How is confinement balcony gardening different? What are some tips for dealing with the constraints of gardening on a balcony under confinement?

Spring is here. Those of us that want to plant vegetables or flowers can’t wait until the end of confinement to plant our seeds. Well actually, I suppose we can, but the seeds and plants will not wait. April is prime time for planting!

So first let’s understand the constraints. Both those of us with only balconies and those of us with actual gardens have this constraint:

  • You probably can’t go to your local garden store even if there was one nearby to get seeds and seedlings.

Those of us who have only a balcony have an additional constraint.

  • You don’t have access to potting soil or pots. Gardeners can just dig up their garden (even poor soil is better than none).

So what can we do? I’ll cover the first topic on how to find plants or seeds today. Tomorrow, more on potting soil and pots.

Your local grocer

First check out your local grocer for potted plants. They may have some potted herbs. If you are SUPER lucky you may find some. Grab them no matter what condition they are in! I have parsley, mint, chives and cilantro growing from potted herbs I bought in our local grocer LAST FALL!

Mint. The mint is prolific. Always plant in a pot otherwise it will take over your garden. It will take over you pot as well!
My small balcony herb garden, with the cilantro in the back right corner. It doesn’t look like cilantro but the leaves and flowers still add a nice freshness to our salads.


Remember, propagation using cuttings is your friend! Many herbs can be started from cuttings of fresh herbs you have already or can find in the store.

What herbs can you propagate? Basil, oregano, mint, thyme, sage and rosemary are all excellent candidates. Basically, you take a stalk of the herb stick it in water and wait for the roots to grow. Alternatively, for some, like the rosemary you can even just stick in the ground. There are plenty of youtube videos on this so it doesn’t make sense for me to go into details.

Here is the rosemary I have been growing from some cut herbs I bought last fall.

Rosemary from a stalk of rosemary that I had left over from cooking in the fall. Its not ready to harvest and it will be a while but it is growing!

You can also try replanting the bottoms of your green onions or scallions if they have roots. Here is a scallion I just stuck into the soil. Its doing quite well!

New onion tops growing from a scallion I just shoved into the soil

Seed Potatoes

What is a seed potato? Its just a potato. Potatoes are grown from potatoes saved from the previous year’s harvest. You need potatoes with protruding eyes or buds. It is best to buy organic potatoes, since non-organic are often sprayed with a chemical to retard growth of the eyes or buds. Again, check out youtube for details.

Potato with buds
Potato planted in among the radishes

What about sweet potatoes? You can also grow them! the process is a little different and you don’t have to worry about eyes or buds but it is still best to get an organic sweet potato to start your crop. Again, check out youtube for details.

Why grow potatoes? It is easy and you won’t believe it but you CAN taste the difference. They don’t need much room, but if you don’t have a lot of room sadly I wouldn’t recommend growing potatoes.

Other “seeds” in your pantry or fridge

There may be other items in your pantry or fridge you can use. However, many fruits and vegetables are now grown from hybrids. The seed companies control the production and sale of the seeds and have bred the seeds. In many (most?) cases the seeds do not grow fruit or vegetables or if they do they are not the same as the parent. This is done on purpose so that farmers need to buy the seeds every year from the seed company rather than saving the seeds from the previous year’s crop.

Open pollinated seeds generally refers to seeds that will “breed true”. When the plants of an open-pollinated variety self-pollinate, or are pollinated by another representative of the same variety, the resulting seeds will produce plants roughly identical to their parents.  You can’t guarantee this with any of the seeds you could potentially gather from your pantry. Thus I suggest you only try these fruits, herbs or vegetables except as an experiment. You don’t want to waste your time, water and soil and get no crop in return.

You can plant a slice of tomato with its seeds and in a few weeks it will sprout seedlings. Here is my “experiment”. It was fun seeing the seeds sprout from the fresh tomato but I am not sure I will bother transplanting and growing them without the assurance that I will actually get tomatoes.

Dried beans you have in your cupboard will do the same. However, UNLESS it is a variety of bean that is also good to eat fresh off the vine rather than dried, I don’t recommend planting dried beans. For example, scarlet runner beans are good fresh or dried. I don’t know of others but there must be some. (If you know of any please add them in the comments below)

I mistakenly ordered dill “seed” instead of dill “weed” during my confinement (I was not able to go out and ordered online). I am going to try planting the dill seed and see what happens. Again, its an experiment. And I probably will see this one through to the end (versus the tomato experiment). The dill doesn’t need to make fruit and also doesn’t take up much room. Furthermore, it won’t be a big loss if it doesn’t work out.

Onions, garlic, ginger etc.

Yes, you can plant these and get a crop of onions and garlic. However, if you are limited in space and time (lol) why? You won’t be able to harvest a crop until the fall (which is a long time to wait) and furthermore having these items fresh versus from the store doesn’t add much to the flavor of your cooking. In terms of bang for buck herbs are a much better bet.

Of course, if you have the space and time go ahead! It will be rewarding to harvest your crop.

Buying seeds and seed libraries

If you are lucky, you may be able to order seeds. Go ahead. Even better, if you can, look for open pollinated varieties so you can save the seeds from the plants you grow this year and grow them again next year.

Also, some public libraries are starting “seed libraries.” The Menlo Park library in California is one that is starting a seed library. Check out your local library!

Trading seeds

Depending on your level of confinement you may have neighbours who are will to trade or give seeds to you. Seed packets usually have many many more seeds than can be used by a hobby gardener in one season! Also, if you have extra seeds why not start them as extra seedlings with the plan of giving them to friends or neighbours (at a safe distance of course). That’s what I’m doing.