Three challenges and three tips for growing vegetables on a balcony

Obligacion grows Thai and sweet varieties of basil on her balcony. She has recently been harvesting basil leaves every two weeks. (Photo courtesy of Nicole Obligacion)

By Vina Medenilla 

Nicole Obligacion, 30, is an urban gardener in a condominium with an L-shaped balcony measuring 36 feet long and two feet wide. She does not only tend ornamentals, but also focuses on growing food in pots and raised garden beds. 

In the first part of this series, you’ll know the story behind the creation of Obligacion’s garden and the methods she practices in balcony gardening.

Here, you’ll get to know a few challenges that Obligacion has encountered throughout her gardening journey:

  • Planting crops in the wrong season

One of the difficulties in her early years of gardening is being unaware of the plants’ season. This has led to some failed crops caused by weather that mismatched the crops’ needs. She shared, “My watermelon plant did not survive because I grew the plant during the rainy season.” As she progressed, she was able to distinguish which veggies survive and thrive best in certain seasons and which of them are not. 

  • Pests

When she started gardening, Obligacion admitted that she didn’t know much about garden pests. This year became an eye-opener for her when she experienced terrible pest issues. She says, “Each encounter motivated me to do my research on how to prevent them and help the plants recover. Now, I am more conscious and intentional in maintaining the health of my plants through natural methods.”

  • One-time harvest

This year has been full of lessons for this gardener. “It was only this year that I started to apply succession sowing, where I sow seeds almost every month, so I can have a more consistent harvest throughout the year.” This practice, as per Obligacion, is something that she has failed to carry out before hence, she’s currently aiming to apply it in her garden. At present, she performs this succession planting method for plants like ginger, kangkong, pechay, and basil.

This gardener applies the “cut and come again” method on her young pechay plants. Instead of uprooting the whole plant, she snips off their outer leaves for the development of more leaves.

Lessons obtained in the garden

As a long time gardener, she often hears the comment, “Buti ka pa, may green thumb. Ako kasi, wala eh.” For Obligacion, she believes that anyone can have a green thumb and can garden regardless of status. To encourage others, she has created Instagram and Facebook pages named “Anyone Can Garden” where she shows the highlights of her gardening story that is not limited to setbacks and gardening problems. Here are some lessons that she wants others to know:

  • Resourcefulness despite starting from scratch 

Despite having zero knowledge of growing plants, it will only need patience, perseverance, discipline, and research for you to achieve your garden dreams. Obligacion says beginners can start with herbs like basil and once they gather enough experience and wisdom, that’s when they can cultivate difficult crops. 

Obligacion’s dream is to have her own farm and orchard. Through the resources that she currently has, she uses them to develop her skills, knowledge, and abilities, which she believes will be a stepping stone for her to expand into a larger scale. 

Despite her condo’s limited space, she says, “I realized that it is possible to grow a variety of crops. I’ve been growing sweet corn for a few years now, which is not the usual crop you’ll see on a balcony. I’m also growing garlic, ginger, and peanuts now.” She makes it possible through careful research and planning. When it comes to resourcefulness, she shared that she has repurposed an old dog cage cover into a vertical rack where she now grows some of her veggies. 

  • Study plants the grow in your area

Choose plants that grow well in your garden. Do not just plant crops that you only want to raise, unless they’re suitable for your environment. Give your plants enough sunlight, too. Most vegetables grow with at least six to eight hours of sun exposure. So to know which plants pass on your list, check each of their growing needs beforehand.

Big okra leaves: Obligacion uses okra to shade other leafy greens that don’t really need a full day exposure to the sun like lettuce and spinach.

  • Grow and share with your community

“Even the best gardeners in the world experience failures, dying plants, bad infestations, wonky vegetables, and many more,” says Obligacion. So take heart, turn failures to your advantage, and share your experience with the people around you. 


With or without a background in planting, gardening is surely for everyone. 


Photos courtesy of Nicole Obligacion. 

For more information, visit Anyone Can Garden.

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Vina Medenilla
Vina Medenilla is a content producer for Agriculture Monthly magazine. She is a graduate from Miriam College with a bachelor’s degree in Communication. Fashion, photography, and travel are some of the things she loves. For her, connection with nature is essential to one’s life.

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