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In the dense cityscape of Barcelona, green space is sparse, and private gardens even sparser. The balcony can be the saving grace for many, offering a much-needed outdoor spot amidst the concrete jungle. It’s still no substitute for real green though...or is it? That bare balcony could soon be your own urban oasis—even the smallest of outdoor spaces can yield some edible treats with some clever and creative planting.
In recent years, a GIY (Grow-It-Yourself) movement has been on the rise across Europe and beyond, fuelled by concerns about chemicals used in food production, a growing trend for all things organic and the economic crisis. But it’s not only a matter of adding some organic veg to your meal repertoire, or reaping the rewards of your greenfinger investment. Introducing a living garden to your city balcony is good for the soul.
First, source a suitable container for your agricultural endeavours. This can be anything from a regular plant pot or plastic bucket, to a two-tier trolley or a purpose-build raised bed. You could even get creative and restyle unwanted furniture or wooden pallets.
Volume will determine what plants you can cultivate. Small containers force roots to grow horizontally in a spiral formation in search of water and nutrients, and an imbalance above and below soil level will stunt growth, no matter how much you water. Small containers are also more susceptible to temperature fluctuations—wood or ceramic materials can help to alleviate this.
Whatever shape and size you choose, ensure there is sufficient drainage by punching holes in the base of your container. If you are still concerned that drainage will not be sufficient, place clay pellets at the bottom of the container, which, in case of over watering or heavy rain, will absorb the excess. Your allotment should have at least four hours of direct sunlight per day. If your balcony doesn’t receive direct sunlight, try planting parsley, spinach and lettuce.
The balance of nutrients and minerals in the soil is another important consideration for your urban allotment. Typically, a mixture of soil and compost makes a good base; the exact combination will depend on the nutrients your plants require.
If you’re from colder climates, bear in mind that the seasons here are a step ahead, and with the influence of our coastal location, mild winters and rare frost, a wide variety of vegetables can be cultivated, even during winter. Depending on the size of your balcony and containers, you can attempt almost anything, although starting small with something high-yield will increase your chances of a successful and satisfying harvest first-time round. For a small to medium-sized balcony with minimal investment, an ideal beginner’s selection could include cherry tomatoes (which can be tricky, but doable), lettuce, a chili pepper plant and a couple of herb boxes.
Tips from Metropolitan’s own balcony gardeners:
- Herb boxes are a good starting point, particularly for fresh herbs that are sometimes hard to find. Try a theme, such as herbs that go well with fish (dill, fennel, basil, curly-leaved parsley, lemon thyme) or chicken (sage, marjoram, thyme and tarragon).
- Water, water and more water—thou who giveth can taketh away and the sun is both the life source and nemesis of your budding specimens. That said, never water them during the hottest hours of the day—it should be first thing in the morning or after sunset to avoid burning.
- There’s no harm in buying a few seedlings to help get started, particularly if you are running a bit behind schedule.
- Increase the green factor and make use of your wall space by planting climbers, such as runner beans.
- The end of winter/beginning of spring is a good time to sow peas, which improve the quality of the soil and can be harvested after 60 days, leaving your nice fertile soil ready to support more demanding specimens.
- Remember, on the balcony it is important to keep things clean as well as green—dirty water dripping onto your neighbours washing will not make you very popular.
Where to buy supplies:
- Tienda Mayolas. Via Laietana 57.
- L’Hort de casa meva. Vidal i Guasch 49 bajos.
- El meu hortet urbà. València 121.
Get some advice:
- Classes and workshops are held in civic centres across the city, including Casa Elizalde, CC Font de la Guatlla, and Centro Cívico Vil·la Florida. Classes start in April. Tienda Mayolas also offers one-off courses, check elbalconverde.com for dates.
- Huerto Ecológico en Barcelona. March 21st, 4 hours, €28. L’Hort de casa meva. Vidal i Guasch 49 bajos.
- www.horturba.com is an excellent online resource, which also lists diary dates for classes across the city.