Small spaces. Even if you don’t have a backyard or live in an apartment, you can still grow some of your own food. Try potted herbs & salad greens on the kitchen windowsill or hang outside window boxes, plant the balcony rails with climbing peas or beans or make a vertical garden using stackable containers. As long as there is sufficient natural light & water, there will be something useful that will grow for your conditions. No need to spend money on growing containers, anything can hold soil (spend your money on good quality potting mix & organic soil conditioners). Here’s some garbage gardening balcony ideas:
Milk bottle madness cut tops, leaving handle & pierce holes in base for drainage , fill with good quality potting mix.
above: Lettuces hanging on fence in laneway
bottom left: Organic dry land rice (locally grown Nimbin Valley rice)
right: bamboo ladder with lettuces at bottom & snow peas above with supporting stakes . Note angle & alignment of bottle handles providing protection from sun.
Below from left: narrow laneway with straw bale garden, (detail at centre) right: milk crate potato patch & Styrofoam box onions (or other shallow rooted crop- salad greens, herbs etc)
Temporary containers made to decompose Plant seedlings into cardboard containers, (toilet rolls, wax milk cartons,etc) & plant directly into ground when ready (less transplant shock). We like hessian potato sacks filled with soil & straw mulch for growing potatoes. By the time the spuds are ready, the sack has decomposed & you can leave it where it is to build up soil. Placing the sack directly on the ground kills any weeds or grass lawn (useless stuff) so after the crop is harvested, you have clean bare ground to replant.
We make instant strawberry patches with sacks too, laid flat, filled with straw/compost & planted to runners & put directly on grass where the sack eventually decomposes & runners left to spread the next year. See right:
Bamboo is a very useful renewable resource that lends itself to many creative garden ideas. Apart from stakes for climbing plants & fencing we make spiral herb gardens (left) & our ‘garden mangers’ (below centre) to make raised beds or straw bale gardens as well as wagon covers- cover with netting or shade cloth to protect young plants. (right)
This little strangler fig is growing in a piece of bamboo- which make nice vases or pots for bonsai. We’re hoping this tree will grow up to become a living bridge one day, to which end, it will be transferred into longer & longer lengths of bamboo as it grows. Living bridges take generations to grow, best start now!
Raised garden beds take of lot of backache out of gardening, & commercial versions are available, but of course, anything can be used for the walls. I like to build soil where it will be used, so start your raised garden as a compost bed, layering sticks & pruning’s at the bottom for drainage, pile up green weeds (biomass, biomass yah!) & kitchen waste, cover with newspaper to stop weeds re-sprouting, add layers of whatever organic matter you can get, leaf litter or straw mulch, manure, worm castings, seaweed etc. Allow to cook for several months & plant. Yum!
Above: I call it a food basket! These beds (m2) have been made by weaving mulberry branch pruning’s (flexible) through bamboo stakes. Looks so cute!
Start where you are, using what you have Making good soil means lots of organic matter. As in the raised gardens above, use the existing growth & sheet mulch over the top. Rampant weed growth is turned into worm food. The new vege bed at left was a foot deep with wandering dew. More weeds & leaf litter from the surrounding paths & spent coffee grounds were piled on top, covered with newspaper & left to compost for 2 months. When the pile was sufficiently decomposed, more newspaper was placed on top, covered with straw & planted. The new seedlings are covered with milk carton cloches (bottoms cut off), whose plastic is designed to diffuse light, protecting the babies from wind & the hot midday sun, still allowing enough light while they establish roots in the new soil. These 2L cartons seem to be the perfect size, they act as mini-greenhouses & the new plants need little watering. The cloches are taken off when the plants fill them or start growing through the hole at the top. For more ideas for using waste, see garbage gardening & what to do with weeds
Aquatic gardens Water is an important part of a natural garden & a beneficial addition to any space, no matter how small. Make use of your water feature to extend your growing range, add edible aquatics like watercress, water chestnuts & kang kong (Chinese water spinach). Many plants that have high water requirements can be grown in containers floating on the surface. (left)Aquaponics (combining fish & vegetables) is becoming popular & hydroponic systems are now the preferred growing method for many commercial lettuce & strawberry farms. I prefer my food plants to grow in more complex natural soil, but the fill & drain method of hydroponics can be adapted for well drained growing mediums. Try a mix of biochar, gravel, sand, broken terracotta, perlite, vermiculite (expanded clays), & compost. Add weed tea & seaweed solution regularly to replace nutrients that may be leached out by constant flushing. Better still re-use the water by pump or bucket collect. The strawberry pipe garden (above right) is a vertical reticulated system (solar pump) that doubles as a fence/ balcony railing.
Because aquatic plants take nutrients from the water. they can be used in water purification systems (reed beds) Many also convert toxic compounds into less harmful elements & can be used to take up heavy metals. The pipe garden at left receives water from a hand wash basin above it. It collects in a vertical pipe filled with charcoal, before filtering through the horizontal pipe filled with gravel & planted to weeds before entering the fish pond (local Rainbow fish & silver perch- who take care of mosquito larvae, no feeding required!) Of course, only non-toxic liquid castille soap is used & bio-active cleaners in the bathroom. Don’t put down the sink what you can’t drink! If it makes the fish sick, it’s probably not good for you either.