I’d like to start growing my own vegetables, but I live in an apartment. What types of veggies are going to be the easiest to start growing on the balcony?
If you live in an apartment as I do and want to start growing your own vegetables, start with tomatoes. They’re a staple of most diets, they’re versatile and most importantly they’re easy to grow while still providing something of a challenge. I’m not as lucky as my neighbor, whose balcony looks like a miniature farm, but I’m happy with what I’ve achieved over the years. You’ll find your homegrown tomatoes are sweet and flavorful, even if they’re half the size of the ones you buy in the store. Here are a few of my favorite tips for growing tomatoes. Hopefully this will help you avoid my failures and start you off at a better place than I was my first year.
If you’re just starting out, transplants are the way to go. I tried growing from seed in my apartment and found it didn’t work. Most likely because I’m lucky to hit 66ºF (19ºC) in my apartment and tomato seeds best germinate at 74ºF (23ºC). Plant the transplants deeper then they come in the pots, even as far as the middle of the plant or beyond. Those little white hairs on the stems will actually turn into roots when underground. The deeper the plant, the more roots will grow and the stronger your plant will be.
Next, water the soil, not the leaves. Overhead watering is more likely to spread disease and should be avoided. Fortunately, in many apartment complexes, balconies are built directly above one another. This means as long as you don’t live on the top floor, your tomatoes have a surprising amount of protection from wind and rain. This gives you a greater amount of control over the water your plant receives for optimal growth. Once your tomato plant is roughly 3 feet tall and has yet to fruit, get ride of about a third of the leaves from the bottom because they are more likely to develop fungus and other pathogens that can spread to the rest of the plant.
You will need to be aware of suckers. Suckers are those little stalks that grow in between the intersection of two branches of your plant. For all intensive purposes, they are weeds. They will consume energy and resources that could be going to the actual fruiting portions of your plants. Some argue against their pruning, and it appears to be dependent on what kind of plant you have, with it being beneficial for more upright varieties like Roma, called indeterminate type, and bad for bushy or determinate types like Early Girl or Cherry.
Tomatoes need their space and it’s better to start off with a big enough container rather than move up as the plant grows. It is recommended tomatoes have roughly 2 feet of space on their own, or from each other, but I’ve had success with smaller planters. Some argue it’s best to grow tomatoes in an upside down planter where the roots are on top and the plant grows out of the bottom. I haven’t noticed much of a difference, but this might be because the planter I used was actually a recycled yogurt container.
My last piece of advice? Do not apply fresh compost on the soil of your plant! You may think putting food scraps directly on the soil of your plant along with a couple of worms is a good idea, but it isn’t. Tomatoes like a lot of fertilizer, but it’s best to use compost that has significantly rotted or that has been purchased from the store. I’ve made this silly mistake throughout the years—please learn from me.