My urban garden plan:
I decided to use self-watering containers for my garden. Balcony containers can be hard to keep sufficiently watered so self-watering containers looked like my best option. Self-watering containers make it easier to grow vegetables in pots. Instead of the pots having a hole in the bottom a self-watering container (SWC) has a reservoir of water at the bottom. Water leaches upward into the soil to keep the plants hydrated. After discussing this with the gardening team at Kent the system I chose was the rock reservoir container. Another version of self-watering containers involve placing one plastic container inside another leaving a water reservoir in between the two containers. Check out this link to see an example of a self-watering container http://www.urbanorganicgardener.com/2010/08/how-self-watering-containers-work/ (2).
To construct the rock reservoir container I consulted other gardeners (including my dad) and reviewed youtube and online instructions, such as this example: http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-make-a-self-watering-container/ (1). I was lucky to have a few of the plastic containers donated by my previous internship. This is a great way to recycle the containers that restaurants or food-service establishments may be discarding.
Vegetables that tend to do well in containers include beans, beets, carrots, lettuce, onions, peppers and some tomato varieties (3). Using my smart phone compass I realize I have a southeast facing balcony. This means morning sunlight. Also, the overhanging balcony ceiling from the upstairs condo means my garden will not get direct sunlight at any point during the day. I had to make sure I grew vegetables that could thrive in less sunlight. Halifax Seed provides a great list of shade tolerant vegetables and include: beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, endives, herbs, kale, lettuces, spinach, peas, radish, turnips, swiss chard, shrub berries (with slightly decreased yield) (3).
The type of soil used for container gardening is also important. Beginning with basic potting soil is the best for drainage and water retention (3). Compost can be added to the containers mid-summer because nutrients tend to leach out through watering. According to Halifax Seed, you should mix 2/3 potting soil to 1/3 compost (3). The Halifax Garden Network provides a list of local places to find soil and compost. http://halifaxgardennetwork.com/faq/ (4).
So which vegetables did I want to grow? After considering the space, sunlight and soil I was now thinking about flavor and nutrition. I decided I would want a nutritious and tasty variety of vegetables so that I could go to the balcony and pick all the fixings I would need for a salad or a recipe. I decided to grow arugula, beets, onions, tomatoes and fresh herbs.
I chose arugula because it is a green leafy vegetable, high in vitamins A (promotes good vision), C, (promotes a healthy immune system), as well as calcium (build and maintain strong bones and teeth) and iron (carries oxygen through the body) (5). I also chose to grow beets due to their high folate (helps make red blood cells) and antioxidants (protects body's cells from damage); and the delicious taste, of course. It’s a bonus that you can use the beet greens as well! They are high in fiber and Vitamins K (blood clotting and bone strengthening), A, C as well as potassium (helps fluid balance in tissues and blood), calcium and iron (5). Onions were an easy choice. You can also get double-use out of them by snipping the fresh green onion tops in mid-summer and then harvesting the onion bulb early in the fall. I always love to add fresh herbs to salads and stir-fries. Basil is such wonderfully fragrant and universal herb and like other green leaf veggies, it’s packed with nutrients (5). According to Halifax Seed, morning sunlight is not the best for growing tomatoes so I chose to place the tomato pots where they would get the most sunlight on the balcony. Tomatoe plants need consistent watering, so self-watering containers are a great choice. Fresh homegrown tomatoes are packed with lycopene (antioxidant) and a yummy addition to summer salads (5).
Keeping the veggies watered is key! If possible, water in the morning to prevent fungi or mildews. Also, plants absorb more water when it is cooler (3). The planters should have enough nutrients with the soil that is initially used but fertilizing throughout the season helps to grow abundant crops. The general recommendation is to fertilize vegetable plants every 2 – 3 weeks and follow the measurement instructions on container (3). The choice between natural and synthetic fertilizer comes down to personal preference. I chose natural fertilizer.
Halifax Seed, Kent, Farmer Clem’s and other local garden experts provide excellent advice so don’t be afraid to ask questions.
This is my first urban gardening adventure and I am excited to see the fruits (and veggies) of my labor! Who knows; maybe my next adventure will be pickling!
Instructables. How to make a self-watering container; [cited 2014 May 14]. http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-make-a-self-watering-container/
Lieberman M. Urban organic gardener. How self-watering containers work; Aug 2010 [cited 2014 May 14]. Available from: http://www.urbanorganicgardener.com/2010/08/how-self-watering-containers-work/
Halifax Seed. Urban gardening: everything you need to know to grow vegetables and flowers in your own backyard; [cited 2014 May 14]. Available from: https://www.halifaxseed.ca/files/01/09/UrbanGardening.pdf
Halifax Garden Network. http://halifaxgardennetwork.com/
Health Canada. Canadian nutrient file; 2010 [cited 2014 May 16]. Available from: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/nutrition/fiche-nutri-data/index-eng.php
Adventures of a New Urban Gardener
by Julie Hudson, RD
As I enter my sixth summer as a “condo-dweller” in central Halifax I find that I am curious about the options for gardening in the city and motivated to grow a garden. This summer I am determined to make the most of my 12ft by 4ft condo balcony. Being a new gardener and a dietitian my goal is to cultivate simple nutritious vegetables that are easily grown in containers on my balcony.
I started gathering information about starting a garden through online research, consulting local garden centres and reaching out to experienced gardeners. In the beginning I was a little overwhelmed by the options and information. After doing my research I find there are key questions to consider when embarking on a new gardening adventure. Answering these questions helped me decide on the garden that was best for me.
In the end I concluded that there are 3 main things for the urban gardener to consider:
What do I have to work with?
Balcony, deck, containers, garden space
What do I want to grow?
How do I make my urban garden thrive and produce throughout the summer?
Julia's balcony garden in the beginning. Left to right: onion, basil, tomato, beets, tomato, arugula, onion & tomato x 2.
Julia's balcony garden as it is growing. Left to right: onion, basil, tomato, beets, tomato, arugula, onion & tomatoes x 2.