Protogreen thumbee needs help
April 21, 2010 5:10 AM   Subscribe

I just moved into a new place. I want to start a garden on my balcony.

I live in Brisbane, Australia. The balcony I'll be using faces north, and will likely be in full sun most of the day. I'd like to grow a variety of kitchen herbs and perhaps some flowers in this area to brighten things up a bit. I also have some area available which is in full shade and very sheltered (a semi-outdoor stairwell area). I have around 1 sq m in each location. I'd also like to grow some tomatoes, capsicum, and chillies, but I know that may not be possible in the limited space I have available. I prefer to keep things organic and that sort of jazz. Oh, and have no idea how to maintain said garden - help there would be lovely too.

Here's the other kicker: I'm on a budget of about 100AUD, absolute max. Anyway, please share you thoughts and planning resources! I am totally at sea when it comes to this, and need help.
posted by ysabet to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I'm sure you'll get answers here, but for long-term support, I suggest gardenweb, which also has a flourishing australian section.
posted by acidic at 6:10 AM on April 21, 2010

Best answer: Hmm, whenever I start a new garden, I go with the basics. In very small pots, the essentials are: Thai basil, "regular" basil, oregano, dill, chives, mint, oregano, lavender, sage, parsley, cilantro, rosemary. Your basics may vary, depending on how you cook!

As far as care goes, you know, um, like, water them? And maybe give them nutrients once a week?

You could fit a tomato plant and a few chilis in there too but they're a thirsty pain in the rear in pots. But doable. You'll just have to be on them with the watering. You know what's satisfying to grow, if they have something to grab onto and climb? Cucumbers! Very pretty flowers too. And they grow fast.

Full shade plants you'll find somewhat limited but you could have a fabulous monstrous Australian fern garden!
posted by RJ Reynolds at 6:10 AM on April 21, 2010

You can do a lot in that space.

The big expense in these ventures is the planters. You need to find your personal balance between utility and beauty. The cheapest way to go is with salvaged buckets. In the US it's pretty easy to go to restaurants and get used 5-gallon pickle buckets. You can wash them out and drill some holes in the bottom and you should be good to go. One bucket is good for one tomato plant, and perhaps some basil plants around the edges.

Make sure your soil is light and won't compact too much. This means you will likely have to add compost, or some peat alternative (you can try coir) so that the soil does not bake hard in the sun.
posted by OmieWise at 6:12 AM on April 21, 2010

The You Grow Girl forums have lots of balcony and patio gardeners. Browse around through the general and patio gardening boards through the past several years, there's a lot of photos to look at in people's posts.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:35 AM on April 21, 2010

Best answer: If you use salvaged buckets (which is totally do-able), just make sure you wash them very thoroughly and drill some drainage holes in the bottom. You can plant in almost anything as long as it has drainage holes. Also check discount stores, they sometimes have garden sections where you can get prettier pots for way cheaper than at garden centers. Buy potting soil specifically for growing in containers, not garden soil.

I'd start with seedlings if I were you, they're much easier than starting from seed if you're very new at this. But use caution! You do not need 7 kinds of tomatoes, as tempting as the seedlings may be. Figure out what you cook with the most for herbs, and grow that. Chives and oregano are easy and hardy. Mint is very robust, does well in partial shade, and will take over whatever you plant it in, so give it a small pot on its own if you're partial to it. Sage doesn't need to be watered quite as often as other herbs, so dont' plant it in the same pot as thirsty plants like tomatoes and basil. Nasturtium flowers are edible and look very pretty in salads.

You might also check out this thread from the other day on useful books about container gardening.

Good luck!
posted by hungrybruno at 6:50 AM on April 21, 2010

Dittoing the reused containers if you want to go cheap and fairly moveable, but starting from seed isn't that difficult, either if you get a head start when things start warming up. I have a few of these (no doubt you can find an Australian equivalent, or even use some old food containers such as milk cartons with a bit of plastic wrap over the top while they're still germinating).

They were so wildly successful this year that I have more organic tomato and broccoli and basil seedlings than I know what to do with! And organic seeds/soil starter mix are generally quite a bit cheaper than seedlings if you're trying to do it on the cheap.

The new book Grow Great Grub by the woman who started You Grow Girl spends a lot of time on successful container gardening.
posted by at 8:36 AM on April 21, 2010

You might look into DIY "earth boxes". The retail "Earth Boxes" are pretty spendy, but you can make your own on a pretty thin budget and they manage the fertilizer for your and make keeping up with watering not so much of a chore.

Here's one DIY version.
posted by chazlarson at 8:47 AM on April 21, 2010

"your" s/b "you"
posted by chazlarson at 8:47 AM on April 21, 2010

Tomatoes, and some other fruits, can be grown hanging down instead of growing up from the floor (the link is for the US but presumably the method is available in Oz too). Doing this could increase your effective growing space.
posted by anadem at 9:20 AM on April 21, 2010

I've been doing this on a balcony for the last two years. 3rding the acquisition of pots from creative locales. I currently have a box of lettuce in a box originally intended to carry 2 liter bottles of soda. I just lined it with a black plastic garbage bag, made a few holes for drainage, and got started. If you go this route, your biggest expenses will be soil (don't skimp on a good potting soil), compost (has made every difference for me), and plants/seeds. Let your most successful herbs go to seed every once in a while, so you can re-plant next year. Tomatoes are also very easy to save seeds from. Best of luck to you!
posted by Gilbert at 9:43 AM on April 21, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks so much for the ideas and resources! Now to finish moving, and then hopefully see if I can get some of those books from my local library.
posted by ysabet at 7:12 PM on April 21, 2010

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