A RIPE TOMATO!

As you all know I’ve been bemoaning about the slow ripening of my first trial of Heirloom Tomatoes varieties 2019/2020.

Well, low and behold…………after the heavy rain all day on Wednesday of the past week……..I woke up on Thursday morning to an astonishing change in the largest green tomato on Tomato plant #3 – Genuwine (the cross between Costoluto Genovese and Brandy Wine tomatoes).

If I hadn’t seen it ripen so suddenly, I never would have believed it.   Its been a warmer shade of green than the others in the bunch for 2-3 weeks (or more).

Since I have no trouble with my Avian friends pecking at my tomatoes, I’ll leave it on the bush to fully ripen.

I usually pay the extra $$ for vine-ripened tomatoes in the shops as I prefer their deeper, richer flavour to most commercially grown Tomatoes, although, at this time of year, nearly all tomatoes we get in our markets and supermarkets are flavoursome in Australia.

There’s another slightly more golden-green small tomato on the lower right of the photo above.  Here’s hoping it turns red in the coming days.

My brother had bought me a couple of great books for growing food in a small space to add to my small gardening book collection, but it was actually my Organic Gardener magazine where I read that you should never grow tomatoes in the soil/location you used the previous season/year.   I didn’t know this.  Well, I’d already planted the seedlings and didn’t want to disturb them, so I just hoped for the best.

I might like to point out that the two green tubs, with Tomatoes #1 & #3 were the old tomato pots and the terracotta-coloured pot (which had baby spinach in it last year), have quite obvious differences in the Tomato and Sweet Basil plant growth.

I don’t know whether you can see the more robust growth in the Sweet Basil at the base of Tomato #2 if you have only a small laptop computer.   I hope Tomato #2 – Tomato ‘sauce-maker’ doesn’t grow any higher as I only bought a packet of bamboo stakes (not the taller wood picket-fence-like heavy stakes).

Living in a small studio-style apartment and having only the balcony outdoors, I don’t like to accumulate large items or anything that I can’t re-purpose.

By the way, the Rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis) on the left-hand side of the tomatoes is nowhere near as lush and bright green as usual.   Its leaves have a definite dry, pale tinge to them.

My Mint bush on the right-hand side of the tomatoes is one of 3 pots of Mint I have and nearly died when I had a few days in the hospital last year but has sprung back with pruning off the yellowing leaves and the usual regular daily watering I give my container garden.

I noticed some leaves stuck together in my new Mint plant yesterday and snipped them off when I saw a caterpillar sandwiched in between.  Seems that was what had nibbled a few leaves recently.

I have no idea what kind of caterpillar it was as it was brown (not green like the Cabbage Moth Caterpillars that have such voracious appetites).

My baby Spinach seedlings I planted 10 days ago are doing well (below).

It really is a unique life I lead – I literally sit at my desk in the late morning while answering my emails (with half an eye on the watch for bird traffic) and then, sit in blissful silence and solitude watching the garden grow for a couple of hours.

It’s extraordinary.

It’s amazing.

……and I can highly recommend it to chronic pain/illness sufferers (like myself).

Being in nature, or even viewing scenes of nature, reduces anger, fear, and stress and increases pleasant feelings. … Research done in hospitals, offices, and schools has found that even a simple plant in a room can have a significant impact on stress and anxiety.

HERE, THE LILY CATCHES THE LATE AFTERNOON LIGHT.   THIS IMAGE WAS MADE SOME WEEKS AGO AND SINCE THEN, ONE FLOWER HAS DIED, BUT I STILL HAVE 7 LEFT.  THIS PEACE LILY WHICH I BOUGHT TO CLEAR THE TOXINS IN THE AIR, IS STILL GROWING AT THE MOST EXTRAORDINARY RATE I’VE EVER SEEN ANY INDOOR PLANT GROW.

THE WIND

The breath of life is in the sunlight and the hand of life is in the wind.
Kahlil Gibran

I love watching the wind rustling the leaves in the treetops, but the last couple of weeks, the gusts have been downright ferocious (as I mentioned in a previous post) and left many of my new Spring seedlings completely bent over like little old ladies planting rice paddies with a permanent stoop.

After another 2 day absence from home this past week, most plants have been revived with a good watering which encourages them to stand up straight again the next morning.   My Tuscan Kale had to be tied up between 3 bamboo stakes as it was just too tired to stand up on its own after yesterday’s wild wind.

Some other tiny seedlings like the Asian lettuce varieties are beyond recovery and will need to be replaced next time I go to the local Bunnings Plant Nursery.

