Our summer of balcony gardening

Autumn is definitely here. I know this from the many alarming creaks and groans coming from the boiler now it’s finally switched back on. I even got the hot water bottle out the other night. So it seems like a good time to post these photos of the balcony garden we grew this summer.

So my two big New Year’s resolutions this year were:

  1. Learn to dance and get more exercis
  2. Grow some vegetables on our balcony

It’s best to draw a discreet veil over No. 1 – I’ve been taking ballet classes since January, but I’d wouldn’t really describe anything I do there as ‘dancing’. But resolution No. 2 was a huge success, mainly because of a lovely lady called Naomi who runs this awesome gardening blog.

She is a gardening genius who I met via her blog, and she offered to give me some advice on how to grow stuff on our balcony, in exchange for using the photos in her upcoming book.

This was what we started with:

Nothing natural except for all the dirt on my bike.

And this is where we ended up!

Green everywhere!

Naomi was a huge help, giving us seeds, soil, and lots of useful advice. Not to mention taking all these awesome photos.

These tomatoes grew to about 6 foot before we chopped off the top, and were incredibly nice (they’re called Gardener’s Delight). We also grew tumbling bushes in hanging baskets which yielded hundreds of tomatoes, but the vine type were definitely the tastiest.

These were the tumbling tomatoes and some parsley (and my messy hair).

Not sure how much of an overlap there is between the sewing blog world and the gardening world, although I know that Emily of The Bottermann Empire has a rather impressive balcony garden. If you are interested, this is what worked for us (on a sheltered SW facing balcony).

  • Vine and bush tomatoes grew like anything
  • Salad leaves, although we did get a pesky bout of manky caterpillars on them
  • Herbs including parsley, mint, thyme, and oregano
  • Jalapeño chillies – not grown from seed, but we got loads of fruit off one plant
  • Rhubarb! That’s what I’m clutching in the second photo down

This is what didn’t work so well:

  • Coriander just grew about 3 inches, flowered and died
  • We had some great purple bean seeds, but the plants didn’t flourish for some reason
  • Peas are really pretty and tasty, but didn’t yield that much in a wine box
  • Tromboncino squash grew like mad but didn’t product many veggies
  • Beetroot were great for leaves, but the roots were a bit small

This is beetroot in an old wine box. I tried loads of places to try and get a couple of these, and eventually struck gold in a local deli. (Top tip – only really posh wine comes in these boxes, so don’t bother asking at Morrisons. Even Majestic turned me away.)

If you’re interested in doing container or urban gardening, I recommend checking out Naomi’s blog Out of My Shed, as well as the small-space gardening blog Vertical Veg. I also bought The Bountiful Container, which was very helpful but not really aimed at the UK which makes all the buying recommendations a bit useless. It’s great for ideas though.

I can honestly say that growing these plants has been one of  the highlight of my year. I can’t believe how rewarding it is coming home from work and checking out which seedlings had grown an extra inch, and whether our tomatoes had started to turn red. I don’t think we’ll be self-sufficient for a while yet (or ever, unless we turn our spare room into a hydroponic growing pod) but just having fresh herbs and salad leaves makes you feel remarkably proud/smug.

Thanks to Naomi for all her help, and these lovely photos!

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31 thoughts on “Our summer of balcony gardening

  1. Chuck October 23, 2012 / 8:00 PM

    Oh my goodness! This is amazing! Check you out. It makes me want to over use exclamation marks. I want a balcony garden, clearly I need to get off my arse immediately. X

  2. Inez von Sivers October 22, 2012 / 11:30 AM

    Hi, I have just come across your blog – fantastic result with the gardening. In my previous life, bc. i was also making my own clothes and had a small dressmaking business. These days I’m getting the vegie garden happening – much easier to get 2 small children involved- and reading up on sewing blogs.

    • yesilikethat October 22, 2012 / 12:37 PM

      Hi Inez! Thanks, it was really enjoyable. Getting kids involved in gardening sounds amazing.

  3. Dan October 19, 2012 / 11:47 AM

    That’s brilliant! I have a balcony also on my flat and it looks so plain, you have inspired me to something with it. Thank you so much and keep up the good work!

  4. emily October 18, 2012 / 6:53 PM

    Wow! Your garden is so lush and beautiful! I feel like a bit of a fraud because I sort of let my balcony garden fall by the wayside a little bit this year – I’ve been a bit more focused on growing a baby rather than tending the garden, so I haven’t had as much of a crop as I hoped. But the herbs have been doing well, and I still have some spuds and little carrots to dig up. (Potatoes are perfect for balcony gardening. I re-use my compost bags, turn them inside out so they’re black on the outside, roll down the tops and plant the potatoes. Then, as the leaves grow, you unroll a bit of the bag and add more compost to encourage more growth and more spuds.)

  5. Jenny October 17, 2012 / 11:12 PM

    I had to snicker at your ballet class comment! It reminded me of this time I auditioned for a musical and wasn’t informed until I was already on stage for the dance portion of the audition that we needed to know ballet and understand “ballet French” in order to survive. Of course, I’ve never danced a day in my life.

    It was a disaster.

    • yesilikethat October 18, 2012 / 8:38 AM

      Ha ha! Ballet French makes me very confused. I have been doing classes since January now and have probably reached the level of your average 6 year old. It’s fun though.

