One aspect of living and working in San Diego is the ability to grow basically anything year round. We don’t really have “garden seasons” like the pour souls in other parts of the country. Our Mediterranean climate means not having to worry about little worries like frost, snow, tundra… you get the point. Even so, if you want a great garden, you need to be a master garden planner.
Just because you can grow anything at anytime doesn’t automatically mean that you should. Planning a garden is half the battle, so knowing what you want to grow and when can be a somewhat daunting task.
Garden Planner to the Rescue
We came across a great app to help out in that arena. It’s called Garden Time Planner and it will walk you through the process of growing whatever you want and give you a pretty accurate estimate of when what you’re growing will be mature.
It is region specific, so even if you’re not in California and are blessed by a mild climate, you can really dial your garden in. Terrible weather is not an excuse not to grow.
The app is made by the Burpee company, so you know it is going to be made specifically for gardeners. Burpee has had gardeners backs from all the way back in the late 19th century. They’re synonymous with home gardens.
As you can see, the app is easy to use and really provides the specific data to ensure that your grow is going to be a hit. Aren’t smartphones wonderful?
Alternatives to Garden Planner
If smart phones and apps aren’t your style there’s nothing wrong with going analog. A simple day planner will allow you to chart your garden progress and growing timelines. There are several day planners and journals that will help you to track your growing season.
I particularly like the vegetable gardeners handbook. Its light and simple, straight forward and to the point with tons of practical advice.
If you don’t know the joy of growing your own food because you’re short on space, don’t be alarmed. At Upcycle we think everyone should be growing their own food and that it can be done in the smallest of places. Now, you may have tried your hand at putting a few potted balcony plants out on your terrace in your apartment. Chances are that you may have a ficus tree, or a small palm or probably some flowers. I bet you didn’t know that vegetables actually make great balcony plants. They’re just as easy to grow in pots as they are in a sprawling backyard garden. The video below gives some great tips on getting started with container gardening. Welcome to the world of vegetables as balcony plants.
The best thing about growing balcony plants in containers is that you’re not limited to what you can grow based on your location. Use Native Soil to tailor your soil to your specific crops.
Think Outside the Backyard
Container gardening is becoming more and more popular as people appreciate the flexibility and extra growing space it provides. It’s not just about flowers either – you can grow your own tasty produce right outside your door and many specially-adapted plant varieties are now available. But growing in containers does come with its own special challenges and if you want to succeed it’s important to plan ahead. Let us take you through the essentials. Where to site your containers is the first thing you need to consider.
Most vegetable plants like lots of sun, so it’s important to choose a place which will provide 6 hours or more of direct light – south or west facing locations are the best. Placing them as close to your house as you can will mean you have easy access to your plants – great for harvesting and easy for you to take care of them. Choose a sheltered spot for your pots so your plants are kept out of cold, drying winds. Walls, fences & hedges are good locations, or try to screen the pots.
Using your window ledges and balconies is a great way to get started if you don’t have a garden but make sure your pots are properly secured to prevent them from blowing off when the weather gets windy. Watering is the number one priority for containers as the plants won’t have access to moisture below ground. On a hot sunny day they can dry out within hours and plants might not recover from serious wilting. On hot days giving plants a thorough watering in the early morning and evening will be required, making sure that you don’t just wet the surface, but allow it to soak down to the roots. For added convenience, drip irrigation can be installed – particularly useful if you’ll be away from home during part of the summer.
Planning Ahead is Key
Containers come in all shapes, sizes colors and materials. Plastic and wood are tried and tested materials, but you can unleash your creativity. Just make sure they are clean and won’t leach harmful chemicals. Large pots can also be used to grow plants that aren’t native to your area. For example they can be filled with special soil for blueberries, which like acidic conditions. And for heat loving plants such as dwarf citrus trees, containers enable the plans to be moved to a warm conservatory or greenhouse during winter months, protecting them from the worst of the winter weather.
There are plenty of options available for using vertical space too, and if you have a warm sunny wall which absorbs heat during the day this will radiate the warmth during the night, protecting the plants from cold snaps. It’s essential to provide good drainage. Plants are easily killed if their roots are waterlogged. Make sure there are adequate drainage holes and that they’re free from dirt or blockages Adding a shallow layer of stones or broken pottery to the base of the pot often helps to improve drainage.
