Let me guess: You want to grow some veggies and fruit in your apartment, condo, or townhome but you have limited space. “I can’t grow anything but herbs” you say.
Where there’s an obsessed gardener, there’s a way!
I grew up living in small spaces and moving apartment to apartment (and tipi to boat). I even spent the first half of my twenties moving to a new apartment every year. When I moved back in with my family we downsized to a 990 foot condo with a balcony that was six feet long and wide. On top of that, there was a roof over the balcony and was situated so that it only got an 8 inch sliver of light one side for three hours a day.
So what!? I thought to myself confidently. I can still grow things!
That over confidence was both why I succeeded and failed.
Due to my confidence I happily grew a lot of things that did well that had I researched would have discouraged me from trying. That confidence also meant that I killed several attempts of corn and squash and put me in my place that I can’t in fact, completely defy nature.
But you can, in fact, grow way more than you think you can in small spaces—but sunlight is a major factor.
In less than ideal situations like my condo with no light, you’re going to be limited by sunlight and your ability to afford room and money to a ‘grow light’ situation. But there’s still plants you can grow in the shade—especially if you live in hot places like me!
I would like to note to anyone reading this in cold climates, I live in Southern California, so try as I might to make this article accessible for all, there are a few things in it that are going to apply more towards Southern California weather. Take what applies to your situation and run with it! And don’t be afraid to ask questions down below! I’m happy to answer them!
GROWING FOOD WITH A SMALL OR NO BALCONY
If you remember, I practice permaculture gardening and living, and one of the biggest rules is stacking functions—which simply means try and make it so that one thing can serve several purposes. Growing your own food definitely stacks functions! By growing your own food you’re limiting how much you drive around to get food, how much your spending, and eating food that’s way way more nutrient dense that what you’d get a grocery store.
Well gee, that’s nice. You have a freaking backyard with sun and I don’t.
Fear not! If you live with a small balcony vertical and horizontal gardening is your best friend!
Have a fence around your balcony (iron or otherwise)? Gardening space.
Have walls? Gardening space.
Have a floor? Gardening space!
Vertical gardening is stupid easy and inexpensive. Now, you can use a fancy canvas “pot pocket” to hang on your railings for 80 dollars or you can do what my poor-self did and buy a 10 dollar nylon shoe pocket from Ikea and do the same thing. You can plant strawberries and lettuce (which is what I did) very easily in these!
You can but tall trellises (wooden or metal), stick it against the wall, and grow vining plants to travel up them—and if you have a roof over your balcony you can string along metal wire (inexpensive) and let the vines grow along that for a lovely canopy and fruit.
You can also hang smaller pots on the trellis if you've anchored the trellis to the wall (you can do this even in rentals), or from the roof using sturdy fish eye hooks in beams (if you have any woodwork up above you).
Heck, if you don’t have a roof over your balcony and you can afford a little bit of space (I know some balconies are just a foot deep and you can’t don anything more than stand two people on it) you can put a metal poles into four paint buckets, fill them with concrete, and use that to string your wire and even some pretty paper lanterns if you want!
If you have railings you can grow horizontal too! You can put pots designed to hang over in front of your railings and then underneath, along the railing you can grow grape vines or blackberries—heck grow peas and green beans—they’ll grow any directions you send them so long as their tendrils can wrap around something!
Blackberries are an especially good horizontal plant to grow as you chop them down to the ground for winter time—or even when you move! They do no damage, are removeable and you don’t have to spend $8 for a tiny pint of blackberries!
Aside from growing horizontal and vertical, you can grow your plants in pots as well—even fruit trees! A lot of fruit trees are now grown on stocks that keep them tiny yet productive which is great if you live on a balcony and even better if you live in colder climates since you can just drag them inside in the winter and have greenery all year long!
There’s also grow towers—but honestly those are big and expensive and definitely not made for balcony gardening. Long, smaller rectangular pots (like you see set against windows, but you know, smaller) are great for growing peas and beans in—but not big leafy greens as they need a bit deeper of a pot than it can support.
And if you have no balcony? So long as you get a decent amount of sun, your plants can grow happily next to your sliding glass doors—and around them if you set up a little wire system above it (you can just heavy duty command adhesive with great effect to wrap the wire around that the vines would grow on.
LIST OF PLANTS YOU CAN GROW IN SMALL SPACES
-Gourds (vertical/horizontal. The gourds might need to be supported with slings tied to the railings as they grow)
-Squash (vertical/horizontal. Same issue as gourds)
-Melons (vertical/horizontal. Same issue as gourds)
-Green beans (bush or pole. Pole beans grow on a vine)
-Tomatoes—especially cherry (They need a minimum of a 5 gallon pot and plenty of fertilization throughout their growth since fertilizer tends to leach out faster in pots or buckets)
-Dwarf fruit and citrus tree (in colder climates bring citrus indoors)
BUT WHAT DO YOU DO IF YOU HAVE NO BALCONY OR IT’S FULL SHADE?
As long as you get decent sun you can grow most plants in front of your sunny windows. The caveat to this is if you’re in Southern California. Make sure your plants don’t get full sun all day as you’ll do what I did and burn all of your plants—even your tomatoes—to a crisp! Learn from my mistakes! Sun from 2pm onward is optimal in SoCal window growing!
And shade? If outdoors peas, kale, rhubarb and lettuce do great! And if you have (or want) to give up some of your floor space you can create an indoor growing garden! All you need is to group your pots by size and what you’re growing (so tall/vining plants in back, shortest in front) and use several lamps that you can put grow light bulbs into (the cheapest bulb is only 3.99!).
I would recommend putting plywood, the wooden snap-together floor tiles from Ikea (kinda expensive but man are they pretty!), or pallets to put your pots on just in case of water spills. Plus it helps give it a stage and makes your space look intentional and dare I say, trendy! Usually Lowes and Home Depot or even your local grocery store will have pallets for free or cheap. Just ask (or check around back, especially at grocery stores). If you hate the look of the pallet you can sand it and stain it yourself fairly cheaply too!
Again, where there’s an obsessed gardener, there’s a way!
Don’t forget to add in some pretty solar lamps to stick in the pots and string lights or lanterns hang on or along your balcony roof (or homemade roof) to give it warmth and charm!
One last piece of advice if you’re trying to decide what to even grow in your home: Grow what you love eating, what you eat the most of, and/or what tends to cost you the most when you have to buy it at the grocery store
Now, if you want to garden but you don’t know where to start or need help, I do designs for small garden spaces which you can check out on my Garden Consultation tab—but I hope what I’ve written here helps give you some ideas to do it yourself too! And again, feel free to ask questions down below and I’ll be happy to answer!