Saturday, May 17, 2014

Our balcony garden pallet


The story of our balcony garden actually begins about a year ago.

For Mothers day of 2013, I asked Mr. River if he could get me just a few small herbs so that I could have an herb garden. The girls and I were doing a garden theme, so it also seemed like a good chance to teach them about herbs.

I also had a few plants I wanted to better organize. We have a nice balcony, but it was hard to find room for both plants and kids' toys that left enough space to actually sit (or play) out there and enjoy them. Planters just take up so much square footage, even though we had several hanging on the rail.

While looking at more vertical options, I came across a how-to guide on a vertical pallet garden. I was in love. Mr River was in love. The guide is here.

Our challenges during this process:

  • "finding a pallet" isn't actually that easy. Where we live, it is illegal to remove pallets from behind stores - that is their property and they have to pay to replace lost pallets (or so we were told by several store managers when we asked). The pallets are essentially recycled for shipping, so they aren't just free for the public to come take.
  • Even if we could just "find a pallet" I did not want one that had been treated. With small kids, pets, and herbs, I didn't need to be adding treated wood to the mix.

So Mr. River built me one :) It actually wasn't hard or expensive at all. He made the cuts and nailed it together in less than an hour. The plus side was that we were able to choose the wood and make it the exact size we wanted.  I even got to choose the spacing. here is where we were starting to line up the boards:

We then stapled burlap on the back, as it was far cheaper than other options at the hardware store and it seemed to be the best for drainage. 

The girls tested it for durability and helped us sand it down (since they would have a lot of contact with it and water it, I wanted it to have smooth edges):

And we painted the top of it and added the girls' handprints so that it would be extra personalized. this is probably my favorite aspect of my pallet - especially now that we have had it a year and I can see how tiny their hands were.

The girls were soooo excited to choose the plants for it and help plant it. We also planted many many seeds in little pods to later plant in it. Now, this was quite a startup cost compared to "just a few herbs." We had 10 open slots and 2 top slots to fill up! And my excitement over large lush plants meant we had left huge gaps between the slats... But it was absolutely worth it. We propped it up at an angle against our balcony wall and Mr. River secured it over the rail with an anchor so that we wouldn't have to worry about the girls pulling it down.

Some of the things that I absolutely love about my pallet garden: 
  • it makes for an absolutely beautiful wall. It makes for a great "atmosphere" for when we sit on the balcony with the girls, have summer dinners out there, or the girls play in their water table out there. When I'm sitting in the living room or the dining room and look outside, instead of a stucco balcony wall I see my garden.  it is lovely :)
  • It has a very small footprint. We do have it leaning against the balcony wall, so that added a bit more, but it still comes out maybe 14"? It isn't far at all. I get 6x the space for planting as 1 planter box's footprint. 
  • Again, a vertical garden is just beautiful. It is such a different aesthetic to have it go up rather than everything low to the ground.
  • It is the perfect height for the girls. I gave them the bottom three levels for their flowers and plants to take care of, and I put my herbs in the top two. Then we just added flowers up top.
  • It makes for a great backdrop for pictures :)

Lessons we have learned from it:
  • Setting it up is a bit tricky :) So after you plant the garden, I have seen some sites recommend letting it lay level for several weeks to let the roots take hold. We let it stay horizontal for a few days while we watered it just to make sure the soil was moist, but we weren't giving up our balcony for several weeks for the roots to take hold. Plus, keeping it at an angle, I think it didn't need to be quite as strong as if it were fully vertical.
  • Watering it is a bit tricky... being at an angle has made this a bit easier. But Mr. River wishes he'd put in or figured out some kind of pvc piping irrigation for it. We water the top then try to carefully water the front. But too much water and the dirt pours out, and you don't want to completely drown the plants at the bottom (keeping it at an angle also helps some of the water drain out the back rather than all go down to the bottom).  You also have to water it very regularly because if the dirt gets too dry, it just cascades out as you start to water :(
  • Burlap works out GREAT for drainage, but it is a bit more fragile than other options. It has been a year now and we need to replace the burlap. one tiny hole led to an entire layer falling out because the hole expanded within seconds!
  • Planting it means thinking a bit more than I usually do about water/sunlight needs. Our balcony has a half-roof, so the shading and sun on the pallet is different for the different sides. For the most part, the right side gets full sun and the left side gets "partial sun" (4-6 hours) a day. The plants up top, the watering was easy, but for the plants in the slots, it was taking into consideration that the ones at the bottom levels would definitely get more water just because of gravity. 

We had to replant the bottom left of the pallet after a month because we realized it just wasn't getting enough sun: 

We slowly added more plants as our seedlings grew and by mid-summer we had an amazing vertical garden. 

Our cat Thistle, though, seems to be a leaf eater and devoured the bottom two layers in just a few afternoons of being on the balcony. Baby Bear then pulled off several flowers in her curiosity. So by winter, the garden needed to be replanted. 

We have replanted it this past weekend and I will post the new garden in another post :) We have done succulents this year and are super excited to see how they come out!

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