Size Matters: Notes from the Balcony Garden I

There’s a little spark of life still shimmering in my balcony garden. So I’m keeping a few notes on what worked well. Next spring I may need a reminder.

By default the balcony garden is a container garden. Some plants are better suited to container gardening than others. Size matters — both the size of the container and the kind of plant.

Overall, I used larger containers this year than last. That makes a difference. Plants like to stretch out their roots and get comfy. Not only do plants— peppers, tomatoes, leafy veg or herbs — grow larger and produce more fruit  in larger containers, the soil will not dry out as quickly on a hot day. That can be a big thing.

Once some plants totally dry out, they may not come back. Also, blossom end rot (not a good thing) is more likely if the soil dries too much between waterings.

I don’t have a hose on my balcony, so I carry water in large jugs or let Mother Nature’s rain give the plants a good drink. Plants in larger containers can take more total water per watering, but they need watering less often. After a good rain, many of them can go for days with no extra water. (My arms get a good workout when it’s dry out.)

Tomatoes really benefit from a large container. Comparing last year’s plants to this year’s, I got more yummy tomatoes from fewer plants. So if the choice is more plants but smaller containers or fewer plants and larger containers, you’re probably better with larger containers.

Home-grown and vine-ripened make such a huge difference in the juicy, sweet and tangy taste of a tomato. Grocery store tomatoes never come close (except a few heirloom varieties if you can find them). Farmers markets can have good ones, but around here, those aren’t cheap.

Tomato varieties that don’t grow as large are probably going to work better on a balcony, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try.

Patio Tomato is a variety of tomato plant specifically hybridized for containers and small spaces, but I’ve never been quite as thrilled with the taste or the quantity. Celebrity Tomato plants grow well in containers, produce more fruit, and taste excellent.

Cherokee Purple tomatoes taste great, but want tons of space. My plant last year was fairly healthy but grew only four nice tomatoes. It was a lot of work for four tomatoes. I’m better off buying Cherokee Purple tomatoes at a farmers’ market. I left them out this year.

Sun Gold cherry tomato plants can get quite large. Huge even. Stretched upright, my plant this year would have reached all the way to the balcony above us. I had to tape part of it to the wall to keep it from taking over. I’m sure it might have been happier in the ground (or in an even larger container), but it still produced a lot of super tasty cherry tomatoes. That was fine. So, I think cherry tomato varieties are a little more forgiving for containers.

Sun Gold cherry tomatoes.

Peppers (hot or sweet) generally grow pretty well in containers (larger is still better). But there isn’t as much difference in taste between home-grown and store-purchased. So I love other things about growing peppers — like being able to just walk out and pick a pepper. It’s nice to see them grow and know that I used only a little soap and vigilance to keep pesty bugs away. Picking them at the peak of ripeness can still provide some amazingly sweet and flavorful peppers. I also like growing hard-to-find peppers that I know I’ll eat.

We liked Gypsy Peppers again this year (though one plant seemed a little different and may have been mislabeled).

Cow Horn Peppers were a huge hit for the hot stuff. They grew lots of beautiful, twisty, flavorful, larger, hot peppers. I would so grow these again.

Garden Salsa peppers weren’t quite as impressive, but they were fine for a pepper with less heat.

Dragon Cayenne was another good one. The smaller plant seemed fine in a not-huge flower pot and the little peppers had nice heat and flavor.

We generally like jalapeños and did again this year. They like a larger pot for good numbers. They still grow okay in a smaller pot, but the quantity is greatly reduced.

Cajun Bell peppers looked almost like habaneros, but weren’t as hot. They were thin-walled, and not as convenient to slice as some of the other varieties. I may or may not grow them again. But they were cute.

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Hot stuff – Cow Horn peppers.

Next I’ll cover leafy greens and herbs.

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