No More Excuses: Small-Space and Balcony Gardening

Shirley Eppler on container gardening and how you can grow a variety of beans and vegetables in your balcony garden.

Credit: Renee’s Garden Seeds

Grow beans on your balcony

Grow beans on your balcony

Growing delicious veggies is within reach—even for balcony gardeners

You have a small city lot and don’t have the room for a vegetable garden? A condo with only a balcony? No excuses! Plenty of vegetables and small fruits are perfectly happy being grown in tight quarters in containers. The containers don’t need to be expensive or fancy. Use black nursery pots, plastic containers, ceramic, clay, whisky barrels—even an old basket will grow a head or two of lettuce, or herbs quite nicely.

Pictured above: Tricolour beans

Requirements for an Amazing Garden

The main requirement for most vegetables is sun. Six to eight hours is ideal. Container gardening can actually be an advantage because you can move pots around to follow the sun if necessary. But containers dry out quickly, so be sure to keep them watered.

Good soil is also at the top of the list. Don’t be tempted to dig up dirt from an empty lot. It will probably be too heavy and smother your seeds. Use a good quality potting mix and amend it with some of the following:



  • Sea Soil is made from fish and forest fines and composted for two years, so it’s packed full of nutrients and is weed free. High in nitrogen, it’s perfect for top-growth vegetables like lettuce, broccoli, beans and peas.
  • Compost, either homemade or store bought, is nutrient-rich organic matter wonderful for vegetables. It helps retain moisture while naturally fertilizing your plants. Supplement throughout the season with a good, organic fertilizer specific to vegetables; they are generally heavy feeders, particularly in containers.
  • Coconut coir, made from shredded coconut husk, will help keep the soil aerated and allow the roots to breathe. I mix a small amount in with my soil and prefer it to peat moss because it’s neutral (peat moss is acidic) and re-hydrates more easily.  Now for the fun stuff: deciding what to grow. Choose things that you love and are likely to eat. Why grow Brussels sprouts if you hate them? If you have young children let them help choose because chances are they’ll be more likely to eat it later. I’ve listed a few of my favourites below.
  • Beans. Runner and pole beans do well if your container is large enough for a support system such as four tall bamboo stakes tied together at the top, or an obelisk. Situate the container where you can string up some netting for the plant to climb, and it will also do double duty and serve as an informal screen between balconies or small city lots. Scarlet runner beans are my favourite, or try tricolour pole beans – a nice mix of green, yellow and purple beans that will add some fun colour to your container.
  • Peas. You can never get enough peas, and they just don’t taste the same from a market no matter how fresh they look. Peas also need a support system like beans, but usually not as high.
  • Potatoes. Yes, they can be grown in pots. Though they do need room to grow so use round, five-gallon black nursery pots. One spud per pot, planted halfway down and you’ll be enjoying new potatoes in no time. Dig when they’re still small, give them a scrub and wrap in foil with fresh herbs, a garlic clove, some shallots (all of which grow in containers), and a little water to help steam them. Then throw the package on the BBQ.

All the usual suspects like lettuce, radishes, chard, kale, tomatoes, peppers and strawberries will happily grow in containers, too. Not only are home-grown vegetables fun and easy to produce but they also taste so much better and are generally more nutritious than produce that has been trucked halfway across the country. No more excuses. Treat yourself to some fresh, nutritious and oh-so-tasty container-grown veggies.

Shirley Eppler is the manager of Cannor Nursery in Parksville, B.C., and contributes regularly to Parksville’s Oceanside Star newspaper.