I NEARLY MISSED IT LAST NIGHT

I nearly missed it last night and when I did notice the sky colour, I was so absorbed in the tiny scattered pink clouds looking like a Measles rash on the rich dark blue, I almost forgot to get the camera out of its soft pouch.

I watch the sun go down most nights of the week, whether it be Summer, Winter, Autumn or Spring.

It reminds me of how small and insignificant I am in the whole of Mother Earth.   It communicates a richness and vastness and embodies me with the  beauty we live in, be it in my southern hemisphere (or to the north).

Last night I was absorbed in the TV daily news, something I rarely watch as, day by day, month by month,  year by year, I am horrified by the way mankind treats his fellow man.   I worry about the state of the planet and the toxic waste which mankind continue to spew out.

The only thing that keeps my thoughts muffled is the beauty I see on nature documentaries and fellow nature lover’s web sites.

…..and of course, my own Balcony Garden and Avian visitors.

But getting back to the sky……..

I stopped posting in my Sunrise, Sunset (and Clouds that come in Between) blog as my view of the setting sun is now being gradually covered by the new building construction across the road.   But if you enjoy looking at the sky colour as the sun goes down, feel free to swap over to the link of my old Sunset/Cloud Blog for a scroll down of the lovely colour we Melbournians receive regularly.

Last night the wooden framework made an interesting silhouette and I managed to capture a few rather weak images as the light quickly disappeared from sight.

If only I’d looked up and gone out onto my balcony earlier.

Somehow my photos didn’t quite capture the interesting cloud cover as it was, but here it is anyway.

Note: the images in this post are hand-held so may not be as sharp in focus as they would have, had I used my tripod.

***********

……here’s a few more shots of the sky, late afternoon to dusk, the 17th October.   Not as spectacular as Melbourne’s sunsets usually are, but I like looking at the sky as the light fades anyway.   There does need to be clouds to capture the colours for the most part.

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A SAD SIGHT IN THE BALCONY GARDEN

I’ve only just got up and the morning is nearly gone.   I seem to need more and more sleep these days and I’m all the better for it.   One of the most healthful and rejuvenating remedies for me is Sleep.   Deep restful restorative sleep.  Many people just don’t get enough of it.  Our bodies need sleep to rest, repair and replenish our vital organs.

I stood at the lounge room windows and surveyed the little garden earlier.   I didn’t water the potted plants last night in the hope that today’s forecast rain would suffice.

I could see my newly planted seedlings were starting to make great leaps in their young lives with the veggies promising hope for a good crop this Summer.   They look even better than last weeks images.

The French Beans look absolutely perfect in their growing cycle.

I say a little prayer each morning that the Cabbage Moth Caterpillars and Harlequin bugs don’t put in their annual appearance.

The Lemon Verbena, which I grow for the sheer pleasure of running my fingers through its lemon-scented leaves, has put on a massive growth spurt in the last week alone.   It got eaten by ‘you-know-who’ last Spring so I bought a new seedling this year.

IF the number of flowers on my Blueberry bush means fruit, it will be a sight for sore eyes indeed.

Have I mentioned this fact before?

Only a dozen times you might well reply LOL.

Last years crop gave me a small handful nearly every day for about 3-4 weeks.   (Just repeating this fact for the new followers).

Most of the plants that had wilted in my 6-day absence have bounced back with astonishing growth.

As usual, the Mint, which wilted badly, has put on a growth spurt with the deep watering I gave it on my return to home base, with each stem sprouting fresh young leaves in a matter of days. Note the new leaves in the image below.

I only lost one lettuce from the punnet of 8 young seedlings and it was looking like the ‘runt of the pack’ even before my absence.

Then I spotted it.

The sad sight of a motionless Spotted Turtle-dove (above), one of my favourite bird species, of which several had become quite tame in my previous 3rd-floor apartment on the north-east side of Melbourne (below).

The Spotted Turtle-doves used to wake me at dawn with their gentle cooing.

Sometimes, it seemed as though their sound would be all that louder if the water or seed bowls were empty.

I often had the feeling that they knew who I was and that I was their friend.

They spoke to me regularly with their gentle sounds and growing trust.   I have to admit I miss these lovely birds although I had seen one 2-3 times on my balcony fence on this western side of the city and sometimes in the nearby Frogs Hollow Nature Reserve perimeter (below).

2 SPOTTED TURTLE-DOVES ON THE EAST PERIMETER OF FROGS HOLLOW NATURE RESERVE (BEHIND MY APARTMENT BUILDING)

Life just isn’t the same when I don’t have a Room With a View.

I noticed the construction across the road has started it’s 4th floor this morning.   My photos at dusk each night are showing less and less of the sky as each storey unfolds on the construction site.

