Things to consider before you head to a garden centre
- Start with the right sized container- anything with a minimum depth of 6" and a drainage hole will do.
- Consider going vertical - fix baskets on a balcony wall or buy a sturdy plant table to save space.
- Good quality potting soil is enough to start the plants suggested here- you can boost your plants with plant food as they grow. More advice on fertilisers at the end.
You can grow any of these 10 edibles on your balcony. These plants are non-fussy and with some regular care, they will produce delicious, homegrown harvest for you all through the UAE winter/spring.
1- Rocket A couple of rocket/arugula plants will keep you in this spicy salad leaf all season. Sow directly and thin to the two or three healthiest looking seedlings.
2- Basil Easy to germinate and easy to maintain, the herb is best grown from seed. Start seeds in small pots or sow directly but don't sow more than a couple of seeds to a medium sized pot. Pinch growing tip when plant is a foot or just under. This will make it bush out nicely. In my kitchen, basil seems to end up in all sorts of dishes, from rice to sandwiches. What about yours?
3- Mint Have you tried to pop a sprig of supermarket mint into a pot in the hope of seeing it grow? If it's always died on you, here's what you need to do. Take a sprig of mint that's as fresh as you can get, cut it to about 8 cm long and put into a pot filled with moist soil. Water deeply and put the pot upright into a plastic bag. Tie the bag up above the mint. Place the bag in a secure, slightly shaded spot. Check every other day for moisture. In around a week, you should see new growth sprouting on the mint sprig. Your mint has rooted and will now grow without fuss. And every time you water or pluck a few leaves, the most wonderful minty aroma will waft up to your nose.
4- Radish Did you know that some varieties of radish such as French Breakfast take as little as 3 weeks to grow from seed to spicy crunchy radishes? The best vegetable to grow if you are looking for quick gratification. Sprinkle seeds in a medium sized pot. Thin to about 2 inches apart if the seedlings seem too thick. Use the thinnings in salad. There's more vitamin C in radish leaves than in the actual radish itself!
5- Green Onions Start from seed, broadcasting them thinly on top of the soil. Cover lightly with a layer of soil, pat down and water generously. These small seeds have a tendency to blow away and end up in other pots or disappear altogether. Did you know that you can also plant the white ends of supermarket spring onions and they will sprout new greens? You can just snip a bit of the greens off every time and the onions will grow back. Give it a try this year. I think young green onions add so much to soups and omelettes!
6- Baby Carrots Growing carrots is simpler than it sounds. Carrots actually don't like soil that's very rich so here's an idea for you to try. Take a bag of good quality potting soil. Make a couple of holes along one side seam. Place the bag so that the intact seam faces up. Split this seam open. Water the soil throughly until you see water draining out of the bag. The next day, sow a neat row of carrot seeds along the open seam. As the seedling sprout and grow, thin to about 2 inches apart. Try varieties that mature in 60 days.
7- Coriander No none of that soaking or splitting seeds. Just make slight indentations all over the soil with your finger and push seeds in. Water generously. Some varieties of coriander are even 'cut and come again'. When you have nice healthy growth, snip some stalks off, a couple of inches from the ground and see if they grow back. If not, make regular sowings every 2 weeks. It's best to keep two pots going for a ready supply.
8- Pak Choi There's nothing like snipping off a few fresh leaves of pak choi for your stir fry. Sow no more than 4-5 seeds in a container and in around 60 days, you should be able to harvest young pak choi leaves.You won't run out as these leaves will just keep growing back throughout the season.
9- Tiny Tim Tomatoes This variety of cherry tomato is so forgiving, it will even fruit in a 6 inch pot. But it will do infinitely better in a reasonable space. One or two plants should be enough for daily salads.
10- Lettuce If you can get hold of some mixed cut and come again lettuce, you can grow it easily all the way from november to march, given some shade. Harvest leaves young or they will go woody and bitter very quickly. If you have seeds for lettuce varieties such as gem, cos or romaine, you may need a bigger container to ensure regular supply. How about using a multiple shoe pocket thing that you can hang on a wall in your balcony?One seed per pocket, sown successively. I have seen this on some gardening blogs and am itching to give it a try. Just haven't get hold of any shoe pockets yet. Wherever I ask seems to have run out!
How do I fertilise my balcony edibles?
For green plants such as basil, coriander, green onions and lettuce, you need to use an all-purpose plant food with equal numbers of NPK. N is the Nitrogen that plants need for good leafy growth.
Radishes and carrots don't like being fed too much unless their green foliage looks unhealthy. In that case, apply a soluble plant food high in P (phosphate) and K (potassium). P and K is what's needed for good flower and root growth (this can just be a tomato fertiliser). Too much N will give you lush foliage but gnarled, stumpy, bitter carrots at best. And trust me there's nothing more disappointing than that after the long wait.
For tomatoes, use a balanced NPK fertiliser until flowers appear. Switch to tomato fertiliser after that. For more info, read our post on growing tomatoes.
How often should I water?
Remember the smaller the pot, the quicker it dries out. So water every day or at least every other day. Avoid watering overhead, directing it to the base of the plant and the root zone.
How much sunlight do my plants need?
Semi-shade does best in our parts of the world. However, move things around to find out how your plants grow best. If plants wilt in the hottest part of the day, they may be getting more sun than they need.
When should I worry?
If new leaves on your lettuce, basil, coriander, mint, grow a lighter green than they should be, your plant may be suffering from a nitrogen or magnesium deficiency. Don't worry. Just pick it up and give it a hug. I mean, show it some love and feed with some plant food. Its should bounce back within a week or so.
Check Dubai Garden Centre for Baby Carrot, Tiny Tim Tomato, Pak Choi and Lettuce Mix seeds from the Yates brand. Other suggested seeds are available in Carrefour.