Spring is here and as always, I am so excited to get out and grow things! We’ve had unnaturally warm and sunny weather in the past few weeks and the balcony is already coming alive – sorry US readers, I’m just telling it how it is. We had the never ending winter last year!
My seed order has arrived and I’ve started most of them. This year I will be growing tomatoes (a personal variety from a friend of a friend’s garden in Spain), peppers, lots of salads, sugar snap peas, spinach and kale. That’s the plan anyway. The hardy herbs, mints and strawberries are waking up from their winter sleep too.
New on the list this year are flowers, I will be trying violets, nasturtiums and snapdragons to brighten up our little space. The calendula seeds I mixed in here and there last year have survived the winter and this little guy was the first splash of color to surprise us a week ago.
To start seeds I have three ‘classes’ of plants: Some are started indoors and kept inside until the end of May. These are the delicate tomatoes and peppers as well as some flowers. I have set up my DIY light box again, which has served me very well in past years.
There’s also a little poly greenhouse on the balcony (just a shelf with foil cover) which acts as a cold frame where I grow the salads, kale and some flowers. Others such as the peas and spinach can be started our in the open directly.
There’ll be updates on this little balcony garden frequently throughout the growing season.
What are you growing this year?
So, my mood has increased exponentially in the last few days because it is actually, finally, spring around here! Warm wind, sunshine and the earthy smell of nature waking up.
All the better because I had a day off today and spent a wonderfully relaxing morning on the balcony, soaking up sunshine and the “Call the midwife” series by Jennifer Worth (SO good). I literally feel like a new person, and this even though I spent all day Sunday scratching old wallpaper off the walls of a friend’s new house and should logically feel tired and sore today.
The balcony is coming to life with a few flowers I picked up at the nursery and the sight of them cheers me up no end. Some tomato and pepper seedlings are thriving indoors in my trusty light box. I can’t wait for nature to really take off this year!
Ok, here’s something I meant to blog about last year but never got around to: Ever since coming across vermicomposting on a stay in Canada four years ago I had been meaning to try it. So well over a year ago, despite all funny looks of our friends and relatives (vermicomposting is virtually unknown here) we set up a worm bin and bought a few small red worms at a nearby fishing shop, crossing our fingers they’d be the right type of worm.
I started off well, feeding them reguarly with heaps of kitchen scraps and wet newspaper. And then…I kind of forgot about them. I guess there is no excuse for neglecting animals in your care, even if they are only worms but there you go. The bin was in a hard to reach area and out of sight and the worms didn’t exactly complain about being hungry. The box never started to smell and it just sat there, through summer and fall and winter until I mustered up the courage to open it this weekend and take a peek.
Well, you can all breathe a sigh of relief if you were feeling sorry for the worms because I am happy to report they are alive and well and in the course of a year have reduced a full box of kitchen scraps to this:
Wonderful, rich compost which my tomatoes and peppers will love (and they’re still working on the egg shells apparently)! Awesome job, wormies, and I promise to feed you again and not forget you for another year!
The first local strawberries of the year, bought at today’s farmer’s market.
I had a craving for chocolate covered strawberries, so we made chocolate fondue and enjoyed every bite.
I’ve been busy potting and transplanting plants on my balcony, where finally there is some growth. My own strawberries will be carrying fruit soon:
These are conventional strawberries but just today my mom gave me some wild strawberry plants from her garden. I love the special taste of wild strawberries and it will be interesting to see how well they do in a container compaired to the ordinary ones.
There’s also mint, which I love…I cannot wait to have fresh mint tea and alongside my trusty and aromatic italian mint I bought some chocolate and orange mint this year. I’m also trying out some new (to me) plants like Anise Hyssop and Monarda this year.
In addition to the peppers and tomatoes, who are being hardened off this weekend, I’m growning some regional veggies like kohlrabi and broccoli this year.
Aside from having homegrown food to eat, getting my hands dirty planting and growing things in the fresh wind is just the kind of work that keeps me healthy and happy, when too much computer work has made me antsy.
Not that I don’t like my computer work…I’m happy with my photo editing and blogreading and such, as long as I can balance it with physical work.
