Balcony gardening and breaking stories

Somewhere along the line I picked up the idea that I couldn’t grow things, that I was the opposite of a green thumb. I repeated it and joked about it and told people stories of the pot plants I’d somehow managed to kill. I forgot about the gardening I did for my parents as a kid—but that was their garden, so the responsibility wasn’t mine. I also forgot about the small section of the side garden that I convinced my parents to let me have. I filled it with succulents and cacti and ferns and pebbles, all laid out in a very careful design. I was so into it for about 3 days before I lost interest. But some of those plants remained there for years until mum redid the landscaping.

When I moved into an apartment by myself I decided to brighten up the bare, glaringly hot balcony with some pot plants. I bought a bunch, put them in big plastic pots and cared for them with dedication and love. But no matter what I did, they wilted and died. I didn’t work out why until I uprooted the dead stems to find soaking wet soil.

Turned out I’d loved them a bit too much.

That was the turning point, though. I pulled out the ones that were still mostly alive, dried out their roots a little and cut off the rotten parts. I invested in better quality terracotta pots and replanted everything. And I monitored carefully just how much I was watering. (So hard to stop because watering is love!)

Three golden cane palms and one Yesterday Today Tomorrow survived. I’m pretty proud of that. I stopped telling myself the story of how I couldn’t grow things. That wasn’t true anymore, if it ever had been.

Last year Gordon White piqued my interest around permaculture and growing your own food. I decided to give growing food a go and see what I could manage in the limited space I had. I went all out. Nothing was off limits and most of what I tried was from seed. I planted tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, lavender, rosemary, sage, mint, lettuce, rocket and even corn.

It wasn’t a perfect success. I got aphids and white mold. Things didn’t get enough water. Some got too much. I underestimated the amount of plant food I’d need to add to the relatively closed systems of the pots and stunted growth. It got too hot as summer came on and a few plants got burned. But I adjusted. I learned a bit more about listening to plants and actually hearing what they needed. I put up shade cloth on the balcony railing (great decision). I bought mini greenhouses which I then had to cover with netting because they got too hot. I bought chicken-wire in the middle of the city and put it up to keep out the possums.

One of the most effective things I did was a regular recitation of the Orphic hymn to Ceres, goddess of agriculture, crops and fertility. Apparently she approved of my little garden because my plants took off, blossoming and fruiting as soon as I started that.

In the end I managed to grow a salad lunch.

After that harvest, the weather and my north-facing balcony got way too hot and humid so most things died. I could have tried harder to save them but I decided it wasn’t a good investment, especially considering that I don’t currently need to grow my own food. The goal of the experiment was to see if I could—to break the false story I’d told about myself—and that was a success.

I actually managed to grow corn on a balcony in the middle of a city.

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