What is Balcony Gardening and why balcony gardening? In our modern urban lives which are so cut off from nature, the number of people yearning to reconnect is indeed growing. If you have ever yearningly looked at your bare shaded and semi-shaded balconies and window sills wondering if any useful plant might grow there, and who to turn to for guidance, this article is for you!
We can become self-sufficient in basic health care by growing and using herbs for common ailments and can bring down the cost of food by growing it ourselves. We can also build community by coming together to learn this balcony gardening skills and share our produce.
Learning to garden is a journey towards healing both spirit and the planet. This article is not like a neatly packaged bag of fruits to be taken off a supermarket shelf for ready consumption. It s more like a seed that you need to sow and nurture, in order to grow your own gardening philosophy and technique.
This article can get you started on the terrace or balcony gardening path. What you Sow, how much and what kind of time you spend with your plants, how you take care of them, what you observe, and what you leam from your observations is all part of your own personal jaurney. In today’s fast world of ready-made solutions – like ready-made potting mixes, vermicompost, bio-fertilizers, blo-pesticide sprays, etc.
Organic seeds for Balcony gardening
Before You Start...
A balcony garden can be as complicated or simple as you want. You can spend thousands of rupees or you can make one for very little money. With plant and container choices, you can either make a relatively low maintenance, easy balcony garden or you can do a full-on farm. It depends on your space, light and exposure and the amount of time, energy and/or money you want to spend. Over all balcony gardening is an art.
1. BALCONY GARDEN : DESIGNING AND PLANNING
Plants grown for the fruits (Vegetable plants) require about 8 hours of sunlight. If your balcony receives less sunlight than that , you can still grow shade loving plants , list of which is given in below.
If your Balcony is completely shaded but is spacious, you can still grow gourds. Sow the seeds into large sacks of soil and guide the vines on to the terrace or on to the roof of the portico right below. Make sure they are accessible for harvesting the produce. Remember that only the leaves need sunlight, not the soil in you container.
Here are the things one need to know before starting balcony gardening activities.
Selecting the right containers
It is best to go around the house or walk up to the nearest waste-paper mart and look for containers and use them. They can be practically anything from flower pots, pails, buckets, wire baskets, apple boxes, planters, washtubs, plastic bags, large food cans, 5-kg atta bags, discarded tetrapacks, 1-litre oil and milk plastic covers, broken cement pipes, etc. Polythene plastic sacks are good and cheap. However, when ex- posed to the sun, they crumble and become powdery. Using them as the inner layer and covering them with a jute sack is a better idea. Sturdy bamboo baskets can be coated with two layers of cow dung on both the inside and the outside and dried well under the sun. The cow dung covers the pores and enables the container to hold the soil better, and also makes the container longer-lasting.
The size of the container depends on the plant. For the gourds, you need large sacks / drums, one for each plant. Herbs and greens can be grown in smaller containers. Plants like methi and pudina, whose roots are very shallow can be grown in troughs and trays. Use as many large containers (like a bath tub or a large basket) as possible so that you can grow different plants together. Mixed cropping is good in many ways and and is nature’s way of growing plants.
Terracota, cement, jute, metal, coconut fibre, wood are safe materials for your containers. If you go in for plastic containers, make sure they are made of either polythene or Polypropylene. Polythene comes as low-density or high-density. Never use the following materials in your food gardens as they contain toxic chemicals, Rubber tyres, Particle board, Vinyl banners , Painted containers, bubble tops, water bottles and PET bottles, however PET bottles and containers can be used to plant no edible plants.
2. BALCONY PLANTS THAT NOURISH AND HEAL
1. Black Holy Basil (Karunthulasi)
2. Lemon Grass (Elumichai Pul)
3. Indian Borage (Karpooravalli)
5. Betelnut (Vettrilai)
6. Malabar Nut (Adathoda)
7. Cissus Pickle (Pirandai)
8. Sweet Basil (Thiruneetru Pacchilai)
9. Long Pepper ( Arisi Thippili)
GREENS / KEERAI
1. Malabar Spinach (Pasalai Kodi)
2. Chicken Spinach (Ceylon Pasalai)
3. Seeet Potato (Chakkaravalli Kizhangu)
4. Fenugeek (Vendhayam)
5. Baloon Vine (Mudakathan Keerai)
6. Coriander (Puthina)
7. Mint (Puthina)
8. Mustard Leaves (Kadugu)
9. Onion (Vengayam)
10. Cow Pea (Karamani)
11. Brown Channa (Kondai Kadalai)
12. Black Nightshade (Manathakkalai keerai)
- Bitter Gourd (Paagarkai)
- Snack Gourd (Pudalankai)
- Ridge Gourd (Peerkankai)
- Cucumber (Vellarikai)
- Pumpkin (Poosanikai)
- Watermelon (Tarpoosani)
Layering and Mulching
Start with a layer of coconut-fibre and then add a layer of partly-composted organic matter. Then, add a layer of enriched soil. Finally cover this with a thick layer of mulch or coco-peast.
