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05/13/2013 11:07 am ET Updated Jul 12, 2013

What Are Some Great Vegetables I Could Grow on My Balcony?

This question originally appeared on Quora.
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Answer by Ilham Kurnia, Part time balcony gardener, part time programmer

Question details:
The balcony is facing a (large) courtyard, so while the light supply is limited, in summer it's probably maximally from around 11 a.m. till 8 p.m. or so. It's a small balcony, so a limited footprint would be great as well - I doubt there's enough space for tomatos, for example. I want to plant herbs for sure, but am thinking about what vegetables would fit as well. I have decently large pots available.

I'm in a similar situation as yours, getting direct sunlight only from 7 a.m. - 2 p.m. in summer. In the past, I've grown peas, chinese greens, bush beans, tomatoes, carrots, chilies, spring onions and all kinds of herbs rather well. Now, I'm also growing cucumbers,

There are a number of tricks you can use if you want to plant vegetables on a balcony.

  1. Get containers that are deep but not wide. I find this a tall order to get such containers from garden centers. However, there are plenty of alternatives, if you don't mind much about the cosmetics of the garden. One that I've been using successfully is a Tetrapak and plastic meat pack combo. When you finish drinking a pack of juice or milk, chop off the top and wash the inside using the usual dishwashing soap. Let it dry, and then punch small holes on the bottom of the pack. Then throw in your favorite potting mixture into the pack. As the saucer, use a clean plastic meat pack. Below is an example how things went for me last year using this technique.
    This technique is applicable to other recyclable items such as plastic bottles. Just remember to chop the top off, wash them, and put drainage holes on the bottom.

    I find this technique helpful not only because of the small footprint it produces, but also when the season finishes, you can easily dispose them.

  2. Pick plants that suit the size of your garden. Almost all greens can be grown anywhere with some light. But when it comes to fruiting vegetables, like tomatoes, you should try picking the ones that won't grow huge.

    Specifically for tomatoes, you might want to start with determinate varieties, such as Balconi Red, Tumbling Tom, and Patio Tomato. This ensures that the tomatoes grow only to a fixed height and helps you gauge how much you can handle in the following season. Additionally, you don't need to pinch anything off.
  3. Grow vertically. I haven't got any experience in this particular area, but some time ago, I saw a youtube video on phytopods (http://www.verticalhomegardens.com). These are basically coffee bean bags put inside a steel cage on a roller.

In addition to veggies, you might want to consider alpine strawberries. They appreciate some shade, unlike the kinds you find in supermarkets. Despite having smaller fruits (usually the size of a finger nail), the smell and the taste are considered superior to the big ones.

For more ideas, grab a copy of a book by McGee and Stuckey (http://www.amazon.com/McGee-Stuc...). It helps me a lot in determining what kind of handling particular veggies need when one grows them in containers.

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