The Australian Man and I face what many urban dwellers do: limited outdoor space. We are lucky to have a sunny, North-facing balcony where we often indulge in summer lunches or lazy afternoons reading magazines (granted, that’s more my thing than his).
But, nothing quite compares to having a garden. And though we sojourn to our veggie patch on the farm, we crave edible greenery closer than an hour’s drive away. Much of what you see on Wandering Spice is flavored or garnished with what we grow on our balcony. Here’s a little taste of what’s happening out there now.
We love salads and green smoothies. Autumn’s approach (supposedly – it’s still scorching!) means it’s time for leafy greens to go into the ground. These are baby mixed lettuces, a first for us. After our success growing kale, spinach and silverbeet last winter, we are having a crack at lettuce. So far, so good; lettuces have shallow roots, which make them ideal for quick growing and picking in small spaces. If you plant a few seeds every few weeks, you will have a replenished supply of organic salad once one batch runs out.
We have turned the top of our A/C unit into a sunny platform for baby strawberries, oregano, thyme, mint, Thai basil and rosemary. Creating a herb buffet, so to speak, lets you quickly add interest to any dish, especially the super quick ones thrown together from whatever is left in the pantry.
This dwarf Eureka lemon tree was a housewarming gift from my sister-in-law, who knows my love for citrus runs deep. She (the tree) is slowly but surely growing, and after one season in full sun, has nearly doubled in size. We noticed the little tree was getting bogged down by fruit buds, and picked a few off to lighten its load… only to later learn that lemons naturally cull some of their own fruit – that is, they drop lemon buds without human help. Alas, we may only have a few fruit this season. Such is the learning process of growing your own produce!
My husband loves Italian food, so naturally he has a recurring crop of potted basil leaves. They’re beautiful in traditional Italian fare, but also in fruit smoothies (try peach and basil), sorbet (something we served at our wedding) or to subtly flavor water. If we’re connected on Instagram, you know I love fresh basil on sourdough with tomato and ricotta for a light breakfast.
A healthy little sage bush. Sage is the special ingredient in Palestinian tea, a heady mix of herbs and ceylon tea served at breakfast or to visiting guests. We love adding it to poultry, and at Thanksgiving time, it lends layers of flavor to stuffing and cornbread.
Our tips for balcony gardening:
1) Make use of dead space and turn your industrial eyesores (like our A/C exhaust unit) into havens for fresh greenery. Put any flat surface to work, whether it’s a windowsill, a crate or even an upcycled bookshelf that can withstand the elements.
2) Planting hardy, strong-flavored herbs in pots means you can use small bits at a time for maximum flavor. Even if your plants are only 5-6″ tall, regular pruning (and cooking) will ensure they grow back to be bushy and plentiful.
3) Start with seeds. Not only will they save you loads of money, but it’s fun to watch them grow and prosper into seedlings. Fill a small pot (or a seedling pot) with good-quality soil. Place the seed just under the surface (don’t dig way down in there, unless the specific plant calls for it), and spray it with water every day to keep it moist – a spray bottle is gentler on seeds and baby leaves than a streaming watering can. Place them in an area with part shade until they’re strong enough to transfer to a larger pot.
Most importantly, try everything! Over the years we have discovered what we can grow well in our conditions (mint, rosemary, thyme, kale, etc) as well as plenty of things we can’t (sadly, cilantro). If at first your plants don’t respond to your efforts, try another batch of seeds, or try a different variety. Eventually you’ll find the mix that works for you, and will be rewarded with fresh, hand-sown (not to mention pesticide-free!) edibles all year round.