Oh well, that’s Life.

You win some, you lose some.

Our life on this earth is impermanent.   Nothing stays the same.

So saying, I’d better get on and select the Quote and Image of the Week. 🙂  I’m selecting a ‘gardening’ quote each Wednesday and one of my images to go with it.

MY BALCONY GARDEN – Growing Tomatoes in Pots

Now that I’ve decided to turn this Nature Blog into mainly about my gardening experiments and exploits, you might think my tiny garden has little to write about.

Surprisingly, that’s far from the truth.

Besides, with any herb or veggie failure, I quickly replace the plant with something else, so there’s always a constantly changing ‘balconyscape’.   (is there such a word as balconyscape – if not, I just invented it)  😀

Sometimes, as I sit at my desk in the latter part of the morning and look over my balconyscape, I remember my Mother’s words.   She passed away at the ripe old age of 88 in 2012, with a lifetime of gardening skills and experience, for the most part ‘making do’ with what she had.   My Father, at 93, moved to a nursing home earlier this year, loved his garden patch also and no doubt suffered under my Mother’s gardening criticism.   My Father may not have had a ‘green thumb’, but he sure loved to be outdoors – garden, countryside or mountain top.   He also grew up in the Depression and was used to ‘making do’ with what he had hoarded away in his workshop/garage during the year, or grew in the backyard garden.

“A successful, productive garden takes work.” were my Mother’s words when she mentioned the neighbour’s praise for her colourful flower garden and highly productive veggie patch.

I need enough plants to make a salad each day in Summer.

I am not very knowledgeable or experienced in vegetable gardening.   Herbs – yes.  I had a vast Herb Garden with about 50 varieties about 30 years ago.  But experimenting with various vegetables on my small balcony gardens (3) has only been in the last 5-6 years, and even then, not enough to harvest more than a bowl of salad greens and herbs for dinner in the long, hot summer nights AND lightly steamed leafy greens to eat with Winter meals.

Photography will always be my first love, so you’ll see plenty of photos among my future gardening adventures, some of which I’ve shared in the past.

But with the gradually changing content of my blog from further afield – RBG, Zoo, Beach, Nature Reserves etc – to mainly my Balcony Garden – reality has set in and I’ll be focusing on my garden more than ever before.

A productive small garden needs the right soil, time for planting, feeding, weeding, (yes, the occasional weed does grow in my pots, even a toadstool or two in the wettest part of Winter) and plenty of water (according to the individual plant’s needs).

Most herbs and vegetables need good drainage, especially if planted in pots/contaniers.

I learn mainly from trial & error when it comes to gardening, despite reading numerous books or asking Mr Google some questions.   My younger Brother with his hobby farm of 10 acres is a vast fund of knowledge too.

This Spring, for the first time, I actually tested the soil PH of my older pots and was dismayed to find a few were far too acidic with a PH of 4.0 or below and a few pots were far too alkaline with a soil PH over 8.0.   I made some new organic potting soil purchases recently or mixed a few other older soils with what I hoped were the right combinations to even them up to the standard PH 5.25 – 7.5 which is what most herbs and veggies prefer.

My Blueberry ‘Nellie Kelly’ was in the perfect acidic soil PH so no wonder I had so many flowers this year (and blueberries last Spring).

 

The first few blueberries

Once I’d grown a small ‘patio’ tomato in my previous balcony on the north-east side of Melbourne, I couldn’t wait to try out Tomatoes (and other vegetables) on this hot west-facing balcony in the western suburbs.   I receive about 6-8 hours of sun depending on the season and daylight savings time here in Melbourne.

We changed over to DST (Daylight Savings Time) last Saturday, so I note its still pretty light outdoors at 7.30pm already.

So if you’re going to follow my example and try to grow plants on your balconies and willow sills, whatever part of the world you live in, remember, you need lots of light and/or sun – but not too much hot sun if growing indoors – glass windows can throw your indoors into a sauna if blasted by hot sun all day.

Potted plants can dry out almost every day – every season of the year.

YOU need to remember to water your potted plants. Don’t presume that a few rain showers will keep them moist.   Terracotta pots tend to leach the moisture out of the soil.   Plastic pots are cheaper and less detrimential to your soil moisture content.   I have added wetting agents to the soil in past years, but not this year.  I’ll, hopefully, be consistent in the daily watering now I’m more house-bound.

I’ve ended up with over 30 pots this Spring and no doubt, I’ll be complaining about the watering chore each night during the hotter months.   I have to fill my watering jug at the kitchen sink and carry it across pale carpet out to the balcony, several times, each night.  Sometimes a change of shoes is necessary at the lounge sliding door (to reduce the dirty water or soil from staining the carpet).

