My Edible Balcony Garden in Chicago
Many of my family members and members of our Facebook page have been asking me to send pictures of my balcony garden, so I’ve finallly had a chance to take and compile pictures of this lovely extension of my home. I’m delighted that so many people are interested in such a wonderful thing to share.
Years ago when I first moved to Chicago, I yearned for a connection to my rural side. The young Ohio girl inside of me wanted to feel the season of summer, remembering when I used to go to Penton’s Farm Market with my mother and hand pick pounds and pounds of strawberries ourselves. Later, we made homemade jam, the best I would ever taste.
Baby Lettuce (left) and Orange Nasturtium Flower Whose Petals, Leaves & Stems are all Edible (right)
My grandmother made homemade tomato sauce every single summer from the tomatoes in her garden plus some she would hand pick at local farms. She jarred enough sauce for the entire family for a year and I’ve yet to taste any tomato sauce like it.
Needless to say, there are very few U-Pick signs around urban areas and it’s something I miss. Just to see those signs now is anything but mundane; in fact, I get an adrenaline rush just seeing those anymore.
Potted Mint (left) and Strawberry plant with Swiss Chard & Chives in one Pot (right)
Community gardens are a really great option for apartment dwellers and other urbanites who want to grow their own food. I did it for a few years and it was wonderful, but very difficult to maintain only because I had to drive to the garden daily in order to water, weed and maintain it. I didn’t mind it so much, but a 20′ x 20′ plot isn’t easy to keep up when it’s not very close to you. If it was my only option right now, I think I would still do it.
Nasturtium flowers planted with Chives, Swiss Chard & Arugula (left) and Strawberry planted with Chives & Swiss Chard
This year I opted to look into balcony and container gardening. I did the research on what grows best in the direction my plants will face (north) because it determines how much sunshine and when I will have the most daylight, and which plants will grow well together (and which ones won’t) in a single pot. As long as your apartment building or home owner’s association allows it (and most do), growing fruits and vegetables in containers are a great option for spring and summer edibles.
Sage (left) planted with Arizona Cactus Paddles (right) in the same pot. Yellow Nasturtium flowers in the background
In my case, I really can’t grow full-sun loving vegetables like tomatoes or peppers (although I am still trying) because I don’t get a direct ray of sunshine in my covered balcony area. What it has been perfect for is the shade-loving veggies like lettuce (see the picture above). I could have tried carrots, but I didn’t and hope to do that in late summer for a fall harvest.
Not shown here, but also growing well are marigolds (help to keep bugs away from my lovely Mediterranean herbs), arugula, basil, parsley, cilantro, jalapeno pepper, garlic, and citronella (to keep away the mosquitos). I just grow the things we love to eat most, as would be the most economical and least wasteful of your time and money. For example, when my cousin wanted to grow a garden and asked me what she should grow, I told her to grow a sofrito garden because she and her family love to make Puerto Rican foods, which are full of this wonderful and flavorful seasoning made up of tomatoes, peppers, cilantro and onion.
Arizona Cactus Paddle (Nopal) with budding paddles
The photo above is of my Arizona Cactus Paddle that I brought home from a trip out west. I wasn’t sure if it would really grow, but I did my best to try. I bought special cactus soil, which is available at garden centers, potted it and placed it outside as soon as it got warm. When it was time to plant my herbs, I put the ones I knew were most adapted to Mediterranean (dry) climates because they would have similar watering needs as the cactus. Turns out it’s been working. I just love looking at it every day and am continuously mesmerized by the new paddles that are growing so quickly.
Grow what you love and what looks beautiful to you. I can’t express how much I love going outside every morning to water and care for it, admire it throughout the day and spend time puttering around in this little space of mine. It not only brings me a lot of happiness, but also reminds me that if you can’t go to the farm, you can bring some of it to you instead.
Gardening Resources (Greenhouses, Garden Centers & Seed Sellers)
Penton’s Farm Market, 44905 N. Ridge Road
Amherst OH 44001
Mortensen’s Greenhouse, 4108 State Route 113 East
Milan, OH 44846-9433
7247 N. Coolville Ridge Rd.
Athens, Ohio 45701, 740.592.4643
Lurvey’s Landscape Supply & Garden, 2550 East Dempster Street
Des Plaines, IL 60016-5303
Pesche’s Flower & Garden, 170 South River Road, Des Plaines, IL 60016-3416(847) 299-1300
very inspiring…I know what you mean about the pleasure you get ….I once made sundride tomatos with my own tomatos and it made me soo happy….each time I open the balcony door I smell the jasmin that I stubbornly keep in a pot to be able to smell it from the sofa….every little counts.
@little moments- it is so pleasurable, and I’m so grateful for having one…
ASA, Great job and great pics sister. I am going to add companion gardening to my study list for next years plot. I’m container gardening as well!
wa’alaikum as salaam Sister P, and thank you for your comment. Yes, companion planting is the way to go. I need to do more writing about it 🙂
As always your pictures are beautiful! But you touched my heart with the stawberry story about you and I . I almost fell apart right at the computer. You have a way of writing that is so sentimental and yet you are touching so many people hearts with the beauty of your writing. Your pictures are so touching with your love and devotion that you share with the public what love you have in your heart in what ever you do and it shows in your work. The pictures, flowers, cooking, your writing, and that’s why I say that you are blessed and you will succeed in whatever you are destined to do. Becasue it shows in your work. You are going to become a success from now on. You are headed forward full blast> Love You so Much. That this weekend , my advice to you is just be yourself, which is a loving and caring person inside and out. Just be yourself. Love your only Mom.
I’ve been wanted to start a garden on my balcony for so long! I’m not really sure where to start though.
Do you think it is too late to start planting anything for this year? Also what do you do in the winter? Can any of them be brought inside or do they just all die and regrow in the spring?
@Rema- it’s not too late! Go to a nursery of home & garden store where they have larger plants like tomatoes and green peppers, maybe some really full herbs and even berry trees. You can still benefit from having your own vegetables and such right now if you do that.
As far as the winter, I’m not sure where you live but even if you have harsh winters, put your herbs in a sunny, south facing window and they should stay alive and well throughout the winter, then you can put them back outside when there’s no more danger of frost next spring/summer.
If you buy berry trees or bushes, they can be left outside and will, insha’allah, come back next year. As far as tomatoes and peppers, they will not last outdoors through the winter and you may have to have a small greenhouse to keep them alive indoors during the winter.
Like you, I shy away from community gardens for the same reasons. I have been looking into how to maximize my space, and container gardening is a great option. Looking at your pics, I’m going to go out this week and start (I have to research which plants I can start this late in the season first). Thanks so much for the inspiration!