And to change the topic completely onto something computer related: Now that I own a camera that can do video and after being involved in some video projects at work and with friends, I’m completely excited to try making and editing videos. I’ve spent a couple of hours trying out the function as well as editing the video in Photoshop (yes, you can actually edit video files in Photoshop!) and researching cutting software. Turns out there’s no freeware out there which works with the kind of files my camera produces (bummer!) so I’ll probably need to buy software for cutting. I’ll keep y’all updated…expect some cat and pony videos as my first tries 🙂
Though I haven’t talked about it in detail yet, I have started quite a few seeds indoors again for the coming balcony gardening season. Seeing as I started a bit late last year, I made sure to be early this spring.
Our new balcony is huge, but faces southeast instead of southwest, so time will tell if the sun hungry veggie plants will be ok with that.
I’ve sown some hardy seeds in the containers outdoors already…lots of mints, some kohlrabi, lettuce, peas and such. We’ve been having a very cold spring so far though, so nothing much to show for it yet.
But indoors! Hard to believe that in only a few weeks my tiny, fragile pepper seedlings have grown from this:
As you can see, they’ve outgrown their light box already, so I am now keeping them near our sunniest window until it is warm enough to move them outside in the day.
The light box has again worked great.
I ordered a special sort of pepper this year, called Pimientos de Padron. They are small green peppers which are tossed in a pan with olive oil briefly and then sprinkled with coarse sea salt and eaten as Tapas in Spain. I love them and hope they will grow well. There’s also a few tomato plants again and I will be sowing broccoli and zucchini later this month.
I’ll try and update throughout the season again and I am already getting very excited to grow and harvest 🙂
Other than that, I am insanely busy and my weekend at the sea feels so far away already. There’s a new post on my photo blog with more beach portraits and a couple of projects are going on at the same time. I’m still sewing whenever I get the chance, but haven’t made time for photos yet. Might as well add that there’s some not so happy stuff…an aunt of mine died last weekend after a long illness and we’re alternating between being sad and feeling relieved that she is no longer suffering.
Sometimes a single day holds so many different emotions it makes me dizzy.
Click here for part 1 and part 2.
A lot has been happening on my balcony so I figured you all deserve a little update. This is the view from the door. You’ll see the greenhouses have moved to the other side of the balcony to serve as a rain protection for the tomatoes and catch as much sun as possible.
All of my seedlings have been in their final pots since the beginning of the month (I did have to cover them up a cold night or two). The tomatoes are doing wonderfully, they have grown big and sturdy and I am expecting flowers any day now. In with the tomatoes and peppers grow basil (three types), cilantro, arugula and calendula.
The zucchini and cucumbers are growing at such speed, they double in size by the week (they have doubled again since taking this picture a couple of days ago!). I have mizuna growing with them in some containers.
The view from the greenhouses towards the door.
The space formerly occupied by the greenhouses now hosts raspberries, more pots of strawberries, a lone cranberry plant, mint, lemon, balm, spinach, chives, brussels sprouts, chamomile, lots of salad and a container with sugar snap peas and parsley.
I must admit I did go a bit overboard with the lettuce. We have much more than we can actually consume (seeing as the boyfriend and I both work full time and eat most meals away from home during the week).
The beans are covered with flowers and we are waiting to eat the first sugar snap peas! Anyone know when they are ready to eat once they appear?
And one last shot from the first parsley I’ve ever grown. We only know the curly variety here but this is italian flat-leaved parsley and it has a wonderful, very intense flavor, yum!
All this planning and experimenting has turned out better than my wildest dreams, you really can eat off a balcony very well!
See you with another update once the first veggies are ready for harvest.
*Click here for part 1*
Ok, so far I’ve only shown bits and pieces of my plants, but by now the balcony is looking quite nice so I think it’s time for an overall look.
Here it is, this is the view from the door looking out onto our balcony:
The flower boxes hold strawberries which are just now starting to bloom. In the far end corner by the chair you can see the raspberry plant and the pots underneath the flower boxes hold beans and peas or are waiting for their tomatoes and peppers (they also hold basil and parsley and calendula and bunching onions which had to go in already).
This is the view standing in the corner by the raspberry, looking toward the door and the two greenhouses:
The little wooden box and the small ladder were both thrift store finds. I had actually been looking for something like it for a while and was thrilled to find these! They hold the herbs, which will need to go back into the greenhouse should the nights get colder again. But for now I think they just look so pretty here:
Ok, so much for a general overview, back to the seedlings I’ve been fussing over for the last couple of weeks.
