Wednesday, September 14, 2011

These are the beans I wanted

I've let my pair of Borlotti bean plants die with a load of bean pods hanging on them. Some of the pods are still green but as they turn yellow I've been picking and shelling them. And the beans inside have that nice specked appearance I've been waiting for. I won't get much - maybe 1/2 cup of shelled beans in all. Wonder what I should do with them...

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Zapotec Tomato

Finally, a ripe Zapotec. This plant did really well considering it was pushed off into a corner where it struggled for sunlight. There are a couple of clusters of similar sized tomatoes on the single giant plant I have on the balcony. The tomatoes I got were not as large or interesting looking as the ones I've seen in books and around the internet. Inside is looks a little hollow as I expected. A good number of seeds.

This one tasted pretty plain though. I mean, it tasted like a tomato but wasn't special. I expected it to be a little sweeter but it wasn't terribly acidic either. I don't blame the variety for this fault. I blame the plant and where the blame really lies is with the gardener. I crowded my balcony with too many large tomato plants this year.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Gold Medal Tomato

I picked this Gold Medal tomato over the weekend. This one grew without much cover from the sun and had a couple of green streaks on its shoulders. But it was quite ripe overall. A good size. Nice tomato. But the taste of this one didn't impress me. Came across as kind of weak. The plant this tomato came from didn't perform very well and I blame a lack of sunlight. Too crowded on the balcony this year. The rest of the family thought the tomato tasted great though. Thick juicy slices of tomato don't last long around here.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

First and Last Green Tomato

The Green tomato was ripe so I picked it. That's the last time I grow German Green tomatoes. I gave that plant the best sunlight and it continues to grow well bit it didn't set many flowers and only one actually set fruit. This one. It measured a mere 3 inches.

But it was a good tomato. Few seeds, meaty. Somewhat sour but a little sweet as well. It was certainly ripe: had turned to a nice shade of yellowy lime green with a slight pink in some areas.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Opalka Tomato

I've read that people grow Opalka Tomatoes for canning because of their shape. But I decided to try them because I heard good things about their taste. I finally had one ripen enough to eat and it didn't let me down. It had a nice tomato taste. It certainly wasn't weak. A little sweet perhaps. Not very acidic. It had an almost smoky taste to it. Very few seeds. Meaty on the inside but some hollow spots. I was impressed actually. Not a bad tomato. Has to be the best plum shaped tomato I've tasted. Mind you I don't grow very many.

Some of the other tomatoes on the plant are shaped a little better than this first one I picked. The plant itself is growing really dense with lots of growth. It almost seems to be resisting my attempts to make it grow straight. It's a crooked plant covered with leaves. Takes a lot of digging through the growth to find the tomatoes.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Strong Winds

Big storm with lots of gusting wind while we were out this afternoon. My four front line tomato plants were knocked down but did not completely fall off the chairs they sit on and there appears to be no damage to the plants. I'm sure a few branches and leaves got bent or crushed but it doesn't look like I lost any tomatoes. And other than those plants falling over, everything else survived just fine.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Borlotti Beans

I planted a couple of Borlotti bean plants in a sunny spot this year and they're doing well. Borlotti are a shelling bean, also known as Roman or Cranberry Beans and are easily distinguishable by a splash of red on the bean pods .The sprawling colony of spider mites that suck on the plants juices are also doing well. I knock their population down with a light spray of dish soap and neem oil every now and then.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Small Harvest

I'm pulling a handful of cherry tomatoes every day. My son eats them faster than I can pluck them. Can't blame him though. They taste great. I've had a few split and some split shortly after being pulled from the vine even if I leave the tops on. I should start picking them earlier. A few have slightly green shoulders but it doesn't seem to bother anyone around here.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Relief from the heat

Lots of wind. We had a few days of constant winds that didn't result in any severe gusting but it was enough to beat up a few of my 'front line' tomato plants. I had to pick up some taller bamboo poles and get a little more serious about staking. Even had to add some extra bracing to keep things from falling over. One of the German Green tomato plants was leaning heavily and eventually bent out near the base as the whole plant slide a foot down the pole. I only noticed because the top of the plant looked a little droopy. Guess the pinch in the vine was cutting off it's water supply.

