FIRST BIG HARVEST THIS SPRING

It was very windy and quite cold when I got up this morning but decided to step outdoors to check on the Balcony Garden and make my first really large harvest for the season.   I do cut herbs regularly, but it was about time I cut some more leafy vegetables (including the lettuces).

So out came the baby veggie ‘shoot’ clippers (about 2 1/2 – 3 inches long) which I use to cut my pea and bean shoots I sprout, and a big plastic bowl to gather in the harvest.

(Gosh, it sounds like I’m a real farmer LOL).   I have pretty vivid imagination 😀

I’d been meaning to cut the lettuces for over a week as they weren’t doing as well under the hot, gale-force winds that plagued Melbourne (and the whole eastern seaboard of Australia) for so many days in this last month.

I hope they taste OK.

In fact, my harvest has been pretty ‘ordinary’ compared to Spring last year.  Even the lettuces last Spring fared pretty well and they made such good photos that I couldn’t bear to harvest them (below).

SPING 2018

By the way, I can see the Purple Coral Pea over the road is in flower at the moment.  The images (below) are from when I lived on the north-east side of Melbourne, not here in the western suburbs where I live now.

Purple Coral Pea (Hardenbergia violacea syn. H. monophylla) is a species of flowering plant in the pea family Fabaceae, native to Australia from Queensland to Tasmania. It is known in Australia by the common names false sarsaparilla, purple coral pea, happy wanderer, native lilac and waraburra. Wikipedia

I might add, the flowers really are this bright purple at the height of flowering, especially in the blue hour – late afternoon.

Last Spring (2018), the Harlequin Bugs and Cabbage Moth Caterpillars ate nearly every leaf in the Garden except for the lettuces which I’d already harvested.

My trial of growing Capsicums was a failure in the sense that I got about 6-7 ripe red Capsicums at the end of a 13-week wait and only one was ripe at any one time.   I think the Possums might have jumped down off the apartment roof and broken 2 of the main branches also.

ROASTED RED CAPSICUM SALAD – one of my favourites in mid-summer

I need at least 6 large red Capsicums to make my favourite roasted Capsicum salad.

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Even the pest control hatch/net I bought last year didn’t keep the birds off the seedlings. One tiny Superb Fairy-wren crept under a loose corner and squeaked pitifully until I went outdoors and lifted the netted hatch up to release it.

So today, first up were the French beans and I gathered enough for one meal.   They were still relatively small compared to the supermarket ‘offerings’, but I could see many more 1 – 2″  sized babies and they will be ready to harvest in another 2-3 days at the rate they are growing.   The Plant Nursery label DID say they’d come ‘thick & fast’ as soon as they were large enough for the first harvest.

French Beans were a trial on this west-facing hot balcony this year.  Actually, I’m always trialling different vegetables these days, but French beans seedlings will be on the Plant Nursery shopping list for 2020.   If Melbourne is going to exposed to these severe gusty winds permanently, I’ll have to trial quite a few more vegetable varieties I think.

Then some English Curly Parsley and lots of Mint to make some Tabbouleh this afternoon.   I had bought a big bunch of Italian Flat-leaf parsley from the supermarket this week as I still haven’t got around to buying another potted plant for the Balcony Garden to replace the one that went to seed.  I was going to go earlier this week but other issues took up some time.

(I make my Tabbouleh with Quinoa, not Bulgar Wheat, by the way).

I’ve had Chick Peas soaking overnight to make a batch of Humus this afternoon.

I clipped a few Beetroot leaves to add to my salad bowl, which together with 3 different lettuces and lots of herbs splashed with home-made French oil & lemon dressing will do for lunch tomorrow.

I had a heaped tablespoon of finely chopped Sweet Basil from my garden with light olive oil on my Buckwheat Pasta a couple of days ago.

Divinely Delicious (is all I can say).

The Sweet Basil, planted at the base of my 3 Heirloom Tomato plants as Companion Plants, has grown a wee bit more than the last Balcony Garden update, but nothing like my usual Summer harvest.

My brother tells me “it’s the weather, its The Weather – so don’t get too disappointed with the slow growth rate of your crops”.

