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It's the first day of March as I write this. For those, like myself, who live in the northern climes, the ground is still frozen and the air is chill. The first rumblings of spring are starting to show, however, and it's the time of year to plan out our gardens. The seed displays are out in the stores, the catalogs are in our mail, and our fingers itch to dig into the deep, sun warmed loam. Growing up on a farm, we always had a huge garden - well over an acre in size, at its largest point. Nearly half of it was potatoes! White potatoes and red - one year, we even had blue - row upon row of peas, corn, carrots, cucumbers, zucchini, lettuces, cabbage and so much more. It was a lot of work to maintain, but between the garden and farm animals, we didn't have to buy much at the grocery store!
Then I moved to the city, and gardening became a thing of the past. It was many years before we even lived in one place long enough to start a garden, never mind somewhere with access to land. I want to clarify, however, that when I talk about gardening, I'm not talking about flowers. There's plenty of information out there on how to grow flowers on your balcony, but what about veggies? There's something very special about being able to put together a salad with greens freshly picked, just minutes ago, or having vegetables with your meal that are so fresh, they burst with a crunchy sweetness unlike anything else! Of course, it sure doesn't hurt to save some money on your grocery bill, too! Apartment living does not have to be garden-free living. If you're fortunate enough to have a balcony - even a small one - it's surprising how much you can grow!
The first thing you'll need to determine, long before you start your balcony garden, is what do you have to work with? Here are just a few things you will need to take into account. Physical space - what are the dimensions you have available? Keep in mind that you need to be able to move around your containers, as well as be able to shift them, as needed. Do you have a sturdy railing? Perhaps you can place rail planters on them, or hang them on the outside of your rail. Is there a fire exit that needs to be kept clear? Do you have a roof/ceiling/overhang above your balcony? Is your balcony made of concrete or wood? The weight of soil filled containers can quickly add up, and you want to be sure your balcony can hold it. How many walls do you have? Are you allowed/able to attach things to them? Your growing zone - go online, check out some seed catalogs or hit the books to find maps of growth zones for your region.
When you figure out what zone you live in, you can use that to decide what seeds or plants have a growing season compatible with it. Remember, however, that on a balcony, you can break some rules! It's possible to create micro-climates that will allow you to grow plants that prefer a warmer or cooler zone, and there are ways you can extend your growing season. Use your region's zone as a guide to determine what you can grow, but know that you can push the limits a bit. To give you an idea of what to look for, here is a comparison of balconies we've had most recently. Before moving to where we are now, we lived in an apartment with a large balcony. It was very long, but fairly narrow. At one end was a storage space. At the other was a wall with a narrow opening at the rail (just big enough for a cat to fit through, we discovered) that lead to our neighbour's balcony. The floor was concrete, as was the ceiling, with stucco on the apartment wall and brick side/storage walls.