Not Quite Homesteading: My Balcony “Farm” Project

Not Quite Homesteading: My Balcony “Farm” Project

Living in England, I had a beautiful allotment, and I loved growing my own food. It gave me so much pleasure! Moving to Australia meant giving that up, and the flat we lived in for the first 2.5 years had a dark balcony and no natural light, so it was almost impossible to grow anything.

Last May we moved across the hallway to a flat with a much bigger balcony with a much better aspect, and I was determined to get some plants growing. After all, this was what I was going to see every time I looked out my living room window if I didn’t…

Concrete Balcony
The concrete balcony outside our flat (and living room window)

When we moved, the plan was to be here for about a year, and then move onto somewhere where we could actually grow our own plants. We decided to keep things in pots that we would be able to transport with us to the new place.

First up, we bought some trees. A lemon, a lime, a strawberry guava and a blueberry bush.

Balcony gardening fruit trees
A Tahitan Lime, Strawberry Guava, Blueberry bush and a Eureka Lemon tree.

Next up, we bought a couple of old wine barrels from a local winery, and four planter boxes made from old mattress parts (sold by a local company that recycle mattresses).

Drilling Wine Barrels2
Drilling holes into the wine barrels for the citrus trees.
recycled planters
Four planter boxes made from old mattress components – the trellises are made from old cot mattress springs!

We also got herbs and seeds from friends and family, and slowly planted these into the planters and other pots that we found on the verge.

Not Quite the Garden of Overflowing Produce I’d Dreamed Of…

We quickly realised that we didn’t get enough sun to grow many veggies. My early experiment with seedlings saw them grow elongated and straggly. Fortunately the planer boxes are on wheels, so I was constantly moving them about to get more sun, but from the whole first planter box, I grew two radishes and four carrots. The kale would have made it had the caterpillars not decimated it first…

Planter with seedlings
Poor straggly seedlings : ( Two radishes made it, and 4 carrots, plus there’s one kale seedling still clinging to life several months after it was planted out…

The other problem that came with the lack of warm sun and the exposed position on the corner above the driveway was that it got very cold in winter. My lime tree didn’t make it.

My peas and beans in the trellis planters never took off either, and I had a handful of beans and a couple of peas.

The odds may have been against us, but we kept on trying. And we did have some successes.

Not Quite Urban Homesteading – but it’s a Start!

When spring came this year, the trees fruited! All of them! The strawberry cherry guava (which may not actually be a strawberry guava at all but a lemon guava) has several fruits, and the first three were harvested at the weekend. The lemon tree flowered prolifically and has about 15 lemons slowly maturing on the branches. Plus my mandarin (which replaced the lime) has a sole fruit – it did have two, but the other dropped off. The blueberry has, to date, yielded 2 blueberries…

Cherry Guava
Strawberry cherry guavas… except they’re not red! The yellow colour seems to mean they are actually lemon guavas. Regardless ,they were delicious!
Lemon Tree with Lemons
My lemons are slowly ripening on the branches…
Balcony Project March 2015
Can you see the lonesome mandarin? On the tree on the far left – it’s on the right hand side. It’s still very green at the moment!

We’ve had success with the seedlings we’ve pushed against the railings. A couple of cucumbers, a single capsicum (with a second on the way), and heaps of cherry tomatoes. The aubergines have been flowering continuously, but are as yet to bear a single fruit. Still, it makes me happy that they are there, greening the place up. We’ve also got oregano and parsley, and last week I planted a mango seed that I found sprouting in the worm farm, so we’ll see what happens with him!

Aubergine plants
I have 7 aubergine plants, and despite their continual flowering, I’m yet to get a single aubergine. Ah well. I enjoy their company!
Tomato Crops 2015
Tomatoes tomatoes! I had three plants and these have gone great guns! Plus I love the pop of colour they add to the balcony.

Whilst it’s unlikely that I’ll be able to stop food shopping any time soon, the few things that we have managed to grow have given us heaps of joy. Gardening is so magical, and I never tire of the excitement of a seed sprouting, or a flower turning into fruit. I’ve probably spent far more in soil and planters than I’ll ever recoup in food, although I hope the planters last for many years, and the soil I can amend with compost and worm castings which are free. I’m excited that in 6 months time we’ll be moving to a place with a proper garden, and I’ll be able to go crazy!

