Saturday, September 29, 2012


Went out to water the plants yesterday and as I turned to go back inside I saw something move in a reflection in the window that caught my attention. A squirrel had somehow scaled the 18 floors to the top of my building.

He was sitting on the top ledge of the building when I saw him. Just when I was starting to think he was stuck up there, he very quickly crawled down to my neighbours balcony and sat for a bit before returning to the top of the building. Within a few minutes he was gone again. We have lots of black squirrels around here - I see them everywhere. But this was the first time I've seen one scale an 18 floor building.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Goodbye Celery

Something I haven't paid much attention to all season is my celery. I planted 4 plants of Utah back in May and watched it very slowly grow to what it is now. Some of the leaves are starting to yellow, probably because I didn't add enough fertilizer to the soil at the beginning of the season and didn't apply it regularly throughout (I was kind of lazy this year). We plucked off stalks from time to time whenever we needed it. One of the plants ended up in a tomato sauce last week and the other three just landed in a big soup pot.

It wasn't a bad celery. It certainly needed more attention to be good enough to snack on raw although some of the inner stalks we're tasty. The stalks didn't get big and juicy but they had a nice celery flavor. I wish I could have given it more sunlight.

Saturday, September 8, 2012


Really windy today. Enough to blow my basil over. Teaches me for not watering it this morning. All of the plants in this container have flowered and are producing seed. The aphids are back too in huge numbers on the top 6 or 8 inches of each basil plant.

My tomatoes are almost done now. Just a few little green ones left on the vines which stopped growing a long time ago. The leaves are starting to yellow and brown from the bottom up. These plants drained all the nutrients from their containers a long time ago. I've still got lots of peppers to harvest - hot wax and California wonder. And my celery is starting to die off. I better use what I can before it's all turns yellow and withers.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Blossom end rot perhaps?

I've lost a few California wonder peppers this year to what I believe to be blossom end rot. I see it in tomatoes occasionally and although this doesn't quite look the same, I believe it is. Could be a calcium deficiency. Thinking back to what I put in the container this plant grows in, I wouldn't be surprised. But I think it's more likely a problem with water. I've been subjecting my peppers to an unbalanced watering schedule and that might be interfering with calcium uptake. Maybe next year I'll try growing these in a self-watering container.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

A black cherry harvest

I have two black cherry tomato plants and I've been picking ripe tomatoes for the past couple weeks. I'll probably get a few more bowls like this over then next few weeks. A nice little snack for the kids. I give the tomatoes a good rinse and leave them out on the table and they just disappear.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

A lucky melon

Never judge a book by its cover, or in this case, a watermelon by the plant it's growing on. My golden midget watermelon plant was a day or two away from being completely done. Almost every leaf was yellow and half were brown and rotting. The one melon on the plant was only a month old and still had streaks of green in its skin. But the real blow came when I accidentally knocked the melon out of its sling and it ripped the vine holding it on the plant. It was still hanging on but only by a small part of the vine. So I figured it was time to pick this melon to see what it looked like inside.

The description on the seed packet claimed early 3 lb melons and 70 day maturity. My melon weighed just over 3 lbs, was just under 6 inches in diameter, and counting back on the calendar... 70 days seems about right also (I can't recall exactly when I planted this one). Despite the size, I thought this melon was a write-off. But when I cut into into it I was pleasantly surprised. It was juicy and solid. The white on the rind was not overly thick and internally there was lots of symmetry. All the seeds had matured. I counted 38 in just one quarter. Visually it looked like a good melon.

The taste was ok, but not perfect. It certainly had a nice watermelon taste with some sweetness but with another week or two to ripen, and perhaps if the plant had not aborted so early, it would have been sweeter. Still, I have purchased melons from grocers that were no better and even worse. I wish there had been more of these on my plant. A 3 lb watermelon doesn't last long around here.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

A good pepper

I picked this California Wonder pepper the other day. It was a good size and actually looked like a bell pepper I might have bought at the grocery story. This is a bit of an accomplishment for me as I've tried to grow California Wonders a few times now and every time the plants fail to set fruit if they even reach a size that can support flowering. But this time, with the right amount of sunlight, I seem to have struck gold.

