Sunday, February 5, 2017

Budget Balcony Garden - Growing Garlic

What do you do with that forgotten garlic you found sprouting in the cupboard? You plant it!  But only in your container garden on the balcony. Many gardeners report that it is important not to plant grocery store-bought garlic cloves in your garden due to the possibility of passing along plant disease. But they also say that you can safely plant your garlic cloves in a container on your budget balcony. This is how my garlic experiment is going so thus far.

How My Garlic Garden Experiment is Beginning

I found a sprouted garlic in my cupboard. My initial thought was to toss it into the trash. But I paused and tried to do some research and asked some gardeners online.

My concern was heirloom versus hybrid and would it be worth trying to plant. I am not a very knowledgeable gardener and before I was aware of the differences between hybrid and heirloom plants in general, I had saved some seeds from a favorite plant only to find that it didn't result in the same plant the following year. I was very disappointed.  So I didn't want to plant garlic cloves if they were going to turn out to be something other than the garlic I wanted.

It turns out that there are many conflicting opinions about planting garlic from the grocery store. Some believe that the garlic from the store is treated in a way that will not allow it to grow properly. Others show photographs of their successful garlic plants from garlic cloves from the grocery store. Many report concern about spreading disease or fungus in your garden when using garlic cloves from the grocery.

Since I would be planting these cloves in a container on my balcony, I was not concerned about spreading disease. And, since they were already sprouting, perhaps they would grow. Maybe, just maybe, I'll grow my first garlic.

January 21 - I found the sprouting garlic.  I divided the cloves and planted three cloves in a planter. I used leftover potting soil from planters on the balcony and some of the wonderful accidental compost I had made. The other cloves I placed in a small  measuring cup of water.

January 28 - two of the cloves in the planter had grown considerably. The cloves in water were also growing but not quite as tall.

February 4  -  the garlic plants in the planter range from 8" to 15" tall. The cloves in water are still doing well but are only 4" to 6" in height.

Space-Saving Planters and Balcony Gardens

Did you notice that my planter is only half of a planter?  I intentionally chose one of my old "garden wall" planters. Currently, my little garlic sprouts are on a shelf and in front of a window in my dining room. As the weather warms, I will hang my garlic plants outside - from the balcony rail. That way they are out of the way and saving space.

The following planters are similar in size to the old planter I have.

wall planters that can attach to balcony rails

Intro photo design created courtesy of  FotoJet

*This article may contain affiliate links. If you shop via one of the affiliate links, I may earn a small commission - at no additional cost to you.  I am very appreciative of every reader who visits my articles. Thank you.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Budget Balcony Gardens - Composting

Composting is a large part of growing healthy gardens - even in the smallest gardens. That includes your balcony or patio garden. Composting is also important for the environment as you are reusing soil, leaves, food scraps, and other things that are sometimes overlooked and thrown out or left to blow away. If you create enough of your own soil through composting you will eliminate the need to purchase bags of soil from the store. Composting on your balcony can be as easy as putting old soil from your planters into a plastic container with the leaves from your spent plants and then forgetting about it.  If you think I'm joking... read on.

Set it and Forget it Composting

That rich, wonderful soil in the intro photograph is mine.  I literally placed some soil from a planter I was no longer using into a large coffee "can". I added egg shells, some leaves from dead plants (tomato plants if I remember correctly), ripped up cardboard containers from the plants I bought at the store, added some water, and placed it on the balcony. Initially, I turned it and shook it to mix the ingredients. But then after a short period of time, I didn't flip it, turn it, or do much else. Eventually, I brought it into a corner of the kitchen and completely forgot about it.

Today, I was looking for some soil so that I could plant a few garlic cloves as an experiment. I found this coffee can, that I had forgotten, full of this rich, wonderful soil.  I also found an old planter that held the leaves I had collected in the autumn. Those leaves were so dried out that it was easy to crush them with my hands into fine bits.  I stirred the coffee can soil and the dried leaf bits together and ended up with the prettiest potting soil I've ever seen.

I can only imagine the lovely soil I would have ended up with if I had put any effort into it.