I think he may be right.

There weren’t enough ripe Truss Tomatoes (Heirloom Tomato #1) to harvest so had to rely on supermarket produce yet again.

The whole idea of my Balcony Garden is to be a new hobby (now I can’t do much in the way of Nature Walks), handy to cut a few herbs for dinner each night (as opposed to buying a whole bunch which means I waste half of it being just one person in this household) AND well………….. just for the fun of it 😀

I must admit Bird Watching does come into play as a reason for a Balcony Garden too  🙂

A BALCONY GARDEN UPDATE

#1 HEIRLOOM TOMATO PLANT IS CLOSE TO HARVEST

My Balcony Garden looked almost like a jungle yesterday, so what with the day bursting with sunshine and brilliant blue sky, I got straight down to work after lunch and pruned, groomed, re-potted and…….scrubbed the seepage stains off the large concrete tiles – well, most of them, (and dare I say I ended up so stiff that I could barely get out of bed this morning 😀 ).

The baby spinach has ‘bolted’ (just like the rocket did the first week after it was planted in early September).   See the upper half of the image below.

I transferred the Perennial Basil to a larger pot which I’d been meaning to do for a couple of months but hadn’t a large plastic pot free back then.   (I’ve got so many potted plants this year, I really don’t want to waste money on more plastic pots, so I just waited for natural attrition, if that’s the right word).  Herbs don’t usually like being moved once they’ve got established, but I’ve found in the past, that as long as you don’t disturb the roots too much and keep the water up, they survive and thrive upon transplanting……well, they do for me.

I’ve got several empty pots at the moment as plants have keeled over and died in the heat and wild weather.  Many of my herbs are not looking too good at the moment, but with the weekend and early next week almost back to winter temperatures and rain forecast, some plant growth should get a boost.   Did I say cold and rain (for the first week of Summer here in Melbourne)? 

Heirloom Tomato #2 (below) has got so many green tomatoes, I feared the branch would break, so did a lot of re-staking and re-tying to my bamboo canes yesterday also.  One of the other branches has more new flowers so that heirloom tomato variety is definitely a ‘winner’.

I wish they’d ripen though.   I’m getting impatient and I usually have all the patience in the world.    Perhaps I’m impatient as the 3 new Tomato plants are all new Heirloom varieties and I can’t wait to taste them.

Heirloom Tomato #3 has yet to fruit, but this plant has lots of flowers as I mentioned in the last garden update (below) so ‘fruit babies’ are due very soon.

Even my Rosemary bush is looking a bit ‘ordinary’ and rather glum (well, glum was more a description of how I was feeling).   I might have got a bit over-zealous with the watering of this hardy Mediterranian Herb which should stay on the drier side.

For the first time in many years, I haven’t got any Harlequin Bugs or Cabbage Moth Caterpillars in the new burst of new Spring growth.   Amazing……. or Worrying…….. I don’t know how to interpret their absence.  The original post on caterpillers says it all (in the past).

Maybe, even they, are giving my garden a ‘wide berth‘ and snacking elsewhere (out of the wind).

But the funniest sight was the House Sparrows and male Superb Fairy-wren standing on the balcony fence looking here, there and everywhere, for the Parsley long trough I usually have attached to the balcony fence railing.   (sorry I haven’t a photo of the birds as I didn’t get the camera out of its soft pouch in time).

In the end, late yesterday afternoon, they flew down to the English Parsley seedlings I’d planted in other pots and had a nibble.

I hadn’t hidden the Parsley trough.   I’d merely put it on the balcony floor (above) in preparation for buying and planting a new Italian ‘flat-leaf’ parsley to fill in space previously occupied by one (in the other half of the English Parsley trough).

The Italian Parsley had gone to seed some weeks ago.

I pruned the Lemon Verbena back to half as it was nearly dying in the hot sun.   I’ve now moved it up the north (or right-hand side) of the balcony which gets less hot sun in the afternoons and it is starting to throw out new shoots.

It’s probably the weird and wild weather we’ve been having in Melbourne (and across the whole eastern side of the country) that’s changed so much of the growing habits of this small balcony garden.

