Thursday, December 9, 2010

Frozen Greens

I covered a small patch of mizuna seed I started some time ago to protect it from the frost, just as a little experiment to see how long it would survive. The soil in this planter is frozen but under the plastic cover the first inch is loose and free of frost. Probably because it is kept dry by the plastic cover so there is no moisture to freeze. This little green patch will not amount to anything more than a handful of micro greens at this point and I should probably harvest it soon as the temperatures are staying well below freezing.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Waiting for Jack Frost

My temps currently sit in the -1C and 5C range: 30F to 40F. We've had a few frosty mornings but it doesn't appear to be getting this high up yet. And we've been spared the winter storms that have buried Western Canada and the Northwest US with snow. But even now at the end of November with a month to go before winter officially starts, I still have some green veggies growing on the balcony.

The arugula, lettuce and tatsoi I seeded over two months ago is doing well. Certainly not growing fast in this weather. It's a little overgrown but I figured I would just let it be. I seeded some more lettuce and mizuna last month on a whim and the mizuna is now up with a first set of leaves. I'm keeping it under cover to see if it will grow much more before a frost finally kills it. Also have quite a few radishes growing but by this point they've been in the ground a while and look rather tough. Although I bit into one the other day it was still quite crisp and mild.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Cleanup Time

Obviously, this time of year in my zone, there isn't much going on. It was a warm sunny day so I took the time to finally prune down the tomatoes. I collected a half dozen green fist to golf ball sized green tomatoes. Despite the neglect, the plants were still putting up new growth. I also plucked the last of the yellow beets which were starting to look tired and nutrient deprived. I still have some bulls blood as well as some greens growing in the same box and another box full of radishes. My night time temps are still a few degrees above 0C but the frost is coming. But that's ok. Gives me time to focus on other things.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Watermelon Radish

When I planted a container of beets back in July there were a few that didn't germinate so I reseeded those spots with watermelon radish seed. Just a couple of spots (in container gardening, every square inch is precious). That was two months ago. They looked ready to eat so I pulled them up this morning and sliced into one.

I like growing them because they don't ask for much and as far as radishes go, have a mild yet radishy taste. Maybe I'll slice these up and store them in some brine for a couple days. Pickled Radish? Why not. 

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

It's Not Over Yet

Almost October. I still have a few root vegetables growing on the balcony. Even a few tomatoes left on the vine. But the night temps are coming down fast and getting closer to freezing.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Couldn't wait for the Radishes

I pulled up some Radishes today: cherry belle, french breakfast and a single white icicle. They could have stayed down a little longer but pulling them up and eating them was too tempting. A few yellow beets looked big enough to come out also. That leaves me with about half a dozen yellow beets left in the container and another second container of radishes that might be ready before the first frost. I've also got a container with some peas growing and I still have a couple of tomatoes on the vine that should be ready in the next week or two.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Colourful Carrots

Time to pull the carrots. I started these over two months ago and kept them up in a relatively sunny spot next to the edge of the balcony. The tub (tote) I used was 10x16 and 12 inches deep. I worked some fertilizer into the potting soil before seeding and routinely watered with a diluted fertilizer mix. As they grew I thinned out the 'runts'. The carrots I got ranged from minuscule to an inch in diameter. The roots on the longest carrots reached down almost to the bottom of the tote and about half developed nice chubby shoulders. Purple Haze grew best for me although the Baby carrots fattened up nicely also, just didn't grow as long as I expected. The Snow Whites didn't turn out all that great but at least they taste like carrots. I don't think I'll grow them again but the Purple Haze will be on the balcony again next year, spring and summer, in a deeper container with richer soil.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Death of a Tomato Plant

Officially there are still two and a half weeks of summer left but it feels like it's really over today. Our weather went from hot and humid to cold, wet and windy in the course of a single day. Kids are back to school next week. And my tomato plants have finally exhausted their potting soil of all major nutrients and are calling it quits. Still a couple of smaller tomatoes left in there but it doesn't matter. We had a good run this season. I stopped adding ferts a while ago and at this point I just keep them watered so they don't fall over.