The Best Containers for Balcony Composting

You can do as I did and use a large plastic coffee can. I chose the one I did because of the handy grips that are built-in. I did hold the lid on while I shook or turned it, as I did not want the lid flying off and decomposing bits flying all over. I had set aside a cat litter bucket with a lid and planned on using it for my composting experiment but had never gotten around to it. I wish I had used it. Can you imagine the amount of rich soil I'd have by now?

Many containers would be suitable for your apartment composting. There are small and attractive containers that can be kept on your kitchen counter for the collection of food scraps. You can use small buckets with lids, larger trash cans with lids, or plastic storage containers.  If you have a large enough balcony, or have a patio instead, there are tumbler composters as small as 37 gallons that would make turning the compost a very easy task.

What to add to Your Apartment Compost Bin

An apartment balcony garden can be tricky. The plants die off and the landlords do not want the balcony used for "storage". Because of that, every autumn I empty some of the planters and tidy up a bit. There have been years that I've thrown the dead plants into the trash. But that seems oh so wasteful. Then in the spring the potting soil looks depleted and pitiful that I purchase new potting soil. Those things were what drove me to try the coffee can compost.

You can make your own amazing soil with any of the following ingredients:

  • the soil from planters that no long have plants
  • dead plants and leaves
  • leaves you collect from the yard in the autumn
  • kitchen scraps - fruit peels, vegetable trimmings, potato peels, and more
  • egg shells
  • shredded news paper
  • cardboard (the chunks in the photo are the "cardboard" pieces discarded from the plants I had purchased at the nursery - regular cardboard decomposes more quickly)
  • DO NOT ADD meats and/or dairy scraps to your compost

I feel that it is important to note that my first attempt with the coffee can compost container was not so successful.  I had added many more egg shells and food scraps than dirt. I don't recall adding any plant matter. I had added quite a bit of water - enough that the consistency was along the lines of mud.  I did not flip it, turn it, or stir it for a bit of time (a couple of weeks if I recall correctly).  When I opened the lid, it smelled terrible! It is important to add your scraps to a sufficient amount of dirt. Composting does not require a large amount of water.

I want to add that I am clearly no composting expert.  You should read other articles about the benefits of knowing the temperature of your compost, keeping scraps in the containers on your kitchen counter, and other educational articles that would address your needs.

My intent with this was to share my excitement about the rich and beautiful soil I created. And to help you know that it can be just as easy as set it and forget it to do.  Your balcony garden plants will thank you.

Intro photo design created courtesy of  FotoJet

*This article may contain affiliate links. If you shop via one of the affiliate links, I may earn a small commission - at no additional cost to you.  I am very appreciative of every reader who visits my articles. Thank you.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Another Red Siberian Pole Tomato Update

Red Siberian Pole tomato
My balcony garden this season was a flop.  I had too many interests, too little time, and was too busy with work. My plants on the balcony suffered from neglect and drought.  As colder weather came, and we had several frost advisories, many of the remainder of my balcony plants died - despite being under a roof. However, the other day I noticed that my resilient, hardy Red Siberian Pole tomato by Botanical Interests had blooms!  Now, not only does it have blossoms, but it has tiny green tomatoes.  If you are looking for a hardy pole tomato, this has got to be it!

The Tomato Update Timeline

I had written a previous update about these little tomato sprouts then plants. You can read the entire article in June if you want to. But the summary is:

  • March - I bought my first packet of Botanical Interests seeds
  • unknown date - a planted 3 seeds
  • April 26th - all 3 seeds had sprouted 
  • Beginning of June - I replanted the sprouts
  • June 28th - the plants were growing and hardy -despite the neglect
  • July 31st - I posted an update with the little red tomatoes - the few tomatoes - I got from the other plants. And the little green tomatoes on my Red Siberian

I was so busy and neglectful of my plants on the balcony this year. Only my mint, hibiscus, and Wave petunias survived and thrived. Clearly, those plants like dry periods between waterings. My other two tomato plants turned to tall, brown sticks. But this little heirloom pole tomato would not give up.

In fact, this little Red Siberian pole tomato put on little tomatoes. They ripened and were healthy fruit - no bugs, no spots, no rot.  I tasted them. Because of the severe neglect, they were very small and had tough skins.  I am sure that is only due to the lack of water they received.

In hindsight, I should have saved those seeds. Those little tomatoes grew in the very worst conditions.

