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Summer Balcony Garden 2013

Like most folks around here, we got a late start on our summer garden this year. Because of late cold weather and the impending threat of hail everyday for two weeks in May, we didn’t plant until Memorial Day. (Usually I shoot for Mother’s day at the latest.) So this year’s garden is a little smaller than it usually is by this time.

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The other thing that’s different about this year, is that we have Minerva, who has been attempting to escape from our second floor balcony ever since it got warm enough to go outside. Minerva loves to be out on the balcony. It is her own little jungle, and we have done our best to make this year’s garden a safe and friendly place for the cat to be.

glassbottlebarrier
First step was to create barriers so she could not actually jump off the railing. Here, we collected glass jugs filled with water so she couldn’t jump up on this side. This also doubles as a way to warm the water we give the plants with sunlight.

catgarden
Next was to further secure our usual trellis. Instead of tying it to the inside of railing, this year it is tied to the outside so Minerva can sit on the railing securely without the possibility of losing her balance. (She has grown more graceful in the last few months, but she is still a kitten, and sometime pretty clumsy.) You can see the old scrap wood Brock reinforced the trellis with and the scrap yarn used to block the holes at the railing, because she can fit through the trellis there. Of course, we also gave her a high seat for bird and people watching.

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All of the world, as far as she can see, is hers.

catthronebirdwatching
There is just as much to watch on the balcony.

spideplantbirdhabitat
Until yesterday, we had a clutch of baby birds living in this spider plant. She was very keen to catch them, and catch them she did. Two out of four got away safely, one we got away from her before she was able to do any damage, but she did get one before we realized they were leaving the nest, and the poor thing didn’t make it. She was also very upset when we took it away from her.

catthrone
Under Minerva’s throne, we planted the cucumbers, which are growing vigorously.

cucumberstarts
They are wearing little cup braces until the get rooted enough that Minerva can’t overturn them when she stalks through that container. Last year, we only got one cucumber before the heat shriveled up our vine. This year, I planted six plants in the hope that we get at least six cucumbers.

sadpotatoes
The potatoes, which are next to the shelf, have not been so lucky. The potato bag has been a favorite place to bird watch, and I’m fairly certainly Minerva could care less about trampling potatoes. (I also planted them very late, so I didn’t expect much from them, but thought I might as well give it a shot since I had them.)

eggplantandsanmarzano
Next to the shelf, on the garden table, we have our paste tomato plant on the right and our Japanese eggplant on the left. Last year we had great luck with eggplant, so I put it in exactly the same place this year. (Some spider plant starts are in the pot. We’ve got a ton if anybody wants any.)

pepper
While I only have this horrendous picture of it, I am trying my luck with a pepper plant this year. I have never done peppers before. This is a tobasco pepper, and I’m hoping to make my own version of tobasco sauce at the end of the season.

brandywineandmortgagelifter
Two more tomato plants. Brandywine on the left and Mortgage Lifters on the right. For awhile, I didn’t think the Mortgage Lifter was going to make it, but in the last few days, it has taken off so quickly I can’t seem to keep up with pruning the bottom branches. You can also see our basil in the little terracotta pot. I harvested a bunch last night for the pasta I made, so it looks a bit wimpy this morning.

sage
We also planted some sage for the first time this year. It’s tasty.

mint
Athrun’s mint is threatening to overrun it’s pot. I need to harvest some and dry it for tea. Mostly, we just munch on the leaves occasionally.

summerbalconygarden2013
I am excited to see what sort yield we get from these plants. I am so ready for fresh tomatoes, I can’t wait to be up to my eyeballs in them!

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2013 Balcony Garden

The balcony garden is officially started. Not everything is planted yet, nor do we even have all of our seeds or seedlings, but we got the balcony fully de-winterized this weekend and a bunch of stuff planted. It’s only a matter of time before we are resting cool behind our food-bearing wall-o-green ™.

sugarsnappeas2013
First, the peas I planted a few weeks have finally started to come up. I swear they have grown three inches since Saturday. (You’ll also notice that we are using Hefty bags instead of Earthbox approved mulch covers. As much as I love my Earthboxes, I am not paying $15 a mulch cover for every planting when a garbage bag and duct tape serves the same purpose. We used this method last year as well.)

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These are summer seedlings, and will likely live inside another month before they get Earthboxed.

basilseedling

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Our herbs so far are basil, mint (for Athrun), and sage. Has anyone ever had luck with oregano? It has never grown enough for me to do much with. What are your favorite herbs to grow?

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Vegetables, etc.

Though I have had the garden planted for a few days, yesterday we finally got the balcony organized so all the plants received their optimum levels of sunlight.

