Need some honest advice/critique on balcony garden.


cschiavoni

Caitlin
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Hi all! I'm completely new to these forums, and also to gardening. Until a couple of weeks ago I've never gardened, so I have a lot to learn, but I've quickly become a teensy bit obsessed with the whole idea. Perhaps that will wear off, but I check on my plants throughout the day and religiously inspect the leaves and soil. However, due to my vast inexperience I'm looking for a bit of advice and direction from those of you who know more than me, specifically anyone who grows vegetables on balconies. All of my plants are edible (not interested in flowers quite yet) and since I follow a plant based diet my goal is not only to really dig into gardening out of enjoyment, but get a nice crop of food for myself and my husband to cut back on grocery bills.

Currently I have the following planted on my balcony: Roma tomatoes, better boy tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, black beauty zucchini, Ichiban eggplant, jalapeños, habaneros, Tokyo bunching onions, candy onions, Bok Choy, strawberries, blackberries, oregano, Thai basil, sweet basil, rosemary, and chocolate mint. I know some of these are fruits and herbs but I figured this was the best forum to post this in (if I'm wrong please advise!).

All were planted as seedlings around June 6th-10th, with the exception of the Bok Choy and bunching onions which were planted as seeds this week.

Hardiness zone looks to be 6b, right in Washington, DC.

Things I know are probably not ideal:
Space- Since it is a tiny tiny balcony, I've only planted one plant each, but even so the space is limited. Everything is of course in containers. Herbs are together in a long container, as are the Bok Choy, eggplant, and bunching onions. Peppers are together. Everything else has it's own container, the tomatoes having the most space (and tomato cages).
Sun- The balcony gets a lot of sun BUT it is blocked partially by the building during the hottest part of the day.
Wind- While the building blocks the sun partially, it does a horrible job of protecting from wind. Already I have had some snapped stems and broken leaves.

All in all the baby plants are looking good, not droopy and the soil has been kept moist. I actually believe I have been over watering. Everything drains well, but I was thinking of cutting it back a bit before I cause too many problems. All plants are growing pretty quickly (especially the tomatoes) with the exception of the zucchini (and of course the seeds that were just planted). It seems a little "rough" and still quite tiny.

All soil was fertilized with shake and feed during planting.

I did notice what look to be mites in the soil of some of the plants today during watering. I checked everywhere and saw no signs of them on the stems or leaves, just in the soil and after some frantic internet searches they look like hypoaspis miles (did I spell that right) but I am still nervous about them, especially if I'm wrong.

Anyways, any advice would be greatly appreciated! Sorry for the novel! I know I started late in the season and I'm sure I'm making tons of mistakes but I feel like you gotta start somewhere right?

I will add pictures when I can (currently raining and cloudy and forecasted to continue for a couple of days). Avatar picture of garden was taken on first day of planting. Looks totally different now, way more plants!
 
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NatalieW

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congrats on your new passion.... yes, you will make mistakes... but keep going and learn from them, don't let them discourage you, we all made them and still make them!

My best advice, use organic fertilizers feed naturally like compost and good soils... I grow my own food to be sure I'm eating better than what's in the stores, so no chemicals on my food plants and herbs. That's my own rule ... ;)

if your balcony gets really hot, be prepared for a lot of watering and some plants might need a bit of shade if there's a lot of sun ... blackberries need space.... not the very best plant for patio gardening, but they might fair well for you for a little while. ...

Not sure what to tell you... as you go on, you'll have specific questions, I'm sure... sharing photos will also help ... we can oooo and aaahhh over them or offer more advice :)
 

cschiavoni

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Okay I got some pictures. Plants are a little droopy (compared to their usual perk level) I guess due to persistent cloudiness? Please tell me what you think! Not sure I have space to tackle any pot size issues but open to all suggestions. Everything that's hanging is also secured with extra plant ties and everything is removable in case of storms or a freak early frost, with the exception of the herb planter.

Poorly stitched panorama of the entire balcony


View from the ground (I added the petunias for color today, not sure if I want to keep them there)


Roma & better boy tomatoes (I honestly forgot which is which)



Cherry Tomatoes


Jalapeños & habaneros


Black beauty zucchini (I'm worried about this plant, sort of looks like something has been chomping at the leaves but I don't see any bugs?)


Top planter holds the bok choy and bunching onion seeds and that plant is the Ichiban eggplant (should I be worried about those white spots on the leaves?). Bottom planter is just the candy onions.