Very recently, after having had some frost advisories, and temperature swings from frost to 70 F degree days, I went out onto the balcony to begin emptying the dead plants from the pots so I could store the pots for winter.  Lo and behold, that little tomato plant had a TON of blooms!

I have since moved the plant indoors, to a bedroom window that receives bright morning light. The photo is of the little green tomatoes on that plant.  If I remember to water it and if the cat leaves it alone, I may end up with fresh tomatoes.  I once before had a tomato plant inside, and fresh tomatoes approaching Thanksgiving.  It looks like that may happen again. Cross your fingers for me.

Botanical Interests Heirloom Tomato Seeds

I am completely sold on the Botanical Interests heirloom tomato seeds. I may try a balcony garden again next year. Maybe not.  I will definitely plant these seeds at The Shack, when I finally move up there. These little tomatoes will be perfect for my little retirement homestead.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Skeletons for Halloween Balcony Decorating

I love how some people go all out and decorate their homes for Halloween. While a balcony doesn't offer much space for extensive decorating, a few items can make a big impact. These items are especially meaningful if the pieces you choose are special to you, are unique, or have personality. Skeletons and skulls are perfect for adding to that creepy Halloween mood. The following skeletons have that special something.

Crazy Bonez Skeletal Rat

Skeletons are creepy. Rats are creepy.  Make them even creepier by combining the two!  This 11.5" tall decoration will add interest to your budget balcony. Imagine him peeking out from between your planters or perched on your table.  He is definitely an interesting little guy.

rat skeleton

Skeleton with a Lantern Rising from the Ground

This skeleton would look great either looking toward the neighbors or turned, and looking at you form the balcony through your balcony door.  This guy measures just less than 12" x 13", so he could be rising from the dirt in one of your empty planters.  Or with just a small amount of effort, a low container could be filled with sand and a headstone added. Voila, you have a skeleton rising from the grave.

sinister skull & lantern

Mr. & Mrs. All Hallow's Eve Garden Gnomes

These two are packed full of interest and creepiness.  They are a bit pricier than my budget balcony wallet usually considers, but these two make up for it in the amount of personality they have.  At 18" tall, they are a great size for a balcony.

garden Skel-A-Gnomes

Full Figure Skeleton

This guy is a 5' tall skeleton who will look great attached to the roof of your balcony or seated in a chair. This skeleton is not posable but because it is life-sized he can look posed seating in a chair or on a bench.  

5' tall skeleton

Add to these figures a jack-o-lantern and some spiderwebs. Or a string of Halloween lights wrapped around your railing and bunch of cornstalks propped up in the corner and you have turned your balcony into a festive holiday space.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Seasonal Decor - Summer Sunflowers

Sonnenblume Hullkelch CC by SA 3.0
Sunflowers bloom from mid-summer into autumn.  As the remnants of summer hangs on, large sunflower heads bend - heavy with seeds. Sunflower festivals and acres upon acres of sunflower fields are in bloom here in Maryland and in other states across the US. Bright yellow and orange sunflowers are a perfect and inexpensive seasonal theme for your balcony or patio decor.

The very best part of decorating a small balcony seasonally is that it can be done on a small budget. In a small space, only two or three new items will give your outdoor living space an entirely different look.

If you purchase wisely, your items can be reused each year. As summer vacation rolls into back-to-school, beach season is ending, and autumn has not yet begun, you can bring sunflowers from the fields - literally or not - onto your budget balcony.

Decorating with Silk Flower and Beautiful Vases

Fresh cut flowers are beautiful and a favorite choice for decorating in homes.  I am also pleased to see that sunflowers are used in bridal arrangements during this time of year.  What a pretty idea! Cut sunflowers are beautiful.  My balcony is well-lit and quite hot in late afternoons.  So my flower arrangements must be flowers grown in containers or silk arrangements - as cut flowers would not last long at all in the heat and direct sunlight.

Fortunately, there are many gorgeous silk flowers available today.  Including bouquets of sunflowers. If you have a small table or shelf on your balcony, a pitcher or vase full of these bright, happy flowers adds a wonderful pop of color.