I plucked off all the yellow and dying leaves of the other 2 Mint plants and given them more water and they’ve sprung back to the prime of health (below).

At least I have a nice handful of French Beans ready and waiting for dinner over the weekend.   It seems like only a week ago I had one bean about 1″ long.   Now they’re growing thick and fast and I’m pleased to say my first trial, with growing green beans on my hot west-facing balcony, seems to be a complete success.

ONE OF THE SMALL POTTED MINTS, THE TARRAGON AND THE VIOLETS (WHICH I’D PRUNED BACK AS IT NEARLY DIED), COME INDOORS FOR THEIR WEEKLY RESPITE FROM THE WIND.

I keep turning, moving & swapping plants around with 2-3 small pots coming indoors for a break from the sun & wind regularly, but moving the pots around yesterday revealed more of the sawdust blown over the road from the construction site in last week’s storm.

DESPITE SWEEPING THE BALCONY LAST WEEK, THERE’S STILL A LOT OF SAWDUST UNDER THE POTTED PLANTS AS I DISCOVERED WHEN I MOVED THEM AROUND YESTERDAY.

It’s all very well to grow plants on one’s balcony, but being a rented apartment does mean I have to keep it clean & tidy as per my lease agreement (just in case you wondered why I make so much effort to tidy up so often).

I hadn’t scrubbed the tile floor for some time and it was getting to be quite stained from both watering and watering with diluted seaweed fertilizer in the watering can.

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Just spotted a new couple of House Sparrows on the fence.   They’re so small, I assume they’re this Spring’s hatchlings.  I managed to catch one with the telephoto lens, but the light was behind it, so not necessarily as good a photo as those made on the southern end of the fence.

Almost all avian visitors in the last couple of days have been very small, so I assume they’re ‘newbies’ to my apartment balcony.   Once they explore a bit more and get used to the birdbath, I’m sure I’ll get some better photos.

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……and I also spotted 3-4 of the tiniest Fairy-wrens I’ve ever seen on the fence 20 minutes ago – both male and female – but they flew down into the thick foliage of the Japanese Maple.   I watched their shadows move around the tree for a while, but couldn’t get any photos.

Sorry about that – they were so cute and obviously recently hatched.

YESTERDAY WAS NOT A GOOD DAY……

Yesterday was not a good day in my state of Victoria.   Some overseas folk may have heard of our catastrophic bushfires in the states to the north in recent weeks i.e. New South Wales and Queensland.   With hundreds of homes lost, this was not a good start to our Bushfire Season and it wasn’t even Summer.

Well, yesterday, my state of Victoria was issued with a Code RED alert i.e. Catastrophic Fire Danger AND a warning for Thunderstorm Asthma.

You may remember on the same day, the 21st November 2016, we had the same Asthma conditions with 9 deaths and thousands of people hospitalised in and around Melbourne, even people who’d never had Asthma before experienced difficulties breathing.   Our Ambulances and Hospital emergency departments couldn’t keep up with the influx of sufferers.

I’ve read these types of Asthma storms have happened in other parts of the world too.

I lay in bed for some time yesterday listening to the gale-force winds whistling through my apartment building like a Banshee. ( A banshee is a female spirit in Irish mythology who heralds the death of a family member, usually by wailing, shrieking, or keening).  

I usually describe this weird loud whistling sound as like being in an Arctic Storm.

Sometimes my plastic watering can or a few empty plastic pots rattle around the balcony too.

Eventually, I got out of bed and went out to raise the block-out blinds to watch the wild winds tossing my herb and leafy green veggies (vegetables) around like goose down.

It was even a worse sight than a couple of weeks ago, but nothing could be done except stay inside with windows and doors tightly closed.   I don’t get Asthma, but having been hospitalised with a few severe food allergy attacks in the past, and I now have MCS (Multiple Chemical Sensitivity) so I wasn’t about to take any chances.

To be honest, I really thought the severe weather might have demolished my Balcony Garden.   The lettuces are looking a bit sad, but they’ll probably recover with more watering.

