A BALCONY GARDEN UPDATE

For those new followers interested in growing herbs and vegetables on their apartment balconies, a small courtyard, or in-ground space, (or even indoors on a well-lit windowsill), I thought it was time for another Balcony Garden update.

I lost all the baby spinach, rocket, lettuces, Asian lettuces and some parsley I planted at the start of Spring.   They either died, went to seed or straight to flower with minimal usable leaves for cooking/salads.

They started off well enough as seen in the long low planters in the centre of the image below, but I should have harvested them before they ‘keeled over’.   The Rocket went to flower and the remaining leaves didn’t even look remotely like Rocket to be honest.

25th SEPTEMBER, 2019 – THE START OF SPRING

Anyway, I was very disappointed with the crop failure which I planted the third week in Spring – 25th September. – although the horticulturist at my local Bunnings plant nursery told me she has experienced exactly the same failure, so I’m feeling a bit comforted about the whole fiasco.   Seems it might not have been my fault, merely, as my younger brother put it, a bad year for any crops.

As you can see in the image (above), my west-facing balcony is in shade up until about 2.30pm DST (daylight savings time).   I get hot sun for the rest of the afternoon and early evening – about 7 hours hot sun to be exact.  Ideal for growing many veggies I’ve never been able to grow in previous balcony gardens.

Not so good for the shade, or semi-shade, lovers.

I bought another punnet of 8 baby spinach and 8 rocket seedlings 10 days ago and hopefully, after all this rain, they will survive and thrive.

I also bought 2 more Italian flat-leaf parsley plants last week (to add to my parsley collection which I use every day in large handfuls).

A Green Sage plant was also purchased to add to the garden  (to replace the large one the Harlequin Bugs ate last year). Note to self: forgot to photograph the Sage yesterday.

I’m a little disappointed in the volume and length of time it’s taking my 3 Heirloom tomato plants to grow and ripen (or should I say NOT ripen).  Long-time followers will remember I had a few luscious fruit several weeks ago.

Sure, I’ve had the odd thumb-sized Sweet Truss Tomato ripen (right), but I eat those before I’ve even finished the watering chore which is when I pick them.   All that little ‘gem’ takes is a quick wash under the kitchen tap and straight into my mouth to burst open and fill my mouth with those gorgeous little splashes of deliciousness. (is there such a word as ‘deliciousness’ 😀 )

One tiny tomato doesn’t last long.

The taste of these Truss tomatoes (#1 Heirloom variety)  is seriously, devinely, delicious.  I feel like I’m in Heaven every time I have one, but at the moment, I have several trusses of green fruit (21 little thumb-sized tomatoes I counted yesterday), and they have been green for days.

WATERING AT DUSK TO PUT A FEW SPOTS ON THE FRUIT FOR THE CAMERA SHOOT

After about 3 delicious fleshy, seed-free tomatoes from #2 tomato – ‘Sauce Maker’ (left) – I’ve only had a couple of green fruit for about 2-3 weeks now.  Nothing more is happening.   As you can see below, the sweet Basil has some lovely white flowers.

One sweet Basil is doing really well and the other 2 not so well.

I think I put old soil in 2 pots and freshly purchased Organic soil in the third pot.

#3 Heirloom Tomato variety – Tomato Genuwine – a cross between Costoluto Genovese and Brandy Wine tomatoes, has green fruit, but despite the slight warmer colour of the largest fruit (below) they have been green for weeks.

If this is how long it takes for Heirloom tomatoes to ripen I won’t be growing them next Spring/Summer.

i’M LOOKING FOR ENOUGH HERBS AND LEAFY GREENS TO MAKE A SALAD (or COLESLAW-TYPE SALAD) EVERY DAY IN SUMMER

 

I need crops that ripen quickly like in 2017.   I need a constant supply of ripening fruit otherwise, I may as well just buy them.

At this time of year, even store-bought tomatoes taste pretty good, although I do prefer vine-ripened fruit myself.

 

MY 2017 CROP OF TOMATO ‘PATIO’ GAVE ME ENORMOUS VOLUMES OF FRUIT FOR WEEKS ON END

The Perennial Basil plant has grown at a crazy rate and despite picking huge handfuls every day for cooking or salads, I’ve had to prune it back hard to keep it contained (below).

Herbs love a ‘haircut’ regularly.   You can see the areas I’ve cut below – they have more new little leaves.   Perennial Basil has a slightly stronger flavour than the Sweet Basil I’ve got growing as a companion plant at the base of each of the 3 Heirloom tomato plants.