There are two California Wonder pepper plants on the balcony: one produced this pepper and is starting to set more and the other has a few golf-ball size peppers developing.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Dying Golden Midget

I've grown other plants in this spot on the balcony, in this same container with a similar potting soil mix and fertilizers: watermelons, pumpkins, tomatoes... but I've never had one die a death quite like the one this plant is going through. The yellow leaves at the base of the plant, that have been yellow since mid June are finally turning brown and dying off completely. The plant stopped growing a little while ago. The one melon on the plant is not quite 6 inches in diameter and just turning yellow now. Golden Midget watermelons are suppose to turn yellow as they ripen but this one could be turning because the plant is dying. The melon probably needs another month to ripen. But with all the leaves dying I don't think there's much chance of that.

The one nice thing about all this is that the yellow leaves add a bit of colour to the balcony.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Hot Wax Peppers

I picked some of the Hungarian Hot Wax Peppers to give the plants a chance to grow some more peppers. With the temperatures outside down to a more comfortable level, the peppers have started flowering and setting fruit again. The peppers I picked were in varying stages of ripeness but it's all the same to me. Some I sliced and others I just sliced open. I blanched them and then covered them with a boiling briny vinegar solution. After a night in the fridge they taste just right.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Tall Tomatoes

My black cherry tomato plants seem to be doing ok. I've plucked a few ripe tomatoes so far and there are loads more on the way. I've been restricting the plants to a single central vine, pinching off all suckers and side shoots as the appear. I usually get lazy and miss a few and end up with wild bushy plants. But not this year. The plants have reached a height of 7'6". With the height of the container they are up over 8'6". But the tops don't get much sunlight so they are growing rather spindly up there. I should move the plant out from the wall closer to the edge of the balcony but I'm afraid that if it falls over it will crash into and damage my pigeon netting.

The tomatoes and peppers are going really well this season. The watermelon appears to be in trouble but hasn't aborted yet. And the celery was started a little late so it can be forgiven if it's a little tough and woody (I've also been lazy with watering it so my expectations for the celery are low). I was hesitate to plant too much this year because I didn't know if I'd be around much but now the calendar appears to be clear so maybe it's time to fill some of those idle container with some fall crops: beets, radish and lettuce. Not too late for some bush beans either.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Yellow leaves on the Golden Midget

The leaves on my Golden Midget watermelon plant are starting to turn yellow faster now. The oldest leaves are a pure pale yellow and some have started to turn brown and die. The plant puts out a few male flowers every day but very few females. And the female flowers wither and fall before opening. The one melon on the plant is still growing and is now the size of a really large grapefruit. But it hasn't started to turn yellow yet, like it's suppose to.

Golden Midget watermelon plants have been known to turn yellow but I'm not convinced that's what is happening to my plant. I started adding ferts to the water over a week ago. Just general purpose water soluble crystals. But it doesn't appear to be slowing the spread. It almost looks like a spider mite infestation but I can't find any anywhere. It's got to be a nutrient deficiency. Or maybe over-watering. It's in a self watering container and I've never had problems with it before but who knows. Maybe it's getting more water than it wants. I suppose it could also be a virus of some kind but more likely something simple, like a lack of nitrogen. I suspect the plant will be dead before that melon is ready to pick.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Aphid eaters

The sudden departure of the aphid colonies from my peppers seemed a little too... sudden. I was having a good look at some of the plants tonight and noticed a few tiny worm like creatures slinking around on the leaves. I believe they are hoverfly larvae. I haven't seen any of them eating any aphids because there are no aphids left to eat. These larvae move around like an inch worm and do so very quickly. And as they move they constantly "feel around" for something to eat. I've seen hoverfly larvae before but not quite like these ones. I wish there had been some aphids around for them to eat. It's fun to watch.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Bountiful Basil