The aim is to cover the drainage hole so the soil doesn’t leak out while still providing gaps for excess water to drain through. Fill the container with a purchased potting soil or your own homemade compost. Don’t use soil from your garden, as this is likely to be heavy and to contain weeds and soil-borne pests. Using a lightweight and moisture-retentive mix is the best for containers, and it will need topping up each season to replenish nutrients which have been used up.
Choose the Right Container for Your Balcony Plants
Which container is best to use will depend on what sort of crops you are growing, so let’s take a look at some of the best veggies to grow in containers. It doesn’t get any easier than growing salad leaves. They only need a shallow container a few inches deep. If summers are hot in your location, choose an area that gets morning sunshine and afternoon shade to avoid the plants bolting (running to seed) before they’re ready for harvest. Cut-and-come-again type salad leaves often come in packets with several different varieties, providing an exciting mix of leaves that will only take weeks to grow.
Tomatoes can be grown in several different types of containers, but they’ll need plenty of soil to supply the nutrients they need right up to harvest. Many varieties, such as Tumbling Tom, can be grown in hanging baskets, and look great as they trail towards the floor. Other varieties can be grown in grow bags or soil bags, or you can use large pots at least 10 inches in diameter. Make sure you use a stake and tie the plants to it to keep them upright. Tomatoes are very thirsty so will need lots of water – at least twice a day in hot weather.
Potatoes can be grown in large pots, or bags and sacks designed specifically for the job. The seed potatoes are layered with potting mix and left in a sunny spot, watering as required. As they grow you can layer more soil around the stem of the shoots. Gradually the soil builds up until the top of the container is reached. Balcony plants can be vegetables, herbs, and edible flowers. Take a look at our extensive Grow Guides for more information. Our Garden Planner has a range of specially designed garden objects to make planning and managing your container gardening easy. With the basic outline of your space, you can then view garden as a whole.
Mix and Match to Suit your Tastes and Your Crops
As you add the different containers that you’ll use to your plan make sure you leave enough space so you can water and harvest your balcony plants. The Parts List will provide a useful summary of all the containers and other objects, such as drip irrigation, for the plan. Adding plants is as simple as clicking to place them in the relevant containers with the colored area around each plant indicating how much soil space the roots require.
For example, we can easily see how many tomatoes will fit into this grow bag and hanging baskets. Add potatoes into the potato sacks, and choose which salad leaves to include in the grow frame. The Plant List then shows you a complete summary of what you were growing including when to plant seeds indoors and outdoors, and when you can expect the harvest, specific to your location. Twice a month you’ll also receive email reminders so you know what jobs need doing and when. Gardening in containers is an easy way of growing your own and you can expand with more containers to fill the space you have.
Whether you have one simple pot for herbs, or a mini farm full of plants, its easy to get hooked on the taste of growing your own fresh produce and the convenience of having it right outside your back door.
In our last post we discussed the value of vertical gardening in creating a balcony garden. Balcony gardens aren’t the only small garden ideas. We like the idea of taking old materials and re-purposing them for our gardening needs. After all, that’s exactly what we’re doing at Upcycle. Putting waste to work. The best small garden ideas are cheap. Watch the video below to learn how to recycle some basic household materials into a small garden space on the cheap.
Where to Start with Your Small Garden Ideas
Growing vertically to optimize the space you have growing a productive garden in small spaces all this and more in today’s episode.
So our first step for today is how to utilize your garden space and grow vertically by growing vertically you make sure that you really optimize your growing space because you can grow a lot more fruits and vegetables and even herbs in a small space. What you’re seeing here is a growing rack which basically has multiple racks and a lot of space between the racks to allow sunlight to come in. You can buy this kind of a growing rack very easily; we bought ours from Costco for just $25 dollars.
We were also able to get growing racks very cheaply at Ikea. Best thing about Ikea is that everything seems ready to be stacked vertically which is a necessity for all small garden ideas. When you don’t have a ton of lateral space, you’ve got to go up. Plus you’ll be closer to the Sun. Just kidding.
What to Grow In
Once you have your baking / growing racks in place, now you’re going to need something to actually grow in. The video shows them using baking trays which work great. Get one that is fairly deep so that enough soil can fit inside. About the size for a solid Thanksgiving turkey is my favorite to grow in. In our tests we’ve been able to grow various beans, lettuces and even some small root vegetables in modular baking trays.
