Moving into a more metropolitan area, I gave up a back yard and replaced it with a balcony. The down side was that I wouldn’t be able to continue my garden. So, I took it upon myself to make a balcony garden work. Year 1 required a lot of attention, water, fertilizer, and weather protection because of limited root growth and water storage. The first year, my neighbors were putting up umbrellas because of the water leakage.
Well, I worked up a system to make managing the garden as easy as possible, while being polite to my neighbors, and still benefit from nature.
- Grow a Vegetable Garden on a balcony with minimal upkeep.
Primary Balcony Planting Issues:
- Water Requirement
- Particular plants, such as Celery, Tomatoes, and Cucumbers require a lot of water. Earth bound plants can draw water deep from within the soil, while a balcony requires higher frequency of watering: 2 – 3 times a day.
- Similar to the water requirements, natural minerals and nutrient supplements assist with smaller root growth.
- Free standing plants with large yielding crops have disproportional weight between base and crop. High winds, literally knock over large plants and whatever else is in the way.
- Due to increased frequency of watering, higher than average leaks affect anything below. In my case, my neighbors. They were really nice about it and started one of their own this year. In year 1, they setup umbrellas underneath all my leak spots.
My initial sketch, draft if you will:
- Solar Panel (Something above 8W)
- Battery Housing
- Water Pump (to lift at least 1m)
- 1 Gallon Jug, with cap
- 2x Large Storage Containers: 1 ½ Inch x 5 ft x 6 Inch
- 4 Inch Pool Tubing
- 20ft of 1/4th Inch Tubing
- 1/4th Inch Corners, Splitters, Switches
- 6ft ½ Inch Tubing
- Hot Glue
- Silicone All Weather Water Sealant
- Small and Large Zip Ties
- Miracle Grow Plant Fertilzer
Step 1: Joining the two base containers
I wanted to maximize my yield, so I decided to go with two base containers to fit more planters. I found some storage units at Lowes and joined them together using Silicone Water Sealant and a large water hose. This allows an even flow water level and the use of a single pump.
The key is to lay the silicone, then use a flat tool such as a Popsicle stick or something to smooth out material. It also must dry over at least 24 hours, but 48 is best.
Step 2: Setting up the Battery and Solar Panel
Here’s a key component, the Solar Panel connected to the Battery House, which automatically controls the water pump (draws the water like a hydro system). I currently have it set to run twice every 24 hours for an hour at a time. The Solar Panel, Battery House, and Water Pump cost $70.00. Position is very important. The solar panel should be in direct sunlight, but at the same time, it should be secured for those rare rain storms when you may not be home.
Step 3 Setting up Planters with plants and cages
Here we have 6 plants setup, each one with a cage, but no tubing or pumps installed yet. These plants have already been growing, now it’s time to place them outside.
Step 4 Setup battery pump with line to water distribution
Here is the pump, put into place. The 1 1/4th inch tube runs straight up and releases into a gallon jug that’s hung from the top of the balcony shown in the next picture.
Step 5 Setup water distribution
Here the jug is capable of filling. The first version had a single output and would fill the jug, but the pressure created from waterfall didn’t allow all the tubes to disburse water equally, therefore a new disbursement of 3 tubes, which allows more air into the lines and an equal disbursement, later split and divided among the plants.
I used hot glue my first time around, then noticed some leakage. So, I got another bottle cap and used the silicon, which was much more effective.
Step 6 Splitters
If you setup splitters along the water lines, it’s important to split equally along all lines and ensure that each split is level for distribution. The pressure is very low, basically gravity, so it’s more of water falling through the line rather than water being forced through.
Step 7 Line Ends
And again, everything setup:
Now, I will be ‘Topping-Off’ water once a week due to evaperation. This will also give the opportunity to fertalize once a week as well. I’ve slowly been testing the integrity of the seals, so I’ve moved to 6 gallons of water overall. I believe it will take 20 – 25 gallons. I’ve also thought about adding goldfish…
Notice all the cages are zip tied together and directly to the rails. Year 1, there were many occasions where in the middle of a rain storm, I was using string to tie the plants back in an upright position, in the middle of the rain… ready for it this time. Also broke two of the pots because of tip overs, if you noticed the packing tape…
This is a pretty simple concept, but can take some time to get all setup. This was done in 2010, so I’m already thinking of what to do for 2011.