The drip irrigation system I had in place when I went on vacation is still running and doing a nice job of keeping the basil hydrated. I've been pinching the tops to get it bushier. It could use some more sunlight though. That's the problem with the gravity fed drip irrigation. The containers need to be down on the balcony floor for it to work.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Aphids making an exit

The wasps that have been buzzing around the peppers for the past couple weeks still come by occasionally but not that often. Instead of the six or seven I see constantly hovering around and licking honeydew from the pepper plant leaves I now only see one or two at a time and they don't linger long. A couple weeks ago I noticed that the aphid colonies on my California Wonder pepper plants were thriving so I blasted them with a rather potent solution of neem oil and dish soap. Not much different from what I've used in the past. I sprayed the plants a few times before leaving town for a week. That was two weeks ago. Now the aphids appear to be gone or at least beaten back significantly. And I figure the wasps aren't hanging around because there aren't enough aphids to produce honeydew for them.

But aphids are only one problem plaguing the California Wonders. I planted them up high along the edge of the balcony half wall to provide maximum sunlight. Unfortunately being up there also means maximum wind exposure. And these poor plants really take a beating. Every leaf has a tear or rip or hole in it. Despite this, they continue to put out flowers. But it's a bit too hot for fruit set. On one plant I have a single pepper, perhaps a little bigger than my fist. And on the other I see a couple of new peppers starting to form. Perhaps now with the aphids in retreat things will get better.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

First Golden Midget Watermelon

Before leaving on a week long vacation, I pollinated a pair of female flowers on my golden midget watermelon plant. When I came back I found this on the vine: my first watermelon of the season. It's got a way to go but clearly this one has a chance. I need to find something to hold it up on the trellis. The vines of the plant are growing fast now and I've had to pinch off several side shoots, limiting the plant to just three vines. The yellowing in the leaves and vine at the base of the plant is slowly progressing up the plant but it doesn't yet look like it will take over. And no sign of spider mites.

A week without me directly watering everything didn't hurt much. Tomatoes and hot wax peppers are ripening, I've got a plump California wonder pepper to pluck, and the basil is lush and bushy. The celery is progressing but I'm guessing it hasn't been getting enough water and the temperatures this past week have been up into the 90's. I should sample a stock and decide what to do with it.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Golden Midget Watermelon

My golden midget watermelon is growing and putting out flowers. I managed to pollinate a female flower earlier this week and it was starting to point down and form a melon. But it yellowed and died. Just wasn't meant to be. I would like to see the plant grow a little faster. It needs more vine to get up into more sunlight. 

But I'm not convinced this plant will last the entire season. Some of the lower leaves are yellowing and this is very slowly starting to spread. And the plant has been like this since before I transplanted it. If it were just the leaves and perhaps a lack of new growth, I'd assume some kind of nutrient problem. But I've also noticed the vine is turning yellow too and there should have been a good balance of nutrients in the potting soil when I planted it.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Something eating my basil

I've been finding basil leaves that look like they've been nibbled on. A worm perhaps or an earwig. I'll have to go out some night with a flashlight and take a closer look. Only a few leaves though and they've been like this for a while now. A couple of weeks ago it was celery. One of my plants had all of its new growth eaten to a nub. I suspect a worm of some sort in that case. It was just the one plant and after I discovered it new growth returned to the plant and I haven't seen any damage to the celery since.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Vacation Watering

My garden is off to a slower, less enthusiastic start this year. I decided not to plant so much as I plan to be away from home a bit more this summer. I just don't have the time to properly take care of my plants. And this past week was the first of my summer challenges: keeping my plants watered for a week with no one at home. In the past I've had someone take care of things for me but this time I decided to find a way to do it without asking for help. I figured that if my plants are still relatively young and planted in self watering containers they might be able to survive that long without needing a watering.

But for the plants not in self watering containers I needed to find an automatic solution. I purchased a Claber Oasis self watering system. It's nothing more than a tub with a timer controlling the opening and closing of a small value. When open, water can flow from the tub through flexible tubing to drippers over the soil in your containers. Only problem is, relying on gravity, it needs to be higher then your plants. And some of my plants are in a planter box at table height.