Sadly Not Everyone Thinks Like Us…

My husband and I are very proud of our little corner of greenness, but sadly one of our neighbours isn’t. (He’s the neighbour that heads the Strata Board (and built the whole building), and last week we received a letter from the Strata company informing us that pot plants need to be kept out of common walkways. Whilst we consider this to be our own private space, our landlord has taken this to mean we can only have a couple of pot plants by the front door, and has threatened to issue us with a “breach of contract”.

Threaten away, landlord, because I’m not getting rid of my beautiful plants without a fight! Removing my plants will be like cutting off my arms! How can I get rid of them, when the outcome would be this?

Doom and Gloom - our Balcony with No Plants
Doom and Gloom – the view from our front window if we moved all our glorious plants…

Have you had any experience of balcony gardening? Are there any tips you’d like to share? Plants that grew well, or things that didn’t? How about strata companies…have you had anyone try to evict your plants (or you!) simply for trying to grow some tomatoes? And tell me…who’s willing to come round and chain themselves to my fruit trees if it comes to it?! ; p I’d love to hear your thoughts so leave a comment below!

53 Responses to Not Quite Homesteading: My Balcony “Farm” Project

    • It’s not so much the landlord as the letting agent acting on the landlord’s behalf. Who’s acting on instructions from the property managers for the building. Everyone’s just followin’ orders, apparently…

      • Good luck with the plant battle. Check with your local rental tribunal. Try to figure out if you actually are breaking any part of your lease / Strata regulations or if they are just bullying you. Keep notes and take them to tribunal. If nothing else, going through tribunal will buy you some time. Keeping my fingers crossed for you and all of your plants!

        • I’m hoping that it’s just because they had a strata meeting recently, and letters were sent, so more letters were sent and it’s just people ticking boxes. We have a rental inspection on 9th April so we will make it all nice and tidy and hide any mess (not sure where, might ask to neighbour to shove it in his house – empty pots etc: we don’t have any storage)…fingers crossed! : )

  1. Such a big balcony to work on! We have just six square meters, but we also have our own “farming project”! :o)

    Maybe you can do some vertical gardening? Like beans, grapes, hanging baskets with strawberries, herbs or plants against the wall?

    Don’t let them get in to you!

    Good luck

    • You’d think so, wouldn’t you? But it’s got a completely enclosed roof and eaves, so everything has to be pressed right up against the rails to get enough light. I tried beans but they didn’t get enough light, although I’m keen to give them another go – maybe using the railings as the trellis? Also, plants exposed to the hot Australian midday sun get fried – literally. It’s fun to mess with but when we move at the end of the year and have actual soil and actual light there’ll be no stopping me!

  2. Have you looked into community gardens? There might be one near you. I think maybe we live in the same city as is recognise your mattress planters!

    • Hi Vanessa, there is a great one where we are moving too at the end of the year that we will definitely be joining (Vic Park). Around here there are some, but none are very close and we always knew we’d be moving out of this area and didn’t want to commit and leave. I already left my beloved allotment!

      Mattress planters are from Garbologie… ; )

  3. Lindsay, Cheers to you! I love what you have done, and i’m sure your gardening skills will only get better! Ignore that nasty landlord.

    Wishing you well,

  4. I really hope you can keep the plants where they are! It’s nice and healthy to have green living things around. Good luck with the inspection next week!

    Sunlight is really an important factor in gardening, I realized that too. We rent a veggie plot in a greenhouse. But despite the relative warmth compared to outside (it isn’t heated though), it really is the sunlight that makes the difference, not the warmth.

    Have you tried planting an avocado tree? I have some, grown from avocado pits. No fruit though, but the big green leaves make for a great decoration of our home. We even moved the trees all the way from northern Sweden to the Netherlands because we like them so much :)

    • Thanks Annemieke! I didn’t realise quite how much difference the sun makes – I thought the balcony was fine as it gets direct sun, but there isn’t enough to the same spot. Well, enough for some things but not others, and particularly not great for seedlings.