Long lasting and colorful sunflower silk flowers

Decorating Large Planters with Sunflower Plant Stakes

I love plant stakes.  One or two strategically placed plant stakes add a focal point and color to your balcony. Whether your style is realism or whimsy, you can find a plant stake that gives you a little spark of happiness when you see it. Plant stakes also come in a large variety of materials; nylon spinners, solar lighted stakes, and painted metal to name a few.

The intricate, metal, painted garden stakes are the ones that tend to catch my eye.  This is an example of a detailed metal garden stake but you definitely do not need to limit yourself to this style.

Painted metal sunflower garden stake

Sunflower Indoor Outdoor Floor Mats

Outdoor floor mats are gorgeous and an easy and inexpensive way to change the look of your balcony during each season.  They are made for the outdoors - weather resistant and durable. Again, this is an item that comes in a large variety of styles and materials.  Whimsical or realistic, subdued or neon bright, low pile or reminiscent of "shag", you can find something that speaks to you.

Please note that if you have a wooden balcony, as I do, and you like small rugs on your balcony, you must take care to monitor that the rugs are not holding too much water between the rug and the wood.  Nasty things happen when moisture is retained between carpets and wooden floors.

I tend to prefer the traditional rectangular "welcome mat" style.And I had planned on displaying one of those. However, this particular mat is so adorable that I've put on in my Amazon cart and decided to share this adorable sunflower mat with you.

Indoor and outdoor sunflower mat

Small Garden Flags

Mini garden flags are a wonderful and inexpensive way to change your balcony decor for the season. The garden flag pole is a one-time purchase. From that point, The 12" x 18" small garden flags are the perfect size for a balcony or patio and the choices of prints and messages are infinite. This milk cow and sunflower field garden flags makes me smile.

Small garden flag - printed on both sides

Sunflower Lights

I occasionally place lights on my balcony.  I love seeing the twinkle of subtle and colorful lights outside at night.  I'd place lights on my balcony more often if I weren't such a lazy decorator.  I have seen some gorgeous and tasteful silk flower garlands with lights wrapped around handrails. Such lights can be purchased as traditional "Christmas Tree" strings or strings of lights on the tiniest coppers wires.  These strings can be electrical, battery operated, or solar.  Whatever power source you require or prefer on your balcony, you can find plenty of color and shape options.

I think these little solar powered sunflower lights are adorable! The would look great wrapped around my balcony rail with a garland of miniature green leaves.

Battery operated string of sunflower lights

Sunflower Seat Cushions and Pillow Covers

Imagine a light yellow bench cushion with a sunflower printed throw pillow.  Or, slightly less budget-minded, a sunflower printed bench cushion with a yellow throw pillow.  Either of those choices would spruce up a late summer time balcony with no other seasonal items necessary.

With the exception of two folding chairs, I do not have furniture on my small balcony.  I do use printed cushions and pillows for both seating and decorating.  I love how textiles can change the entire feel of an area. And prints can be chosen to display an individuals taste. I think our personalities shine through our print choices.

Indoor outdoor sunflower throw pillow

Sunny yellow indoor outdoor furniture cushion

Related Articles:

I do not tend to decorate based on the season's color trends. But after reading this article about Pantone's Top Color Choices for Fall 2016, I may choose colors based on what's "in" this autumn. I think these colors are gorgeous.  A floor mat, throw pillow, and garden flag in these colors would make me happy. I'm not sure what it is about the tones of these colors; spicy mustard, dusty cedar, airy blue, and more, are very visually pleasing to me.

Maybe you are fortunate and have yard and garden space beyond a balcony or patio.  In that case, I recommend that you visit a Hoosier and her Indiana Garden blog. The veggie photographs alone are worth the visit. Her blog ranges from roses, to flowers, to grasses, and how to manage clay soil.  Definitely worth a peek for gardeners.

Be sure to visit and follow me on the Budget Balcony Living Pinterest board.  I'd love to see your ideas for those budget balcony, patio, and outdoor living ideas.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Fresh Tomatoes from My Balcony Garden

The tomatoes from my balcony garden
I have a small balcony space and a brown thumb.  In addition to those problems, this season has been very busy for me and I've neglected my plants. Despite the neglect, I have a few, small, ripe tomatoes that will be going into a smoothie today.  If you think you can't grow your own plants, maybe this will help convince you otherwise

My Tomatoes on a Balcony

I'm not good with plants. My adult children hear about my latest plant purchase and joke about "how long until you kill it?". If I had more than two children, they would probably form betting pools about how long it will take for me to kill the plant.  But for some reason, tomatoes love my balcony.

