Many of my family members and members of our Facebook page have been asking me to send pictures of my balcony garden, so I've finally had a chance to take and compile pictures of this lovely extension of my home. I'm delighted that so many people are interested in such a wonderful thing to share.
Years ago when I first moved to Chicago, I yearned for a connection to my rural side. The young Ohio girl inside of me wanted to feel the season of summer, remembering when I used to go to Penton's Farm Market with my mother and hand pick pounds and pounds of strawberries ourselves. Later, we made homemade jam, the best I would ever taste.
My grandmother made homemade tomato sauce every single summer from the tomatoes in her garden plus some she would hand pick at local farms. She jarred enough sauce for the entire family for a year and I've yet to taste any tomato sauce like it.
Needless to say, there are very few U-Pick signs around urban areas and it's something I miss. Just to see those signs now is anything but mundane; in fact, I get an adrenaline rush just seeing those anymore.
Community gardens are a really great option for apartment dwellers and other urbanites who want to grow their own food. I did it for a few years and it was wonderful, but very difficult to maintain only because I had to drive to the garden daily in order to water, weed and maintain it. I didn't mind it so much, but a 20′ x 20′ plot isn't easy to keep up when it's not very close to you. If it was my only option right now, I think I would still do it.
This year I opted to look into balcony and container gardening. I did the research on what grows best in the direction my plants will face (north) because it determines how much sunshine and when I will have the most daylight, and which plants will grow well together (and which ones won't) in a single pot.
As long as your apartment building or home owner's association allows it (and most do), growing fruits and vegetables in containers are a great option for spring and summer edibles.
In my case, I really can't grow full-sun loving vegetables like tomatoes or peppers (although I am still trying) because I don't get a direct ray of sunshine in my covered balcony area. What it has been perfect for is the shade-loving veggies like lettuce (see the picture above). I could have tried carrots, but I didn't and hope to do that in late summer for a fall harvest.
Not shown here, but also growing well are marigolds (help to keep bugs away from my lovely Mediterranean herbs), arugula, basil, parsley, cilantro, jalapeno pepper, garlic, and citronella (to keep away the mosquitoes). I just grow the things we love to eat most, as would be the most economical and least wasteful of your time and money.
For example, when my cousin wanted to grow a garden and asked me what she should grow, I told her to grow a sofrito garden because she and her family love to make Puerto Rican foods, which are full of this wonderful and flavorful seasoning made up of tomatoes, peppers, cilantro and onion.
The photo above is of our Arizona Cactus Paddle sent to us by my husband's family. I wasn't sure if it would really grow, but I did my best to try. I bought special cactus soil, which is available at garden centers, potted it and placed it outside as soon as it got warm. When it was time to plant my herbs, I put the ones I knew were most adapted to Mediterranean (dry) climates because they would have similar watering needs as the cactus.
Turns out it's been working. I just love looking at it every day and am continuously mesmerized by the new paddles that are growing so quickly.
Grow what you love and what looks beautiful to you. I can't express how much I love going outside every morning to water and care for it, admire it throughout the day and spend time puttering around in this little space of mine.
It not only brings me a lot of happiness, but also reminds me that if you can't go to the farm, you can bring some of it to you instead.