Apr 26


Container Garden: Learning Lessons

When we moved to North Carolina, I had some plans for our apartment on which I was unwilling to budge:

1. I would obtain a dining table and chairs.
2. I would paint some wall, any wall, some pretty color other than white.
3. I would grow some food on my dang porch.

Quick trips to Ikea and Home Depot made it easy to accomplish the first two goals, but it took me a couple of months to figure out the best way to complete the third. For one thing, I still, still, after two years of low-sun apartments in DC, struggled to get direct beams to my balcony for more than a few hours a day. To complicate matters further, the lovely lattices on our porch railings broke up what little sun that did reach the balcony: an excellent situation for lounging on the porch without getting too hot, but not so great for keeping plants alive.

Containers on the railings had to be the key. But alas! Every style I could find at stores in my area was designed with a bolt or a screw or some other attachment mechanism I’m sure our property managers would not appreciate.

But then.

I found them online! Two feet wide, six inches deep, and adjustable to whatever width of balcony railing you want to hang them on.  I bought some lettuce, some mums (to feel fancy!), and plopped ’em into some soil. By the tim spring rolled around, well, I had expanded my little fleet to the size it was when I first introduced this hodge-podge little garden last April.

I had high hopes, lots of seedlings, and a waaaaay too small watering can. But at the time, it was the only option in front of me for growing food, so I took my chances and hoped that something would grow.

Oh what a little time and a little experience can teach. It wasn’t long before I discovered I had a couple of problems dooming my tiny garden.

Not Enough Sun

No matter how I sliced it, no matter how precariously I perched containers on the corner pillar and bungee-corded them in place, on the best of days my plants were getting four hours of sun. Which was great for lettuce and tolerable for herbs, but not at all acceptable for sun-thirsty plants like peppers and tomatoes.

Not Enough Space

It’s hysterical to me now that I planted a zucchini in a 5″ pot. I confess, I was utterly naive about the size to which a zucchini grows. Having now spent one summer growing a zucchini in my community garden plot, I realize that the plant had no hope of fruiting. See the seedling on the right up above? Yeah, this was my community garden zucchini after just a couple of weeks in the ground:

Yikes. Talk about a “what was I thinking?!” moment?

So this year, I approached my little balcony garden with a little less vigor and a little more knowledge.

The only successful plants I had from my little containers last year were greens and herbs, so I just decided to stick with those. Lettuce grows happily with only a half day of sun, and it’s handy to have some parsley growing on the porch for spontaneous cooking projects.

I feel so fortunate that I lucked into a community garden before the space-starved, sun-starved plants met their ends. At this point,  I could honestly get by with out growing anything on the porch at all these days. But these little troughs of soil are important to me. They help remind me that even with small amounts of sun and unfavorable planting conditions, it is possible for me to grow my own food. Those of us living in apartments and in cities need not be intimidated by the fact that we don’t live on acres of fertile land with plows and shovels and barns at our disposal. You can sow seeds in any patch of soil or sunlight you might have access to; you’ll be amazed at the harvest you’ll reap.

And I wanna help you get started! I’m giving away one set of these great little containers (which are flat on the bottom so they can also be used in a windowsill or on a porch) to someone who wants to grow something of their own. They won’t grow any huge veggies, but they are fantastic for growing greens, flowers, and herbs.

Note: The manufacturers of these containers have no idea who I am. I just really like their containers, want to share, and am feeling generous.

How to Enter CLOSED
Leave a comment on this post answering the question:

What are three things that you wish you could grow for yourself ? Or, if you already have a garden of your own, what are the homegrown veggies you never want to buy from the store again?

Leave your answer by 11:59pm EST on Sunday, April 29. Winner will be announced on Monday! (So sorry to my international readers, I can only ship within the US – shipping is so expensive these days!)

In the meantime, I’ll enjoy some time in my own little porch garden. Good luck everyone!


  1. Carolyn says:

    I’m doing my first apartment garden in a while and I’m finding the same problems. My hope is to not have to buy green all summer long and my wish is that I be able to grow some cucumbers to pickle come fall (i love homemade pickles).

  2. Kate. says:

    I zoomed in but I still can’t tell…what book are you reading? ;)

    1. Sierra says:

      Oh yay! I wanted to know that as well!

      1. Kristi @ 30 Pounds of Apples says:

        This pic is a bit old, but the book in the shot is “Radical Homemakers” by Shannon Hayes. Some of the ideas are a little too radical for me, but many of them are right up my alley. I think both of you would like it!