My 3 tomato varieties are looking very ‘ordinary‘ and nothing like the lush thick foliage I had on my Tomato ‘Patio’ in the Spring/Summer of 2017.   I know they’re a different variety, but somehow, I really thought they’d have more foliage.

Perhaps they’re meant to have light foliage?  I’ve never grown these varieties before.

TOMATO #1 (left) Tomato Truss Sweet & TOMATO #2 (right) Tomato Sauce Maker

The Sweet Basil planted to be ‘companions’ have barely grown at all! (as you can see in the base of the Tomato plants above.

What is wrong with those Basil plants I wonder?  Not enough sun?  Too much wind?

I found 3 tiny tomatoes last week with 3 more miniature gems on the ‘Sweet Truss’ Tomato yesterday.

Tomato Plant #2 – Tomato Sauce Maker – has plenty of flowers, but no fruit yet (below).

Tomato Plant #3 – Tomato Genuwine – has only a hint of flowers (below).

The Beetroot plants have picked up in the last 2 days and are growing very well indeed.   I could use the leaves in salads already, but since I’m growing them this year for Beets, I’ll allow the leaves to stay in case they’re needed to keep the plant growing.

The Japanese Maple in front of my balcony has flowers!

I’ve never seen Maple flowers before and certainly not in the last 3 years since I moved to this western suburb.

………and the Superb Fairy-wrens have been absent, except for the bright blue feathered male below.

Even he was reluctant to show his face yesterday, as though he is embarrassed about leaving his ‘lady-loves’ stuck at home nest-sitting and bored out of their avian minds.

 

 

BEETROOT (Beta vulgaris)

In all my images and posts on my Balcony Garden this Spring, I think I forgot to mention Beetroot.   I love the tiny leaves in salads and the larger leaves as a steamed vegetable.   These larger leaves are an acquired taste though.   They’re stronger in taste than spinach.

A bit like Sorrel, but perhaps not as bitter.   Perhaps Kale is a better comparison?

In general, the leaves attached to the Beets in the supermarket are pretty stale and I throw them in the bin, but fresh, green and not too large, like those I bought a couple of weeks ago, are delicious.

Organic Beetroot from the Collingwood Children’s Farm farmer’s market near inner Melbourne

This Spring, for the first time, rather impulsively, I bought a punnet of seedlings and planted them in my large veggie trough as an experiment.   I don’t really have the room or deep enough pots for root vegetables, although I’m always open to a challenge – Trial and Error is my gardening philosophy (and some might say……my second name).

My book Small Space Big Harvest mentions root vegetables though (ISBN 978-1-74033-338-2).   By the way, I just love this book my brother gave me for Christmas 2 years ago.

It’s packed full of great advice, creative ideas, but more importantly, very good photos.  Many of the images are close-ups and much better than most gardening books.

I like to see examples in gardening and cookery books.

 

You’ll never ever know (if you never have a go).

13th OCTOBER, 2019 – MY EXPERIMENTAL BEETROOT SEEDLINGS ARE FINALLY STARTING TO GROW

Beetroot, as we call them in Australia (the U.S. calls them Beets), are an excellent root crop (and apparently will store for months).  Growing up in my family meant beetroot was on the menu daily in the summer and we never stored them fresh in a root cellar or dark pantry, as we ate seasonally from my Mother’s large vegetable garden (with the summer excess bottled and/or made into sauces or chutneys).   I don’t remember seeing bottled beetroot in the enormous dark cupboard above our fridge.  Perhaps we only ate it in summer.

 

In more recent times, I’ve started roasting them.  I even tried juicing them in my Nutri Bullet.   (my juice extractor died about 15-20 years ago and I never replaced it as it was such a chore to wash all the attachments).   I’m seriously thinking about buying another juicer, but in the small galley kitchen I have in this studio apartment, not sure where I’d put it.

Packed with essential nutrients, beetroots are a great source of fiber, folate (vitaminB9), manganese, potassium, iron, and vitamin C. Beetroots and beetroot juice have been associated with numerous health benefits, including improved blood flow, lower blood pressure, and increased exercise performance.

Beetroot is best grown quickly and responds well to fertiliser.  Beetroots require well drained, friable soil in a well mulched, sunny spot according to the plant nursery label.   The label also says to harvest when the roots are no bigger than a tennis ball.

IF mine grow, and I had my doubts for the first 3 weeks or so, I’ll probably be harvesting the beets when they’re much smaller.

 

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

Weather means more when you have a garden.  There’s nothing like listening to a shower and thinking how it is soaking in around your green beans.

Marcelene Cox

I HAVE BEEN WATCHING & WAITING, WATCHING & WAITING AND FINALLY, MY FRENCH BEANS ARE BEGINNING TO GROW – I’ve never grown beans before.

