How to grow a sustainable vegetable garden on your balcony

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There are plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits available in the supermarkets and at your favourite farmer’s market.

But it’s nothing like growing your own produce.

Even if you live in an apartment.

If you have a balcony – then this is one area you can allocate to growing a vegetable garden which is sustainable and nourishes your body and your soul.

1. Sunlight: Start by assessing the amount of sunlight you get in your balcony. When does sunlight hit your balcony and from which direction?

Most balconies suffer from a lack of sunlight. So make the most of the sunshine available and plant your urban veggie garden accordingly. This way you can plan on what plants or seeds you want to buy – those that tolerate full sun, partial sun or those that prefer the shade.

2. Wind factor: Balconies are usually exposed to winds which can be damaging to your plants.

Construct a windbreak like a trellis or arrange various tall plants together such as cumquats and other wind-resistant trees. 

Wind damage can blow pots away and can batter and tear leaves. Plants exposed to the wind also dry out quicker. So grow your vegetable garden away from the wind in glazed pots (less prone to drying) and pots that don't topple over in the wind. Shelter low growing plants behind larger plants.

One thing you must do is water your veggie garden regularly.

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3. Maximise space: Choose various pots and containers to grow your vegetables in. But ensure that you don’t exceed the weight restrictions of your balcony as some containers can be quite heavy.

Choose hanging pots and baskets or even a vertical garden set up if you have limited space.

Make sure there are holes at the bottom of the containers. To ensure good drainage line your containers with small rocks first.

If you have large containers, grow vegetables like cauliflower and brussel sprouts.

You can grow veggies such as eggplant, garlic, bell peppers, salad greens and herbs in smaller containers. 

Climbing cucumbers, green beans and snow peas look great on a trellis.

You can grow tomatoes in a sunny corner of the balcony. Make sure that the plant has structural support to grow like poles and cages.

Carrots will grow very well in deep pots.

Many fruit trees also come in dwarf varieties and are great for the balcony.

Make sure all your pots get at least 4-5 hours of sunlight.

Companion planting: It’s a natural way to keep pests away. Grow marigolds as the smell will ward off most bugs while nasturtiums protect strawberries.

Tip: coffee grind near basil to keep snails away and garlic oil acts as an effective repellent.

Repotting: Potting mixes consist of organic matter. As it breaks down over time, it lessens pore space. This means plants can’t breathe properly, their roots are unable to move and water is unable to get through.

Repotting must be done a couple of times a year to ensure that your veggie garden keeps flourishing.

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| Photos by: Unsplash

How to start your organic mini vegetable farm

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So you want to eat organic meals? But organic food is expensive to buy. There is a solution to that! Grow organic food and enjoy delicious meals at low cost.

While you may have a limited amount of space, you can utilise it effectively to grow your produce. All you need to do is roll up your sleeves and start growing your own mini organic vegetable farm.

 

1. Start with a plan

Before you start your mini organic farm, plan for the fruits, vegetables and herbs you want to plant. Base it on what will work for you and is good for where you live.

Start with seasonal fruits and vegetables which will be the easiest to grow. Get a gardening calendar to guide you through the seasons.

Choose a section of your garden space that gets at least six hours of sunlight.

2. Prepare the soil

It’s important that the soil has all the important nutrients the plants need to grow.

Growing organic means that the plants will grow in harmony with the environment and that they do not rely on chemicals and fertilisers.

Improve your soil by mixing compost with other bulky organic matter.

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Organic matter is anything that comes from something living such humus which is derived from the decomposition of plants. Make sure your soil is rich in humus.

Other organic matter includes animal manures, kitchen scraps, grass, garden cuttings, sawdust and pine bark.

Good organic soil is loose and fluffy. It holds moisture well but also drains well. It has plenty of air for the plants to breathe and is full of nutrients for the plants to grow vigorously. Organic soil will be full of living organisms such as earthworms, fungi and bacteria that help maintain the quality of the soil.

3. Compost

Every organic garden needs organic compost which you can make yourself.

Composting is how you turn your organic waste - kitchen scraps and garden clippings into a brown-black substance which is full of nitrogen and other nutrients.

Mix organic waste in a compost bin or a pile in the corner and leave them to break down naturally. Turn it over with a fork periodically to add air and to speed up the composting process.

If space is insufficient you can even create compost in a worm farm or a bokashi bucket.

4. Planting

Choose plants that give you multiple yields and are not too intensive to grow. Group similar plants in one bed so that they can be harvested together and it also reduces pests and diseases.

Grouping also helps you reduce water waste and you can target nutrients and compost.

Raised beds are great for planting your organic garden. For urban gardeners, you can also create a no-dig garden above the soil. Lay newspapers, hay, compost and fertilisers until you have achieved a raised bed.

5. Watering

Water your mini farm in the afternoon so the water can penetrate. If you water in the morning, evaporation is higher. Damp soil is what the plant needs.

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6. Weeding

You will also have to reduce weeds in your garden by removing them by hand. Make sure you remove the weeds by the roots so they don’t regrow.

There are other organic ways to control your weeds such as mulching, solarising and using boiling water.

