Do you have a balcony or small outdoor space you’d like to start growing food in? Are you wondering if it’s even possible to grow food in a small space? Patrick Vernuccio, aka The Frenchie Gardener, is here to tell you that it’s not just possible, it’s absolutely possible to grow a flourishing fruit and vegetable garden on a balcony, terrace, patio or other small space.
And he should know, since he’s created a veritable food forest on his 200 sq. ft. (18 m2) Berlin balcony, all in pots and containers of varying sizes.
Patrick is certified in permaculture design and has published two books about growing food in urban environments in small spaces, one in German and one in French. He’s also written for a number of gardening magazines, and his popular Instagram channel @thefrenchiegardener is replete with inspiring posts and reels about balcony gardening.
We’re thrilled to share the first of a series of videos we have planned with Patrick, all in the aid of getting our urban gardeners started in their small space vegetable gardens. So let’s get started! First up — choosing seeds for pots and containers.
Choosing seeds for pots and containers
The biggest concern when growing on a balcony or a constrained space is how much sun your growing space will receive. Most vegetables need 6-8 hours of direct sunlight (except for salad greens, which will do just fine in part sun or dappled sunlight).
So, if your space gets good direct light and you’re feeling good to go — start searching for seeds that will produce well in container gardens. We love West Coast Seeds’ “seed matchmaking” quiz — which helps gardeners of all levels find seeds that will do well in the space available. Clever.
Four reasons it’s better to start from seed
In the video, Patrick takes us through all the reasons it makes good sense to start a vegetable garden from seed. This applies to all gardens, not just container or balcony gardens, so let’s break it down.
Reason #1: You’ll save money
Let’s use a packet of tomato seeds as an example. This packet of Peacevine Cherry Tomato seeds contains 20 seeds. That’s potentially 20 plants. And the seed packet is priced at $2.99 (CAD).
On the other hand, if you decide to buy seedlings from a farmer’s market, nursery or garden centre, you could pay anywhere from $1 to $5 (or more, for sure) per individual seedling.
Reason #2: So many seeds = so much choice
There are so very many seeds out there — and when you start from seed in your garden, you get to choose what to try. (And if you’re looking for some recommendations, check out the video from 7:09 onward. Patrick shares a few of his favourites for growing in pots and containers. We’ll list them at the end of this post as well.)
Reason #3: You’re in control
When you decide to start your garden from seed, you control the whole journey of the plant, from what kind of soil it’s planted into to how it’s watered and eventually fertilized later in its life. Knowing the inputs for your plants puts you in the garden driver seat! A good thing.
Reason #4: It’s the start of a beautiful adventure
Do we really need to explain this one? We didn’t think so.
When to start your seeds
For a lot of gardeners, the time is now to start seeds — January and February are good months to get your seed party started indoors. But, as Patrick explains at around 3:16 in the video, the key thing you’ll need to know is your last spring frost date, and you’ll work back (or forward) from there. Each seed packet will contain information about when to start seeds indoors based on the last frost date, or, in some cases when nighttime temperatures in your region will be reliably above 7˚C (45˚F).
Hybrid seeds versus heirloom seeds
In the video, Patrick defines the difference between hybrid seeds and heirloom seeds. Hybrid seeds are cross-pollinated varieties of seeds, selectively bred to produce the ideal version of a particular fruit or vegetable. Often termed F1 on seed packets, hybrid seeds will produce fruit with consistent flavour, size and shape — but, as Patrick explains, only for that one generation of plants. If you save seeds from those plants to plant the following year, you will not likely achieve the same results in your garden.
Heirloom seeds, on the other hand, are seeds that have been saved and grown for decades or even hundreds of years. When you plant an heirloom seed, you’ll grow essentially the same variety of plant that was grown in (let’s say) your great great grandmother’s garden. Seeds saved from heirloom varieties can be planted the following year and will continue to adapt their environment and support biodiversity in their subsequent iterations, year over year.
A few seed recommendations
If you want to see how well some varieties of vegetables can grow in a balcony garden, tune into the video at around the seven minute mark. Patrick shares a few of his favourites, and you’ll get a lovely look at his beautiful plants as they’re fruiting. (It’s a nice kiss of summer, which is ever so welcome in these grey days of January).
Four of Patrick’s favourite heirloom varieties:
Peacevine Cherry Tomato
Listada De Gandia Eggplant
Little Finger Eggplant
Mideast Peace Cucumber
And there’s one that he’s also shared with us that didn’t make it into the video, a sweet Italian heirloom pepper called Red Bulls Horn.
We hope you have a few minutes to watch the video. We’ve taken to calling it a mini masterclass around the office — as what Patrick shares is so informative, inspiring and perfectly useful. An ideal combination!
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Stay tuned for the next in the series! And be sure to subscribe to our (free!) newsletter to get advance notice of the moment we post Patrick’s next video, sure to be just as jam-packed with helpful info for small space gardeners.