Feeding Your Soul with a Balcony Garden

Children in primary school always ask each other about their pets. I remember telling a few people who asked me that I had pet bees. At the time I mustn’t have realised that there’s a difference between keeping pets and animal husbandry. Beehives are for honey, and you don’t get any affection from the bees (actually you occasionally get stung by them). They don’t really count as pets, which explains the puzzled expressions I got when I described them that way. Later on in my childhood I did have some proper pets. The guinea pigs were so boring they were given back to their previous owner, but our tame cockatiel was a delightful little fellow. He liked to share salty biscuits with you, and have his neck scratched.

The animals I keep now are back in the category of useful animals, although I like to think of them as pets. You’ve already heard about my worm farm, and I must admit that worms are not really pets. They’re efficient, but they aren’t affectionate. On the up side, they provide me with a great way of getting rid of all my veggie scraps, and they’re producing a wonderful liquid fertiliser for my balcony garden. They help put my food waste back into my food production cycle. My other pets are more tenuously connected to this food chain. They’re a pair of goldfish.


Now what have goldfish got to do with growing vegetables? I hear you ask. They’re actually another source of liquid fertiliser. Fish produce nitrogen which they release into the water, and the algae in their little pond is another source of nutrients. If I scoop pond water onto my plants, this is richer food for them than tap water. The fish are serving another purpose too. They eat mosquito larvae. I have to admit that I didn’t buy the fish solely as a clever way to produce fertiliser. The main reason I have the fish pond is so that I can grow a water lily.


Even in the tight confines of my balcony I can’t bring myself to grow only edible plants. I need to feed my soul as well as my body, and that’s why a few flowers sneak into my pots. The flowers are rationed though. At the moment I have the water lily and I’m about to plant some bluebells that Alloronan gave to me. Like the bluebells, lots of the plants I grow have come from friends. You get the same warm feeling when you share your garden as you do when you bake a cake for a friend. You don’t have to stop at sharing produce either, you can share the plants themselves.


Lots of herbs will grow from cutting. Oregano is a wonderfully tough one. My cousin ripped some oregano up from between his pavers for me, and it’s now potted on my balcony. It’s great in pasta sauces, when you want something stronger than basil. Mint is another tough herb. My mint is a cutting from Alloronan, and it makes good tea and adds freshness to salads. It is sharing a pot with the flat leafed parsley I sprouted from her seeds and some baby onions (offspring of her grown up onions).


Herbs are great for balconies, because you can pick and eat them whenever you like. There’s no waiting for the harvest. This actually goes for the onion family too, because you can use the leaves just like shallots or garlic chives. A friendly vegetable stall holder at Eveleigh told me last week to do that with her last-of-the-season garlic. I’m looking forward to the garlic tops when I run out of cloves, since I don’t want to buy bleached imported garlic if I can avoid it.


I try to grow vegetables as well as herbs, even in the small space. I’ll save what I’m planting now for another post, but in the meantime I’m just starting to eat my cos lettuce and silverbeet. Home grown veggies definitely taste better, although maybe they’re just flavoured with pride.

14 thoughts on “Feeding Your Soul with a Balcony Garden

  1. Very nice write up, I find it inspiring that most things you grow and breed has it’s purpose in terms of benefiting our environment.

    Oh and isn’t it true that every thing we grow tastes better ? It could be pride, but could also be the hidden farmer in us all šŸ™‚

  2. What a fantastic idea to use your goldfish to help you produce fertiliser! I’ve been dying to start up a herb garden on my balcony but I keep putting it off, you are inspiring me to get off my lazy bum! Thanks for the tips, great post šŸ™‚

  3. I couldn’t agree with you more about home grown vegetables tasting better because they’re flavored with pride. šŸ™‚ I can’t say I have a green thumbs, but I sure love gardening even if it’s just herbs grown in my electronic countertop hydroponic indoor garden (a necessity in the winter in Chicago).

    Now about pet worms … I used to have a pet caterpillar when I was a kid. I put him (?) in a basket and took him to school with me everyday. Edward never really showed any affection, but I’d like to think we were buddies up until the day he died a tragic death (he crawled out of the basket and I accidentally sat on him).

  4. Your herbs and vegetables look so healthy and green! I feel ashamed and bewildered when I look at our own efforts (I say our because I believe my bf should share the blame). We recently killed one of our climbing jasmine plants. I know, we suck. Our rosemary is growing well though. That’s something i guess.

  5. Arwen, this is such a lovely post. You are certainly making the most your balcony & I think it’s wonderful you are raising fauna as well as flora. I agree, we need pretty as well as practical in our gardens. Your greens look so healthy. I think more than gardener’s pride goes into them — more like two green thumbs plus nourishing soil and plenty of hard work.

    What a beautiful photo of your water lily. Very tranquil.

  6. It looks like your balcony gets a lot of sun – lucky you (our balcony didn’t get much at all šŸ˜¦ .
    Your water lily looks so pretty, it’s great you can fit fish and worms on your balcony – can’t wait to see what happens when you get a yard šŸ˜›

  7. Oh I wish I had green thumbs instead of brown! I used to have a pond filled with 30 goldfish (only 1 left now) and I cleaned it by scooping out the gunk and putting on the garden. It really worked, even on the couple of liriopes. Your herbs and waterlily are gorgeous.

  8. I can’t wait to have a garden. Just a few months away from moving house and a garden is on my list of “non-negotiables.” We’ve thought about raising chickens or bees, but never thought about fish! I’m not sure how they’d do in the English weather, though. =)

  9. Hi Howard – I like the idea of a hidden farmer inside. It would explain why gardening is so much fun.

    Hi Steph – herbs are a good one for being a bit lazy, especially when it’s cool and they don’t need much water.

    Hi Leela – sounds like your caterpillar was a good pet, especially since he could go to school with you. It’s a shame he met a sad end.

    Hi Forager – it’s a shame about the jasmine, but good that you’re rosemary is going well. It’s lucky the edible one survived šŸ™‚

    Hi Lorraine – there’s certainly a scale of greenness of thumb. My granny has the greenest ever, and is always assuring me things will grow if I stick them in. I have a less than 50% success rate on cuttings she gives me though. Hopefully it improves with practice and we’ll all be great gardeners when we’re old.

    Hi Elaine – pretty as well as practical is much more fun, and I think you need fun when you’re gardening (and in most aspects of life really).

    Hi Alexandra – tropical gives you some exciting plants to grow. You could grow a vanilla orchid! I hear it’s hard to get them to pollinate, but there’s a real cool factor in a plant like that.

    Hi Anita – I can’t wait to have a whole yard to play with. I want fruit trees, but I’ll have to wait. I was jealous to hear you’ve got a lemonade tree.

    Hi Maria – goldfish are famously boring, but they have their uses. They’re nice and tough to survive in a pond too.

    Hi Belle – wow 30 goldfish! You must have had the healthiest liriopes around.

    Hi Monica – it will be so exciting for you getting a new garden. I hope you can have chooks. It would be just great to have fresh eggs!

  10. Your herbs look WAY better than mine…love how much TLC you’ve put into yours. WOW!! My oregano & thyme are barely surviving because of the harsh high temperatures here. I got the seeds from Sydney…but the poor herbs are so sad. The only thing flourishing is mint. Must be the native nature of the herb!

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