      No I haven’t, but I’ve started putting my avocado stones in the worm farm to see if they sprout. Everything sprouts in there – I found my mango tree seedling in there so hopefully I will get avocado babies. There is a huge avocado tree FULL of avocados up the road, and it’s all fenced in and no-one picks them, except the crows…

      Do you think you’ll ever get avocados from yours? How big are they?!

      • Get over the fence to pick those avocados! :D I love avocados but it doesn’t feel so great them here. Not very local… The trees are taller than me, almost 2 meter high! I think we maybe need to craft a fruit bearing avocado tree on it. We’re planning to either move to a place with a warm climate or to mimic the warm climate by having a warm greenhouse. Perhaps we could have our (crafted) avocado trees there and maybe we would get fruit…

        • Believe me, I’m thinking about it!

          Yeah, avocados are delicious, but i don’t think they’re really frown in Europe, are they? Although the climate must be warm enough in the south… I can’t believe your trees are 2 metres high! I hope you can find somewhere warm for them to have babies : )

  5. I’m so inspired by your perseverance!

    I’ve been trying to slowly get into growing our own food for the past year or two with minimal success…and I have a yard which makes it so much easier.

    Successes: My orange tree blossomed and produced fruit for the first time this year which made me ecstatic! The pomegranate tree is blossoming so I’m hopeful we might see our first fruit there too. Lastly a pepper plant I planted last year produced a bunch of spicy peppers and is starting to bud again.

    Failures: peas, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, zucchini etc etc etc

    We hope to grow some more different types of peppers and try some kale and swiss chard in our planters this year. I’m going to have to steal the wine barrel tree planters for sure. I’m dieing for a lime tree.

    Keep up the determination! Your plants are worth it! :)

    • Thanks Courtney! Your successes sound great, I love it when fruit trees blossom : )

      I did get two cucumbers from my sole cucumber plant, four carrots, no zucchini, about six peas (not pods, just peas – each pod had one or two peas)…tomatoes we had loads of though, so that was great!

      I’m going to try with some different greens in the autumn.

      I wish my lime tree hadn’t died…when we move I’ll get another : )

      Of course I’ll keep my determination going. After all, what’s the alternative?!

  6. Hi Lindsay, fun to read about your burgeoning gardening adventures!!

    Good for you having at go at what ‘s possible in that rather dull spot for a balcony garden…
    I’d go mediterranean herbs, & lemongrass..a couple of palm trees to create that screen effect..

    Anyway I just wanted to say, I would be a little careful in regards to further antagonising the neighbours with trellis growing plants.
    One part of me is an anarchist & all yesses & cheering,
    & another part wary of the impact on your future real estate reference if you are renting for your next place. If you are buying—well its all systems go!!!!
    Its a shame that the system can roll that way—

    And perhaps it might be a sweet gesture to go over to (sadly o.c ) neighbour & offer them some garden bounty to cheer him/they up..(??!)

    Warmest, Su-lee

    • Hi Su-Lee, yes you’re probably right about further antagonizing my neighbours with extra plants! We are buying our next place so references shouldn’t matter – but even so, surely paying the rent on time and keeping the place tidy are more important traits for tenants to have?!?!?!

      Nice idea, but I really don’t get enough to share! Even f I did, I really don’t think he’d accept. Plus he doesn’t actually live there, he rents his flat to people and lives in a big mansion elsewhere… That’s more the problem, the actual neighbours think it looks great, but the landlords are the complainants…

  7. I was about to suggest the same as Su-lee and offer some bounty! Maybe if it came to it you could do a compromise by elevating the plants on castor wheels like your planter boxes? Hmm. Some people make things so hard to be kinder to the planet. Good luck!

