First of all – Happy International Permaculture Day everyone! The 7th of May is the day for giving some extra attention to Permaculture. If you’re a beginner in Permaculture you can start by checking out my Permaculture & Gardening section here in the blog. There you can get some tips on how to start a small garden of your own.
Terrace gardening with challenges
I’m now into the fourth growing season of the terrace garden I have connected to my home in southwest Germany. If you have followed the blog you might know about the challenges I have with the location of this garden. It’s windy, it’s on the north side of a house and the sun shines straight down at my plants during summertime. In short, it has less than ideal conditions for a thriving garden.
But I’m not the kind of person to give up just because something is a bit of a challenge. Instead I have been gradually observing and adjusting things over time after observing what works and not. It’s a great learning experience and growing in pots and moveable containers makes changes a lot easier than in a normal garden.
Last year was a pretty bad year for my plants. Pollinating insects were struggling due to the weather. It was very windy in spring and dry during summer. Also, I started to notice that the soil wasn’t in great shape anymore. This is always a challenge when you grow in containers since you won’t get a natural addition of soil nutrients and materials holding the structure of the soil. You have to add it manually in the form of new soil, compost, fertilizer or mulch. Preferably a combination of all if you can.
Observe and interact
Some of the plants such as my red currant was starting to show that it needed more space and others were not happy with their placement, so I decided to make a new plan this year and move a few containers to new locations and upgrade some pots to bigger ones.
Even if I’m growing in pots on an open terrace I try to take inspiration from forest gardening. In a forest plants will grow on different heights and take advantage of the benefits other plants present them with. One plant may protect others through casting shadow on them, another might act as a wind-break, a third might cover the ground to protect the others from drying out, a fourth one might attract beneficial insects helping to protect other plants from pests.
I’m trying to find ways to imitate this structure even if some of my plants grow in separate containers. While they don’t get the benefits from nutrient exchange that you get in forest soil, I can at least give the plants better chances through creating needed shading and wind-protection.
This is why I have moved some of my pots and containers to new locations. I have put them closer together to make sure that smaller, more delicate plants, have better wind-protection. Through putting them in the right position in relation to bigger ones I can also take advantage of some shade that the bigger plants – such as my apple tree – cast during the hottest hours of the day.
This year I decided to almost not buy any new seeds. I bought one pack of edible flowers since I used up all of them last year, but besides that I’m trying to only use the seeds I already had instead of investing in new varieties. I want to see how well they still germinate and how they behave in new locations. I have also limited the number of plants this time. I have a tendency of starting too many plants of each type which only means I have to give away more than half of them since I don’t have space for them in my own garden.
One thing I will do the next week or so is to buy a few ready plants that I haven’t had the chance to sow myself. I want to try out some aubergines and peppers and probably a few more herbs. It would be a waste of resources to buy a full bag of seeds if I only need one or two plants of a variety.
In winter I had a bird feeder containing sunflower seeds. They got scattered all over the place by the birds so now I’m finding sunflower seedlings in almost all of the pots and garden beds. I’m letting them grow a bit for now but will definitely slash down a few of them and use for mulch so that they don’t take over the whole garden. Some of them I will leave as they are since they will provide much needed shade in the middle of summer. And who doesn’t like sunflowers?
Not pretty, but it works. I have wanted to create a better compost solution for the terrace for some time and made some calculations. The cheapest solution was after all to use Euro boxes stacked on top of each other (inspired by a solution seen at Krameterhof). I will upgrade the solution with feet to get it up from the floor, a tap to empty the “compost tea” from the bottom and probably build a wooden structure around it later to look nicer. Maybe I can figure out a solution that can also be used as a planting table. Permaculture thinking there too in trying to find multiple uses for one element.
The plan is also to go to a nearby forest and get some extra soil to import a few more beneficial worms and microorganisms to speed up the composting process.
Reflections so far
Even if it’s early on the season I’m already seeing that my apple tree and the red currant look much happier now that they got new soil and a bit more space. Also some of the other plants seem to enjoy their new location with better sun/shade conditions, so I’m hoping for a better growing season than last year. Maybe this time I’ll get a few berries from the white strawberries (pineberries) that were bought a bit late last season.