My first balcony garden

I started this balcony ‘garden’ in March 2020, as I was curious what it took to grow vegetables and herbs. Along the way, I learned some valuable lessons that I will use to build on in the coming years.

This may seem like extreme common sense, but these were all things I got wrong the first time and had to learn from. Please, if you are a successful plant raiser, don’t waste your time on this post; it will bore you to death. If, however, you have killed most or all of the plants placed in your possession, as I previously did, then this post may be of some help to you.

If you want to skip ahead:

Lessons I learned the hard way

Following are the things I learned from my first balcony garden that I will change in the following years:

1. Take the seed packets info/other people’s tips seriously

When I first started, I treated every seed the same: same amount of space apart, same amount of light and water, same amount of time expected for it to mature. As time went on, I realized that some plants actually do grow faster than others, and do require more or less sunlight. This is when I referred back to the seed packets I had purchased, and decided to take what was written on them seriously.

2. More soil is better than less

Once I started taking the seed packets seriously, I noticed there was a soil amount recommended. However, in this first run, I didn’t want to spend too much money, so I used left over 1-gallon plastic jugs, previously used to store water. I then cut the tops off, and filled them each with 2”-3” of soil. However, there was one plant I did use more soil for, and that was the jalapeños. This plant actually grew a jalapeño (surprise!), and I therefore decided that, since this was was given more soil (and more room), that will probably benefit my plants in the future.

Balcony garden trees

3. Drainage is key

Once upon a time, my husband and I bought two small, one-foot-tall trees from Ikea. This was a couple months before my garden adventure, so I knew even less than I did during that. I decided to keep them in the plastic containers they came in, and put that entire thing in another plastic pot. This one had basket-weaving details on the outside for decoration, but the interior was completely coated in plastic with no drainage holes or anything.

The trees inevitably began to die, and I assumed it was a case of over- or under-watering, I just wasn’t quite sure which. After some internet research, I came to the conclusion that the trees died of root rot. The soil had no place to drain, and the roots became soggy and eventually rotted, killing the plant in the process. With this in mind, I pricked the bottom of my plastic test jugs 8-10 times with a knife. When I poured water into the soil, the excess drained successfully out the bottom, not taking any soil with it.

4. You don’t need to buy seeds for each plant from a packet

When I opened my seed packet for jalapeños, I realized they looked a lot like the seeds I had just removed from a jalapeño I was cooking with and had thrown away. That’s when I realized there were easier ways to get seeds for things, namely taking it directly from the fruit of the plant itself. It’s usually cheaper that way, and you get a treat.

5. Start the planting process indoors before the season starts

I sprouted my seeds and let them grow starting in May. In my zone 5 area (bordering on zone 4), there is a considerably shorter window for growing than in sunnier, warmer places. This means that I have to get the process started earlier, if I have any hope for them to mature and produce anything by the time the growing season ends. My future plan is to sprout my seeds around the end of March, allowing them to start growing indoors, then in May, transfer them outside and let them do the rest of their growing then.

6. Sprouting your seeds is easier than you think

I learned this in the kitchen, as the research I was doing on eating seeds said to sprout them for maximum digestibility. In order to sprout a seed, you need to make it think it is being planted. This mostly means a lot of water, as the seed will think it’s spring rain and will ready itself to grow. In order to do this, all you need to do is soak the seeds for 8-12 hours, and drain. Then let them sit out, at room temperature, and rinse with water every 8-12 hours, until the sprouts emerge. Of course there are different techniques for some different seeds, but this is the general method that should work in most cases.

7. Some sun is better than no sun

One of the biggest challenges I anticipated was my plants not getting enough sun. There’s no window in my particular apartment that gets direct sunlight after 9am, and the balcony is partially covered in shade by the tree just outside. I placed my plants in a corner of the balcony that wasn’t completely covered by shade. Some days would move them as the sun moved, in order to give them the maximum amount of sunlight I could. The plants grew in what sunlight I had to offer them, and, if my other problems had been fixed (ex. more soil), I think they would’ve had sufficient sunlight to grow succesfully.


Like I said, this may be common sense, but as a stubborn beginner, I thought I couldn’t fail. I learned a lot from my first garden, and hopefully next year will be more successful. Here’s how the garden ended up turning out:

Yep, that’s right! All I got was this two-inch jalapeño. But I was very pleased with myself, as I was expecting to get nothing. Hopefully next year will be better.

What are your best gardening tips for beginners? Let me know in the comments!

Leave a Reply