There’s nothing quite like home-grown produce. Imagine walking on to the balcony to pick a bowl of your own strawberries, runner beans for supper, or tomatoes and lettuce for a summer salad — the taste can surpass anything bought ready-to-eat in the shops.
Most fruit and vegetables require some hours of sun, so a north-facing balcony is unlikely to be suitable. Also unsuitable is one that overlooks a busy road as the crops may be affected by petrol fumes. A balcony’s special advantages are bright light and convenience. One major disadvantage can be strong winds so some protection may be necessary, using boarding or a trellis.
Choosing what to grow
With space at a premium it is important to grow for quality and flavour rather than quantity. Choose tomatoes renowned for taste like Gardener’s Delight, or small cherry tomatoes like Tiny Tim or Whipsnapper. Include a special cooking variety like Marmande. Mangetout and sugar peas, expensive to buy, are asas runner beans and very tasty.
The more unusual, and therefore expensive to buy and difficult to find, varieties are well worth considering. Try growing tiny alpine strawberries, unusual lettuces and, on a south facing balcony, peppers and aubergines.
The smaller the space the more important it is that what is grown is both decorative and colourful. Both runner beans and mangetout cover walls with greenery and attractiveprior to providing vegetables. Mix varieties to get a range of flower colours. As far as runner beans are concerned, Painted Lady has scarlet and white flowers, Red Knight has plain bright red flowers and The Czar white flowers.
For added colour grow some edible flowers like pansies and nasturtiums. Include some evergreenlike bay, rosemary and thyme to provide winter interest on the balcony.
Arranging the space
Whether the balcony is large enough to sit, sunbathe or eat on, or only allows space to stand and enjoy the view, what space there is needs to be used to the best possible advantage. The walls therefore provide valuable growing space and large tubs or growing bags can be placed along the bottom to take beans, snap peas, tall tomatoes and fruiting canes or vines.
Where possible place window-boxes on the outside of balcony rails for maximum use of space but make sure they are secured well and that the fixings can take the weight. Make sure, too, that your balcony can take the extra weight of containers and soil.
Hanging baskets are another way of growing plants off the balcony surface and bush tomatoes, runner beans and strawberries can be grown this way, or use 2-3 baskets to form a herb garden.
- Fruit and vegetables grown in need extra water. Water daily in hot weather and once a week.
- Protect plants from cold winds by wrapping in bubble pack or covering at night with black polythene.
- Lightweight plastic containers are best for balcony growing. Use dustbins and plastic buckets, making holes around the sides close to the base.
- Turn plants in round periodically to ensure even growth.
- Tomatoes are a good choice for a sunny balcony. Place tall varieties in growing bags or large pots against the walls. Bush types can be grown in tubs or boxes at the front.
- Runner beans can be trained on wire or trellis against the walls or grown wigwam style in a large pot, but protect them from strong winds.
- Mangetout or sugar pea is another decorative climber with its pretty -like flowers. The peas and pods taste delicious.
- Courgettes take up more room and you will need two or three so that they fertilize but they are very decorative, with their large yellow flowers which can be used for recipes as well as the nutritious vegetable.
- Potatoes can be grown in a dustbin, pick your favourite variety.
- Lettuces are ideal for window-boxes and there are some very attractive varieties available that are expensive to buy in the shops and transform a summer salad. Try growing the cutand-come-again curly red or green oak- , or green or red Lollo and, for later in the year, red-leaved chicories.
- Herbs, with their wide range of leaf shapes and culinary advantages, are well worth growing in window-boxes. Grow the unruly varieties like mint and lemon balm in separate containers.
- Blackberries and loganberries can be trained up the walls. Mix the two to provide fruit over an extended period.
- Strawberries will take little space if you grow them in the special tall chimney containers. The tiny and more unusual alpines have a longer but less prolific fruiting period.
- Grapes can be trained over a canopy on a sunny balcony. Dessert varieties need warmth but wine grapes are less tender and can be turned to delicious use as home-made wines.