Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Get Growing on your balcony & in containers!

by: Candice Keast

Interest in growing food in small spaces is becoming more common as we start to understand the impacts food production and transportation has on our planet. In order to prepare for a global population of nearly 10 billion, it's important to consider more sustainable practices such as eating locally and incorporating more plant-based foods into our diet.  One great way of achieving both is to grow your own food.

By growing food you can enjoy fresh and delicious food – right where you live and - save money and have fun at the same time. Growing your own food will help you incorporate more plant-based foods into your diet and align with what scientists call a "planetary health diet" – one that is healthy for you and the planet.

This summer, join us as we use Live Green Toronto's Get Growing Toronto guide as inspiration to explore growing in small spaces, especially on balconies.


Before we jump into the gardening basics, let’s explore your plant options. If you are a beginner, opt for seedlings over seeds, choose organic, and don’t overwhelm yourself with all the possibilities. Start with easy, low maintenance vegetables such as mixed greens and herbs like basil, mint, and chives. Read more about shade tolerant and sun loving plant options in the "Plant Selection" section of our Get Growing guide.

Are you growing food at home this summer? If you have any questions or have encountered challenges, feel free to ask our expert Lara Mrosovky, author of Grow Without a Garden: 101 Plants for Containers


In order to have an abundant harvest your plants will need:
  • Space & sun
  • Soil
  • Water
  • Drainage
Get the details after the jump.

Where to grow (space & sun)

If you haven’t already, check out our previous post on the best places to grow food.

Once you've determined the space you wish to grow food, determine how much sunlight you get in that area. This will help you choose the right plants as some veggies and fruits are more sun loving than others. For optimal sun exposure, south and west facing spaces are more suitable but don't get discouraged if you have an east or north facing space, you'll still be able to grow food.


When it comes to planting, get creative! You can use just about anything as a planting container; from old recycling bins and soap buckets to bushel baskets and milk crates. Just ensure you have the means to make holes in the bottom of the container for drainage and remember that different plants require different size containers and depth of soil. Click here for a helpful sizing guide.


Avoid topsoil, black earth, triple mix and soil from outside as these soils are too heavy. You’ll want light, fluffy soil that’s full of nutrients and high in organic matter. The easiest way to achieve this is to add compost and perlite into your potting mix or by purchasing soil that has compost and perlite already added to it. Organic soil are your best choice as it's better for you, pollinators, and the environment.

For our demonstration garden, we used the following:

Golfgreen Organic Potting Soil
Golfgreen Organic Soil with Compost
Golfgreen Blood & Bone Meal (to ward off pests)

For more information on soil for containers, check out this website. And if you're unsure of how much soil to buy, use this calculator.

Don't forget you can get free compost at Toronto’s Community Environment Days.

Water & drainage

Summers in Toronto are hot and, if your garden is located on a balcony or rooftop, wind can play a major role in drying out your containers. It is important to have fresh water at the ready - I keep a large watering can full of water on my balcony. Tip: If you are growing native plants (like dandelion greens) or herbs, they need to have well drained soil and dry out a bit in between watering.

Drainage is another important factor to consider. Having proper drainage ensures the plants uptake the water they need while the extra water drains out. Additionally, you'll want to put pebbles, gravel, broken pottery or even Styrofoam peanuts at the bottom of your pot to facilitate drainage!

Finally, make sure to include catch basins to avoid mini-floods in your or your neighbour's space.
A corner of our demonstration balcony garden featuring sage, basil, peas, tomatoes, hot peppers and parsley.


Are you growing food at home this summer? If you have any questions or have encountered challenges, feel free to ask our expert Lara Mrosovky, author of Grow Without a Garden: 101 Plants for Containers.

Be sure to check out Live Green Toronto's Pinterest boards for gardening tips, including container gardening, and lots of recipes to help you make delicious meals from your harvest. 

We are grateful to Canadian Tire for its support of our Get Growing Balcony Garden project.

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