I fully expected to see my still-green tomatoes laying on the ground, but only #2 tomato plant had a crooked bamboo stake (which I corrected later in the day).

 

 

 

 

 

 

The forecast temperature of 38 C (about 100F) had climbed to 41.5C (about 107F) in my suburb close to 1.50pm and an eerie pale pinkish glow settled through the cloud cover in the sky.   This would have been bushfire smoke from the fires in central Victoria to the west of my home location.

I was rather startled to see a fine layer of sawdust covering my balcony tiles, fence rail and the larger-leafed veggies, no doubt blown across the road from the construction site.

As I said, nothing to do but wait (for the cool change which came across the state sometime after 2.00pm).  I heard a bit of thunder but only saw the faintest drops of rain hit the balcony tile floor.

I hope some country folk, especially the farmers, received some rain from that cool front.  On the TV news last night I noticed many shoppers and office works in the city centre had face masks on as a precaution, although there had been a warning for Asthma sufferers to stay indoors.

It would have made nightmare conditions for the firefighters battling the many grass and bush fires.

Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus)
Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus)

I couldn’t help but think of the poor wildlife, especially the slower moving Koalas as they would have climbed down from their Eucalypt tree homes and tried to scramble across the ground to escape.   Kangaroos and Wallabies would have at least had a chance to escape with their enormous hop/jumping motion across the landscape.

 

GREY KANGAROOS.  Check out the little joey (baby) in its Mother’s pouch on the left – MELBOURNE ZOO’S open air Kangaroo, Wallaby and Emu enclosure.    I don’t have any close-up shots of Kangaroos in the wild, only distant shots on my brother’s farm, hence using Zoo shots for this post.

I went outdoors several times to re-fill the birdbath as the House Sparrows were obviously in distress.  I didn’t see any other birds.

When it’s hot, some bird species will also resort to gular fluttering. The bird will open its mouth and “flutter” its neck muscles, promoting heat loss (think of it as the avian version of panting).

THIS IMAGE IS OF A HOUSE SPARROW GASPING FOR BREATH ON A PARTICULARLY HOT DAY LAST SUMMER.

If you think about a dog panting, their tongue isn’t only allowing evaporation but is losing a lot of body fluid.  Birds are much more efficient about water and water loss

Even so, birds still need to replenish fluids on a hot day.

Sometimes the Sparrows just stand in the shade of a potted plant or a shady spot on the balcony tiles.

 

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Unfortunately, my freezer was full and I’d taken the ice-cube trays out to make more room, so couldn’t put some ice blocks into the birdbath (which is what I usually do on a hot day).

I’d also forgotten about these climatic conditions from last summer and making some sort of shelter over the birdbath.   I’ll put it back on my ‘to do’ list.

Late yesterday afternoon when the wind had dropped and it was a bit cooler I went out to shake the sawdust off all the leaves and sweep up the piles of sawdust which had in some areas blown into a small pile in the corners of the balcony.

This morning the faint cool breeze is coming in through the open sliding door and the wild conditions have finally settled.

The potted herbs and vegetables could probably do with another watering, but I’ll leave that chore to the usual routine of a thorough watering at dusk tonight.

In general, unless your potted plants are in tiny pots, its best to water them in the early evening so the water can soak into the roots overnight whilst the temperatures are cooler.   It’s best not to water in the middle of the day as it can burn the plant roots and cause even more damage than not watering.

My Balcony Garden is west-facing and in shade all morning up to about 2.00pm, so occasionally I will water the smaller pots which will have dried up more (than the larger ones) first thing in the morning as well as dusk on a hot day.

ON-THE-SPOT-NEWS……

I just noticed a movement out of the corner of my eye. (for the newer followers, this is why I have my desk in front of the floor-to-ceiling lounge windows – so I can observe the bird life as well as watch my garden growing).

I turned and grabbed the long telephoto lens beside me, took off the lens cap and tried to get a shot as it quickly moved from potted plant to potted plant.

I don’t think I’ve seen a female for about 5-6 weeks and assumed they were all nest-sitting.