lack of nutrients

Despite the cooling trends in the weather and steady shortening of daylight hours as we head into fall and inevitably winter, I still have 'crops' to tend and new crops to plant. I have some beets growing that need a few more weeks. My carrots can be pulled anytime in the next week or so. I have some snap peas growing that should (hopefully) start flowering this week. And I have a box of radishes taking root that should be ready in a couple weeks also. And there's still time to get some baby salad greens and more radishes in before the snow starts to fall.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Beets on the Balcony

It's been nearly two months - time to harvest my tiny crop of chioggia beets. They weren't very big: between 1 and 2 inches across. I chopped off the tops, gave them a good scrub and baked them in the oven for an hour. Unfortunately the rings fade into a dull yellow colour when baked but on the plus side their juices don't stain like the juice from purely red beets. Tasted great.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Bountiful Beets

The beets are nearing maturity and large enough that a few would make a decent meal. Don't want them to stay out there too long though. The fastest to size up were the Chioggia. I have about a half dozen that look ready to pull. They share space with some Yellow Beets that were slow to come up but are finally starting to fill out. They need a bit more time. Also in the same box are a few Bulls Blood that I planted at the beginning of the month and a few radishes: Watermelon and White Icicle, also planted just a short time ago. Don't know how they'll turn out. Right now they struggle to find the sun beneath the leaves of their mature neighbours. I crowded the box pretty good.

One of the beets that came from the Chioggia seed pack doesn't appear to be a Chioggia at all. Bigger, all green top and a lighter colour root. Doesn't appear to be Chioggia or Yellow and clearly not Bulls Blood.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Growing Pumpkins in Containers

I haven't been getting anywhere with the pumpkins. First with the sugars and now with the jarrahdale. On this last plant, I had attempted to pollinate three females and only one took and it didn't last long. Most of the female flowers didn't even open. I decided the effort to keep this thing alive with no return was not worth the effort so I pruned it down to nothing.

Although my pumpkin growing efforts didn't yield anything 'fruitful', I did learn much about growing pumpkins in containers.

  • They are thirsty beasts. With long trailing vines and massive leaves, the plants transpire like mad. In the end, the largest of my plants was sucking up gallons of water a day. By the next morning my potting soil was usually dry again. Both of my pumpkins were grown in self watering containers which helped balance the water load.

  • Nutrient deficiency was a huge problem like I've never seen before. It seemed that every other week the plants were showing signs of distress. From leaves browning and splotching to flowers dropping. When I kept up with the application of nutrients, the plant grew and looked healthy.

  • Pumpkins have massive root systems and I was constraining mine to 5 and 10 gallon containers. You need to keep up the watering and nutrient application - consistent and constant - if you're going to grow plants like these in containers.

  • Mildew was a constant problem. Powdery mildew on the surface of the leaves and downy underneath. A mild spray of diluted neem oil kept it all under control but did not eliminate it completely and a couple of weeks after an application, I had to repeat it as it quickly spread.

  • My trellis, which would have been a perfect size for a small watermelon plant, was not quite large enough for a sprawling pumpkin. This might not have been a problem if I had a pumpkin or two on it as I would have pinched off the side shoots to keep the plant at a more manageable size.

It didn't work out for me but my parents are having success with the pumpkin plants I gave them in the spring. These are plants I started in my windowsill from the same batch I planted out on my balcony. So maybe there will be a pumpkin pie in my future after all.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

It didn't last long

I barely had to walk 10 steps to get this juicy tomato from the vine to my table. Very tasty. It's didn't last long. I see the others out there starting to turn also. Should be able to eat a ripe one every day until they're all gone.

I think this will be the last time I grow brandywine tomatoes. Yields are low and the skins crack too easily. They taste great but there are other heirlooms just as tasty. Next year I'll try something different.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Heirloom Character

The first of the tomatoes to start ripening, finally. This one is forming lots of heirloom tomato character with shoulder cracks and a few ribs. Shape isn't too bad though. Wonder if the shoulders will redden up.