ZUCCHINI ‘BLACK JACK’ (Cucurbita spp.)

At the risk of boring some of you, I had to take some more photos of my Zucchini ‘babies’.

Trying to part the large leaves with one hand and hold the camera up close was quite a challenge yesterday.

MY LARGEST ZUCCHINI AT ABOUT 4″ long X 5.8″ thick.

I’ve changed the ‘picture style’ setting on my DSLR back to Standard, which is why the close-ups taken with my DSLR and Sigma 17-50mm f2.8 lens are rather pale (but more like their natural colour).

The images made with my Sony a6000 ‘mirrorless’ camera,, (while seated at my desk chair) at the end of this post, are made with the camera on Vivid picture style and are much brighter.

Of course the sun and light at the time of shooting also influences the overall image.

HARLEQUIN BUGS ON LAST YEAR’S CAPSICUM PLANT.

I now have SIX zucchini babies and this morning when I turned on my computer and sat down I noticed a couple of Harlequin bugs sitting on the flower/fruit (one close to the centre of the image below).  The zucchini on the right seems to have quite a curve in its growth pattern (below).  Perhaps it couldn’t get through the tangle of leaves and stems?  Since I’ve never grown zucchini before I can only guess.

Harlequin bugs are the pest that decimated my crops of nearly every single leaf last Summer. They even outshone the Cabbage Moth Caterpillars with their voracious appetites.  So far, they haven’t sucked the sap out of any Zucchini leaves, but as I type this post, I’m anxiously watching one Harlequin bug sitting on one of my smallest zucchinis.

Hmmmmmm!

Am I supposed to cut off some of these large leaves?  Or is the curved zucchini merely growing crookedly because the plants are growing in such a small pot and it’s ‘stunted’?  I’m also wondering if the zucchini will grow to a decent size at all?

If you’re a vegetable gardener, please let me know in the comments section.  Otherwise I’ll ask Mr Google later in the day when the household chores are done.

……..and here are the shots made a few days ago with the Sony a6000 on ‘vivid’ picture style (below).

As most of the longtime followers know I’m an amateur photographer first and a gardener second. but you have to admit there’s something really intriguing/fascinating when you look at  vegetable plant details up this close.  It’s almost like there’s a whole miniature world to visit and admire.

Actually Spring onions are one of the best vegetables to observe.  Mine usually grow about 2-3 inches every day.  I’ve just pulled the last one out to make room for another herb seedling friends gave me.

I went for a short walk (15 minutes for normal people, 2 hours for me) down to the nearest pond on Saturday, so when I’ve got time to review the afternoon’s photos and put together a post,  I have some bird images to share.

I have to admit that the pain in my right hip was so severe (despite an extra dose of painkillers), I vowed to never go for a nature walk again after I got home.  Sometimes I think nature walks will be permanently off the agenda now that my total hip replacement surgery has had to be cancelled and I’m limping around like a little old lady.  Other times, I think …..just one more tiny walk and I’ll happily retire from nature photography (and I push the pain limits), but I suspect I’m doing more damage to my hip by walking.  It’s a ‘wear and tear’ injury osteoarthritis, so the Orthopaedic surgeon said, not an ‘old age’ degenerative problem.

THE LOWER STEP (not far from my back gate) WHERE I CAN SEE OVER to FROGS HOLLOW NATURE RESERVE – about 100 feet away.
STANDING ON THE STEEP SAND PATH LOOKING BACK TOWARDS THE 2 STEPS AND THE PATH LEADING UP TO MY ‘BACK GATE’.  Did I tell you it’s very, very, very steep…..the path and my road.

I sat on the lower step down where the path leading to/past Frogs Hollow Nature Reserve starts, for a while after my short walk.  At that minute, 3 Superb Fairy-wrens came to the dried out remains of  an old withered wild Fennel(?) bush and kept me entertained for another 30-40 minutes.  Just goes to show, you don’t have to go far to catch a glimpse of the local bird life in my area.

These wrens were so preoccupied with eating the dried up seeds they didn’t notice me sitting on the step about 7-8 feet away.

It’s all a matter of opening your eyes and truly seeing the small details around you when you live in an urban area.

I think I will grow Zucchini as a permanent part of my balcony garden.  The flowers are so interesting the way they open and close .  Some are gnarled and knotted (the females with the fruit).  Others, (the males), are picture postcard perfect with their golden petals splayed out in a beautiful umbrella shape.

ZUCCHINI ‘Black Jack’ (Cucurbita spp.)

My 2 baby Zucchini died.

