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David Addis
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Reading, Berkshire, United Kingdom
Climate Zone:
Cool Temperate

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Urban Rooftop renewal Zone 0. Balcony Permaculture Towards Balcony Sustainability Despite Restrictions on Permanence Happy Food Farm Permaculture Farm @Tsingtao City U GROW
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A bit of Sun Envy

Posted by David Addis almost 7 years ago

I found myself yesterday looking enviously across at my neighbour's 2nd floor balcony. Late in the May afternoon the sun was still shining brightly and I could see the yellow marigolds (I think) in a window box enjoying the warmth of the sun and stretching their petals to get every drop of it. I think they even had a small contented smile on their faces. From where I stood the sun had dropped behind the large tree well over 2 hours ago, but not much higher up on the 2nd floor it was still in full blazing view.

I knew that there was a shady patch behind the flats and the large service tree, but I had naively assumed that we were all in it together. That we were all restricted to lettuces and kale, and had to forego the sun-loving tomatoes, courgettes and strawberries.  Now that the overcast skies were clearing for summer sun and blue, I was able to clearly learn more about my balcony and my neighbour's.

Once my initial envy had passed, I started to think about limiting factors.  At first I had thought of the shade as a limiting factor and felt restricted to only be able to grow certain plants.  For a moment, "If only that big tree wasn't there..." passed through my head and quickly out the other side as non-sensical.  Do I make large efforts to change the environment I'm in or do I just accept it and work with what I have?  How do we make these decisions? As I have no real intentions of getting a beautiful tree chopped down, I decided to embrace my situation and have tried a bit of both.

Firstly, I have built up and out with shelves and hanging bags. This not only increases my growing space, but I had noticed that, especially during the winter, the sun would hit first and stay longer higher up the wall. By being able to raise the plants to meet the sun, they now have a fewer extra hours of sunlight. I have grown outwards too away from the shade of the next floors balcony and am (trying to) grow tumbling tomatoes in bags that are hung out of the shelves to catch a bit more sun. The lack of sun though has meant that the seedlings are taking longer to mature.

Secondly, for the most part, I've resided to growing shade-tolerant plants. I have a 1ft x 1.5ft bed of kale, chard and radishes. They seem to be doing OK with just 2 hours of direct sunlight. Possibly a little smalller than hoped with thin leaves, but this might be due to the density rather than the hours of sun.  (I've been a little slow to harvest the radishes before they shade out the new chard even more.)  I also have a few troughs of mixed lettuce leaves which are not dense enough.  I've also planted broad beans that are growing well and are placed in the sunniest corner of the balcony to make the most of it.  I've been careful to ensure that they don't shade out any other plants and happily watch the bumble bees float between the bean's flowers and the violas at their base.

Thirdly, I have seen this a chance to develop my community a bit. I imagine my neighbour looking longingly at my sheltered garden wishing he had less sun, wind and rain battering his balcony and dreaming of kale and lettuce, rather than juicy cherry tomatoes... It's unlikely, but it started me thinking about the different microclimates that each balcony might have and the potential for collaboration and sharing if we make use of these rather than restricting ourselves to our individual plots.  In June we will hold a community lunch and I hope to begin discussion on growing on the balconies and get people inspired to try growing some of their own.

Until then, I will continue to work with what I have and try to not be envious of my neighbours enjoying a beer in the sun and instead maybe wander over to join them. :)

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My Permaculture Qualifications
Social Landscapes PDC
Type: Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) course
Teacher: Michel Thill
Location: London
Date: Apr 2017

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