Because groceries are too freaking expensive.
The 2020s have been... a lot. COVID-19 is still out there, groceries have become way too expensive, and we're all looking for ways to become more self-sufficient in these wild times. Why not plant a balcony garden? It's relaxing and will provide healthy and cost-effective food options all summer!
Of course, planting is more complicated than just watering a seed — especially when growing plants on a potentially shaded balcony. Montreal also has varied weather throughout the summer, which some plants can't handle. Here are some of the best plants to grow on a Montreal balcony, according to Barbara Larder, a graduate of McGill University in Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
What you'll need to start
To start your garden, you're going to need three things: containers for your plants, soil, and seeds or starter plants from a nursery.
The plants listed in this article are all fairly sturdy, so any container will do — even those old margarine containers! For best results, there should be at least one hole in the bottom of the container, to allow for drainage.
As for the soil, dirt from your yard probably isn't going to cover it. Larder suggests going to a garden centre and buying a good ol' 20-litre bag of garden soil or black earth. Either option will have the nutrients needed to help your plants grow healthily!
All of the plants listed here should be watered every two days or every day in a heatwave. If rain reaches your balcony, you can consider your plants watered for the day.
With all that out of the way, here are a few plants that will thrive on a Montreal balcony.
Bush beans are smaller, shorter plants than vine beans. This means they'll stand up on their own and take up less space on a balcony while producing delicious beans you can eat along with the pod.
This is the perfect time in the season to plant beans, according to Larder, and they grow quickly from seed. It takes bush beans about six weeks to start producing beans, but after that, they keep producing until the autumn. This is a plant that can handle partial shade.
More than just a delicious food, kale is also a particularly sturdy plant. It prefers direct sunlight but will make do with partial shade, Larder says. Unlike some other plants, it can be grown from seed outdoors, meaning you don't have to start the seedling indoors before transplanting it. Kale is also frost-hardy, which means it will survive a dip in temperature.
Kale produces edible leaves all summer and well into the autumn. Pick leaves from the outside of the plant and you should have the base for a fresh salad for the next few months!
While slightly more high-maintenance than some other greenery on this list, cherry tomatoes are a very satisfying crop. You can expect a thriving plant to grow about one meter high and to produce ripe tomatoes throughout the season.
Cherry tomatoes require eight to twelve weeks indoors before transplanting outdoors, so in late spring it's best to just buy a small plant from the garden centre, Larder advises. You'll need an average to large pot for the seedling, one big enough to hold a basketball. You may also need a stick to help keep the plant upright as it grows.
Cherry tomatoes need direct sunlight so if you have one sunny corner on your balcony, reserve it for the cherry tomatoes. It isn't a frost-hardy plant but will grow even faster than usual during heatwaves.
Lettuce sounds kind of boring at first, until you consider its many varieties: Boston, Romaine, leafy green, etc. It also pairs really well with kale in a salad or sandwich. Lettuce is a great beginner plant because it grows easily and produces edible leaves all season. You can even plant the heart of an already-eaten lettuce plant and it will keep growing!
Larder says that similarly to kale, lettuce prefers sun but will tolerate partial shade and is frost-hardy. The ideal time to plant lettuce is before the last frost in spring, but it can still be grown from seed outdoors in late spring.
Spinach is another plant that Larder says likes the sun but can handle the partial shade of an apartment balcony. Spinach is a cold crop, meaning that it handles the cold better than the heat, so it's best to plant spinach as early in the season as possible.
Spinach can handle dips in temperature, but it bolts (goes to seed) in the heat. That means that during the first heatwave of the season, you can harvest seeds for next year's plants. An ever greater news is that spinach continues to produce edible leaves after it bolts, but the leaves will have a more bitter taste.
Basil is a great plant to grow alongside cherry tomatoes. Not only do they taste great together, but, according to Larder, they can also be grown in the same pot!
Basil can be grown from seed, ideally in mid-to-late spring. Basil isn't frost-hardy and won't grow on colder days, but it will thrive during a heatwave. Basil prefers sun (perhaps the sunny corner reserved for the cherry tomatoes) but will trudge along in partial shade.
Basil is great raw or cooked and can be made into tea. As long as you don't pick more than a quarter of the leaves on the plant at a time, it will continue to produce deliciousness into the autumn.
Who doesn't love mint? This is a great plant for tea lovers. Five to seven leaves in a cup of boiling water will produce a fresh-tasting brew. Mint is also fairly low-maintenance and quick to produce leaves, making it perfect for first-time urban gardeners.
It's best to purchase a seedling from a garden centre. Once it's planted, expect to start harvesting within one week. You can plant mint at any time of the year and in any condition, Larder says. As long as you leave at least three-quarters of the leaves on the plant at any given time, it will continue producing leaves all season.