My edible, vegetarian balcony garden

This article was published in a vegetarian newsletter yesterday. I thought I'd reproduce it here because it documents my evolution as a gardener.

My Edible (Vegetarian) Balcony Garden

In May 2007, Alisa and J.B, Gayla, Linda, and Mary convinced me to radically change my gardening efforts and perspective from ornamentals to edibles and from gardener to farmer. These five people are gardeners-farmers-locavores* whom I came to respect and admire by reading their books and websites/blogs.

My transformation began while I was searching for flower seeds and stumbled upon Mary Ballon's words:

Dear Gardening Friends, For the last 18 years on this page I have thanked you for your support, and encouraged you to grow food year round and to save seeds. Now I feel a sense of urgency as I write because of my concerns about global warming and peak oil.

Today I want to share something that really helped me prepare for the future. It has to do with the difference a word can make. Will I be a "gardener" or a "farmer" on my city lot? The implications are profound. Am I to tend the property, to keep it nice looking and raise a few vegetables or am I going to raise food and ensure the long-term fertility of that soil and the security of my family? All over the world small scale agricultural producers are called farmers. I think we need to become a nation of people who see themselves as farmers, as creators rather than consumers.

I will be a farmer and I urge you to ponder that perspective for your own efforts. A neighbourhood of farmers, sharing their harvest and their seeds and their recipes will strengthen our communities.

After reading this, I decided to grow as many vegetables as possible on my 60 square-foot, south-facing, second-floor balcony and started my experiment in urban balcony gardening/farming. Because I am venturing into new horticultural/agricultural territory where I am a novice/beginner, I am keeping a journal about my sowing, growing, blooming and harvesting challenges, discoveries, joys and lessons learned. Here are some examples:

Challenge -- space. After a planting session, usually there is more soil on the potting bench and balcony deck and in my dog's beard than in the pots because of bumps, spill and tips and the earthy smell of compost-enriched soil that no terrier can resist. Too many objects; one Westie; not enough room.

Discovery -- other gardens and gardening resources. One of my favourites: Kitchen Gardeners International. This excerpt from the organization's web site expresses my philosophy about gardening and what I aspire to do and be:

[A Kitchen Gardener's] love of food is a complete one that extends beyond the plate to the soil and the natural processes and cycles from which good food comes. Kitchen Gardeners are in tune with the natural world, the weather, and the seasons. They look for ways of working peacefully and harmoniously with nature, rather than fighting against her. They are stewards of the land, whether it be a farm or a window-box. (Kitchen Gardeners International)

Joy -- the firsts of the season. The first seedling to germinate, the first ripe cherry tomato to pop in the mouth, the first nasturtium flower to burst into bloom

Lesson learned -- A vegetable garden is not necessarily a vegetarian or vegan garden. After nourishing my nasturtiums with only organic vegetarian compost all summer long, I applied fish fertilizer to coax them to bloom in late August. It happened once -- during what I can describe as a moment of lower-level cognitive functioning -- but never again. I'm now seeking vegetarian and sustainable/organic alternatives for all fertilizers. West Coast Seeds is an excellent source.

To not become discouraged about my late start and slow progress, I keep reminding myself I am creating the gardening equivalent of a Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP). You might call it the Sustainable Gardening Investment Plan (SGIP). I am making regular contributions to ensure steady, sustainable growth and a sufficient, healthy harvest. And if it's abundant, I'll be thrilled to share.

*Locavores are dedicated to eating food grown near home. (As defined by Word Spy)


Here are the books & web sites that are helping me create my edible balcony garden:

100 Mile Diet

The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon. Random House Canada, 2007. ISBN: 978-0679314820 (0679314822)

Kitchen Gardeners International

West Coast Seeds

Year-Around Harvest: Winter Gardening on the Coast by Linda Gilkeson. Available from Salt Spring Seeds

You Grow Girl (blog)

You Grow Girl: The Groundbreaking Guide to Gardening by Gayla Trail. Fireside, 2005. ISBN: 978-0743270144 (0743270142)