How Does My Garden Grow – Part 1: Defying Gravity


Gardening is probably in my blood.  After all, my father was born and raised on a farm and when I was growing up in suburban San Francisco, he tended to an extensive backyard garden.  But in the nearly twenty years since I moved out of that home, I’ve had only two summers when I was able to garden: 2004, when Tawn and I were living in San Jose and I had five tomato plants growing from 5-gallon buckets, and 2005, when I was living in Kansas City before moving here to Thailand.

Finally, I am going back to the land, getting the dirt under my fingernails, and fulfilling my birthright: to grow my own food!


In the more than three years we’ve lived in this particular condo, we have wanted to hang plants from our balcony but the wire planters they sell locally are really wimpy – good only for petunias and shrinking violets.  We finally found a gardener who said he could make some heavy-duty planters for us.  It took a year to actually get them made, but finally he delivered. 


But they look pretty flimsy, don’t they.  Sure enough, just hanging on the edge it looked like they would hold maybe 10 pounds at best before collapsing four stories onto the backs of cars parked below.  So the gardener went back to his workshop and returned a few hours later with three metal brackets to put below the planters, providing better support. 


I’m still petrified that the planters will crash to the ground below, seeing as how they are actually attached to the balcony railing with wire!  I’ve purchased some plastic cable straps to provide greater security and am inspecting the planters frequently to look for signs of distress. 


We have two balconies, one in each unit.  For the balcony outside the bedroom, Tawn wanted a hedgerow so we don’t have to look at the abandoned building next door.  These trees provide a nice sense of greenery outside and with the bamboo blinds, one can wake up almost imagining being in a tropical resort.


While in the US in March and June I did some seed shopping.  Faced with limited space, I whittled down my selection of seeds to these five: mini bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, beets, carrots, and heirloom tomatoes. 


Didn’t get a picture of me actually mixing the soil, which was a bit of a mess given the small work space.  However, we now have five 37-cm pots hanging over the edge of the balcony.  I mixed chopped coconut husks into the bottom two-thirds of the soil to ensure it drains well and to reduce the weight of the pots. 


Some Starbucks stir sticks were purloined to make for row markers.  In addition to vegetables, I did one pot with mixed herbs.  I think I’ll have to purchase a few more pots and place them on the floor of the balcony.

One challenge we face is that our units face southwest and during the summer months the sun is actually to the north of us (since we are so close to the equator).  During the cooler months, though, we get direct sun.  I’m worried this might throw the plants off a bit, especially the tomatoes which I think will do best if they have hot days but, as the fruit sets, relatively cool nights.  We’ll see. 


I planted the seeds on July 4.  Three days later, the first sprouts were pushing their way through the soil.  Here, a cherry tomato seedling.  It occurs to me now that I should have planted first in some small containers, then transplanted into the bigger ones.  I’m going to have to thin out all of the larger pots since I can’t grow multiple tomato plants in a single pot. 


Sweet Italian basil “micro-greens” – ha ha!  Of the four herbs – basil, rosemary, parsley, and cilantro – the basil is the only one that has so far made an appearance.

Well, stay tuned over the coming weeks and months to see how this experiment at gardening goes.  To be sure, my maid is fascinated by my interest in this.  You have to reach a certain level of the bourgeoisie, I guess, to see growing your own food as a hobby rather than a necessity.


0 thoughts on “How Does My Garden Grow – Part 1: Defying Gravity

  1. will it not bother anyone downstairs when you water the plants? coz i usually get annoyed when water drops onto my balcony from other floors. your garden looks beautiful though. i wish i could have a garden, too. 🙂

  2. Thin them?! pshaw. My husband planted 12 tomato plants in a half whiskey barrel (althought they were cherry tomatoes). They grew with such abandon that we lost sight of the barrel. We also had to give away buckets of tomatoes because we couldn’t eat them fast enough! He continued this practice until he decided to grow peppers. The peppers do not like to be crowded… Basil likes to grow clumped – only the strong survive.

  3. Yay! I’m so glad you’ve finally been able to get a small garden going! I look forward to updates! We have only grown cherry tomatoes once while I lived in Palo Alto. It got so huge and full of tomatoes, that we couldn’t possibly eat all of the. We ended up giving most of them away.