This year, I have been especially busy and my plants - even my tomatoes - are neglected.  I coax them back from dehydration each week or so. As a result, the tomatoes I've picked are small. They are a bit larger than cherry tomato size when they should be plum size.  I tried one last night and the skin is a bit tougher than usual, but what can I expect when they've lived through almost weekly droughts? The taste was still far better than the tomatoes I purchase in a grocery.

These tomatoes are from plants that were from seeds that I started inside. When I am organized, I use an old, large fish aquarium for a "greenhouse".  After the starts were large enough to go outside, I transplanted them and took them outside.  Due to my lack of organization, I can only guess that they were seeds saved from a Bonnie Plant tomato plant - before I knew about the difference between hybrids and heirlooms.

My heirloom Red Siberian pole tomato plant is surviving the droughts better than my other tomatoes. However, I was really late starting those three seeds.  That plant is just putting on blooms. I'll have to update again when I have ripe tomatoes from it. Provided I don't neglect it to death in the meantime.

If you believe you can't grow something on your balcony, give it a try.  Some plants will respond to your space, light, and level of care (or in my case the lack of care) better than others.  You might surprise yourself and be able to produce enough for a meal or two.


Lovely green Red Siberian pole tomatoes. Growing in spite of the extreme heat and my continued neglect

Sunday, July 3, 2016

4th of July Budget Balcony Decor

"Liberty" garden flag
The 4th of July is my favorite holiday and seeing balconies tastefully decorated for Independence Day brings me great enjoyment. The best thing about decorating a balcony is that the area is small and can be personalized and decorated inexpensively. Just a few items can bring patriotic celebration to your outdoor living area.

No matter how you celebrate the 4th, I wish you a happy, safe, and wonderfully independent day.

Nature's Red, White, and Blue Blooms

Healthy plants and flowers are always my favorite decorating idea.  Truly blue flowers are not the easiest to find. However, I have discovered that Wave Petunias come in shades close to blue.  I had not paid attention to Wave Petunias prior to this year but have discovered that they are an amazingly beautiful and hardy choice for a balcony. The continuous blooms on my balcony are a treat this year.

A mixture of these red, white, and blue petunias would be great arranged together in a single hanging basket or together in a large planter. Or each color in a separate small planter but arranged next to each other on a shelf.  Start the plants early enough, and by July 4th, they would be cascading over the rail. Wouldn't that be pretty?

Had I planned ahead, and I will do so next year, a basket of red, white, and blue Wave Petunias would be an excellent way to display red, white & blue.

If you are not able to find wave petunias locally, you use the "store locator" on the Wave Petunia site or you can choose this Wave the Flag pelleted seed assortment from U.S Seal

Easy Wave the Flag mix by US Seal

Small Patriotic Garden Flags 

I have used small garden flags on my balcony for years.  I typically have one planter large enough to hold the small flag stand. I have found that 12 x 18 inch garden flags are a perfect size for a balcony garden.  If high winds are a problem on your balcony, typically not on mine but is occasionally a concern, the garden stake can benefit from additional support. A simple zip tie can be used to attach the garden stake to the railing and provide more than adequate support.

The best thing about small garden flags is that they can be changed with each holiday, season, or your mood.  Garden flags can add such a personal touch to your balcony.

Applique Patriotic Garden Flag

Toland Home Garden Welcome Flag

Outdoor Red, White & Blue Lighting

I love just a bit of lighting on my balcony. I prefer privacy from the neighbors' prying eyes. So I prefer subdued lighting. Over the years, I've used candles or a string of small lights - such as a small string of holiday lights.

Nowadays, lights come in such a variety that they can be holiday or celebration themed.  Strings such as these red, white, and blue stars would look great attached to a balcony rail on the 4th of July.

Patriotic Stars Light String

Solar Powered and Waterproof Chinese Lanterns

My first small garden flag remains my favorite garden flag. Unfortunately, I've taken very few photos of it. This is early summer last year - tomato plants, peppers, a flag, and a gorgeous blue sky. Though small, your balcony is part of your home. Make it yours.