11 cheap and fail-proof edible plants you can grow on your balcony

Living in an apartment doesn’t mean you can’t grow your own vegetables. Here are some ways to regrow new plants from your vegetable scraps.

A cosy herb garden nook on a balcony © 123rf

You may dream of having a lush garden filled with flowers and edible plants to harvest whenever you’re cooking. But in reality, you’re actually living in a high-rise building with no backyard, no garden, and virtually no space. 

—> See how this executive creative director incorporated plants in his contemporary rustic home design.

But if you have a balcony, we have some good news — it is possible to turn it into a mini herb farm. You might need to scale down the dream of having a full lush garden, but an edible garden is possible at close to zero cost. Thanks to the tropical climate in Malaysia, balcony farming is easy because we don’t have to deal with frosty winter weathers. We’ve also picked out fuss-free herb plants and vegetables 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 build shelves to save space)
  • No balcony? Place a table by your sunniest window  
  • 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

Let’s start growing!

1. Mint

This minty fresh herb has loads of uses in the kitchen © 123rf

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, preferably 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 be sure to drain excess water. If they start growing flowers, cut off the stem about one 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.

Read more: How to keep herbs fresher for longer

2. Thyme

No perfect thyme than now to grow these herbs © 123rf

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. The weekly rain in our tropical climate could mean you may not even need to water it at all – just ensure it has well-drained soil and large drainage holes at the bottom of the pot. You can buy the plant 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.

3. Garlic

© 123rf

Like scallions, garlic is an affordable purchase. But why buy them if 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 four inches away from each other and leave it under the sun. Water sparingly. We would suggest saving space on your balcony for growing garlic as these plants may take up to nine months to mature. On the bright side, during that time, one clove will have multiplied to five or ten extra cloves. In the meantime, harvest the garlic shoots for your soups. They’re similar to spring onions except with a more distinct garlicky flavour.

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.

Read more: 12 indoor plants for low light

4. Cili padi

Malaysians can’t live without a cili padi plant at home © 123rf

We all know the pain of buying a whole packet of bird’s eye chilli (cili padi) only to use one or two at a time. By the time you get to the rest, they’re either wrinkled or inedible. That’s why, having your own chilli plant is a must, especially if you can’t live without spicy food. Save the seeds to be planted — just sprinkle them in a pot of soil and water regularly. The germination process may take between seven to 10 days. Once you see sprouts, you’ll need to maintain a good watering schedule for these thirsty plants. In about six to eight weeks, you’ll be rewarded with the appearance of reds. 

How to harvest: Pluck chillies off the plant as needed.

Read more: Avoid these 7 mistakes & your indoor plants won’t die again

5. Lettuce

Kitchen scraps that are worthy of a second life © 123rf

Love your salads? Then keep the leftover butt of your lettuce in some water in a jar or container. Leave it on your balcony, change the water daily and you will start seeing sprouts within the week. Then, 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 vegetables like cabbage, bok choy, chives and leeks.

How to harvest: Cut off leaves and maintain a base for regrowing.

6. Basil

basil

yelenayemchuk | 123rf

One of the most used, delicious and easy growing perennials is the basil. Whether you’re a fan of sweet basil or the tangy Thai variety, they are both easily propagated with water. Carefully check your store-bought basil – pick stems with a couple of leaves and remove the lower leaves, leaving only the topmost ones. Place into water, ensuring the areas where the lower leaves are removed go underwater. These are leaf nodes and will most likely be the area for roots to sprout. Within six days, you should already see some little roots poking out. When roots are about three inches long, you can plant them in soil and harvest the leaves in the next two months.

How to harvest: Just pluck off leaves or snip off top stems. This will also encourage a bushier plant.

7. Lemongrass

lemongrass

© Jarungthip Jarin | 123rf

This versatile herb is used in most popular Thai dishes and some Malay and nyonya cuisines. Thankfully, it is very easy to regrow too. Just pop a stalk into water and it will start rooting within a week. Once roots are established and you see leaves starting to grow, you can plant them in a medium to large pot. Lemongrass propagates itself by growing more and more stalks on its side. Once you have at least four separate stalks in the pot (which will take roughly four months’ time), cut off all the top leaves and divide them into separate plants to keep them from getting unruly and encourage growth. The leaves are sharp and tasteless — it’s the bottom part of the stalk that you want for good flavour.

How to harvest: Separate stalks and take what you need — replant the rest.

8. Ginger

ginger

© Laddawan Hengtabtim | 123rf

Just like garlic, ginger is a true blue staple in every home no matter what cuisine you cook. Just like garlic, they can easily be propagated from cuttings. Choose a section of the rhizome which has a couple of ‘eyes’ – little indents like what you see on potatoes. Plant it an inch below rich soil and keep moist. It will soon sprout and within four months, a small rhizome will have grown underground which you can cut and take as needed. You can also let it grow up to nine months to get a full-sized rhizome. Young ginger and old ginger have their own distinct uses in cooking so you can choose how and when you’d like to harvest them. The ginger plant also flowers – the ‘bunga kantan’ is popularly used in many Malaysian dishes like ulam, asam laksa and most nyonya dishes.

How to harvest: Cut sections from the ground as needed, or dig up the whole plant if you want the whole thing. 

9. Kangkung (Water Spinach)

kangkung

© Rachomas | 123rf

There are many varieties of spinach (Brazilian and malabar are the most common), but they can all be propagated the same way no matter what the variety is. If you have seeds (which are easily sold everywhere), you only need to scatter them in soil. To propagate the plant, you can use either the method of rooting it in water or plant it directly into soil. After the leaves reach an edible size, you should harvest it as it promotes the growth of side-shoots – giving you an additional harvest! 

How to harvest: Pick the leaves as needed or cut the stem a few inches above the soil.

10. Onions and scallions

Green onion scallion

yelenayemchuk | 123rf

Both are parts of the same plant with its own uses which you can grow from old onion bottoms. Place the onion bottoms into water and let it root. Soon you will see green shoots coming out of it, which means you should transfer the plant into a soiled pot. While you can already harvest the leafy green parts, don’t take them all. To get larger onion bulbs, each leaf feeds a layer of onion. If you have eight to 10 leaves, that means you’ll have eight to 10 layers growing on the onion. It takes 90-120 days for the onion to grow to its full size.

How to harvest: When it flowers, that’s when you can dig up your onions and enjoy them.

11. Celery

celery

Thanthip Homsansri | 123rf

One of the most rewarding plants you can grow is one which gives you multiple harvests. All you need to do is chop off the bottom part of your celery and suspend it with toothpicks in a glass, letting only the bottom part touch the water – this is to avoid the outer stalks from rotting. You will see small leaves emerging from the center as new roots emerge from the bottom. Transfer into soil once the new roots are an inch long. Keep it fertilised and place it under a cool shade — soon you will have a lush and leafy plant. 

How to harvest: Pluck the outer stems as needed, and it will continue to grow more for you to harvest.

With this practice, not only will you be saving money on groceries, but also reduce 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 would make your balcony look.

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