The tomatoes and peppers and cucumbers went out into the greenhouse permanently a week ago and yesterday I transplanted them to larger newspaper pots (look how small the first pots are looking in comparison, it was high time!). I will also need to start fertilizing now.
I hope they continue to do well, at this stage I would honestly be crushed should they die on me. The seedlings get the sunny top shelf in the greenhouses:
The top shelf in the other greenhouse is taken up by all my experiments with starting seeds directly in the greenhouse or sprouting inside and then transferring them outside (I went a little wild experimenting after I got the greenhouses). I was so scared that my first attempt would fail and now pretty much everything has sprouted and is growing and I will have so many plants to give away to friends!
And to really make you tired of seeing baby plant pics, here’s the week by week on the indoor seedlings:
Also, last but not least, the lettuce is also thriving, so much that I really need to thin it (and I can even eat the thinnings as baby lettuce, so nothing goes to waste!):
Ok, this was a marathon post, next ones will be shorter again, promise 😉
I am happy to report that the seedlings in my light box are doing very well! So far everything except one pepper varieties has sprouted and most seedlings are just getting their first set of true leaves. I am watering them with chamomile tea to prevent damping off.
We also got a new addition to our balcony: 2 small greenhouses. I initially wanted to build a cold frame (read: wanted my boyfriend to build me a cold frame), but these greenhouses were cheap and use our space very efficiently on 3 adjustable levels. While they’re not exactly pretty they were cheaper and more flexible than anything we could have built ourselves.
The only plants that haven’t worked out in the light box so far have been the zucchini seedlings. It became clear after a few days that they just didn’t get enough light. So, being short on time, I did what every book tells you to never ever do with seedlings: I put them outdoors in the greenhouse without hardening them off or letting them get used to the temperatures (mind you, we still have nights below freezing). I was pretty sure they’d die but I had no other space to put them. Surprisingly, they are still alive and very healthy after a couple of days outside and are finally getting the light they were craving.
They greenhouses are housing a great variety of plants right now. I popped in a few tomato and pepper and herb seeds to experiment but they are also great for these chives that survived the winter and the sweet woodruff that I bought the other day on a whim.
Each shelf of the greenhouses can also take 4 of these small flower boxes and I am experimenting with direct sowing salad seeds here. This is mizuna and arugula, and I also sowed butterhead and loose leaf and iceberg lettuce and spinach and there will be mâche later in the season:
In May, the greenhouses will be used for hardening off the indoor seedlings and come summer, I am planning to take out the top shelves and use them as a rain cover for the tomatoes. In winter they will be very useful for extending the season with salad greens and other cold weather crops.
I have it all in my head.
The first night frosts are not far off and we’re slowly but surely getting our balcony ready for winter, potting baby strawberries, cutting back perennials, throwing out dying plants and generally cleaning up.
We still have some harvest, the raspberries keep on coming and the peppers continue to ripen.
Everything that doesn’t get eaten right away goes in the overflowing freezer (I still haven’t found the time to make jam and syrup). I like to freeze basil and oregano whole and crush it over pizza and tomatoes when I need it.
It’s a pitiable amount this year but I just got this great book for my birthday and now have all winter to devise a strategical plan to use every ounce of balcony space for gardening next spring.
The biggest surprise in cleaning up was this huge pot: It housed bamboo for a couple of years until the cold winter 2008/2009 killed it off. We never really got around to emptying it and used it as a trash can for the last 2 years, dumping weeds and dead plants and even whole plants we wanted to get rid of in it. This weekend I finally put my foot down and demanded my boyfriend haul it down to the real trash can (2 stories below). When clearing off the thin top layer of dead plant material however, we discovered that all the other material had been in it long enough to have turned into beautiful rich compost soil!
So now we’re keeping it until next spring and can then mix the soil with potting soil and hopefully save on chemical fertilizers 🙂
The other great news is: my friend is planning a monthly cooking class for us, so we will finally learn to cook and eat healthy. By next summer we will hopefully have learned to use our then hopefully plentiful harvest well.
Or balcony, in our case.
It’s amazing how much you can grow on a little balcony. We’ve had strawberries, raspberries, cucumbers, zucchinis, 2 kinds of peppers, tomatoes and lots of herbs and flowers on ours this year. So much fun.
And so yummy.
I am dreaming big for next years produce.