I added a shelf to the side of my highest planter and placed the Claber there. I pushed all of the containers towards the back of the balcony where they get less sun, clustered around the Claber. And I fed the water lines in a loop over the containers, with a few drippers per container. I even placed drippers over my self watering containers. Then I covered the tops of all the containers with white plastic to prevent the soil from drying out too quickly.  The timer on the drip system was set to go off twice a day and deliver 4oz per dripper per watering session.

When I came home after a week, I was happy to see everything still alive and growing. Only problem I had was with the drippers higher up, closer to the tub. To work properly, the drippers have to be a couple of feet below the water reservoir. The drippers didn't drip as much. Some of them I had modified to drip faster and these did all right. But some providing water to a couple of pepper plants could have been working better.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Hardening Off

Happy Mothers Day!

Not a very big selection this year: four black cherry tomato plants, three California wonder peppers and two Hungarian hot wax peppers. Not sure if I'll plant all of them. I also have some golden midget and sugarbaby watermelons inside along with a dozen basil and celery plants.

I've been putting these out to harden off for the past few days now. Weather has been nice but the winds have been blowing strong making it hard to keep the little plants out there for too long. I think I'll be planting these soon - no later than the end of the week. Have to get the balcony cleaned up too. And I need to buy more potting soil, fertilizer and compost. It's going to be a busy week.

Thursday, May 3, 2012


I wanted to get some extra lighting over some of my seedlings so I picked up this 22" HO fluorescent growlight at Lee Valley. I was going to construct some kind of stand for it from some scraps of wood but I didn't really feel like putting even that kind of commitment into it (yeah, I'm lazy). My kids have this K'NEX toy set that they rarely use so I quickly put together this little frame to temporarily hold the light above one of my starter trays.

I have another tray and I could use more light but this is good enough. And this was a week ago. The plants in the other tray; tomatoes and pepeprs, have been potted up to individual 3 inch pots now.

Like every season, I'm running behind in my planting. I did good with the tomatoes but the peppers could have been seeded earlier. And the celery is way off. Far too late, but I'll try anyways. Basil is on schedule. And I keep forgetting to start the melons. Maybe tomorrow...

Monday, April 9, 2012

Tomatoes are up

The black cherry tomatoes came up yesterday. Pretty much all of them I believe. Those things didn't waste any time and I seem to recall having no trouble starting them last year. But everything else is still down, like all the old pepper seed that I planted. I have low expectations for those. I was going to go out and seed a box with some greens and radishes but it's just too windy today. Sunny, but howling windy. Maybe tomorrow.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Time to get planting

Time to start thinking about the balcony again. We had that run of unusually warm weather last month that made me think summer was almost here. But temperatures have settled back to April norms.

I just seeded a seed tray with Utah Celery and from what I've been reading it's a little late but so what. I also started some Black Cherry Tomatoes which I had much success with last year, some Casper Eggplant which I've never had much luck with, Hungarian Hot Wax Peppers which have grown well in the past and some old California Wonder Pepper seeds that I will be surprised to see germinate. The tomatoes will be planted out for sure but I'm not sure yet which of the peppers or eggplant will, if any.

I want to start a bunch of Basil plants too but I'm going to hold off on those for a while. And I'm planning to start some watermelons also: Golden Midget and maybe... maybe Sugar Baby. I plan to grow the midgets for sure. Not sure about the sugars yet. I've got some time before those need to be started.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Another season

I'm not much of a blogger. The 2011 season ended quietly. I harvested and froze my beans and managed to get a few more ripe cape gooseberries before it started getting frosty outside. I chopped down everything that was left some time ago. And the contents of my little compost bucket is frozen. Winter is here... sort of. The weatherman seems to be in denial and it seems more like November or March outside, not January.

I haven't given much thought to what I'll grow in 2012. There was talk of a family vacation that would take me away from the balcony for a chunk of the summer so I won't be planning anything overly ambitious.