  3. Sierra says:

    My gardening wish: I know logically that food plants can grow in a Phoenix backyard. But with all the forces of cruelty acting against us (mean, mean HOA, a water bill that works out to about 5 cents a gallon, and a back yard made exclusively of rocks) I just don’t have the energy to fight The Man for a garden in a rental here. Which is sad. Maybe it’s time to fire up the hydroponic again…inside :).

    *PS- I know 5cents/gallon doesn’t sound terrible, but it really adds up when we already water about a dozen “drought tolerant” plants every other day, run a mister system for the dog and do things like shower and flush. Our water bill is honestly about $100 a month.

  4. Heidi Halstead says:

    I want to grow: tomatoes, green peppers, and giant dahlias. But my yard too has more shade than sun! Love all these pictures!

  5. Janet says:

    I want to grow my own salsa! Cherry tomatoes, jalapenos, herbs :-)

  6. Candida Killworth says:

    I wish that I could grow fruit trees! Not possible in a rental. I lived in Hawaii for a year and it wasn’t unusual for people to have giant citrus, mango, avocado and banana trees right in their yards. I would settle for an apple or cherry tree!
    I grow tomatoes and hot chiles every summer. If I could live without these in the winter there is NO way I would buy the anemic tomatoes or chiles without heat from the grocery store.

  7. Abbé says:

    I don’t even have a porch, but I do have a fire escape! You may remember that I have a black thumb, having killed a cactus and a bamboo plant, both of which are supposed to be impossible to kill. Last summer in Brevard, I managed to keep some sort of broad leafed plant alive on my porch. I was super proud and encouraged. Maybe I’m just terrible with things that grow indoors?

    If I could grow three things without killing them, I would grow basil (because it always wilts before I can use it), tomatoes (because they are super useful), and maybe onions (because I use them all the time).

  8. sarah says:

    I wish I could grow fruit trees too — maybe someday! In the meantime, I would like to add more herbs (I love sage), and grow tomatoes and peppers, sweet and hot. My daughter would like to grow corn too. And seriously, I would like to grow radishes, we have tried more than once and just can’t do it!

  9. Teresa says:

    Love reading your blog and seeing your pictures bring stories to life…. I miss fruit trees from WA state from when I was growing up (mostly apples) and berries (raspberry/blackberry) but would love to grow tomatoes, onions and peppers for salsa. The AZ desert is so unkind to growing things while trying to be water conscious and not have the sun burn tender leaves to a crisp.

  10. We grow lots of winter squash and use them in cakes, cookies, and muffins. I plan to never buy canned squash/pumpkin again!

  11. Tam says:

    I want to grow asparagus, watermelons and I’d like to try a tomatillo again. Last year the tomatillo had such shallow roots that it kept tipping over in summer storms and though it bloomed it never fruited.

  12. Suzy says:

    Well, I do have the room, sun, water (some years) and with retirement will eventually have the time…….but now I need the inspiration to grow veggies! And, you are giving me that! I would like to grow tomatoes, sweet onions, and okra (although I am afraid my Colorado growing season is too short!)! Thanks!

  13. Jonalyn says:

    Growing season in the Reno, NV area is so short. It’s hard to grow most things. I love home grown tomatoes though. Much better than store bought. It’s super fun to grow pumpkins but, again, the season is so short. And there’s nothing like a fresh off the stalk ear of corn.

  14. I’d love to be able to grow cucumbers and melons and summer squash. I don’t get enough light in my yard, though, and I don’t think our growing season here in Northern New York is long enough anyway. I’m planning to put out some herbs and greens this year (when it finally warms up, and I’m thinking about getting a plot in our community garden for tomatoes and peppers. :)

  15. Jessica says:

    I’ve never grown my own food yet (Sad!), but when I start, I’ll want strawberries, green peppers, and peaches. How long it would take for a peach tree to fruit I have NO IDEA. But it would be delicious.

  16. Abutton says:

    I’m moving into an apartment for the first time next fall (and I grew up on a farm, so this is a huge adjustment!), and I’m really hoping to grow some plants on my deck. These pots look perfect!

    To answer your questions–I would like to grow spinach, basil, and cilantro. I am hoping to never buy winter squash at the store again because even though I can’t grow it while living in an apartment, I hope my Mom will continue to share the produce from her garden.

    Thanks for hosting this giveaway!

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