Blackberries (this plant was planted as is)


Strawberries


All the herbs: sweet basil, spicy oregano, thai basil, rosemary, chocolate mint



Okay, that's it!
 

NatalieW

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wow... kudos to you! That looks like difficult gardening and you're doing great! everything looks really good...watch for sunburn on the basil... the blackberry bush will also quickly outgrow such a shallow pot... those roots need to run ... that's about all I can say :) good luck!
 

cschiavoni

Caitlin
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wow... kudos to you! That looks like difficult gardening and you're doing great! everything looks really good...watch for sunburn on the basil... the blackberry bush will also quickly outgrow such a shallow pot... those roots need to run ... that's about all I can say :) good luck!

Thanks for the feedback! Will the blackberry bush grow as large as it can get and stop or will it fail to thrive? I don't want a huge bush but I don't want a dead one either. Would a larger hanging pot suffice or is it just not a good balcony plant?

Also, I have a question about feeding. I am using the Miracle Gro Shake N' Feed for tomatoes, fruits, and vegetables and mixed it throughout the soil and on top when everything was planted. How often should I reapply? The directions say every three months. Is that really sufficient though?

I read about using Epsom salt too. Should I worry with that?
 
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I think it all looks really good too, and kudos for growing so much in a small and challenging space! (y)

I'm not a fan of Miracle Gro personally (heck they can't even spell "grow' correctly so what do they know really) :D but if its not something formulated specifically for containers, it might not be that great of a choice. I have lots of space but also grow some veggies in containers. I mix in compost with the potting mix, and use a compost tea type product maybe 2-3 times during the growing season.

Container gardening is a bit challenging, there's a delicate balance between too much/too little water, and soil quality is more difficult to maintain. Generally it is better to water too little than too much. It is OK to let plants get a bit stressed in the heat of the day.
 
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NatalieW

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Thanks for the feedback! Will the blackberry bush grow as large as it can get and stop or will it fail to thrive? I don't want a huge bush but I don't want a dead one either. Would a larger hanging pot suffice or is it just not a good balcony plant?

Also, I have a question about feeding. I am using the Miracle Gro Shake N' Feed for tomatoes, fruits, and vegetables and mixed it throughout the soil and on top when everything was planted. How often should I reapply? The directions say every three months. Is that really sufficient though?

I read about using Epsom salt too. Should I worry with that?
Epsom salt is fine, it's not really salt, it's magnesium ...

I think personally, the blackberry will do better in a floor based pot that is large and deep rather than something shallow and hanging.

For plants that I plan to eat like herbs and veggies, I feed only composted manure, so as far as fertilizers go, if I were to use them for container growing, I'd make compost "tea" where you soak the compost into your watering can for 24 hours, or just use something organic vs chemical. I like Miracle Gro for my ornamentals, but not on the plants I'll eat, so that's something you have to decide is a concern to you to grow organic food ... but yes, every 3 months on a shake and feed is enough because it's a time released granule food, not a water soluble food, which feeds right away.
 
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Its hard to tell, but your strawberry may be planted a bit deep. If planted too deep or too shallow, it wont flower. Some crown should be above soil level. The internet has alot of advice on that. As for the rest of your garden, veggies arent my thing but it looks lovely! Btw, Ive been experimenting for 10+ years and learn something new every day. Learning to grow things and getting my hands dirty has become a passion and a pride and never more satisfiying. Good luck to you and I sure hope you dont give up if you hit a rough spot. About those strawberries, its advised, if its a new plant, not to let it fruit the first year, pull the flowers so the plant concentrates on building its root system instead of fruit. You will probably get bigger, sweeter fruit next year.
 
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cschiavoni

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Thanks all for the input! I'm gonna look into spacing arrangements to see if I can move the blackberries.

In other news, my bok choy seeds have started springing through! I decided to plant the seeds outside with everything else as opposed to growing them inside (mainly due to my plant obsessed cat who will move mountains to destroy all plants in a matter of minutes) and I'm wondering how long I should wait before thinning them out and choosing which ones to keep permanently. I planted about nine seeds.

I'm not sure why, but everything has taken off without the last couple of days. We had cool weather and storms prior to a streak of hot sunny days and the plants have gone from 0 to 100. Leaves on most are shooting straight up and I swear I'm seeing new growth every single day. The one exception is one of the tomato plants. Some of the leaves are drooping drastically downwards, but most are normal and the plant is still growing and sprouting new suckers so I'm trying not to freak out.
 
