Condo Plants in September

(Question)

Hi there. I and two friends will be moving into a downtown condo this September until April of 2020. We have a large balcony that faces approximately northwest, so it would get most of its sunlight during late afternoon to evening.

We are interested in growing some plants we can use in cooking, such as herbs, onions, garlic, and so on. We have been trying to look up plants that can still grow when the weather gets colder, and these are some of the ones we found.

Would you say these are good crops to grow, and are there other common vegetables you would recommend for us to grow in our circumstances?

(Answer)

It is always great to have fresh herbs and vegetables at your fingertips. Unfortunately, if you were hoping to grow these plants outdoors on your new balcony over the fall and winter, you won’t have much luck. While many perennial herbs and vegetables will survive our Toronto winter, they will be in their dormant stage and won’t be producing their leafy greens or fruits. The good news is that you can still grow many herbs and some vegetables successfully indoors.

Given your northwest exposure, you will likely need some supplemental lighting. Most herbs and vegetable will need a minimum of six to eight hours of light per day. Toronto’s shorter winter days mean that the sun will be quite low or even set by the time your condo gets exposure. You will likely need to invest in some grow lights. There are range of grow lights available on the market, including fluorescent and LED, both of which are quite energy efficient. Be sure to choose lights that are meant for growing plants or indicate that they are full spectrum. Your grow lights should be on for 10 to 12 hours per day in order to get their daily sunlight equivalent.

Use containers with good drainage. Choose a soilless potting mixture as a growing medium to avoid transporting insects and disease from outdoor soil. Many potting mixes have added nutrients, so you won’t need supplementary fertilizer. Ask the staff at reputable nursey to recommend a growing medium for growing herbs and vegetables indoors.

There are also now a variety of growing kits on the market that include lighting, containers, growing medium, and sometimes even include seeds. While a bit more costly than a do-it-yourself set up, these kits make easy to get started with indoor gardening.

You can grow your plants from seed, or you may be able to find some potted herbs and vegetables available at nurseries in late August and early September.  Here is a link to the Toronto Master Gardeners Garden Guide on starting plans from seed. It contains lots of useful information and tips to successfully start seeds.

There are several options for your indoor garden. Many herbs do very well indoors, including basil, chives, thyme, mint, and cilantro. Leafy greens are also good choice, such as leaf lettuce, spinach and arugula. Its even possible to grow carrots and radishes, although you will need to make sure that your containers are deep enough to accommodate the root vegetable. It is also possible to grow small tomatoes indoors, but be sure to select smaller determinate varieties. Note that tomatoes can be a bit of a challenge as they tend to prefer a temperature of around 26 degree Celsius in order to set their fruit – which might be a bit warm for your home.

Good luck with your indoor garden!