The poor hops vine at the back of the balcony that has been largely neglected all season has started flowering which is nice to see.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Color on the Balcony

Some of the black cherry tomatoes are starting to ripen. These plants are in a sunny spot in a big self-watering container and they seem happy. My other tomato plants are not. Some are crowded and not getting enough sun and not producing at all. Others that are in prime sunshine locations try to produce tomatoes, only to loose them to end rot. They are not in self watering containers and are very large plants, in the sun, and wind, during a particularly hot summer. Despite success with black cherry tomatoes, I'm not having much luck with anything else.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Jungle Balcony

Starting to get bushy on the balcony. There is barely enough sunlight to go around. My poor hops vine gets very little sun now. Need to give the tomatoes priority. In fact some are a little too shaded.

I've reached that point in the season where the growth seems to slow a little. Need to get some more fertilizer in the containers. Prune some of the wild growth from the tomatoes. I notice lots of suckers that have gone unpinched. I pulled up the yellow bush bean and fava bean plants that were done for the season and after mixing some ferts and compost back into the container, reseeded with peas. Hopefully I can get something more out of that container before the end of the season.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Tiny Cape Gooseberry

The start of something tasty. Still got a long way to go though. My Cape Gooseberry plants are really starting to spread and block the tomatoes that sit behind them. Time to do a bit of rearranging on the balcony. And I need to provide some better support for these plants. Cape Gooseberry plants have very woody stems that can snap easily. I learned that the hard way once before and don't plan to repeat that lesson this season..

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Blossom End Rot

I don't see this very often but on this particular tomato plant I've had a few of these now. And I believe the culprit is excess moisture. This plant grows in a self watering container made from a 5 gallon bucket but the fill hole is on a side I can no longer access. So I started watering it from the top and as a result it's probably not getting a consistent supply of water regularly.

There are more tomatoes on the plant that are not yet affected so maybe I should get out there and fix this watering problem. Another possibility is low calcium levels and I think I have some calcium suppliment I can use. But the soil mix and fertilizer isn't any different from the mix I used on my other plants, like my black cherry tomatoes. And I have lots of those with no end rot.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

First Fava

I decided to pluck a fava bean off one of my little bean bushes and crack it open for a taste. It was a small pod, not quite 4 inches long with 3 beans inside. I'm glad I didn't wait too long to pick it because it tasted just right. No bitterness. Sweet. I tried growing this same variety last year and had no luck with them so this year I planted them in a sunnier spot and seem to be having a better time with them. Three plants with a couple of beans on each and still flowering but I don't expect much more.

Favas take a little work to get at the good stuff. The pods are thick and "furry" inside. Once open, you have to remove the beans and then peel off the thick membrane that surrounds each bean. What you're left with is what looks like a giant flattened pea. And they taste somewhat similar to peas also.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Way Too Hot

The yellow beans I planted were the first to produce. I've got a few fava beans going as well. Still nothing from the pole beans. Not a single flower. Mind you, they don't get as much sunlight.

Some extreme temperatures moving through the region. My air conditioning has been running full tilt and the temperatures are suppose to get hotter later in the week. I've been watering like mad to keep the plants hydrated. But the tomatoes aren't happy. Several are dropping their flowers. It's too hot and I'm over watering to compensate.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Cape Gooseberry Flowering

My cape gooseberry plants are getting nice and tall. They're not in a particularly sunny spot and are growing tall to try and catch some sun. Each plant has its first single flower out now. Hopefully a sign of good things to come. I haven't had cape gooseberries in a while but I still have quite a while longer to wait.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The First Black Cherry Tomatoes

Well actually, they aren't the first and they've been on the vine for a while now. My black cherry tomato plants are growing well. Lots of flower clusters and a number of green tomatoes here and there. These plants appear to be growing faster than everything else on the balcony. One of the Opalka plants is doing fine also. Lots of flowers on the Gold Medal tomatoes but nothing on the Zapotec or German Green yet.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Still quite tame

I've had to shuffle plants around a few times now to maximize sun exposure. My hops vine used to enjoy a nice sunny spot but I've had to relegate it to a shady corner to make space for the veggies. It still looks manageable but it's only the first week of July and most of my plants are tomatoes which grow fast. I've been pinching off suckers constantly and have most of them pruned to a single main 'trunk'.

