Our Brooklyn Balcony Summer Garden – Some Advice for Container Farming on a BudgetPosted: July 18, 2011
After two months of construction, our balcony garden finally lives! It’s been a saw-dusty, frustrating road to get here – we’ve been keeping our seedlings on a folding table under the one window in our crowded kitchen as a blue tarp has covered our balcony since we moved in. We did lose a few seedlings along the way, including a few beans, lettuces, basils, and some anticipated cosmos. But the wait has paid off, and for the first time in over year, I’m finally struggling to get all of the dirt out from under my nails on my way to work.
My new writing post! *note on the table and chairs – we found that awesome workstation on craigslist and the two chairs on the sidewalk at various times outside our old apartment. Oh, the joys of gleaning.
So, what’s in the garden? Well, we have four bean plants, a ton of lettuce, three tomato plants (a hanging cherry, Mr. Stripey heirloom, and an un-identified variety acquired from a sidewalk sale in Williamsburg), one kale, four basil plants, two peppers (a medium chili and a red bell), mint, and lemon verbena. And, my favorite part of our garden of sorts, we have a compost bin! 100 worms and counting!
We started a few things from seed, including the beans, lettuce and basil, and bought the rest of our plants from a combination of a random sidewalk sale in Williamsburg, Silver Heights Farm Nursery at the Union Square Greenmarket, and Red, Rose and Lavender Flower Shop.
This is all very exciting, but it’s kind of a lot of stuff – think of all the soil, plants, fertilizer, containers, and other accessories necessary for a start-up garden. The sad reality is, when working with a meager budget like ours, a container garden can easily run your finances into the red. Noah and I encountered this problem in planning for our set-up, but with some out of the box thinking and a creative reuse/recycle mentality, a healthy and productive container garden is within your reach!
TIPS! on container gardening on a budget
1. Look around your apartment and kitchen for anything that can hold soil. We used old Steve’s Ice Cream containers (perfect for herbs!) and just cut a few drainage holes in the bottom. Even the pint lids serve as water catchers to place under the pints. Some other options are: cut off the tops of old milk or juice cartons, add some holes in the bottom, and voila, a perfect bean planter! Don’t forget old take-out containers (thoroughly cleaned, of course).
2. The next time you’re in a flower shop or garden supply store, ask the clerk if they have any used or as-is containers. Stores won’t typically advertise used pots, but if you ask, they might be happy to get some of their less desirable pots off their hands. We got some of our pots this way: $2 for two medium sized clay pots! One of them has a large chip in the rim that’s been super-glued back on, but the pot works just fine.
3. Craigslist! People are moving and giving away stuff for free all the time, don’t rule out free garden supplies! That’s how we found our nifty watering can.
4. Keep your eye out the next time you’re walking around your neighborhood. As they say, one person’s trash is another’s treasure. In our case, we found some great drawers on our way to the Bushwick farmers market. We lined the flatter, square one with a garbage bag. Perfect for any pots without water catching dishes! We’re going to fill the other two, deeper drawers with some potting soil and transfer our lettuces.
5. Finally, compost! It’s a great way to put kitchen scraps to good use.
A bit more on composting – Composting isn’t for everyone – before we had our balcony/any outdoor space at all, we kept our kitchen scraps in the freezer for drop-off at our local greenmarket. Considering that we didn’t really have any use for compost dirt at the time, a compost bin didn’t make too much sense. But kitchen scraps are a great resource, and if you’re not afraid of a reasonably sized plastic bin with some worms and dirt, then you’re in the clear. We got our bin from Nextdoorganics, a Rhode Island based farm that has a stand at our local Bushwick Farmers Market.
A few things that you should not skimp out on – good organic soil and fertilizer. We use Tasty Tomato and Veggie fertilizer by Bradfield, and potting soil from Red, Rose and Lavender flower shop.