Living in an apartment does not mean that you cannot grow your own food.
You dream of having a lush garden filled with flowers and edible plants where you can harvest and bring it to your kitchen to cook whenever you feel like it. But in reality, you live in a high-rise building – no backyard, no garden, no space.
The good news is, we can show you how to turn your balcony into a mini herb farm. Granted, you may need to scale down the dream of a lush garden a little bit, but you can easily have an edible garden at a very low cost (or no cost, even). With Malaysia’s tropical climate, balcony farming is so much easier as we do not need to deal with harsh winter weather conditions. Here we’ve chosen some fuss-free herbs that are easy to grow and care for!
Before you begin balcony farming, here are some things you should take note of:
- Make space for your herbs (you can opt to build shelves to save space)
- No balcony? Place a table by your sunniest windowsill
- Ensure that your balcony has sufficient light and is not shaded
- Prepare potting soil and tools like spades and a watering can
- Prepare pots in sizes between small to medium, or reuse old jars and cans
- Use sticker labels to jot down dates or reminders for each plant
This minty fresh herb has loads of uses in the kitchen
One of the easiest plants to grow, mint is a ‘runner’ plant that grows very quickly, especially when it’s exposed to sunlight. It can be a bit of a garden gangster and take over neighbouring territories, so be sure to keep it in its own pot and perhaps closest to the edge of the balcony where it can run its way along the balcony railing. Water only when the surface of the soil feels dry and ensure to drain excess water. If they start growing flowers, cut off the stem about 1-inch from the ground and wait for a new plant cycle to start – you can do this 2-3 times before needing a new plant.
How to harvest: Just pick the leaves as you need them.
Scallions / Green onions
One of the easiest kitchen items to regrow, over and over again
As it is a staple in most Malaysian kitchens, we often buy them in a cluster. In fact, we often end up having way more than we need. To avoid future wastage, save the bottom part of the scallions where the roots are located, place them in a glass jar filled with water (up to the white-purple section of the plant), and leave it on your balcony. Change the water every two days or so. You’ll have more scallions in about a week’s time. At this point, you can move the scallions into a small pot of soil and keep it moist. It’s as easy as it sounds and it costs you almost nothing. Alternatively, you can also use a bulb of onion to grow them as they’re the same!
How to harvest: Harvest as needed by cutting off each stem at the white section.
No perfect thyme than now to grow these herbs
This is one of the hardiest herbs that require little to no care. It’s a plant that loves plenty of sunlight and is sensitive to overwatering due to it being very drought-resistant. You should only water it once a week or when the surface of the soil feels dry. Thanks to the Malaysian climate which is humid and rainy throughout the year, you may not even need to water it at all – just ensure it has a good draining soil and large drainage holes at the bottom of the pot. You can buy them from nurseries or regrow them from cuttings.
Pro tip: You can grow rosemary, oregano and parsley using the same method, too!
How to harvest: Cut off sprigs as needed, or when new growth starts to appear.
Garlic cloves sprouting
Like scallions, garlic is cheap to purchase. But why buy when you can grow them for free using your existing bulbs? Spare one or two cloves from your current stash of garlic and plant them with the root side facing down – keep them at least 4 inches away from each other and leave it under the sun. Water sparingly. We would suggest saving space on your balcony for growing a bunch of garlic as these plants may take up to 9 months to mature. But hey, by that time, your 1 clove would have multiplied to 5-10 extra cloves!
How to harvest: You can start harvesting them when the leaves turn brown. Use them fresh or hang them to dry for 2-3 weeks before storing in the fridge to preserve them.
Malaysians can’t live without a cili padi plant at home
We all know the pain of buying a packet of these spicy pepper only to use one or two to amp up the taste of our dishes, and leave the leftover wrinkle and dry in the fridge. What a waste of good chillies! Which is why it’s a must to have your own chilli plant, especially if you can’t live without spicy food. Save the seeds for planting, sprinkle them in a pot of soil and water regularly. The germination process may take between 7 to 10 days, and once you see sprouts, you need to maintain a good watering schedule for these thirsty plants. In about 6 to 8 weeks, you will be rewarded with the appearance of reds.
How to harvest: Pluck chillies off the plant as needed.
Kitchen scraps that are worthy of a second life
Love your salads? Soak the leftover butt of your lettuce in a little bit of water! Leave it on your balcony, change the water daily and you will start seeing sprouts within a week. Now, move your lettuce into a soil-filled pot and keep the lettuce well-watered. When it’s about 6 inches tall, you can begin harvesting them for your salad bowl.
Pro tip: You can use the same method for other veggies like cabbage, bok choy, chives, leeks, celery and even lemongrass.
How to harvest: Cut off leaves, maintain the base for regrowing.
With this practice, you are not only saving grocery money but also reducing waste from plastic packaging and scraps. You can even go the distance to save more by using leftover water from washing rice, boiling pasta/noodles or even from waiting for the shower to heat up – use these to water your plants and keep your household bills a little lower each month. Enjoy your delicious herb garden, and appreciate how beautiful it makes your balcony look!