I've also got some bush beans that are flowering and some pole beans which are starting to climb. I never have much luck with beans so my expectations are low but, so far so good. And the cape gooseberries are doing fine despite a few spider mites that call them home.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Opalka Tomato Plant

Lots of rain this week and all of it accompanied by a good west wind that soaked the balcony. Probably one of the few times when my plants actually get wet. All of the tomatoes are growing big and fast except this opalka tomato. It's filling out nicely and has a couple of flowers coming out but it doesn't appear to be growing up as fast as the others. There doesn't appear to be anything wrong with it and even though it looks a little droopy in this picture that's because we had just come through a heavy downpour. I read that these plants were suppose to get big and bushy. Looks like this one has a ways to go yet.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Tomato Growth

My black cherry tomatoes are growing fast. I probably shouldn't have planted a pair of them as I hear they can grow quite large and bushy. Perhaps too large for this single tote to support them. Fortunately this is a self watering container with a fairly large reservoir so keeping them watered shouldn't be a problem. I just need to remember to keep them fertilized. The trellis built up around this container is only 6 feet tall and I suspect I'll eventually need to build it up a little higher.

Some of my other tomato plants are growing quite well also, like this Zapotec. I temporarily stuck a stick in the pot to keep it upright but I really need to build a proper stake and support system. I find that with large tomatoes in containers a single large stake is not enough to keep the plant upright no matter how big the stake is. You can only push it so far into the soil.

None of my plants, except the black cherry tomatoes, have reached a height where they desperately need support. Still, I need to start planning.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Bad Beans

I planted some bush beans in some free space that I had and some came up mangled starter leaves. And it was all of one specific variety I planted. The others came up fine. For some reason, the Borlotti Beans were trashed when they broke the soil surface. One poor plant had no starter leave to speak of.

I did a bit of research and have concluded that it was not a bird problem, nor was it an insect. It must be one of two things: I planted them too deep or the soil was too moist. Or maybe both. Interesting that the other plants were not affected though. There are some Yellow Beans growing next to these and they had no problems.

I'm going to guess I planted these too deep. Only three came up and I'm certain I seeded more than that. But all is not lost. Despite the initial lack of leaves, the first true leaves are emerging and they look fine. Now they just have to survive the inevitable wave of aphids and spider mites.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Too Windy

We've had a couple of very windy days recently and my newly planted cucumbers and tomatoes have taken a beating. Most of the tomato plants came through it alright actually. The single Opalka I planted got beaten up pretty bad but the Gold Medals and German Greens look great. I planted a single Cape Gooseberry plant and it too took a thrashing. Fortunately I have a few more spare plants still in their starter pots. I think I'll start again with this one and plant out as many more as I can find space for.

I have a few cucumber plants trying to grow on the balcony this year too but I waited to long to bring them indoors and after a day of constant wind gusts they are not looking too well. I like to bring sensitive plants indoors for the first month whenever it gets overly windy or chilly, until the plants establish themselves. I think my hesitation time will mean the end of my cucumber plants this season.

Another mistake I keep making is to use tomato cages to support them so they can grow vertically and I don't know why I continue to do this. Even the slightest breeze causes the plants to brush up against the tomato cage and the plants become damaged very quickly. I think there was a time when I had a successful season with cucumbers and tomato cages on the balcony but that was a long time ago.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Root Ball

I planted a few of the bigger tomato plants into larger containers but I had to clean out my larger self watering container before I could put my Gold Medal tomato plants in it. Last year this container was home to a pair of Brandywine Tomatoes. These plants were so big that the entire soil mass in the container was held together by the old roots and the roots extended well into the water reservoir at the bottom of the container.

The biggest annoyance I have with gardening on the balcony is finding space to clean up things like this. If I had a yard and a garden I'd just dump the container contents into the garden and break it up with a shovel. Maybe toss it into a composter. But on the balcony there's no place to dump it and I don't want to just dump it all into the dumpster. So normally I keep an empty tote handy for mixing soil and banging out old root balls. I like to reclaim as much potting soil as possible.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Tomatoes Ready to Plant

The tomatoes are hardening off on the balcony and some should be planted in their permanent homes this weekend. German Green, Black Cherry, Gold Medal, Opalka and Zapotec.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Cape Goosberry Seedlings

I'll need to plant these in bigger containers soon. They started out in the seed starting trays and a little over a week ago I transferred them to these little "juice box" containers.