You will need to punch holes in the bottom to drain excess water. Depending on how thick your tray is, you may need a drill, but with ours, it was thin enough to punch through with a pencil. Your mileage may vary, but the thinner aluminium trays I find are easier to deal with because they never rust.
Now, simple as that, you’ve got a modular system for growing vegetables in a confined space.
What are some of your favorite small garden ideas? We’re all ears. Sign up below to find out more about Native Soil and how it can supercharge your tiny garden.
Grow a Ton of Food in a Tiny Space with a Balcony Garden
At Upcycle we really enjoy growing food with Native Soil. One of the concerns we hear most often is that many people don’t have enough space for a big home garden. It is a problem especially among the young, or those living in cities where tiny apartments and condos are the norm. That’s where the concept of balcony gardens, or vertical gardening comes in handy. With a balcony garden anyone can take a tiny amount of space and create huge amounts of food.
All it takes is a little planning to know what to build, what to buy and what plants to grow to make the most out of your balcony garden. The video below does a great job illustrating some easy tips to grow more in a balcony garden.
When space is at a premium and you’ve got nowhere left to grow there’s only one solution – reach for the skies! Given the combination of the right crops, vertical supports, and wall-hugging planters you can pack a lot more into the space you have available. In this video we look at how to plan a vertical vegetable garden so you can get the most from your plot. Climbing plants offer a logical way to begin growing skywards. Suitable vegetables include pole (or climbing) beans, climbing peas, sweet potatoes, vining tomatoes plus sprawling types of zucchini, cucumber, melon and squash that can be trained up supports. Allow plants to find their own way up supports or tie them in at intervals to encourage them upwards.
Many structures can offer support for skyward plants. From simple rows of bamboo canes to more complex or decorative structures. Arbors and arches look complete with climbers such as passionfruit or a grapevine, or how about climbing squashes or beans with colored pods or fruits. The pods or fruits will then dangle down to create a feature that’s both delicious and attractive.
Upcycle Old Furniture to Create Growing Lanes
Wicker or bamboo wigwams offer a space-saving and arguably more attractive alternative to the usual rows of canes, while obelisks and pergolas present decorative solutions to growing upwards. Our Garden Planner features many support options that can be selected and dropped into your garden plan. Many tree fruits can be trained into a vertical plane, either against a wall or fence, or along freestanding wire supports. Apples, pears and cherries are just a few examples.
These trees may be trained to produce single-stem cordons, fan shapes, parallel-branched espaliers, or other fence-hugging forms. Use sturdy horizontal wires strained between fence posts to create the necessary supports for wall-trained fruit. Cane fruits, such as raspberries and blackberries, naturally grow tall. Left unsupported, the canes have a habit of flopping over to smother neighboring crops. Parallel wires secured between upright posts will keep them in line. Our Garden Planner has a range of space-efficient plants to choose from – for example, this apple cordon. The Planner also helps you to select and place supporting structures. Take these pole beans for example – they need some bamboo canes to climb up.
Use Many Little Niches to Maximize Growth
Make you garden work harder for you by including any number of wall-mounted or stepped planters, planting pockets, tower planters and hanging baskets. Fill them with herbs, salads and strawberries, then watch a blank space take on a whole new life. The Garden Planner has lots of ideas for suitable containers. Simply click the Information button for a description of each and its suitability for your garden. Recycled food tins make great wall mounted planters.
Old pallets are widely available, and turning them into vertical planters is a great way to reuse them. Check they are safe for re-use by looking for the pallet stamp. It will have stamps displaying the IPPC logo and/or the letters EPAL, plus HT or DB. Hammer or hang your recycled containers into position before filling with potting soil.
Don’t Forget to Water, or Better, Automate!
Wall-mounted planters are likely to require regular watering because of the rain shadow cast by the wall. Micro or drip irrigation systems deliver water efficiently. Automate water delivery by coupling irrigation with a cheap timer. Walls or fences must be strong enough to hold the considerable weight of damp potting soil. In most climates you will also want to make the most of sunshine but picking a surface that faces the mid-day or afternoon sun. Reflected heat from the day speeds growth time and shortens harvest time. It’s the right combination of vertical- growing crops, supports, and the correct containers that will help you to get the most from a small space.
Of course, there are plenty of other ideas out there for vertical vegetable gardens. If you’ve got one, don’t keep it to yourself – share it by dropping us a comment below. And with seed sowing beginning in earnest, now is the ideal time to subscribe to enjoy more great gardening videos.