Like many cities or urban settlements around the world there is always a common challenge; space. How we use the little space available is always our choice, whether it is seats on a balcony or a barbeque on the rooftop.
However in comparison to many larger European cities, whenever I am in Malta I’ always delighted to see plant pots growing fresh herbs and small produce on balconies, courtyards and rooftops all over Malta. Food tastes so much better when using fresh food we have grown. So how can we utilize the smallest spaces in order to produce excellent produce for our table?
There are numerous methods available, the commonest being hanging baskets, window boxes and small pots lining the edges and filling every corner of the space available. All of these methods can be used to grow fantastic, tasty produce which takes seconds to harvest and plate up.
While I avoid using hanging baskets for herbs since they require regular watering and dry out very quickly, various varieties of thymes and creeping Rosemary do tolerate this dryer conditions. Every now and then I mix in some Nasturtiums to provide colour and variety to my balcony and salads.
My window-boxes hold a little more moisture so I tend to grow cut-and- come-again varieties to supply me with tasty fresh salad. These lettuce crops are one of the quickest and easiest to grow in a window-box, and we have wonderful varieties to choose from. I tend to have a complete mix in mine, ranging from Rocket, mixed leaf lettuce and the oriental Mizuna. These should be ready for their first cut in 3-5 weeks. Be sure to leave 5 cm stumps and another crop will be along quickly. As the plants begin to age or show slow growth simply remove and re-seed. Keep the windowbox watered and you will soon have a very healthy crop.
However there is one important space that always seems to be ignored and underused. The vertical walls of a courtyard or the railing of a balcony can be quickly and easily adapted to create a much larger growing area. I always favour this method, as it leaves me with space for tables and chairs while providing colour and cover for bare walls. The varieties and size of vegetables which can now be grown has opened up a new world of courtyard gardening.
New “Green Wall” systems which work on a semi hydroponic system are now available, but can be expensive. I like to save my cash and get around that expense. By using simple wooden batons a frame or trellis can be easily fixed to the wall, up to any height. To this secure a sturdy wire mesh which can be found at most builders merchants. Drill holes on the rim of the pots before planting and thread through galvanized or plastic coated wire. Plant the pots, placing smaller ones higher up for parsley, chilies and chives and the larger pots on the ground to support the climbers. Not only does this provide a wonderful and lush appearance, but also saves as much of the limited ground space available to you. In this way I have grown everything from basil and thyme to tomatoes, runner beans – you name it, you can grow it!
Photo caption: Easy, low-maintenance, DIY garden structures. Right: Different salad greens are planted in angled eavestroughs or half-pipes, and on left a wooden shipping pallet is used for herbs and nasturtiums.
Their minimal footprint and upright structure means less weeding and more efficient watering.