in the country with acreage, what can I do? Gardening no longer requires vast fields of tillable land; you can plant many different vegetables, containers of fruit, and even edible flowers on your patio or balcony. Here are some of my favorite plants that are easy to grow and will thrive in your patio or balcony vegetable garden.
Greens of any variety, whether for salads or potherbs, will do well in an enclosed space. All types of leafy greens, whether it is lettuce, kale, spinach, Swiss chard, radicchio, collard greens, and more will grow quickly, even in containers. Harvest is swiftly accomplished and after a speedy rinse, the plants can be used in your dishes and salads. It doesn’t get much fresher than a salad direct from garden to table. An additional benefit is all the vitamins you will be adding to your diet. Too much sunlight can cause your lettuce and spinach to bolt.
Peppers are, beyond a doubt, one of the easiest vegetables to grow in limited spaces. And, as a bonus, you can transfer the planters inside in the fall in order to enjoy that spicy hit to your winter entrees. Peppers come in many different varieties, colors, and levels of heat. Personally, I prefer the mini sweet peppers for my salads (they seem to produce fruit all year long), and my trusty poblano to kick up the flavor of everything else. A single plant of each will provide an abundance with more than enough to share. One note of caution, fruit flies also like peppers. If you plan on spraying, only spray the dirt at the base of the plants to rid yourself of these pests.
Zucchini, summer squash, and cucumbers
One or two Zucchini, summer squash, and cucumbers are great additions to a balcony garden. I recommend that you do not attempt to grow too many different varieties – they will cross pollinate which may result in some very odd flavors. These plants require a lot of room and will take over your balcony or patio if not controlled. Cucumbers and some squashes can be grown on trellises and will provide their fruits within easy reach. Zucchini and summer squash are great on the grill when brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with your fresh garden herbs. And, don’t forget about adding all of these to your salads and bread, and as a replacement for traditional pasta.
Tomatoes need a lot of water and deep pots with rich soil in order to provide the tastiest fruits. A single plant can provide a seemingly never-ending bounty. Tomato plants will require support in order to maintain their health throughout the season. Two of the easiest plants to grow are Romano and cherry tomatoes. Cherry tomatoes lend themselves to salads, Romano’s to pasta dishes, and both are great grilled. A quick tip, if your tomatoes start to suffer from blossom end rot (this is a dark spot that appears at the bottom of the fruit where the flower originally grew), this means your tomatoes are lacking calcium. The solution is mixing a crushed antacid with calcium to the water can. Selecting quality top soil will normally preclude this from happening in potted plants.
Perhaps the easiest plants for the novice balcony gardener are herbs and spices. Many of these plants are perennials and winter-over readily with little or no special preps. Fresh herbs add that extra burst of flavor to your entrées throughout the season. Regular trimming actually helps maintain the health of the plants and promotes growth. Some of my favorites for container planting are oregano, thyme, basil, rosemary and sage. Others you may wish to try are cilantro, dill, and chives.
Strawberries are easier to grow than many people believe. These fruits grow nicely in containers specifically designed to sustain several plants at one time and also are popular as a hanging basket addition to the balcony or patio garden. You will have competition when it is time to harvest the berries. Birds, chipmunks, and even squirrels relish these sweet treats and will invite themselves to a noisy banquet outside your patio door. Bird netting and a fake owl will often keep out the unwanted guests. There are strawberry plants available no matter where you call home. Some produce berries all season long, others provide an abundance for a short period of time. Some strawberry plants like warm weather, some like it cold. With so many options, it is certain you will find strawberries best suited for your container garden.
Nasturtiums and other edible flowers
One often overlooked way to add new flavors to your meals is to grow edible flowers in the containers on your patio or balcony. From the bitter zing of the calendulas to the peppery pop of nasturtiums, edible flowers not only add color to your dishes, but they are also full of vitamins and anti-oxidants. Remember, when you devour the flower, the plant will not produce the fruit!
Living in an apartment does not mean you cannot enjoy a summertime garden. Not only will you be able to provide some very tasty additions to your meals, but the enjoyment received while nurturing your plants to fruition cannot be purchased. Many different plants will grow and thrive in garden boxes, hanging planters, and decorative pots. Whether peppers, tomatoes, and leafy greens for a quick salad, fresh herbs to make a meal pop, or flowers to add an artful appeal to the meal, patio and balcony gardens will do great with a little care. Just don’t get carried away, you don’t want to turn your patio into an urban jungle.
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