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cschiavoni

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Its hard to tell, but your strawberry may be planted a bit deep. If planted too deep or too shallow, it wont flower. Some crown should be above soil level. The internet has alot of advice on that. As for the rest of your garden, veggies arent my thing but it looks lovely! Btw, Ive been experimenting for 10+ years and learn something new every day. Learning to grow things and getting my hands dirty has become a passion and a pride and never more satisfiying. Good luck to you and I sure hope you dont give up if you hit a rough spot. About those strawberries, its advised, if its a new plant, not to let it fruit the first year, pull the flowers so the plant concentrates on building its root system instead of fruit. You will probably get bigger, sweeter fruit next year.

Thank you! The crown is above the soil, and since this photo something (can't tell if it's a flower or just another leaf) has sprung up. If I pull everything this year will the plant survive through the winter? Like die and come back again?
 
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image.jpg
St
Thank you! The crown is above the soil, and since this photo something (can't tell if it's a flower or just another leaf) has sprung up. If I pull everything this year will the plant survive through the winter? Like die and come back again?
strawberries are tough and should come back just fine. A couple leaves might brown but no worries! This is last years strawberries and the year before that, lol. A strawberry pot is not optimal for growing them, they prefer a min of a 10 in pot per plant, but Ive always loved strawberry pots and the occassional berry is fine for me. Right now, its in between bloom times.
 
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The Urban Farmer

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Garden looks great!

I noticed you had a strawberry plant (and there was some discussion about it), as another reader suggested, you may want to clip away the fruits until the plant is established and hearty. You may also want to clip away any runners. Runners are the little vine looking things that will come out of the plant base. This is one way strawberries reproduce - once the runners come in contact with soil they will begin to grow roots and establish a new plant. Cut these away until the plant is established and thriving.

Also, you'll want to have some sort of protection from birds. Birds love strawberries and they'll probably get to them before you do (speaking from experience)! You can McGyver a wire mesh cover to help keep the birds away.

One type of gardening you may want to look into (in the future) is vertical gardening. Vertical gardening can be used through aquaponics or hydroponics and can really help the limited space gardener.
 

cschiavoni

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Thanks all!

A little setback today. We had a major thunderstorm and neither myself nor my husband was home. When I got home the plants actually looked great BUT the storm blew open our balcony door and my cat went to town. He chewed off leaves from both pepper plants, the eggplant, and almost all the tops of the candy onions. I snapped off the damaged leaves and stems. Otherwise they look okay. Will they be okay? How harmful was that chewing to them?
 
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Your balcony garden looks so good, before the cat got to them :) I love the herbs in your planter. I am somewhat in the same boat, and can only grow small things in containers on my deck. I have peppermint, spearmint, chocolate mint, Thai basil, Italian basil, and lavender. I also grow green onion, and baby bok choy! They seem to do well. I only feed them used coffee ground, but looking in organic compost to add into the pots.
 

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Wow, you really dug in with a vengeance didn't you?? Pun intended! I think everything looks awesome, and you have gotten some good advice from the more experienced gardeners here. I am fairly close to DC as well, used to live in NOVA, but closer to Richmond now. I think that in terms of an urban garden you have an excellent one. The garden at the National Zoo is prolific, and somewhere you could go for local advice as well.
 

cschiavoni

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Your balcony garden looks so good, before the cat got to them :) I love the herbs in your planter. I am somewhat in the same boat, and can only grow small things in containers on my deck. I have peppermint, spearmint, chocolate mint, Thai basil, Italian basil, and lavender. I also grow green onion, and baby bok choy! They seem to do well. I only feed them used coffee ground, but looking in organic compost to add into the pots.

That looks great!!! We seem to have similar taste growing many of the same things! It's so much fun.
 
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cschiavoni

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Took a few progress pictures today:

Peppers starting to do their thing



Zucchini plant has come a long way in quite a short period of time compared to the original photo on this thread


Here you can see the very beginnings of the bok choy I plan to thin


And you can just barely see the beginnings of shoots for the bunching onions here
 

cschiavoni

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Sorry to keep coming back with questions. Anyone have advice on when to thin the bok choy? I have about 13 seedlings that have germinated, all around 1-2 inches tall now.
 
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Sorry to keep coming back with questions. Anyone have advice on when to thin the bok choy? I have about 13 seedlings that have germinated, all around 1-2 inches tall now.

I've never grown bok choy, but you do need to be ruthless with thinning. Let the strongest survive, ;). Remove the smaller ones.
 

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