    • Haha, i just said to Su-Lee that there really isn’t enough to share! Plus it’s autumn so even less. And he has a lemon tree in that garden that must produce 2000 lemons a year, that he leaves to rot…

      Some people do! Ah well, I will persevere and hope for the best! : )

  8. plants requiring less sun: some kinds of honeysuckle (some make a tart berry), ramps (or ransoms), rhubarb, some blueberries and cranberries (both want acid conditions), mushrooms, lettuces and mesclun, cherry tomatoes, currant bushes, gooseberries (lots of thorns!), hazelnut bushes. I have had success with half day sun on my balcony growing sugar snap peas, green snap beans like kentucky wonder or dutch white half runner, spinach, herbs such as oregano, lavender, and thyme, calendula ( for yellow dye for my wool and to make healing salve), alyssum (to attract pollinators and smells good), sweet onions, kale, garlic chives, yarrow, chamomile, sweet bamboo for shoots, strawberries, and a dwarf lemon tree that comes inside for the winter (and is transformed into an unusual Christmas tree :-) ).
    good luck with your container garden. make it look neat and orderly for the inspection and hope for the best.

    • Ooooh, some gardening advice! Thanks so much for all your tips! I’ll have to give some of these things a go. I’m keen to grow chamomile…garlic might be fun too : )

      I love that you bring your lemon tree inside for winter!

      Thanks, I will follow your advice…fingers crossed.

  9. Have you tried coffee grounds on your blueberries? They are big acid lovers, but do take a couple years to get a good crop unless you bought older rootstock.

    I’m a big fan of neem oil concentrate to keep away the pests in a nice organic way :)

    Bet it’s awesome to have all those fruits you could never grow in England eh?

    Good lord what a bunch of nut jobs attacking your awesome balcony garden!! It’s like those homeowner associations here that outlaw clotheslines in backyards!

    • Ohmygoodness yes, my blueberry plant has been drenched in caffeine! I did notice the leaves starting to brown recently, I hope he hasn’t had too much!

      I’ve read about neem but haven’t used it. Chilli oil and dishwashing liquid seem to be very popular also for pesties.

      I do love that you can grow things all year round here, and actually winter is better than summer. I love the citrus trees, and the stone fruit, and the olives! But I miss the berries – strawberries, raspberries etc etc. Guess you can’t have everything!

      • we lost our blueberries last year to leaf rust, so you might google that to see if rust might be the culprit as that sounds a bit too familiar :(

        • Have googled leaf rust, and I don’t think it’s that – phew! I think it might have been underwatered actually: the coffee grounds had made a big crust on the top and I don’t think water was penetrating very well. I’ve broken it up, and given it a good watering and there seem to be new green shoots, so hopefully he’s hanging in there! : )

  10. Oh come on, you can’t tell us about recycled mattress planters and then not link to the company! That sounds cool, I want to know more!

    Good luck toughing it out for the next 6 months until you move. It must feel good to know you’re definitely going somewhere you’ll be able to grow lots of stuff and I know you have lots of willing plant hosts if they put their foot down in your current situation.

    I’m glad you had a bit more success with the seedlings in small pots – I noticed that was the only way I could get tomatoes to fruit in my last sunny garden too. I’ve currently got a tiny balcony that does a pretty good job of supplementing our kitchen with leafy greens and small fruiting vegetables. We’ve been members of our local community garden for three years now, so hopefully that means we’re close to top of the waiting list for our own plot soon!

    • My apologies, I didn’t even think to provide the link! But of course you’d all be interested! Garbologie: Creating a World without Waste

      It’s nice to know lots of people want to look after my plants – but I don’t want to give them up!!!

      I hope you get your own plot soon. There is a community garden where we are moving to and NO WAITING LIST – woo hoo! : )

  11. I have the opposite problem – west facing balcony, with too much Australian sun for veggies. I am only starting to expand from my tough Aussie native plants to ‘balcony farming’. So far, I have had success with basil and spinach. I have tomato and strawberry plants that started out of my compost, watching to see what happens with those. :-)

    • Oh, to have the perfect balcony for gardening!

      Can you pin shade cloth anywhere to help lessen the sun? Growing spinach is a good start though – mine has a tendency to bolt!

      Strawberries, yum!

  12. I, too, struggle with having enough sunlight (in my rather large backyard.) I have found Juliet tomatoes are prolific with my limited sun, and I prefer them to cherry toms by a WIDE margin. Basil typically does very well (I make tons of pesto cheaply in summer and freeze in ice cubes then add to soups and pasta all winter) as does thyme, sage, sorrel and oregano. The latter 4 are cold tolerant (down to 3*F this past winter and they’re back.) JalapeΓ±os do very well. Good luck! It is such a feeling of accomplishment and pride even if it is just a garnish herb :).