From the last time I grew these I recall that they started out with really large leaves and the plants eventually grew quite tall with thick woody stems. I remember having a pair growing and one snapped off near the base of the "trunk". And it just happened to be the one with the heaviest fruit load.  This year I'm going to make sure they have proper support and protection from the wind.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Cucumbers and Watermelons

I seeded a few small pots with Talladega Cucumbers and Sugar Baby Watermelons. I usually start these way too early and have to deal with transplanting long skinny vines outside into bigger containers when it's still a little too cold for them thrive. I'll have to remember to do a better job of protecting these from the wind when I finally do get around to planting them out. It's been a while since I've had much luck with cucumbers.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Early Nutrient Deficiency

While inspecting my tender tomato seedlings I happened to notice that some of the leaves are developing a slight purple tinge and curled leaves: a sure sign of a nutrient deficiency. Perhaps phosphorous. And it's no surprise really. I'm a lazy gardener and should have applied a mild dose of general purpose ferts when the first true leaves appeared. So off I went to shop around for something, preferably with a higher P and K concentration to promote early growth.

But it occurred to me that I must have something kicking around at home. I don't need much and it doesn't have to be perfect. And sure enough I had a few options available. At first I considered using a very mild application of orchid fertilizer. It had a higher level of phosphorous but also a few micro nutrients. Probably things orchids need I suppose. Then I discovered the tail end of a bottle of an organic fertilizer solutions; 1-5-5 with a touch of Magnesium. Perfect. Hopefully it does the trick.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Life Returning to the Balcony

A very nice day today. I thought I might get out and clean up the balcony but the wind was keeping me from getting anything done. Every time I touched an old pot a cloud of potting soil would get blown around. Even opening a garbage bag was a challenge with updrafts trying to pull the bags out of my hand and over my head.

As junky and lifeless as it looks out there, I did find a few surprises. Some of lettuce seeds I planted late last fall that didn't come up are coming up now. Maybe a dozen. I would guess Black Seeded Simpson and another dozen Arugula. And the hops vine that I trimmed down last fall is showing signs of life also. Buds around the base of the plant are soft and slightly green.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


Snow today. Sort of. A few flurries and a bitter wind. But the grass is getting green. In another month I'd like to have some veggies started outside. I had to reseed most of my tomatoes though. They came up really fast and I was too busy to notice. They were on a shelf in the kitchen and I was suppose to get them under some lights as soon as they broke the soil. Within a couple of days they were all very tall and desperately reaching for the sunlight. So I thinned them out and started again. I usually get things started to early anyways. No harm in delaying another week or two.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Seed Starting

I thought I'd try a couple of these self watering seed starter trays available from Lee Valley. Water in the bottom tray is wicked up by a capillary mat that sits under the upper tray that holds the seedlings. This tray is essentially bottomless so the soil in the cells is in contact with the capillary mat which stays wet as long as there is water in the reservoir below. Although they look solid, the trays are made of polystyrene foam (styrofoam) making them unbelievably light and kind of flimsy. And they weren't cheap either. But I needed something and I felt like splurging a little. Maybe I'll switch back to recycled drink boxes next year.

The two trays I have started contain Gold Medal, Black Cherry, Opalka, German Green and Zapotec Tomatoes as well as Ground Cherries and Cape Gooseberries. And I've got a small container of Green Tomatillos started too but I believe those seeds are too old and won't germinate. Maybe I'll start some other old seeds I have, just to see if they're still viable.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

What should I grow?

That time to start thinking about seeds again. I think this year it's going to be all about Tomatoes. Four or five different kinds. I want to grow some Gold Medal tomatoes and a couple of cherry varieties and maybe a good plum for sauce. It would be nice to grow some Ground Cherries again. Cape Gooseberries are always nice. And I think I'd like to grow some peanuts. I doubt I'd be very successful and have low expectations but I'm curious to see how they grow.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Flowering Rosemary

I brought my single rosemary plant indoor long before the first frost hit. I find they do well in the kitchen window until spring. I don't normally see much if any growth on them when inside but my current plant appears to be flowering. Nice to see during the dreary grey days of winter.