  6. gingermakes October 17, 2012 / 9:18 PM

    Wow, look at all those gorgeous plants! How beautiful!

  7. outofmyshed October 17, 2012 / 2:00 PM

    Hi Kathryn, Huge thanks for mention. I was mightily impressed with all the fruit and veg that you grew on your balcony this summer. I think enthusiasm (mixed with a dash of experimentation) is key, and it was great to see all your efforts rewarded with such a lush balcony. Looking forward to reading how your winter leaves grow.

  8. Kerry October 17, 2012 / 9:47 AM

    Your balcony looks so lovely! Nice work, I wish I had a little space like this I could fill with plants.
    Also, I really love your jumper in the first photo.

    • yesilikethat October 17, 2012 / 10:41 AM

      Thanks Kerry! I knitted it! It’s my favourite knitted object ever, needs a good wash though after wearing it around a campfire in Norway…smoky to the max x

  9. Sew Little Time October 17, 2012 / 9:35 AM

    wow – amazing! i would second karen’s point about the courgettes – they are so easy to grow and you get so many from one plant. we put in 2 this year and didn’t buy any courgettes at all – we probably got 2 a week. we save so much money growing herbs rather than buying in the supermarket!

    • yesilikethat October 17, 2012 / 10:41 AM

      We did try climbing tromboncino courgettes but they aren’t that tasty, they grew about a foot a day though! Next year we’ll definitely try another type. There’s an amazing Jamie Oliver recipe for courgette carbonara that I make about once a week so would be great to have our own supply.

  10. whatkatiedoes (@whatkatiedoes) October 17, 2012 / 8:53 AM

    Wonderful! I’m so excited to plant loads of veg in the spring. I’ve just put in some winter onions and garlic which are beginning to sprout and might try broad beans too. You’re right, it’s so exciting seeing them grow.

    • yesilikethat October 17, 2012 / 10:59 AM

      Winter onions sounds nice. Apparently fresh green garlic is lovely and you can just plant cloves and it springs up. I’ve definitely got the gardening bug.

    • bikelove October 17, 2012 / 12:41 AM

      Just seen… you’re already onto him!

  11. Jo Jones October 17, 2012 / 12:38 AM

    I love reading sewing blogs and veg gardening blogs… so this post was a delight. Pretty cool amount of produce from a balcony garden. I have a small 1m x 1m plot downstairs in the communal part of or apartment block (in Sydney). It’s amazing how much you can grow in such a small space. And satisfying! More gardening posts please!

    • yesilikethat October 17, 2012 / 11:00 AM

      I’m sure you get a bit more sunshine in Sydney than we have here! But I guess that means more watering which is a pain… Glad you liked the post! Will update as soon as I get some winter stuff planted 🙂

  12. didyoumakethat October 16, 2012 / 11:30 PM

    That’s really great – what a difference between the two photos. I’ve also spent this summer growing chillies. They’re a bit slow, aren’t they? What else? If you want some edible flowers to brighten up the veg, just poke some nasturtium seeds into the soil. They take no looking after, grow wonderfully and are so colourful – and you can put the flowers in your salad! What about some garlic? I’ve heard garlic is really easy to grow, though I’ve never tried it properly myself. Hey – courgettes! Easy, too, though they can grow into marrow monsters if you don’t harvest them in time… But to cut a young courgette, slice it up and fry in butter. What more can a person ask for?

    • yesilikethat October 17, 2012 / 11:12 AM

      Our jalapeño seemed to grow quite fast, but we bought it as a young plant. I tried growing chillies from seed and they just withered and died in the awful summer we had! Must try some nasturtiums. Apparently you can also stuff and fry courgette flowers which sounds rather yummy.

  13. Handmade Jane October 16, 2012 / 9:23 PM

    Aw what a great post, I’m so pleased you were able to produce all that lovely veg and get to eat it! My husband has just taken on half an allotment, he’s currently madly digging beds and I can’t wait for the first things to start growing! Your tomatoes look delicious by the way. x

    • yesilikethat October 17, 2012 / 11:12 AM

      Yes the great thing about container gardening is there’s no digging! 🙂 Would love an allotment though one day. x

  14. Donna October 16, 2012 / 9:14 PM

    Wow, that is impressive! It’s amazing how seeing growing things like that can perk you up. I was always so happy to see my orchid flowering. It died recently, but I had it for probably 3 years.

    • yesilikethat October 17, 2012 / 11:13 AM

      We’ve got an African violet in the kitchen, I know they’re a bit naff but I love it! The flowers are so cheerful.

  15. Miriana October 16, 2012 / 8:31 PM

    Well done, and in a year which has been particularly shite for growing vegetables. Growing fruit and veg is incredibly rewarding, even if it means daily massacres of slugs, snails and caterpillars.

    • yesilikethat October 17, 2012 / 11:13 AM

      Luckily being on the third floor and all in pots means creepy-crawly levels are low, although we still get all the flying pests. The salad caterpillars were a low point for me!

  16. TheBigForest October 16, 2012 / 8:23 PM

    Lovely post – and we are mightily impressed with the plants!

    • yesilikethat October 16, 2012 / 8:27 PM

      Thank you! Sadly it’s looking a bit more bare now but I’m going to put some mustard leaves in and hope for the best over winter, it’s quite a sheltered little space so we might be able to grow chard and things like that.

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