We have already been talking about the benefits of urban gardening a lot on former blogposts – and truly, what is not to love about it? You get to play with dirt, watch something grow and, if you play your cards well, the outcome is simply delicious. These days a lot of us spend a lot of time at home anyway and March is an excellent time of the year to start sowing and planting – so why not take the opportunity and get your balcony garden going? Or as we say here at Green Bike Tours: If you can’t come to the urban garden, the urban garden has to come to you!
So here are our 5 tips for using your long, gray days of lockdown to turn your home into green delight:
1. Make sure your plants are bee-friendly
Conservation scientists and activists around the world are alarmed by the global decline in insect populations. Did you know that alone in Germany 17 common butterfly species have vanished since 1990 and almost half of the approximately 560 species of wild bees, are classified as endangered? If this development is not stopped, it could lead to dramatic consequences for all of us and our planet. Luckily, there is something you can do for our pollinating little friends: make sure you don’t only plant decorative plants like geranium or dahlia and mix in some bee-candy like lavender or sunflowers. Herbs like mint, thyme, and rosemary are also pollinator friendly and come in super handy for dinner!
If you want to take the extra step, you can also install an insect hotel on your balcony to provide a cozy home. Some people even successfully keep bees on their balcony in so-called ‘bee boxes’! This is pretty advanced, though, and you should definitely clear it with your neighbors first, or you might get in trouble…
2. How about something edible?
Growing red poppy, marigold, and daisy will turn your balcony in a beautiful, fragrant oasis but nothing quite beats the satisfaction of growing your own fruit and vegetables. And while my tiny, draughty Copenhagen balcony might never house lush orange trees, there are still plenty of varieties that thrive even in our climate! The most obvious choice are more robust kitchen herbs like thyme and rosemary but salad greens like kale and arugula grow just as well. A sunny spot is well suited for tomatoes, whereas peas and other legumes prefer half-shadow, and a combination of strawberries and mint is not only absolutely scrummy but also a true power-duo against pests!
Tip: If it’s your first time growing vegetables, start small, focus on 1 or 2 things, and be prepared to fail. Sometimes despite the perfect place, enough water and all loving care in the world, a plant might die on you. You can, however, try to reduce the risk by following our next tip:
3. Grow from you own seeds and use organic soil
If you want to enjoy your plants for as long as possible, you need to start right. Growing fruit and vegetables from the seed is fun and lowers the risk of introducing pests and diseases. Nothing is sadder than bringing home a new plant from the store, only to notice at home that it has carried a disease that infects all of your other plants, too! It also gives you the chance to dabble in some old or unusual heritage varieties. Make sure you use good quality soil, preferably organic, that is low in peat. Most plant and vegetable soil you can buy in regular garden centers contain a lot of peat, which is great for plants but not so great for climate change! To extract the peat for plant soil, natural peatlands get drained, thus destroying a unique habitat for many plants, birds, and insect species. The second environmental damage is caused by the fact that peatlands store a lot of carbon and the CO2 gets released when the peatlands are drained. So, keep an eye out for “peat-free” certifications when you go soil shopping!
4. Small balcony? Go vertical!
If there is one thing that is always lacking in urban areas, it is space – and balconies are unfortunately no exemption to this rule! So, when your balcony is the size of a shoebox (like mine), it is time to get a bit creative and use your space as effectively as possible by going vertical! And building a small vertical garden yourself can be so easy: attach colorful flowerpots to the wall, to wooden slats or simply to an old slatted frame, plant – done. If you are a bit more advanced in DIY, you can also go for a homemade shelf, e.g., made of old Euro pallets, or simply a wall shelf that has been repurposed.
Or you can create a plant hanger by connecting pretty baskets with ropes and hang them on top of each other – the possibilities are endless, and you can find plenty of ideas and instructions online!
5. No balcony? No problem!
If you are not among the lucky folks, who live in flats with balconies, you don’t need to despair. In fact, you can grow plenty of edible plants like kitchen herbs, tomatoes, or peas on your windowsill. Some mushrooms will even thrive in a cupboard! And if you want to get your hands proper dirty, what about joining an urban gardening collective in your neighborhood after lockdown is over, after all? (Check out our blog post on Urban Gardens in Berlin https://greenbiketours.org/harvest-time-in-the-city-berlins-urban-gardens/or join one of our virtual tours from the comfort of your home, to learn more about urban gardening projects in Copenhagen and Berlin!)
This post was written by our green guide Lotte.
WWF on Insect Biomass Decline: https://www.wwf.de/aktuell/insektensterben-stoppen/insektensterben-hintergrundinformationen/
More on peatlands: https://friendsoftheearth.uk/climate/why-peat-good-climate-and-nature-guide