• Sahmia Parks

Self Sustainability in a Fragile Society

Don't wait for anyone to deputize you or authorize you or empower you.  You have to just start out with yourself...and put one foot in front of the other

Hazel Henderson

As COVID-19 sweeps the nation, many of us are rushing to grocery stores to stock our pantries and supply cabinets. American life has seemingly changed overnight forcing 76 million of us to stay in place, something that is essentially foreign to our society. We have become accustomed to having all of our needs available to us when we are ready for them. This crisis has shown us just how fragile and selfish our nation we have become.

A few weeks before the acceleration of the coronavirus hysteria, I spent a Sunday afternoon in my grandfather's backyard tending to his plant beds. We laughed and talked about how his grandmother raised him tending to the land, as lessons of hard work and patience. As we replanted a succulent plant from her yard, I felt this overwhelming feeling of gratitude and humility. I was reminded of the time I spent on a retreat in the desert attending different workshops on self-sustainability; from permaculture to DIY gardening, and even cooking all-natural vegan meals and natural herbal remedies.

In these uncertain times, we need to tap into the areas of our lives where we can be self-sustaining so I decided I would go back to my great grandmother's lessons on tending to the land by starting a mini-garden of herbs I juice and create remedy teas with, in addition to all the foods I eat regularly.

With this brief pause from our day to day hustle and bustle, it’s a great time to time start a new project. I wanted to provide a step by step guide to get you started with your DIY garden. It is as easy as purchasing a few different sized terracotta pots, a few seed packets, and a few starters plants. You’ll want to have a mapped out plan before you begin:

1. Calculate the Amount of Sun Your Balcony Gets

If your balcony gets six or more hours of sun (referred to as full sun), you’re in luck and you’ll be able to grow quite a variety of plants. Three to six hours qualifies as partial sun and 1.5 to four hours is considered partial shade. Anything less than three hours is considered full shade.

If the sunlight isn’t direct and it’s coming through tree leaves or it’s obstructed in some other similar way, it’s filtered (or dappled) light. There are products, like the SunCalc, that can help you determine exactly how much light your balcony gets in a day.

2. What's the Climate Like?

The climate on your balcony may not be the same as the climate on the ground. Is it windier? Shadier? Hotter or colder? Factor these things in when choosing your plants.

You may need hardier plants to withstand the wind that whips through at your apartment’s height, for example. Burpee’s Growing Zone Location map is a good place to start.

3. What You Need, Other Than the Seeds

  • Pots, appropriately sized for the amount of root space the plants will need (Life on the Balcony has a helpful post about choosing the right pots)

  • Materials for vines to climb

  • Hanging baskets or troughs (optional, but they can help utilize your space since they won’t be on the floor)

  • Gloves for keeping your hands clean and unscratched

  • Trowel for digging

  • Watering can (the more plants you have and the more water they need, the bigger the watering can should be so you can be more efficient)

  • Soil

  • Organic fertilizer

In some cases, you don’t even need seeds. Take a look at Black Thumb Gardener’s post on plants you can grow from kitchen scraps.

4. The Layout of the Garden

The layout of your garden will ultimately depend on where the sunniest spots are, how much furniture you have on the balcony, how much space you need for entertaining guests, and how you can arrange your containers in a way that allows you to still walk around and water them with ease.

Another tip is to layer your plants with the tallest toward the back, near a wall, with the shorter ones in front. It’s easier to water them and more aesthetically pleasing.

5. Planting Your Fruits and Veggies

  • Always arrange your containers before you pour the soil. They’re much lighter and easier to move that way.

  • Pour in your organic potting soil and mix in a little organic fertilizer.

  • Plant your seeds or seedlings only as far down in the soil as recommended.

  • Add more soil around the base of the seedlings if necessary, once all the plants are in place.

  • Add water until the soil is wet, but not completely saturated, and be sure to keep the water off the leaves as the plants grow.

6. The Importance of Planning

Planning is perhaps the most important tip in your guide to a quick and easy balcony garden. You’ll need to take space and the amount of sunlight the area gets, of course, but you should be realistic about how much time and energy you want to commit to your garden so you’re not disappointed or overwhelmed.

In light of the current times, I have found that being in the yard not only reduces my anxiety levels, but it also connects me to the earth. I practice planting seeds of intention so that as my plants are sprouting, I am also manifesting. It’s a practice I believe we all can adopt.

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