Sinéad O’Brien is an urban gardener and the creator of thehighrisegardener.com. After moving to Toronto a few years ago, she discovered her passion for growing her own food and surrounding her sky-high apartment with greenery indoors and out. Today, she discusses everything balcony gardening with GardenTags…
with The High-Rise Gardener
When I first saw the balcony of the condo we were moving into, I was excited. Generously sized with a southern exposure, I knew that I could turn it into something green. When I started researching for my project, I was dismayed at not being able to find many examples of the kind of space I have—that is to say, about 450 feet off the ground! As a result, the majority of my high-rise balcony garden successes have been from trial and error.
There are unique challenges for high-rise balcony gardeners that differ from our ground-gardening cousins. For me, wind is the worst. You need to be selective in choosing the types of species you want to grow, and make sure they have strong (or flexible) stalks that will not be snapped in a windstorm. For flowers, things like Nasturtiums, Zinnias and Alyssum do very well. I also love tall wildflowers for their beautiful look, and the amount they fill in spaces with greenery. I have had great success with root vegetables like carrots and beets, as well as lettuce and tomatoes. I plan to attempt eggplant (Aubergine) and green beans this year. We’ll see how that goes!
The second major challenge of high-rise balcony gardening is pollination. Because my garden is so high up, I don’t get pollinators visiting me, which means all of my species need to be either non-pollinating or self-pollinating. Root vegetables don’t require pollination, which makes them an excellent choice for high-rise gardens if you have the soil depth. Things like tomatoes, eggplant (Aubergine) and peppers are self-pollinating, but you might need to give your self-pollinating plants a hand. Some suggest shaking the stalks of the plant once it has flowered, but if you also have very windy conditions this won’t be necessary.
The third challenge is evaporation. If you have a south-facing windy space up high, your containers are going to dry out very quickly. Because of this, I created self-watering containers for all of my flowers and vegetables. There are many different types available for sale, and many different DIY instructions and videos on the internet. The style is up to you, but having these types of containers allows for much steadier care of your plants. The water is held underneath the root system in the bottom of the container, protecting it from evaporating in the sun and drying out in the wind. In addition, the containers keep the moisture constant, which makes the plants much happier (and they grow faster!). Even in 30 degree summer conditions, they only need to be filled every 5-7 days, which is so convenient if you’re going away for the weekend.
Despite these challenges, the payoffs of high-rise balcony gardening are immense. Being able to grow your own jungle in the middle of an urban concrete landscape is so satisfying. Having fresh produce on your kitchen table for months on end is also fantastic. And being able to show other people that you CAN grow your own food without an actual garden is the best of all!
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