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Pre-musings by the naive newbie balcony gardener

Jul 30, 2017 05:36 PM

Posted by Rachael Chong

I am a career gardener who lives without access to my own garden space. Living in a high-rise in South Kitchener, I have occupied a plot in a nearby community garden for a couple years. These community gardens in my neighbourhood are amazing! Many of the gardeners here were experienced farmers in their home countries, from Burma to Thailand to Kurdistan. They really know what they are doing, using the small space effectively and to grow bountiful harvests from spring into fall.

The community plots are very popular and, this year, we didn’t sign up early enough! I guess it’s time to try growing a garden on our south-facing balcony. 

As a complete newbie to container and balcony gardening, I can stand to receive any suggestions or resources for thriving urban agriculture that can be done several stories up. There are some good resources here on the WR Food System site that could be applied to elevated agriculture:

Yes, I’m a big dreamer and I have a feeling there are going to be some major challenges that I haven’t anticipated. I just spent $65 in potting mix – and I’m a little doubtful my harvests going to recoup this cost and the others that will undoubtedly crop up!

But this as a fun experiment. Exploring balcony gardening in our region will likely become more important as the pressure to expand urban areas into farmland mounts. Will we lose more fertile land to development? Will we grow denser and upwards? Despite the widely varied, strong feelings associated with both of these questions, there is definitely an impetus to learning how to grow in alleys, scraps of greenspace, and on balconies. 

At the same time, growing in these spaces spurs questions that surround any sort of vertical/hydroponicish/high-tech/in-vitro/non-traditional agriculture. As Alex Glaros explored in the blog post Food from the future, we need to be careful when assuming that such local agriculture will be able to feed us. This kind of agriculture changes humans’ relationship with the land (as it has done before).

If I have learned anything so far from my start in balcony gardening, it is that I really know so little about the dynamics and relationships between the elements of a garden that are missing up on a balcony. The climate is different up here, there are less insects (more pigeons), and my $65 potting mix is lacking the complex soil food web. Check back with me at the end of summer and I’ll tell you what else I’ve learned (or whether I gave up early)!

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