Balcony Gardening


by Peg Oneil

Growing your own food gives you time in the sunshine, a sense of accomplishment, and reduces your trips to the grocery stores. Seed sales are up by 400% to 500% at Veseys in PEI, one of Canada’s largest seed retailers. Garden Centres are essential services and have been open all along in Alberta; with the advent of nice weather, you can get those seeds planted.

In Eau Claire, we live in vertical villages and are reliant on balconies, building gardens or, occasionally, small outdoor plots. Our buildings often provide too much sun or too much shade, you need to assess your lighting situation in your situation. Generally, if you face north (towards the river) or east (away from the mountains) you are going to have less sunlight. Even some south and west facing balconies might be shaded by the balcony above or the building across the way. Look at your own patio and watch how much sunlight it gets. Remember, too, that if there’s a balcony directly above you, the railing area will get the most sunlight.

Full sun – gets at least 6 hours of direct sunlight most days.

Partial shade – gets at least 3 hours of direct sunlight most days. These plants generally don’t do well in hot afternoon sun, they’ll usually prefer slightly cooler morning sun.

Full shade – no, they can’t survive in the pitch dark. But they can live on less than 3 hours of direct sunlight per day and indirect, or dappled, light the rest of the day.

Most veggies require full sun (tomatoes and peppers want lots of sun, 8 to 10 hours makes them happy), but some are surprisingly shade tolerant:

Salad greens like lettuce, spinach, arugula, and endive are the most shade tolerant. They can thrive with only 3 to 4 hours of sunlight per day. In fact, if they get too much sun, they go to seed too fast. A slightly shady area can prolong production.

Leafy greens like kale, mustard greens, and swiss chard grow more slowly in partial shade but they’ll be more tender and sweet.

Root veggies like carrots, turnips, beets, radishes, and turnips will also grow more slowly. You can harvest them when they are smaller and sweeter or you can be patient – they’ll grow to full size, it’ll just be a little later than if they had more sun. Pro-tip: keep their “shoulders” covered. Carrots and turnips in particular will try to heave out of the ground and if their tops are exposed to the sun they’ll become woody and hard.

Onions, leeks, scallions, and chives will all do just fine in partial shade. They are on the higher end, so aim for 4 hours at least and keep them moist.

Herbs like mint, oregano, parsley and coriander (cilantro) won’t grow quite as vigorously in partial shade as they will in full sun, but they should provide enough deliciousness to be worth your time.

It’s worth giving fresh veggies a try, even on a fairly shady balcony, your taste buds will thank you!