February 22, 2016 10:08 AM   Subscribe

I want to make a food-producing container garden on our (rented) apartment's small balcony. The good news: the balcony gets tons of sun. The bad news: the usable footprint is about 6'x6' and 6' of vertical space. What can I do to grow the most vegetables in this space?

Some more details:
- neither of us likes tomatoes all that much
- crops that can be canned/preserved would be a plus
- we're in New England so this is going to be a temporary seasonal arrangement
posted by overeducated_alligator to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
You could use a stair-step design like this. (Disregard that the page is about growing strawberries.)
posted by mudpuppie at 10:11 AM on February 22, 2016

You could grow potatoes in towers.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 10:15 AM on February 22, 2016

Trellis in the nack of the bed, taller things in back, lower growers in front, herbs to the back. Put in random gladiolus bulbs for flowers later.
posted by Oyéah at 10:22 AM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Garden Towers?
posted by mkb at 10:24 AM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Climbing beans, herbs, some zucchini or squash.
posted by Marky at 10:24 AM on February 22, 2016

"Bottle tower gardening" looks promising.
posted by taz at 10:35 AM on February 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'd get some tomato bags like these to supplement whatever non-hanging vegetables you plant.
posted by Betelgeuse at 10:36 AM on February 22, 2016

Oops! Should have read the question more carefully to see that tomatoes are a no go, but it looks like other vegetables can also be grown upside down.
posted by Betelgeuse at 10:38 AM on February 22, 2016

Vertical gardening, square foot gardening, hydroponics, hanging baskets, microgreens, mushrooms on sawdust (maybe not that last one).

All fairly intensive.

Potatoes like being earthed up.

If you put the trellis at the back, make sure it's at the back from the sun's PoV - you don't want to shade your other plants.

I've got a soft spot for heirloom varieties - if you're not going to get much produce, you might as well relish what you do get. So I'd plant interesting, rather than intensive, personally.
posted by Leon at 10:42 AM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

BTW, "intensive gardening" is the search term you want.
posted by Leon at 10:45 AM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

A lot of things which are very worthwhile in a big garden are not really worth cultivating in a limited space, either because they're fairly cheap in the shops anyway, or they take up too much room. I'd go for:
1. Lots of herbs: chives, parsley, sage, etc; unusual varieties of mint (which is a menace in open ground but fine in a confined space).
2. The more expensive salad leaves like rocket/aragula that you can give the cut-and-come-again treatment.
3. Mange-tout and sugar-snap peas that look very decorative on trellising, as well as giving a good crop in a small space.
4. Radishes, fennel, garlic, chilli peppers and beetroot are all fairly manageable plants. Horseradish is a big ugly thing but it's great to have a source of fresh horseradish.

For me, both potatoes and zucchini would hog too much space.
posted by Azara at 10:53 AM on February 22, 2016 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I am in a very different climate, but over 10 years of trying stuff in rented space, I've had the best success with the following container items:

- Jalapenos (literally more than I can handle since I'm not a huge daredevil; I easily grew 5+ years of frozen peppers and gifts and pepper jelly in 2 seasons)
- Cucumbers, little ones, and honestly I have more luck with the bush variety in containers though my heart wants climbers. Not an overwhelming number, but enough for a salad or two a week or a few small jars of pickles.
- Basil. It's hard to grow enough for more than a spoonful of pesto, but you can freeze enough for general basil application in a summer, with weekly pruning.
- Eggplant, little ones, but a "huge success" with a pair of plants = one, maybe two meals for two.
- Parsley, cilantro, chives - in quantities sufficient to freeze; also requires pretty regular pruning
- Cherry/grape tomatoes
- I've had great success (occasional salad levels) and terrible luck with snow peas and snap peas.
- Swiss Chard, which you can start as soon as the last freeze and maybe keep going all summer into fall as cut-and-come-again, but still it's only garnish quantities.

I use and highly recommend these as I have been using them for years at multiple rent houses and they have held up like a champ. Vertical gardens are great when you have a lot of wall but not a lot of ground, but growing vertically in a small ground space means you will be shading something. You can make that work for you to a certain extent, but you don't want to put a lot of effort into that and then find that nothing below/behind will grow.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:08 PM on February 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Do you like arugula? It's very, very easy to grow in containers, and any plants you don't eat will bolt up to a foot or two tall with pretty white cruciform flowers. I recommend it to all my friends who ask for simple, fuss-free ways to start container gardens. Same goes for cilantro, and they grow well together.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 12:20 PM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Square foot gardening! Designed for squeezing lots of crops into small spaces just like yours.
posted by penguin pie at 2:04 PM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You need John Jeavons' book "How to Grow More Vegetables: Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine" (Amazon link).
posted by anadem at 9:59 PM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you decide to go with the vertical potatoes, be mindful of the soil weight.

Blue Lake pole beans are excellent climbers.

I also grow cucumbers vertically as well as cantaloupes.

I'd go
N K lettuce herb marigold
S E Radish green onion marigold

(Marigold for natural pesticide)
posted by Beti at 11:48 PM on February 22, 2016

(Marigold for natural pesticide)

Yes, and one of the things I do as much for satisfaction points as anything is scatter some useful annuals around - marigolds, nasturtiums (you can eat the leaves), right now I just have a little $3 pack of snapdragons spread around because they're neat, and thanks to my birdfeeders I always have a number of surprise sunflowers coming up.

It just cheers the place up, attracts pollinators, and kind of makes you feel like something's happening when the other things are just quietly growing.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:45 AM on February 24, 2016

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