All of the Earth Boxes are up front with tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, and cucumber. Then we have basil, rosemary, oregano, and mint spread around the balcony in pots (and a bunch of mini basils that need to be repotted asap).
When you buy an Earth Box, it comes with plastic mulching covers that fit over the box. Last year, we used these, but the holes we had to cut in them to get them over our seedlings still left room for squirrels to dig at our roots and pigeons to root around in the dirt after the squirrels had gone. This year, instead of investing in new covers, I went ahead and planted to boxes as per usual, then Brock duct taped trash bags over them. It seems to be working so far, as all of our plants have doubled in size (and it was a lot cheaper!) And yes, those are old vitamin jars over the watering tube–to help prevent evaporation.

I am overwhelmed with joy every time I check in on my potato bags.

I can’t wait for new potatoes!

Today’s garden tasks include:
Repotting tiny basil seedlings
Adding more dirt to my runaway potatoes
Harvesting some of the giant rosemary plant for drying and then repotting it to promote growth

And just for fun, a look at what I can’t grow.

All of this (except the big chopped onion, which came from the grocery store) was out of last week’s veggie bag. Carrots, peas, turnips, radishes, and green onion all went into last night’s dinner. (The turnips are really good this year!)

Some day, I will grow all of these too.

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Garden Update


Basil ready for transplanting.

I have been a bad gardener so far this season. Most of the seedlings Athrun and I planted failed, mostly because I couldn’t afford the soil to transplant them soon enough. I can’t take all the blame though, the weather has been so wishy washy that we have had random freezes, even with days regularly in the 90s since March. One pour squash plant was decapitated by an errant yo-yo. Things happen, and there is still time to start over.

Last night I went to the hardware store and bought a whole heap o dirt. I mean, during this time of year, I am sure it’s not uncommon for someone to buy 4 bags of 2 cubic feet of potting soil, or even more. I do think it is probably unusual for someone to ask for it to be loaded in the back seat of a Ford Escort instead of the bed of pick up truck (at least there was no kid in the car seat is all I am saying because there was no room back there for anything but dirt.)

And, I am pretty sure my neighbors thought I was crazy, hauling that much soil up into my apartment. They know how small the apartments here are. Where would you keep that much dirt? What would you do with it?


I am keeping my mounds of neatly bagged soil on the balcony–along my garden table (folded for now), a blanket for low temperature nights, a chair for convenience (you can see a leg off to the left) and these:


That my friends is what I am now christening a potato bag. It looks to be tarp sewn in a cylinder with two little velcro flaps on the side and some drainage holes in the bottom. I got two for $14.99, which looking at the materials out of the package, seems to me a little steep. However, I have never grown potatoes before, so what do I know?

Over the winter we had some organic potatoes sprout before they could be eaten. I kept them in the window all winter long and they were growing very well off their own tuber energy. Last night I planted six of them in the potato bags.


Some alien-looking potato sprouts.

I followed the instructions on the package for the planter, with a little bit of wisdom from the Vegetable Gardener’s Bible (which is due back at the library tomorrow and makes me sad.) With any luck, we’ll have our own crop of potatoes this year.

I’ll be planting the Earth Boxes this weekend with tomatoes, cucumber, zucchini, and one box will be dedicated to whatever Athrun wants to plant. Probably something impractical that he won’t eat, but you never know.

I loved getting my hands in the dirt again, even if it was bagged potting soil.

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Seedlings at Four Weeks

Athrun and I planted this years seedlings four weeks ago. I know it was a bit early for pretty much everything but the peas, but we’ve been having fun tending them. Since we have very limited space for planting, we only seeded one flat worth of vegetables for the year. We had 100% germination for every variety of plant except peas. Now, I have up to five seedlings when I really only have room one or two plants out of each variety. Some of the seedlings were getting so large that I have already put them in larger pots (I’m looking at you squash and cucumber). They seem to be thriving, I just hope they survive the move from pot to earth box. There is also the secret hope that I can somehow find room all of the seedlings to grown out on the balcony. Of course, then I have to contend with whether I will be able to get out there and water everything.


The start of this year’s yellow squash.


A jolly cucumber seedling. Last year, we were giving cucumbers away with only one giant plant. This year I have plans for at least two giant plants. The cucumber plant also kept producing through the six weeks we had at 100+ degrees when the tomatoes took a break.

My tomato seedlings are still rather small, therefore not pictured. I waited too long to thin them out. They are doing well, but they look small compared to the rest of the giant seedlings in the tray. (Also not pictured are peas, which are already outside and doing pretty well. Maybe because I am covering them with a blanket at night.)


