I Swore I Wouldn’t: A Balcony Garden Journey

I swore I wouldn’t try to grow tomato plants on our balcony again. That was about seven years ago. And I hadn’t grown ’em since. So imagine my surprise this year when all that changed.

When I started growing tomatoes the first summer we lived here I thought that no pesky insects could find their way to our plants way up here on the third floor. But find us they did. How’d those aphids get here? Are those other things mites?

Not only did insects find us but it wasn’t long before the squirrels did too. The outer shell of our building was coated in artificial stucco. The squirrels could grab the bumpy texture with their claws and scale up the side of the building like Spidermen in furry gray suits. Not only did the squirrels find us, I’m pretty sure they put posters up around the neighborhood advertising the free food to all their friends. Drove the cats bananas as the squirrels taunted them then escaped up a stuccoed pillar.

I tried sprays for the insects and mesh along with hot pepper sprinkles to discourage the squirrels. But they’d still find my tomatoes. 

There are challenges to growing tomato plants in containers and especially so when you have only a balcony and jugs to carry water instead of a backyard with a hose.  

The plants grew nicely. Tomatoes too. More than once I’d patiently wait one more day for a tomato to turn red only go out the next and find bites already taken out of it. How rude of them to take a few bites and leave the rest behind! Do they know how hard I worked to make those things grow? 

The last straw was the day I saw a squirrel perched on the bricks around the edge of our balcony. His fluffy tail twitched in excitement. I went out to shoo him away only to find a partially chewed green tomato sitting there. Cute but infuriating, those furry thieves weren’t even waiting for the tomatoes to ripen.  No tomato was safe. It was the last tomato. I was done. 

I moved on to growing only herbs, a few flowers (some of which the squirrels ate too) and hot peppers.  The squirrels bit a few hot peppers but soon left them alone. 

Eventually the outside of our building became less and less appealing as the improperly installed artificial stucco became discolored and cracked in places. Above the utility closet off our balcony there was a large gap left by our builder where several generations of pigeons made a charming home for themselves. But for us, the pigeons made a horrible mess. We tried mesh to keep them out, but they found another way in. Eventually we stopped trying to grow anything we might want to eat. Soon, we hardly went out there at all. Shame too, nice view.

Last summer, with building repairs in full swing (partially due to that artificial stucco), we couldn’t go out on our balcony at all. The winter before, the repair workers had wired our balcony door shut from the outside. We scrambled to save a few nice flower pots when they first did it. We had put our fresh cut Christmas tree on the balcony in a bucket of water, so we had to make special arrangements to retrieve that too. We didn’t even have windows for a while.

So early this Spring a visit to Home Depot resulted in the purchase of a few small plants. This started a slippery slope of greenery and a whole new battle. (Part 1 of a series.)


5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Scott
    Jul 20, 2015 @ 09:04:10

    I noted that you are already adhering to the old adage: When the going get tough the tough get going.


  2. Scott
    Jul 20, 2015 @ 09:05:15

    I meant to say I wish you well, but sometimes my fingers cannot wait for such things.


  3. april
    Jul 20, 2015 @ 09:32:46

    I always wanted a little balcony with living things, but I can barely keep the inside things alive. I’ve killed my share of everything. Last year, I kept lettuce alive all Spring though. This year, we grew a bean plant from a seed in a plastic cup (which turned out to be snow peas) and herbs. Just for kicks, I’m also keeping green onion and possibly garlic alive. We’re on the 16th floor and the amount of bugs is a little off-putting. We don’t get squirrels though. Surprising, the birds are uninterested, too. I think tomatoes are too ambitious for us.


    • alightningbug
      Aug 17, 2015 @ 19:24:28

      April, I’ve killed my share of plants (and maybe a guppy or two or more). Bugs so high up are scary. I end up wondering if they flew up there or what. Well, I guess some of them flew. Ya know , like flies. Others are more of a puzzle. Green onion and garlic sound great! I’d definitely like to try those sometime! There are some tomato plants that can be grown in small spaces. Some I never even knew existed! Sounds like you’re plenty good at growing things! I’ll bet you could grow tomatoes. I wish we didn’t get birds and squirrels. They’re cute, but I’ve about had it with half eaten strawberries and some pecked at tomatoes. I’m going to have to take measures…


  4. Trackback: I Swore I Wouldn’t: A Balcony Garden Journey | alightningbug | WORLD ORGANIC NEWS

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