Gardening is a practice deeply linked to the bond between man and earth.
Teaches care, patience and repays efforts with tasty agricultural products and, sometimes, more refined than the proposals of large retailers. But what to do for those who don't have pieces of land available?
The practice of creating vegetable gardens on the balcony adapts to city life. Here's how to grow edible plants, taking advantage of even the smallest balcony.
Space and exposure
The first step is observing the space available and the exposure. Vegetables and fruit need a good number of solar hours in order to produce tasty products. For small balconies, you can opt for a hanging vegetable garden or vertically arranged boxes.
The best exposure for a vegetable garden is along the north-south direction: increase the availability of light by preventing them from shading each other when the sun turns.
If the balconies are positioned in the shade, it is better to opt for salads such as lettuce, chicory and rocket but also garlic, spinach, ribs, herbs, fennel, carrots, celery can be satisfied with a shady ground.
The plants can be housed in the most varied containers. For large spaces you can opt for wooden boxes, bins and terracotta pots and for smaller balconies recovered wooden or plastic boxes can also work.
It is necessary to keep in mind the depth and quantity of earth that the plant needs, opt for light colors that avoid overheating of the roots and make sure that the container has holes for water drainage.
A few examples: vigorous plants such as courgettes prefer containers of at least 60 cm in diameter and 50 cm in height. Tomatoes, eggplants, cabbage need 50 cm in diameter and 40 cm in height.
Lettuces, chicory, chard, celery, fennel, onions and garlic, basil and many aromatic herbs are satisfied in pots or balconies 20-30 cm wide by 15-20 cm high.
For good vegetable growth, the soil must be light, not very compact, well fertilized and with good water drainage.
Before filling the containers with soil, it is advisable to place a layer of expanded clay, gravel or charcoal on the bottom to facilitate the outflow of water.
On the market there are already fertilized soils but it is important to opt for a soil that has a mixture of earth, peat and sand. Do not fill the vases to the brim so as not to overflow the water - a very precious resource - without giving it time to be absorbed.
To grow and bear abundant fruit, vegetables need adequate nourishment. You can opt for an already fertilized soil to plant not too demanding species such as broad beans, salads, spinach, chard, agretti.
Or integrate with specific fertilizers, enriched with manure before transplanting. It is important not to place the fertilizer in contact with roots and stem or it is advisable to use liquid or granular fertilizers (especially for plants that produce for a long time such as tomatoes, peppers, courgettes, aubergines and cucumbers).
Water is your greatest ally, an invaluable resource to which you should pay close attention. Both in excess and in deficiency can prevent you from achieving good results.
The garden prefers watering in the early hours of the morning, so as to give the earth time to absorb the water before the heat of the day. Alternatively it is better to water in the evening, having given the earth time to cool off.
To avoid excessive water consumption, the creation of a drip system or the use of water reuse systems is recommended: such as terracotta ollas that store rainwater and release moisture into the ground.
Another very useful technique is mulching: covering the surface soil with straw so as to allow less water evaporation (and also fewer weeds).
The choice of plants
Having finished the place, it's time to decide which plants to grow. it is essential to have a sowing and harvesting calendar in order to be able to plant at the right times and avoid excessive heat and frost.
From this point of view, climate change does not help us predict sudden changes in temperature, so watch what you plant and don't forget to take care of it by covering it with a non-woven fabric if the temperatures drop too low.
Among the easy to grow vegetables we find: peppers and friggitelli, salads (especially lettuce which has a rapid and repeated growth), celery and cherry tomatoes. The suggestion is to aim for plants that even with not very high yields (we are not in the field but in containers and, sometimes, confined spaces) can give satisfaction.
Imagine flavoring a dish with chillies or herbs grown on the windowsill or being able to self-produce a colorful salad: a mix of leaves grown in crates, a few cherry tomatoes, chives, a few borage or nasturtium flowers and the game is done.
Or think about preparing an herbal tea or flavoured water by picking herb luigia, mint, basil or lemongrass.
Sow or transplant?
For beginners it is advisable to resort to transplanting: in the nursery you can buy already selected seedlings that have passed the most critical stage of germination.
From year to year you can then collect the seeds of the latest productions and give your garden a cyclical nature.
Be careful to respect the correct distances and not to fill the containers too much: this would reduce the yield of the plants and the greater possibility of fungal diseases.
Taking care of the garden
Given the pollution present in the city, let's at least avoid resorting to chemical pesticides. Better to opt for a less 'emergency' and more preventive treatment using for example soft soap and neem oil (which also helps to reduce mosquitoes!).
The most common evils are white mold (or powdery mildew), rust, the presence of aphids, scale insects, caterpillars and bedbugs.
Evaluate how to treat them but above all observe the plants to notice in time the emergence of problems. Instead, make friends with earthworms: their presence indicates soil fertility.
Growing a vegetable garden, observing the origin of the foods we bring to the table, learning how to take care of plants are a great teaching.
Why not also venture into solutions that make our garden on the balcony more sustainable? Try to produce compost from food waste, recover the seeds of your plants for the next season, avoid waste and pay attention to all edible parts of the plant and also learn alternative recipes to use each production of the garden.
Good to eat, beautiful to look at
A vegetable garden on the balcony will not only give you the satisfaction of producing tastier foods but will be a source of beauty on the terrace. If the aromatics will perfume your windowsills, the flowering edible plants will bring color.
Create compositions of vases and containers, paint them. Create mixes of plants by playing on aesthetics and intercropping that help plants grow and produce good fruit: tomato next to celery, lettuce together with carrot or strawberry.
All the beauty, the scents and the colors will then be nourishment for the eyes and the table.