I have to say that if it hadn’t been for Athrun, I probably wouldn’t have tried to go sunflowers in containers. Sunflowers are so lovely in the summer, and they can really be good bug deterrents, but they are just so darn big. Plus, flowers aren’t food. But, like every year, the balcony garden is one great big experiment. Imagining a row of giant sunflowers on my balcony in late summer gives me enough joy to try it out, even if it doesn’t happen.

And now for the plants that will likely prove the biggest container garden challenge.


This my friends is a cheerful little watermelon seedling. One of five cheerful little seedling full of sweet, refreshing, mouthwatering mid-summer potential. This little watermelon seedling is mocking me. It’s daring me to plant it in an earth box and train its vines to grow up while training it’s fruits to grow down. This will test my limits as a new gardener. This plant is telling me that it wants to grow and thrive, but if I don’t take care if just right it will mock me unceasingly until I can afford a house with a yard.

I saved my favorite seedling for last.

The pumpkins. I know I shouldn’t play favorites, but look at this gigantic plant!

When Athrun and I planted the tray a month ago, we opened our little packet of organic pumpkin seeds and there were three–THREE!–seeds inside. We both felt as though the seed company had pulled one over on us. I mean, have you ever pulled seeds out of pumpkin? There are only about a million! And here we had paid $3 for three seeds. We made little soil mounds in the box and planted our three seeds. And then waited. All the other seedlings were bouncing up out of the soil. We had a veritable tomato sprout forest (which I used a magnifying glass to thin), and the peas were getting too tall for our plant shelf.

Then, one week ago something started to pop out of the row marked “pumpkin”. It has been ONE WEEK since the pumpkins germinated. All three seeds are up and growing strong. These seedlings are just defiant. Unlike the watermelon, these guys are saying to me, “I am going to go grow no matter what you do to me.” And I can get behind that kind of attitude in a plant.

So far, everything but the peas are growing in the balcony window on a wire shelf. I need to prune my basil plant and chuck the oregano and start over. Athrun’s mint plant is full of new leaves, but needs a little cleaning up after the winter. The hardware store down the street had started setting up its garden center in the parking lot. That means it’s just about time to grab giant bags of potting soil and some fertilizer and replant the earth boxes, even if I have to move them in and out for a couple weeks. (Then I can also direct seed some spinach!) The trellis needs to go back up, because it’s been rolled up in the corner of the balcony all winter and it’s really starting to look sloppy to me. I want my clean, green balcony back.

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A Little Garden

I was feeling optimistic on Sunday about the springy weather we’ve been having all winter. I began thinking that surely, in six weeks, it should be warm enough to get this year’s little balcony garden planted. Part of me was thinking about how last year I waited until the final frost date to put out my seedlings and the peas were roasted before they even had a chance and the tomatoes had only just started to blossom when the month full of 100+ degree days set in and we didn’t get any tomatoes until September. Part of me was thinking about how much I miss fresh produce. The CSA should start up again in April(!), and we should be once again rolling in spinach and spring greens, but there is nothing quite like going outside in the morning and picking a cucumber for your breakfast.

With all that in mind, Athrun and I went to the local hardware store to pick up a seed starting kit and some seeds. I bought vine cucumbers and two types of indeterminate tomatoes, which despite the heat, we had great luck with last year. We bought more peas (Athrun’s favorite to plant and harvest), in hopes that they make it past seedling stage. Since we had such great luck with cucumbers last year, I thought we should give squash a go. I am also going to try some greens (probably spinach because I really do eat it everyday) that I will direct seed when I put everything else out. I have a potato shriveling up in the window I am determined to find a way to grow on my balcony. (I am thinking something like this might work.)

Then I have the seeds I bought for Athrun: pumpkins, watermelons, and sunflowers.

Now, I am not adverse to growing any of these things. If I had a yard, my list of vegetables and herbs would be much larger. However, all the growing space I currently have is a 12×4 south-facing balcony, three earth boxes and various other planters. We have some established basil, oregano and mint, plus the usual suspects like ancient spider plants that need to be re-potted and a couple flowers. I think I have a strategy for attempting to grow all this food. I am not sure if I have physical space for the additional planters I am going to need, but I don’t think that is going to stop me. If worse comes to worse I’ll move the indoor plant shelf outdoors.

The garden is going to be one great big experiment this year, but it’s going to be fun. And, if I can get my kid interested in growing things himself by growing some of the stuff he likes, all the better.

As of this morning, I have some cucumber germination and will not be deterred by the fact that it might snow later. (They have promised it many times, but by now I am thinking snow is not for us this year.) To pass the time, I am going to attempt to seam up my Vignette cardigan. I am in love with the chocolate brown super soft yarn, but it’s rather dark and difficult to see when the sun doesn’t come up.