Always keep the surface of the soil covered by mulch. For tiny and thin plants like the methi, it is best to use coco-peat or tiny dried leaves, for thick stemmed plants and trees, you can use bulkier materials like large dried leaves.
Mulch performs various functions like :
1. Reduces water loss from evoparation
2. Keeps the soil surface cool and encourage the growth of beneficial soil organisms
3. Provided a constant supply of food for soil and plant
Selecting the Seeds
Almost all the packaged and branded seeds sold in the market are hybrid seeds treated with chemicals.The seeds that the plants give are either sterile or yield much less quality and quantity than the parent seeds. You can try local organic stores or traditional farmers for organic open pollinated seeds. There are a few organizations across the country, which distribute these organic seeds on request. Never miss the organic ingredients from Futuro Organic which can be used for sowing.
Sowing the Seeds
The best time for sowing seeds of keerai and herb plant is the first week after the new moon day (amavasai), i.e. during the waxing period. During the next seven days (the week just before the full moon day / pournami), the gravitational pull is less but the moonlight is strong, creating strong leaf growth. Planting tuber plants like colocasia (seppan Kizhangu) is done best during the waning phase of the moon (time between full moon day and the new moon day). This is the time when the root growth is at its best.
Soak the seeds for a few hours before sowing. If the seeds are fine (like mustard seeds), it is best to mix them with some fine sand or saw dust and sprinkle them, so that they spread out evenly. The depth of the sowing should be twice the size of the seed.
The best time to make and plant cuttings is the waxing phase of the moon (the time from the new moon to the full moon day). Cuttings should be taken from plants that are healthy, disease-free and productive. For soft, non-woody plants like the spinach creeper, slant-cut a 5-inch piece of stem from the parent plant. Remove the leaves on the lower half of the stem and stick them into a mixture of compost and cocopeat. For softwood and semi-hardwood plants like the moringa, agathi, cut a part of the partially mature wood of the current season’s growth, just after a flush of growth. Remove any flowers and flower buds when preparing cuttings so its energy can be directed to producing new roots rather than flowers. Early morning is the best time to take cuttings, because the plant is fully turgid. It is important to keep the cuttings cool and moist until they are stuck.
4. MAINTAINING AND CARING
The mulch usually preserves moisture to a great extent, and hence watering can be done on a need basis. Before watering, dig your finger through the mulch into the soil. If it is moist, there is no need to water. Usually, it is sufficient if you save the water with which you wash your rice and dals everyday and sprinkle it on top of the mulch everyday. In cooler places, it is enough to water them once every few days. The best time of the day for watering is early morning. This will give the plants enough water to get through the day. Avoid watering late evenings or night, for that might result in the growth of mold.
It is important to have a good supply of the mulch material and keep replenishing it with a good mixture of greens (eg. vegetable peels) and browns (coco peat, dried leaves, saw dust, etc.) Half-composted dark organic matter may also be used as mulch. Make sure that the greens and half- composted matter is not added close to the stem. Sowing green grams and other beans in the same containers can also grow into a live mulch that can be periodically chopped and spread on top of the soil. The roots of legume plants also breed nitrogen-fixing bacteria.
Pruning Greens and Herbs
Making supports for the gourds
One of the important thing we need to know in balcony or terrace gardening is how to make a support structure on the terrace for the gourd climbers to spreads over. Pandal can be made using bamboo, and other poles. This can be made anywhere between 5 and 7 feet high. Gourds can also be allowed to climb over short trees, so long as it is accessible for harvesting. Apart from the classic old-style pandal, which spreads out like a flat roof, there are a few other ways to make terrace pandals. Pyramid-shaped pandals have been found to maximise space on rooftops.