Nearly all plants need light, although there are quite a few herbs and shade-loving plants that are happy in dappled light……….or even, deep shade.

This Spring, I chose ‘indeterminate’ tomato plants (which need staking).  These plants grow many side branches and keep growing until stopped by disease or cold weather and keep producing fruit as they grow (according to the article in this month’s ABC TV Organic Gardener magazine which I’ve just started subscribing to).

I was delighted to see an article on Growing Tomato in Pots in my first magazine I received in the post the other week (although I’d already bought this year’s tomato seedling varieties and planted them).

I have 2 great books which my younger brother gave me –  I figure you can never read too much when you’re a beginner gardener like me.  I love the varied descriptions of potting containers shown in the book on the right.   I can highly recommend these books to local wann-be balcony gardeners.

I already had a large Australian Vegetable and Preserving book on my shelf and my favourite book on Companion Planting which I bought long before I had a garden, plus a few slim volumes my Mother gave me many years ago.

Being a student of Herbal Medicine in the early 1990s, I have kept about 5 books on Medicinal Herbs, their use and growing requirements.    The hundreds of other Alternative Therapy books I re-homed to the local library or charity shop as my vision is not really good enough to read small print now and large volumes are too tiring to read regularly these days.

‘Determinate tomatoes types, (also called bush tomatoes) are…….well…..more bushy and usually have stronger stalks when they reach their final height, which can vary between 30cm (or 15″) and 1 meter (just under 40″)), the fruit ripens all at once and the plant dies off.

I’d never heard of Determinate and Indeterminate to distinguish the 2 types of tomato growth patterns until I read the article last week.

Dwarf tomatoes, (also called tree tomatoes because of their thick trunks and are usually indeterminate or semi-determinate), are the variety I planted in the Spring of 2017 and I was staggered at the high volume of fruit (below).   Dwarf tomatoes stay as much smaller plants than true indeterminates.  They are long-producing smaller plants and are ideal for pots or container gardening.   I put a bamboo stake in the soil when I planted them in 2017, but they didn’t really need staking according to the plant nursery label.

By the way, after reading the Growing Tomatoes in Pots article, it seems I’ve made a mistake and shouldn’t have grown this year’s tomato plants in the same containers as I grew the 2017 crop.   I have 2 plants in large green pots and 1 in a terracotta-coloured pot, so the ones in the old green plastic pots might not grow as well, despite some new better organic potting mix added to the mix.

Let’s wait and see.

BTW The image below is one I lost in the computer crash/failure at Easter.   Thank goodness I have a vast WordPress media library on this blog – lots of old images to upload again.

In 2017, from the hardware/plant nursery label, the 3 Tomato Patio (Lycopersicon esculentum) were an early maturing variety, 9-10 weeks, had delicious medium-sized fruit, dwarf-sized bush and very compact foliage.  

  • Each leaf junction produces a lateral and all you have to do is snap the un-needed shoots off when about 3cm (or 1 1/2″) long. Use washed hands rather than secateurs. Be careful not to mistake flower buds for laterals – you’ll soon learn what each looks like (according to the magazine).   I didn’t know that back in 2017.   I just plucked off some small shoots that looked like they would stop the sun reaching the main fruit-bearing branches.   Seems I did the right thing.
  • Of course, as the fruit ripened on the bush, they can get sunburnt and spoil.   I usually counter this by picking the tomatoes green, (or just starting to turn colour), and put them on a shelf in the light where they can ripen indoors.   I seem to remember I only had one sunburnt tomato in 2017.
  • Birds might like to snack on your fruit too – another reason I pick them green and let them ripen on a dry shelf indoors.
  • Which reminds me, don’t store your tomatoes in the fridge or they’ll lose some of their taste. Now scientists have figured out why: It’s because some of their genes chill out and are altered by cold temperatures, ultimately affecting the flavour.
  • If they’re over-ripe and soft, verging on going mouldy, I put mine in the fridge  to stop the deterioration and try to use them up quickly or in cooking if they’re over-ripe.   But for salads and fresh tomatoes, I store them on the kitchen bench.

So what was on the list of seedlings to purchase from Bunnings this Spring – 2019?

I thought I’d try something new.  After all, I’m still learning and experimenting what grows best on this balcony.

Tomatoes Truss Sweet (Lycopersicon esculentum Fl. hybrid)– Produces fabulous uniform trusses of plum-shaped fruit of outstanding quality (so the label says).  This indeterminate type with a long cropping season and resistance to most common tomato diseases delivers impressive garden results………..    FULL SUN, 1.8m high, HARVEST 11-13 Wks

 

Tomato Sauce Maker (Lycopersicon esculentum) – A big, tasty, juicy tomato ideal for making preserves and sauces and soups.   Use fully sun-ripened tomatoes for the best flavour. Professional Grade offers excellent flavour while providing disease resistance and higher yields. (and I have made tomato sauce and chutney many years ago, so we’ll see if there’s enough fruit from this one plant to do chutney this summer)………        FULL SUN, 1.5-2m high, HARVEST 8-10 WKS after planting.