They never stood a chance in the last few days of Summer heat and while I moved them to the right hand side of my balcony, which goes into shade earlier in the afternoon, their sad yellow pallor spoke volumes in my attempt to nurture them to fruition.

This morning, it’s cool, overcast and looking promising for some cooler temperatures in the coming week, so I moved the trough over to where I can see the plants over my computer screen, for, on this morning’s inspection, 2 Harlequin bugs had landed on their large gently scalloped leaves and looked very much like they had found a new home.

Hopefully, closer scrutiny throughout the day time I am home will lead to some new fruit and NO Harlequin bugs (which decimated my leafy crops last Summer 2017/18).

For those new to my nature blog, this is how close I can move a plant if I want to look at it regularly without leaving my desk chair.

By the way, excuse the dirty windows in these images, but the overnight rain a few days ago brought with it an astonishing amount of dust and while I’ve dusted indoors, I haven’t had a chance to clean the lounge windows yet.

Keep your fingers crossed the current new flowers bear some fruit.

……and on a sadder note, I’ve only seen a couple of House Sparrows visiting my garden in the last week – hope this doesn’t mean the avian visitors have moved on to greener pastures. 

While the excavator on the building site across the road does make a lot of noise in the mornings, I was hoping the bird bath hanging from the balcony fence and a large ring of bird seed tied to the top of the fence would lure them back…..especially the Superb Fairy-wrens (shown below).

(it might be back to the archives for some bird images to share……..).

ZUCCHINI ‘BLACK JACK’ (Cucurbita spp.)

Just for the fun of it, I bought a small punnet of 4 zucchini seedlings about 3 weeks ago to see if they would grow in my hot, west-facing balcony garden.

I’ve never grown zucchini in any of my previous balcony gardens as the plants grow too big for such a small space.

The plant label said “A high yielding variety with dark-green skin and creamy-white flesh.  Plant in settings of two.”

  • POSITION: Full sun
  • PLANT: 75cm apart
  • MATURITY 6-8 weeks

My plastic pots and troughs were way too shallow and nowhere near large enough to plant one, let alone 4,  plant seedlings, but I stuck them in one trough and lo and behold…….they grew.

One did keel over and die on a particularly hot day towards the end of last week, so I just pulled it out and threw it in the bin.

They even had flowers within 10 days and today, when I went out to inspect the soil moisture, I noticed 2 tiny zucchini growing.

The plants did keel over yesterday and for one of the first times ever, I had to give the plants a drink mid-afternoon while the sun was still hot.

I try to never water plants during the day in the warmer months, as it can burn their fragile roots.  I prefer to water my potted plants at dusk in the summer, so the plants can drink up the moisture over the cooler night-time.

If my plastic pots are very small, I sometimes need to water first thing in the morning when I get up, (while the balcony is in full shade), as well as at dusk.  The sun moves over the apartment building and hits my balcony about 2.30pm DST (daylight savings time), so early morning watering on a hot day is not such an issue as it would be in an open sunny field.

I also bought a large pest deterrent cover.

They only had one size on the store shelf, and one packet left (in my nearby plant nursery store last Saturday).  Initially, I had it spread over all the young seedlings and I thought it was working, but my Pak Choy and Mint is STILL getting eaten.

Where in the %$@&! do these little pests come from?  Are they in the new potting soil I bought?  Are they invisible and jump on the plants before I finish potting, ‘watering in’ the newly planted seedlings and put the netting cover over? I took the cover off this morning and decided to just let the seedlings have a little more sun.

Oh well, at least the established herbs seem to be insect-free this summer.

After a lovely cool change about 10 days ago, when I hoped Summer might finally be over, Melbourne is in the middle of another heat wave at the moment – not expected to end until next Tuesday evening.

It’s OFFICIAL – Melbourne (and the rest of Australia) has had the hottest summer on record!.  Today, Friday the first day of Autumn, is hotter than ever.

SUNSET LAST NIGHT ON THE CLIFF TOP OPPOSITE MY APARTMENT BLOCK. YOU’LL NOTICE THE EXCAVATOR SITTING ON THE TOP OF THE HILL. IT’S BEEN RATHER NOISY AGAIN SINCE JUST AFTER CHRISTMAS. THE CONSTRUCTION WORKERS SEEMED TO HAVE HAD 6 MONTHS OFF AS I HADN’T SEEN THEM SINCE 26TH OF JUNE LAST YEAR. BUT THEY’RE BACK ON TRACK THIS YEAR ‘EATING’ AWAY AT THE CLIFF FACE TO READY THE SITE FOR A NEW APARTMENT BLOCK.