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Farming on Patios and Balconies

By Victoria Harres, Collin County Master Gardener

Historically, Americans turn to gardening when going through difficult economic times. Not only do gardens provide nutrition and a sense of food security, they also help people feel more control over their food source and provide healthy exercise.

During the past year, a lot of people have worried about food insecurity. 
Victory gardens like those that rose in popularity during World War II sprung up in yards all across America during the pandemic of 2020. People who had never grown a tomato plowed under turf grass to sow seeds for fall harvests. Others expanded existing gardens or replaced pots of flowers on the balcony with pots of tomatoes and peppers. 
Lack of land did not stop resolute gardeners.
Farmland or large backyards are not a requirement for growing nutritious vegetables. The space needed can be as small as a single pot with a lettuce plant or several grow bags on a patio with herbs and tomatoes. Almost any vegetable you can grow in a more traditional garden setting can be grown in a container on a patio, a sunny balcony or even indoors with the right lighting.
For tips on getting started we turn to a guide from the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension: Vegetable Gardening in Containers by Joseph G. Masabni. The following are some key recommendations you’ll want to consider:
Crops and varieties
Although it can be fun to experiment with almost any seed or starter plant purchased at your local nursery, there are some vegetables more suited to growing in containers than others. In particular, consider small tomato varieties, peppers, radishes and herbs. Consider how much space and the lighting situation before you start buying. Some plants will require more space and/or more light than others.
Container selection
Almost any container can be used for growing plants. Be sure to use the correct type of soil and that the pot has adequate drainage holes for its size. Avoid containers that previously held anything toxic.
All plants have their own moisture requirements. For vegetables, it’s important to make sure they don’t completely dry out, but also avoid over watering. Good drainage will go a long way to make sure a plant doesn’t sit in excessive water which can deprive it of oxygen. Also avoid getting the foliage wet, which can encourage disease.
Healthy vegetables need to be fed appropriately – not too much and not too little. You can choose to either provide a time-release fertilizer mixed into the soil before planting, or a water-soluble fertilizer that can be given on a regular basis. There are lots of products on the market, make sure you read the label carefully and follow instructions.
Different vegetables will have different light needs. Consider the lighting you’ll have before selecting plants. Things like tomatoes and peppers need a lot of sun light, but things like lettuce and many herbs are very happy to spend their days in part shade. If needed, you can move your containers around each day to make sure plants that need more sun get what they need and vice versa. 
Diseases and Insects
You should check your vegetables frequently for any signs of insect damage or disease. If your plant suddenly has concerning signs, do a bit of research online to identify the problem. If a treatment is required to deal with either insects or disease, choose the safest possible remedy. These are vegetables you’ll later be ingesting after all. Remember, most insects can simply be picked off by hand or sprayed off with water. If you do need to apply an agent to combat a problem, make sure it is approved for use on vegetables and follow the label instructions very carefully. 
Growing your own vegetables, even if just one tomato plant, can be incredibly rewarding. So make sure to enjoy your plants and the process of growing them. At the end of the season you will both enjoy the fruits of your labor and bask in the joy of having grown your own food. 
Don’t forget to check out this AgriLife guide for more tips on growing vegetables in containers: Vegetable Gardening in Containers

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