Grow a Winter Vegetable Garden on your Balcony!
Most people don't think of growing vegetables in winter, even though some of the best ones grow best in the cooler months (brussel's sprouts, anyone?!) Even those who do think about growing winter veggies, certainly don't think of growing them on a balcony. But, not only is it possible, it's super easy!
You may not be able to grow all winter crops in pots, but you can grow the best ones! The best part of winter crops is that they are MUCH easier to grow than summer ones. They don't need all that finessing and fussing that things like tomatoes need. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that these plants prefer growing in the harshest months of the year, but most of these are plant it and forget it.
Here are the best veggies to grow in pots on your balcony:
Lettuce (can even be grown indoors!)
Carrots (need a very deep pot for these)
Potatoes (As long as you can get them 6 hours of sunlight and are in a frost free area)
Think of how amazing it will be to have fresh produce at your fingertips in the coldest part of the year. There is nothing better than walking to your porch and picking lettuce for your own salad.
Things to remember to make sure you have the best crop possible:
Make sure you protect your plants from frost. If the temperatures are going to get below freezing mulch your plants with clean straw or garden fleece to ensure the soil doesn't freeze. Winter crops actually need to cold weather to produce the sugars that make them so delicious but they are still susceptible to damage or death when exposed to a freeze.
Protect your crops from critters. This may be with a cloche (make sure it's open on the sides to allow air flow) or with garden fabric held up with bamboo sticks and pinned to the ground. While animals are less active in the winter they also have fewer food supplies and your delicious garden will look like an oasis in the desert. Put out a container with some bird seed and peanuts for the squirrels, our garden friends need a little help sometimes but make sure they can't get to your precious crops. (Please make sure you replace any food you leave out if it gets wet. Mold that grows on wet food can be disastrous to wildlife).
Don't forget to feed! Just because these veggies like to grow in the cold doesn't mean they don't need food. Make sure to fertilize, once every two weeks with a all purpose organic vegetable food, during your growing season. If you were growing directly in the ground I would advise once a month, but as we are growing in pots here the vitamins and nutrients necessary to the plants can get washed out with watering and need to be replaced more often. This one is my favorite:
Give your plant buddies some love and light. Don't forget to expose your plants to as much sunlight as possible. 6+ hours if you can. Even if your area is overcast, exposure to the sky can help the plants get what they need from the sun. South facing areas are especially important in the winter. If you don't have access to that much sun, consider using grow lights. There are many versions these days for affordable prices. I use them to grow crops indoors year round. Here are a couple of options:
And last but definitely not least, make sure you water. Given that you are growing these on a patio or balcony, they are most likely not getting water from rain. Make sure you water at least once a week, twice a week in drier areas.
For the most part, winter crops are easier than summer crops, less pests to worry about than in the summer, less playing around with nutrients and position. Plant those plants, give them a little love and in no time you will experience the glorious light of fresh garden vegetables in the dark heart of winter.
Have fun and remember, there is magic in the garden, go and find it.
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