A downtown Toronto, west-facing balcony,
5th floor

Click on images below for a larger picture.

The sun comes on my balcony at about 1:30 p.m. until about 8:30 p.m. At around 6 p.m. my balcony is shadowed by another building for one hour, and then the sunshine returns.

I have had success with flowers over the years, as you can see from the photos, but I wanted to try vegetables.

The first year I started with lettuce, radishes, Swiss chard and herbs. Everything grew great.

The second year I tried bush beans, pole beans, peppers and all the veggies and herbs from the previous year. I had such success with all of these that I took the plunge and tried tomatoes. Tomatoes need at least 6 hours of direct sun, so I tried even though the amount of sunlight on my balcony was right on the border. I started about a dozen plants and 6 different varieties. By trying different varieties I was hoping for some to do better than others. What a surprise to see all the tomatoes did well or better than expected - a bumper crop of heirloom tomatoes all summer and fall! More sun would definitely have produced more tomatoes, but I was very happy with the results.

My advice: Try purchasing recycled pots from yard sales and only use organic soil and compost from your local garden centre. Please don't throw your old soil down the garbage chute. You just need to add one third of good compost to bring it back to life. Don't waste money buying new soil each year and dragging it home. As a rule, sheep manure is good for flowers and cattle manure is good for vegetables. Also, eggshells are the best thing you can give your tomatoes. Just wash, dry and crumble them into the soil and you will have great tomatoes, guaranteed. I could go on and on about tomato plants, but everyone can gather information off the Internet. Do your research, take notes and document your successes. Do what works for you!

This year (2009) I started all my plants in April from seed, in a greenhouse on my balcony. The greenhouse was on sale at Canadian Tire for $30 (regular $85) - 3' wide by 5' high and 6' long. What a deal! I started 300 seedlings and 23 varieties of heirloom tomatoes. I kept one of each variety for my balcony and gave the rest to friends and family. I should mention that I have an allotment garden plot at the Leslie Street spit. Some of the tomatoes have been planted there. A disease called Blight, which can be devastating for tomatoes, killed many of my plants at the allotment garden last July, but none of my balcony tomatoes were affected. I am hoping for a better year for tomatoes at the allotment garden - fingers crossed!

I hope everyone takes advantage of the sun they get on their balcony. You'll be surprised what you can grow. All it takes is a little initiative on your part. Don't hesitate to ask a friend, family member or neighbour to help. Gardeners are never far away and are always eager to share their knowledge. What are you waiting for?

"There's nothing like fresh picked from the balcony goodness".

The photos of blooming small spaces that I have seen on my travels through the city are to say: don't let the size of your space limit your imagination.

Note the photo of a hummingbird visiting my balcony planter 2 years ago. Who would have thought this sweet creature would bless my space with her presence in downtown Toronto!

Pictures for 2009 are on their way.

Thank you Michael