7. Organic Pest control

Make sure that your plants get enough light, moisture and nutrients to avoid pests. Companion plantings and a diverse garden also reduce the number of pests.

You can also use homemade organic pest control such as chilli spray, garlic, horticultural oils and even a coffee spray.

8. Harvesting

Be sure to harvest your garden when your plants are ready. This will encourage more to grow.

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What is sustainable farming and why is it important for our wellbeing

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The demand for food is growing globally as the world’s population explodes. To meet this demand agriculture needs to increase yields without compromising the ability of future generations to provide for their food requirements.

The answer to preserving our environment and stopping further damage to the ecosystem lies in sustainable farming – a system which is sustainable environmentally, socially and economically.

Sustainable farming means producing food, fibre, plant or animal products without harming natural resources and land and considering social responsibilities such as working and living conditions of farmers and workers, the needs of rural communities, and health and safety of the consumer both in the present and the future.

It takes into account economic viability and profitability and integrates it with environmental health and social and economic equity.

Ideally, sustainable farming meets the needs of the present generation without damaging the ability for future generations to meet their needs.

 

Stops crop disease

Sustainable farming involves crop rotation where crops are grown according to the season on the same land. This prevents crop diseases and also the risk of wiping out entire crops due to intensive monoculture practices.

 

Prevents soil erosion

Crop rotation leads to healthier soil and improved pest control methods besides promoting diversity. Intercropping and growing cover crops prevent soil erosion and also helps replenish nutrients along with minimising weeds.

Managing irrigation to reduce runoff is another practice that helps prevent soil erosion.

Traditional methods like tilling and ploughing and using organic manure and fertilisers help improve soil quality.

 

Reduce pollution and use of chemicals

Sustainable farming reduces pollution by using natural fertilisers and using fewer chemicals. This means that farm produce is healthier and better for you.

Sustainable farming incorporates integrated pest management to identify pests in the initial stages and target spraying only for particular pests limited to a particular area. This way it doesn’t affect the bio-diversity and protects the natural wildlife.

Farmers also build shelters to keep natural pest eliminators such as bats, birds and insects who work to keep pests away.

Even the waste produced by sustainable farming goes back into the farm’s ecosystem and does not pollute the environment.

 

Sustainable communities

An important aspect of sustainable farming is that it remains economically viable for farmers, farm workers, and others who are employed in the food system so that they make a liveable wage and work in a safe environment.  

Sustainable farming encourages the resurgence of smaller family-run farms that strengthen the rural community which benefits everyone.

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Healthier food

Food produced by sustainable farming methods has more nutrients in it as it avoids dangerous chemical and pesticides.

Crop rotation also guarantees more nutrients in fruits and vegetables while livestock farmers raise animals in a humane way without any dangerous practices such as the use of growth hormones and non-therapeutic antibiotics. Thus the meat is safe for consumers.

The food also tastes better.

 

Improve animal welfare

Sustainable farming improves the welfare of animals by raising animals on pasture and letting them move freely.

Animals consume their natural diet and are treated humanely by the farmers.

Animals are not stressed and are healthier thus needing fewer medications.

 

Environmental preservation

Sustainable farming methods protect biodiversity and the environment and it fosters growth and maintenance of healthy ecosystems.

Sustainable farming integrates whole systems and landscapes as part of the farm which supports biodiversity.

By mixing trees and shrubs along with growing crops, farmers provide shade and shelter to plants, animals and water resources.

 

Renewable energy sources

Sustainable framing relies less on non-renewable energy which is substituted with renewable energy such as solar power, hydro energy or wind power and by labour to the extent that it is economically feasible.

This helps protect the environment from further damage and depletion.

Water is also managed better with sustainable farming by choosing the right crops for the season. Water storage and better irrigation systems are built such as rainwater harvesting systems to make optimum use of natural resources.

 

Photos by:
Dương TríAnnie SprattMarkus WinklerAnnie Spratt.

Tristan McLindon. Telling stories with video

 
Tristan McLindon
 

Tristan’s true passion and talent lies in capturing people’s stories through the lens of a camera. He believes there’san enormous number of untapped stories that show true human spirit and strength. One day, Tristan hopes to find an incredible story and direct his own feature movie.

Starting out in media with the Queensland Parliament while freelancing on the side, Tristan found his inner Spielberg when he moved to America to study acting and directing. Returning to Australia, Tristan completed his Bachelor of Communication and now works as a videographer, actor and drama teacher. And he’s such a famous barista that his face is on billboards! 

As a father of two young children, Tristan was hit hard by the stories of street children in Manilla needing to take drugs to numb their hunger pains. He couldn’t imagine his own children going through this and jumped at the chance to do what he could to help.
 

‘The best thing about working for OnePlate is the tribe and the mission. We are all there for the same cause and make sure we enjoy ourselves in the process’.


Things you shouldn’t know: If you look in Tristan’s drawer, you’ll find a collection of fake noses. No, he wasn’t a plastic surgeon…but he was clown. And like all clever clowns, he’s got the skill of riding a unicycle down pat.

Tristan’s favourite plate: He can’t resist a beef burger (and recommends Shanklin Café).