How To Grow Greens On Your Balcony
Spring is upon us! It’s time to start thinking about planting your culinary food garden. Urbanites, despair not. Living in a condo or apartment doesn’t mean that you can’t engage in the satisfying practice of growing your own food. If you have some sun exposure and a little bit of space on a balcony, you can grow an alarming amount of veggies, fruits and herbs.
There are a few things to keep in mind, however, when growing in a small space. Don’t get over involved in “novelty crops” or plants that need tons of space and have low yield. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? Maybe, but I know from experience that it’s all too easy to get carried away with the idea of growing quinoa and corn! Some crops are only really worth the time and effort if you possess an adequately large amount of space to grow them in. Taking up half your garden for six ears of corn or a mouthful of amaranth doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
That’s not to say that you can’t grow great things. The best way to look at it is to inventory what you buy most frequently and spend the most money on at the grocery store. Make a list and then research what crops from your list you can grow in your geographical zone. Then factor in how much light you get on your space. I know I love avocados and lord knows they aren’t cheap but sadly I can’t grow them in the pacific northwest without a giant greenhouse so they are in the treat category in shopping trips. Tropical fruits aside, if you get a few hours of sun per day, you likely can grow a few of the most wallet draining foods you love so much. I know for me the greatest supermarket necessary evils are lettuce, salad mixes and smoothie/juicing greens.
Salad greens are ludicrously easy to grow and a bountiful crop. They are only so pricey to purchase because they have a such a short shelf life after harvesting, cleaning, processing, packaging and transporting to your local supermarket. They are delicate little leaves that should be consumed tout de suite! However, greens harvested from your balcony can last more than a week and will still be in beautiful shape to bring to a potluck. Fresh is always best.
When choosing what greens to grow, try a mix of lettuces, mustard greens, chard, spinach and kale. Grow your collard greens, Swiss chard, spinach and kale in a separate box from your mustards and lettuce mix. This way you can easily harvest for a smoothie or green juice from your collard box without accidentally mixing lettuces. I don’t know about you but I’m not a huge fan of mustard in my smoothies. But, you know, whatever floats your boat. The key to growing greens is to have abundant sun in the spring and little direct afternoon sunlight in the summer. Too much scorching heat will cause your greens to wilt or bolt into flower from stress. Seed lettuce greens successively so you always have a steady supply ready at hand.
Picking the outside leaves is a more effective way to ensure regrowth than cutting. However, if you prefer to cut, maybe you’re in a rush, leave about 1-1.5 inches of plant to ensure regrowth. And please don’t be shy. The more you harvest, them more they grow! It’s amazing! You want to continuously harvest your greens. If you leave them too long, they can get tough, bitter and go to flower. Go for it! Experiment. Eat. Love. And have fun being healthy and awesome.