Perennial Basil grows all year round, whereas the Sweet Basil is only an annual and grows in Summer.

I cut the Sorrel (below) down to 1″ stubble about every 3-4 weeks all through the year and within 5-6 days it’s grown back with lovely fresh young leaves.   Sorrel is an acquired taste (like Kale is to me) and sometimes I like it as a cooked vegetable and sometimes only as a finely chopped raw salad ingredient – lightly coated in home-made French dressing.

I had to prune the Lemon Thyme (below) back by about 2/3 as it threatened to overtake the nearby herb pots.   It’s just coming into flower.  Normally Thyme dies back in Winter, but since I’ve been growing only Lemon Thyme, it has bright green leaves all year, so that’s a bonus.   I quite like Lemon Thyme when cooking fresh fish.

It’s not as green as usual at the moment, but still lovely to cook with.

The blistering heat has definitely taken it’s toll this year.   I suspect the bushfire smoke haze and pollution hanging around hasn’t helped either.   Normally, the gusty wind would blow anything unwanted away.

Twice the construction site across the road has dumped a massive layer of sawdust on my plants on a windy day.

I wash everything thoroughly before I eat it, as, while I don’t use chemicals, who knows what they spray on the open field next door.

My beets are only golf-ball size and I haven’t picked any as I’ve been enjoying the beetroot leaves either chopped finely in salads, or cooked as a hot leafy green veg.

I’ve been enjoying a handful of French beans every Saturday night for dinner for weeks up until last Saturday when there were only 2 ripe beans in time for the weekend dinner.   I’ve got about 7-8 small beans growing this week, so next Saturday it will be a handful for dinner again.

I’m sure it was the heavy rain which gave them a growth spurt.

The leaves have gone a funny sort of patchy variegated colour, so I’ve given them some fertilizer.   Maybe I’m watering them too much?

I’ve never grown beans before so I don’t know.

I’ll be growing them again though.  These French Beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) are a winner and also the best-tasting beans I’ve ever eaten.

I suspect it’s only the extreme heat and lack of rain (despite hand-watering) that has kept them from producing more beans.   When you consider I planted the whole punnet of 8 seedlings in the one pot, they’ve grown surprisingly well.   Next year, I’ll try them more spread out if I can find room (and in semi-shade if I can make that happen).

Space is a problem as I have to keep the plants arranged on the edges on the balcony due to the heat gusts from the air-conditioning outlet straight down the centre.

My Blueberry “Nellie Kelly” crop is a complete failure this summer so far.   The heat and air-conditioning outlet blast have just about killed the bush.   I pruned the worst of the dead leaves off and you can see a few new leaves (below), but I’ve only got about 20 small berries in the last month.

I had so many flowers (photo made last year below), I really thought this year’s crop might have been amazing.

Last year, I picked about 12-15 berries every day for roughly 3 weeks if I remember rightly.

Still, there are some new leaves on the bush so there’s another couple of months for it to  produce more berries.   Most of the green berries fell off onto the balcony tiles so I don’t think the birds even got any fruit.

When you’ve only got a small space, extremely hot western afternoon sun and almost no rain, your gardening efforts are to have some deaths or failures naturally.

My ‘Spicy’ Oregano (on the right below) was enormous so I pruned about 95% of it off and what you see below is only a small fraction of its size last week.

My balcony is about 6′ by 20′ long, but I can’t have plants up the northern end in Summer due to the hot blast from the air-conditioning outlet.

I continually turn my pots and every few weeks as I observe their growth patterns, I even move the pots to another location.

My Lemon Verbana, Tarragon, Mint, Spring Onions and English curly Parsley all grow in stops and starts.   It’s a bit too hot.   I had the small Tarragon pot indoors for a while, but keep putting it outdoors to get some fresh air and rainwater……… (WHEN it rains).

Tap water from my kitchen is not ideal for the Herbs and Vegetables, having fluoride and goodness knows what other additives, but that’s my only source, so it has to suffice.

Gardening in a small space is really about Trial & Error, but that’s Life.

You win some, you lose some.

When I go into the garden, I forget everything.  It’s uncomplicated in my world of gardening.  It’s trial and error, really.   If something doesn’t work, it comes out, and you start all over again.

Emilia Fox

Life is about Highs and Lows, Triumphs and Failures, Happiness and Sorrow, Positive and Negative, Light and Darkness, Yin & Yang.