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Nine tips on how to create the quintessential NYC balcony garden

Shaye Weaver
Written by
Shaye Weaver

You don't need to put off making your own mini-garden anymore—with more time at home, you can grow your own veggies within arm's reach.

Being able to produce your own food without having to go to the grocery store is an attractive idea right now and harkens back to the old "victory gardens" of World War I and II, when people at home grew their own food to supplement their rations and boost morale.

While fire escape gardens are technically illegal to have—firefighters need a clear egress there–you can use an outdoor patio, balcony or window boxes to curate your little patch.

But how do you even start, especially given we're not supposed to go out for tools?

We spoke with gardening experts from the New York Botanical Garden, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and NYC Parks' GreenThumb program for tips to help you produce your first potted farm.

1. Sow seeds that do well

Firstly, you'll want to plant the right veggies to increase your chance of running a successful garden. Usually, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, herbs, pole beans, eggplants, chard, radishes, lemons do well, but you'll want to read up on where to plant them, because some pairings can actually be harmful to their growth.

2. Use seeds and stalks from leftover veggies

Getting out to the store to pick up seeds isn't really an option right now, but luckily experts say that planting the seeds and stalks from leftovers can work! This includes seeds from tomatoes, legumes, pulses (beans) grains (quinoa and amaranth), squash, peppers, melons and planting tubers, like ginger, potatoes, yams, and garlic. You can even use seeds from spices—dill seed, mustard seed, caraway, and black cumin.

3. Consider bee-friendly plants

With bee numbers dwindling—almost 15 percent of honey bee colonies were lost in New York state last year, according to Bee Informed—now is a good time to help boost their numbers from home. If you're open to planting a garden that includes flowering species, look for milkweed, native perennials, bee balm and native grasses.

4. Keep your pots on the smaller side and make sure they have holes

Ceramic pots are a thing of the past. Instead, use whatever you want as long as it has drainage holes, including litter boxes, plastic containers like milk or juice jugs and storage boxes. Just be sure to poke holes in the bottom so that water can drain out. Get creative!

5. Use mineral-rich water

Mineral-rich water used from boiling eggs or steaming vegetables can be saved and used once it cools as a low-nutrient food for your plants. Avoid recycling any liquid containing fats, oils or proteins, though.

6. Water plants inside and on a consistent schedule

Figure out a system for watering your plants and bring them inside if you're going for a fire escape or window box garden. Put down a drop cloth first, so as not to spill any soil, and do the job in the tub or kitchen sink, letting them drain for a bit before returning them to their spots.

7. If gardening outside, use rat-repelling soil

Again, if you're growing plants outside, think about using an organic blood meal. It sounds gross, but it repels rodents. You can read more about how to keep vermin out of your garden at

Otherwise, look for well-draining potting mix. The best potting soils contain peat, sphagnum moss, perlite and vermiculite. If you're looking for sustainable potting mix alternatives, try mixing your own soils using things like coco coir, perlite, leaf mold, or vermiculite and worm castings instead of peat moss! It also helps to crush egg shells and sprinkle them in for a fertilizing boost. 

8. Find bright but indirect light

Watch and see how and when your window/balcony gets direct sunlight because it can get quite hot and damage your plants. Most veggies need about six hours in sunlight, but do your research on specific plants and their sun needs.

9. Pinch your herbs!

Pinching and using herbs will help them stay compact and encourage tender new growth!

Here's a video by Howcast for more tips:

Happy gardening!

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