    • Tomatoes and herbs are great things to grow…herbs are pretty expensive to buy and invariably wrapped in plastic! Plus they make an ordinary meal extraordinary! My basil died in the winter months and I didn’t think to replace it.

      It is, you’re right! Plus garnish herbs are the best! : )

      • Not sure if you’ve ever grown herbs from seed, but basil is absurdly easy. I realize you’re headed into winter there so I’d wait until spring to start seedlings, but it’s such an insanely cheap herb to grow (and insanely $ to buy considering.) A $1 packet which can supply you more than enough plants for 2 or 3 seasons if you store properly. Can’t beat it.

        • I have, the only issue I have is that because the seeds are so tiny I think I allow them to dry out. I’ve tried sprouting in kitchen paper in the past. Any tips for successful germination?!

  13. From the photos it appears that while your patio is open to the rest of the area it doesn’t appear that anyone would have a reason to walk to your patio because you are at the end. All secluded. I’m sorry you are being given a hard time about your garden pots. How long until you move?

    I’d be more than happy to come strap myself and my chair to your plants. If I don’t turn the chair on there is no way any one can move it so your plants would be safe with me. :-)

    Seriously though, good luck with the board.

    • Well exactly, that’s why we’re hoping we can keep everything. The letter says “communal walkways” and our space is not a communal walkway. Whether it is defined as “exclusive use” on the strata plan itself I don’t know, but it should be.

      We won’t be moving til the end of the year, so still several months. The plants are pretty immovable- they’re very heavy! Hopefully they can stay. If they insist I move them I’ll give you a call and you can fly over to protect them ; )

  14. I wish I could say I can’t believe the landlord’s stance but I do. Some people are so scared of anything that’s living, preferring barren concrete to verdant life. I used to live in a flat with communal corridors and garden and nothing was done with this space but we as tenant were forbidden to cultivate anything. Completely bonkers, especially in a city where it is impossible to get your hands on land/allotment… Keep up the good fight. It sounds as if fruiting plants are doing better than roots and leaves. Not unusual for containers.

    • That must have driven you mad! No wonder you don’t live there any more! Do you rent your house now or do you own it? Your garden looked a good size from the Insta pic I saw!

      I will keep up the good fight. I’m gonna keep it green and living : )

      • Mr M & I bought a funny little place. The garden is tiny by ‘designer’ standards: about 4×7-8m but on different levels and North/Easterly facing which means we only get to use about 2/3 of it for food cultivation. This year I’m planning to work with the shady areas to make the verdant and suitable for wildlife. I love my little garden. It keeps me sane. It also helps me feel closer to my mum as she was a great gardener. Borders rather than vegetables but an avid gardener, like me.

        Good luck with you endeavours!

  15. Good luck with the good fight Lindsay!! As a fellow renter I understand the frustrations of unfair and just plain silly rules put in place by real estates/landlords/strata. I’m over in Sydney but would love another visit to Perth and strapping myself to a lovely pot plant as a protest against the thoughtless powers that be sounds like a more than decent reason for a trip ;-)

    On another note, hearing that you have had a lot of struggles to produce your own food but still love it and keep persisting gives me a lot of hope! I’m just starting out and finding what seems like constant gardening failures is getting me down but you’ve renewed my hope that with perseverance I’ll be able to eat from my garden some day too!

    • Thanks for the support! I’ll be calling on you if it comes to that! ; )

      Keep on going! I find there to be a lot more pesties than I used to get in the UK, but every time a new seed sprouts I have new hope… every single time… You will get there!

  16. Our thoughts are the same.

    It is very nice!

    We are all sills and patio in edible plants and herbs.

    Edinstvennye pests, which can not be combatted, it is my six domestic cats.
    And another 5 neighboring cats come eat off the grass.

  17. Wonderful garden! I just love the way you’ve placed all the plants. This spring I only planted few herbs, but for next year I’m planning to add some greens and vegetables on my balcony. It slowly turns into a small piece of paradise. Greets!

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