 

Tomato Genuwine (Lycopersicon esculentum) – A cross between Costuoluto Genovese and Brandy Wine tomatoes, Genuwine has exceptional fruit quality and a big homegrown flavour, with the benefits of an earlier, longer harvest than traditional Heirloom varieties.  It produces high yields of fruit with far fewer blemishes (according to the nursery plant label)…………..FULL SUN, 150-215cm high, HARVEST 9-12wks after planting.

All 3 plant labels say to apply a 2m stake at time of planting.  If growing in pots use a large tub and a good quality Australian Standards potting mix.  Apply a Potassium (K) rich fertiliser once flower appear for best results.

I’ll have to check all my containers and bottles of fertiliser to see if there’s one suitable for potassium-hungry tomatoes.   I’ve got flowers already, but the new organic potting mix should suffice for the first 3 months?   I’m guessing.

I bought potting mix suitable for tomatoes, herbs and vegetables, so maybe the guaranteed 3-month nutrition/potassium is OK.

All these varieties need staking, but rather than spend money on the more expensive tall wooden stakes, I chose to buy a pack of 12 tall bamboo stakes and tie 2 together for each new tomato plant.   I like being able to cut bamboo stakes varying lengths for other potted plants on this windy west-facing space.

Last week,  I had this idea that if I research some gardening tips and tricks and report observations about my own potted plants to you, it might stick in my poor short-term memory and I might learn as much as you……… about gardening in a small space.

NOTE: if you are experienced Gardeners or Horticulturists, please don’t hesitate to correct me if I supply incorrect advice or make typos.   Just don’t tell me you can’t have a garden on an apartment balcony before you try it out yourself.   

Gardening is a long learning curve and everyone has different education, experience and opinions.   Obviously, the seasons and weather vary considerably depending in which Hemisphere or Country you live in.   I welcome constructive criticism on Gardening (as well as Photography) 🙂

I researched and typed this article a couple of weeks ago and with the week in the hospital, never got to publishing it.

THE SUN IS OUT, THE SKY IS BLUE……..

The sun is out

The sky is blue

Hardly a cloud in sight

To spoil the view………

 

………and the male Superb Fairy-wren is back again.

I haven’t seen a female Superb Fairy-wren for about 3 weeks, only what appears to be this one male Superb Fairy-wren in his best breeding coat of blue.

I wish we got the Spendid Fairy-wrens this far south in Australia, as their breeding colours are the most vivid blue and really outstanding.   Check out their blue coat in this image photographed by Mark Eatwell for example.

I spotted my Superb Fairy-wren and the Grey Fantail deep in the foliage of the Japanese Maple in front of my balcony on Thursday and silently begged the Fairy-wren to come up to the fence railing so I could photograph him.

He obliged very briefly and then turned around to face the road and let out the sweetest bird song I’ve heard in quite a while.   Hearing these magical sounds makes me all the more aware of what a wonderful location I live in and how lucky I am with my urban outlook.

Now the Maple is covered in its thick Spring cape, I think it unlikely I’ll be able to photograph much more from my desk.   It has grown about 2 feet in the 3 years I’ve lived here and it had much more dense foliage.

I’m missing the Fairy-wrens, but the House Sparrows have still kept up their morning and afternoon visits to the Bird Bath for a quick refreshment stop on their way to pastures new.

The Japanese Maple is now so thickly clothed in its Spring coat of leaves, that I haven’t a hope of getting any photos.   Still, sometimes I get a faint view.

…….even through three layers of dusty glass as in the image below.

THIS IMAGE HAS HAD THE CONTRAST AND SHADOWS OVER-EDITED TO SHOW UP THE SHAPE OF THE BIRD.

Long-time followers will remember I caught a female House Sparrow feeding its offspring once.   I edited the contrast and sharpness of this shot below, managing to make it more visible despite the glass fence.

All my avian visitors love the fresh green shoots of the Maple.   Two sparrows even chewed on a few Violet leaves and Asian lettuce leaves earlier this afternoon, but unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera lens cap off and by the time I picked up the heavy long lens and took it off, the movement must have startled them and they flew off.

Soon I hope to get sight of the New Holland Honeyeaters and the Eurasian Goldfinches, but even a Willy Wagtail, Thrush or Magpie Lark would be a welcome sight.

Spring is the season to be grateful for a Room With a View  🙂