  4. Chris, for the two of you, I am not sure you want too many tomato plants. One plant has such a vast turnover of the fruit. Cilantro is very slow to show up. I am glad you have a garden.

  5. Oooh… this is a great idea! I remember my mom always agonizing which seedlings to thin out. She would spend hours checking each. It was a life and death decision for her. I do like the idea of adding some more reinforcement to that rack. You might want to add a bit more when the typhoons come for a visit. I can’t believe those seedlings have popped up so quickly! I guess you don’t have to worry about bugs at that height or maybe not. (but that is a bad thing no? – plants can’t be pollinated?)Will you have a compost pile too? That might be your next project.

  6. How inspiring, Chris! I also bought a bunch of seeds during my last trip to Australia. Salad greens are so expensive in HK, so I thought with our MASSIVE balcony, it would be a crime not to do some gardening. But I have not done any gardening since 7th grade, haha! Just the thought of gardening is already scaring me. I have this image of a sprawling veggie garden but the image is alaredy stressing me out because I think I’ll be a big failure! Anyways, I’ll make sure I get my butt in gear when we get back to HK.

  7. Tomatoes grow very easy and don’t need any attending. I remember back home, someone had thrown a tomato near our ‘organic’ waste pit (just a small pit dug up in our backyard) and a few weeks (or months) later there were so many plants with ripe tomatoes all over!

  8. awesome hanging garden looking forward to more pictures of your progress. my rosemary is about waist high under my front window. i love it as it keeps the ants away they don’t like the smell. have only two tomato plants but lots of blooms now if all those blooms become tomatoes we should have enough to make tomato jam.

  9. @I_love_Burma – Oh, I’m very cognizant of that concern.  Most of my neighbors (upstairs!) have plant baskets that hang on the inside of the balcony and when they water their plants, the water drips down onto their own balcony, cascading onto the edge of my balcony and splashing all over my windows, etc.  My plants all hang over the outside edge and if any water does spill, it falls onto the palm trees below and, ultimately, the back of the car park area.  On top of it, I have saucers (or whatever they are called) under each planter to catch any overflow of water.@grannykaren – Is that true?  Rosemary keeps ants away?  I’ve been having a problem with them sneaking into the kitchen somehow, maybe I should buy a small potted rosemary plant and keep it in there.@ordinarybutloud – I think a garden adds a lot to a living space, don’t you?@Dezinerdreams – No doubt being in such rich soil helped!  =D@tehls – Oh, your massive balcony will be perfect for gardening, plus you face to the southeast so should get nice sun.  Plant soon, though, or your season will be over.  Would be happy to fly over and help.@ZSA_MD – Thanks for letting me know about the slowness of cilantro.  I was getting worried.  That and my bell peppers.@ElusiveWords – Thanks for sharing that lovely memory of your mother.  I’ll feel like I’m in good company as I go about the thinning out process.  We’re only about 40 feet off the ground, so I’m sure plenty of bugs will find their way up here.  The palm trees on the other side of the building are a fruit bearing variety (not dates, but some other smal fruit) and they attract these little bees.  Hopefully they find their way around the side of the building.@Fatcat723 – And fresh herbs are always handy for cooking, considering I make a loaf or two of rosemary bread each week.@alextebow – Well, maybe your new place in SLC will give you space for a garden.@murisopsis – Good to know.  Maybe I shouldn’t worry too much about thinning, although there are about 12 cherry tomato seedlings in one 15-inch bucket.  That could be a wee bit crowded, right?  Also, I just watched a video about pinching out the suckers to encourage a stronger and healthier plant.@CurryPuffy – @yang1815 – @Inciteful – @The_Eyes_Of_A_Painter – At the very least, this should provide some interesting blogable moments in the coming months.  Stay tuned and see how my garden grows!  Ha ha… 

  10. @secade – I remember helping my dad out in the garden when I was a child.  While it was fun, I didn’t “get” what was so engaging about it.  Nowadays I’m so excited to see a seed turn into a plant then turn into food.  It’s like a whole Lion King, circle of life moment!

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