How can I make my balcony awesome? Difficulty level: allergic to dirt.
May 9, 2015 6:59 PM   Subscribe

We recently moved to an apartment with a large balcony. We were super excited about the possibilities, especially growing veggies / herbs / flowers with our kids. But surprise!! We can't find dirt! My child has a peanut allergy, and - WHO KNEW?? - most commercially available dirt / potting soil has peanuts and peanut shells as a filler. My child's allergy is severe enough that we won't take the risk of having it around. How can we enjoy the full potential of our balcony and maybe even enjoy some living, growing things?

We are pretty bummed about this. For years, we have been dreaming of the day when we had some outdoor space that we could use for flowers, tomatoes, herbs, etc, and now we don't know how to take advantage of it. We are interested in suggestions for how to make our botanical dreams come true, as well as ideas for how to make the balcony awesome in other ways.

Things to consider:

We are in New Jersey, so we have a few warm / hot months here.

The kids in question are 5 and 2.

This is a rental apartment, so no permanent changes allowed.

We probably won't be in this rental for more than a couple of years, and we don't know if the next place we go will have outdoor space, so we don't want to spend a ton of money.

We face north and east (corner unit / L-shaped balcony). The apartment is on the first floor, so there is mostly indirect sunlight, and a few hours of direct sunlight at different times.

We have looked into dirt that is totally free of peanuts, and it is surprisingly hard to find. The peanut-free soil we did find is PROHIBITIVELY expensive (i.e., $30+ / 2 cubic feet, plus shipping, since I can't find it locally).

We are interested in ideas for how to grow plants / veggies / herbs, as well as other suggestions for making our balcony lovely and awesome. Thanks!!
posted by JubileeRubaloo to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Try making a homemade soilless potting mix! To level up a bit, you could make compost from your household's (presumably peanut-less) food scraps.
posted by ostro at 7:10 PM on May 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


Check out hydroponics/aeroponics. You can get home growing kits that don't require any soil.
posted by three_red_balloons at 7:14 PM on May 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


Buy a can-o-worms and create your own dirt with vermicomposting!
posted by arnicae at 7:16 PM on May 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


Can't you buy local clean topsoil? If none of the local nurseries sell it, any landscaping or excavating company should have it if you start calling around. It won't be sold in tidy little bags -- it will be sold per cubic yard (you can buy fractions of a yard if you only need a small amount) and either loaded into your truck with a tractor or delivered in their truck. Around here the minimum delivery charge is something like $80, which gets you a pile dumped in your driveway -- for handling and delivery to your patio I would expect to pay more.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:33 PM on May 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Gp to the woods take your pots, acquire dirt the old fashioned way, or go to a farm.
posted by Oyéah at 8:04 PM on May 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


Have you thought about leaf mulch? My local community garden uses it instead of dirt. It's just everyone dead bag leaves from the fall but after a couple of months it turns into an airy and nutrient rich type of dirt. I've had really good success with growing all types of plants in it.
posted by CosmicSeeker42 at 9:14 PM on May 9, 2015


+1 on "acquire dirt the old fashioned way" -- it may not be the best quality for container growing -- so -- take some of the dirt and start putting your fruit and veg scraps, your eggshells, coffee grinds, all the usual compost stuff in it. Put some worms in (go to woods with shovel, take container, return with worms). I did this very successfully and quickly on a balcony, in an old swing-top garbage bin.

(In your shoes I would post to your local freecycle list. Lots of people have lots of plain dirt...)

This page discussing peanut allergies and dirt has suggestions for safe DIY potting soil.
posted by kmennie at 10:23 PM on May 9, 2015


A construction site might have excess dirt. You would probably need to amend it to use it for gardening, but you usually need to do that with any dirt.
posted by Cranberry at 12:26 AM on May 10, 2015


You can make your own. Avoid using anything that says "potting soil" and instead call a local landscaping company and ask for clean fill dirt. Then mix it with perlite, etc.
posted by snickerdoodle at 4:27 AM on May 10, 2015


Fill dirt / plain old ground dirt is going to be difficult to work with for growing in containers - it will probably get compacted and not drain well, or not hold water well between waterings. Definitely look up a potting mix recipe and amend the fill dirt if you go that route.

You could also try calling your extension office for tips relevant to your area. They often have good stuff for home gardeners.
posted by momus_window at 6:46 AM on May 10, 2015


Have you looked into Straw Bale Gardening?
posted by odinsdream at 8:09 AM on May 10, 2015


Have you tried contacting a local rock and soil company? These are big warehouse type places which put together soil mixes for landscapers, etc. Our local rock and soil place sells several varieties of soil, and would definitely make a custom blend. Not sure what your local options are, but give it a google.
posted by Wavelet at 11:44 AM on May 10, 2015


Pretty sure Foxfarm potting soil does not have any peanuts in it, and you can get it on Amazon. I'm sure if you emailed they could give you the scoop.
posted by oneirodynia at 2:57 PM on May 10, 2015


I grow rosemary, basil, parsley in pots. I'm not sure what will grow well with only a little direct sun, but good luck.
posted by SemiSalt at 6:07 PM on May 10, 2015


For most of my container plants (primarily tomatoes and peppers), I've used a relatively small proportion of potting mix with a lot of pine bark fines and perlite to increase drainage. You can use a potting mix without peanut fillers, if you can find one, or mix your own from individual ingredients from the garden store - usually peat moss, sand, and the cleanest compost you can find, in addition to the composted bark fines and perlite.

As far as I've found, potting mix and potting soil, as sold, are different. Potting mix is sterile, potting soil tends not to be. Potting soil also includes "dirt", and I'd bet it's more likely to contain unlisted allergenic fillers.
posted by WasabiFlux at 12:23 AM on May 11, 2015


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