Sorry, it’s only a back view, but it flew off very quickly.

BTW I dropped the birdbath and broke part of the edge after I cleaned it out late yesterday.   I glued it back with superglue, but I think I might get a couple more birdbaths for the coming Summer.   I also need to work out some way to get a Shade roof over the birdbaths so the blue ceramic isn’t so hot for tiny Bird claws.

Strange how it’s only the Sparrows that use the birdbath, never the Fairy-wrens.

Since its lovely and cool today, I think a trip to the local Bunnings Hardware and Plant Nursery Store might be in order.

See You!

WELL……….ONE MORE POST ON THE VEGGIE PATCH

I do have some images to share from my walk down to the local pond last Sunday (including a Great Egret), but first of all, we’ll have just one more post on the veggie patch.

I mentioned the first Blueberry of the Season the other day and I have a couple more.

1. Centre of the screen below is my very first French Bean.   I know, I know it looks like a stalk, but its a green bean and just 1″ long.   Had to move back and forth a bit to get a dark background so it would show up in the centre of the image.   I’ve never tried to grow beans before, but apparently, once the first few have grown large enough to pick, they come ‘thick & fast’ after that. So it’s got about 4 more inches to grow……..

2. Beetroot.   When I planted the punnet of seedlings I must have inadvertently planted 3 tiny seedlings together so they may not grow to full size while squashed in the one spot.  The growers plant 6 seedlings, one for each pocket of the punnet, so that’s what I planted in the trough.   Obviously they growers stuck 3 seedlings in the one pocket.  You can see 2 baby beets squashed together below.   I’ve grown beetroot for the tiny leaves to use in salads before, but never let them continue to grow beets, so let’s see how they go.

After all, my zucchini experiment last Spring was looking brilliant until they suddenly went yellow and died. (images on the left and on the right).

So we can’t automatically assume the beetroot will all grow to harvest size.

 

3. Well, not tomatoes yet, but #3 Tomato – Genuwine – a cross between Costoluto Genovese and Brandy Wine has got so many flowers on the plant in the last couple of days, I expect some tomatoes any minute 😀  (below)   This heirloom variety said harvest 9-12 weeks after planting so it may sprout fruit on the early side as #1 and #2 did.

4.   The Perennial Basil seedling was planted in too small a pot as I didn’t have any more large pots left and it was looking rather ‘ordinary’ to say the least.

A bit more water and some fertilizer have given it a tremendous boost and it’s looking very happy indeed.   I’ve now got a large pot free and I’m wondering if it’s too late to transfer it to the larger container this close to Summer?

While I’ve got Sweet Basil – an annual – growing under the Tomatoes to act as a Companion plant, I’ve got used to the long-lasting Perennial Basil (below) to cook with.   The old plant was looking very straggly and half-even by the Cabbage Moth Caterpillers, so I tossed it in the bin and started a fresh young seedling (below) this Spring.

5. A new flower on the Curry plant and plenty more tiny buds on the way (below)

…….and not a first, but an update on #2 Tomato.   One tomato out of the bunch has now reached what I consider a reasonable size, so to save the birds getting it, as soon as the first large tomato is half-ripe, I’ll be picking it to bring inside to ripen on a window ledge.

Of course, vine-ripened fruit are best, but with my regular avian visitors, I won’t be leaving any ripe tomatoes on the bushes for their dinner.   I proved in 2017 that the front of my lounge room is well and truly warm enough to finish ripening tomatoes. (photo on the right of the 2017 crop).

I was awake at 5.30am this morning and couldn’t sleep, so decided to just get up and check the garden.   Of course, the male Superb Fairy-wren was doing his usual Balcony Garden survey, walking up and down the rows of herbs and veggies just like he’s seen me doing, so I stayed indoors and watched him.

I didn’t have any cameras out of their ‘sleeping’ soft pouches, so by the time I got one out and took the lens cap off, I only managed to catch one quick shot before he flew away (below).

My bird shots weren’t exciting from Sunday’s walk so I’m tempted to go back again today and see if the Great Egret is still near the pond, but in a better location for photography?

Hmmmmmmm.