Plucked a couple of carrots out of the carrot tub today also. Was getting a bit crowded in there. Still a ways to go but they're growing well, so long as I keep them up in the sunlight. Root crops do poorly on my balcony everywhere except along the top edge of the outside wall where they can soak up the most overhead rays.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Bushy Brandywines

I have a pair of brandywine tomato plants in my self watering patio box and they've grown nicely. The tallest vines are reaching 7 feet and just starting to fall over. The entire 'bush' leans into the balcony, towards the light, barely held from falling over by nothing more than a couple of bamboo sticks and some twine. There are close to a dozen good size tomatoes there now and I don't expect to see any more. All of them look plump and healthy. Just need them to ripen. I can see some are just starting to turn from green to yellow. Can't wait!

I used some of the free container space I had to plant some more peas and some radishes. I've moved my table to the edge of the balcony so the plants on it can catch some more sun. The box of beets I planted is doing well. Half well I should say. Everything in one side of the box looks great. The other side is slow growing. Not having much luck with yellow beats this season.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Last of the Peppers

I wasn't able to keep the aphids off the pepper plants and the constant onslaught was preventing the plants from thriving. I did manage to get a few decent tasting peppers from them though. The Klari Cheese Peppers all ripened at the same time and despite my usual neglect, yielded a few nice looking peppers as well as a handful that had clearly ripened past their prime. I also salvaged a nice looking chocolate pepper from the last chocolate pepper plant before it 'tanked'. I didn't let it ripen though which was a shame but it turned out alright. A nice pepper taste with fairly thick walls. There were some smaller 'older' peppers on that plant that did mature into a reddish chocolate brown but they were suffering from damage and neglect so I left them.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Syrphid Fly Larvae - Devourer of Aphids

I was inspecting some beets that have been growing in a box on the balcony for a couple of weeks now and discovered a few small worm like insects crawling about on the leaves. There didn't appear to be many aphids on the leaves that had these things so I watched them for a while and was pleasantly surprise to see them viciously attack and devour aphids when they came across them.

These are syrphid or hoverfly larvae. Hoverflies are small bee like insects that hover around flowers looking for nectar. You can find them everywhere in my part of the world. Even up on my balcony.

The larvae are fun to watch. They hunt around for aphids and when the catch one they hold it up in the air to eat it and within a few minutes, are finished eating and go looking for another. The one's I found are not very long: just a few millimeters.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Pickled Peppers

I finally finished off the pickled peppers and they were fantastic.

I searched the internet for a simple pickled pepper recipe. It seemed fairly simple and I couldn't find one that  suited my needs so I came up with my own. I slit the sides of the peppers to allow fluid to flow into them and air to escape. I then blanched them in boiling water for a few minutes. I boiled a brine mixture of 50/50 water and vinegar (2 cups of each) with a tbsp of salt and a tbsp of sugar. In a glass container (not a jar but only because I didn't have one) I tossed in a spring of oregano and basil and a spoonful of crushed chilies (just because but they served no purpose). After draining the peppers I laid them out in the container. Then I added the boiling brine: enough to cover the peppers and then a bit more. I used a fork to squish the air out out of the peppers so they would sink into the brine. The whole thing sat on the counter for an hour to cool and then went covered into the fridge.

I was impressed with the taste. And these things are hot but not terribly hot. I would say they're hotter than a jar of hot pickled peppers I can buy at the grocery store. I've seen some recipes that use just vinegar, no water, which seems a little hash to me. And next time I'll skip the herbs. Any flavour they added was overpowered by the peppers.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

What's going on out there?

I was out yesterday morning watering plants before work and when I came home in the evening I discovered my Hungarian Hot Wax plants had decided they couldn't take it any more. I'm pretty sure I watered them. Maybe it wasn't enough. Maybe the combination of aphids and heat and lack of nutrients got to them. So the plants are a write off. I harvested the peppers which were just starting to ripen into yellow. I got a dozen. The longest was six inches. I'm going to pickle them.

The sugar pumpkin is going through a tough time. My guess would be a nutrient deficiency. But which nutrient? I would guess all of them. Or maybe an imbalance. Too much of one and not of the others. The vine has pretty much stopped growing and only the leaves on the last few feet of it are still completely green but as you work back down the vine, the leave get more and more yellow and black. This plant needs help but my guess is it's already too late. And like the hot wax peppers, this was a rather sudden change.

The brandywine tomato plants are getting big - over 6 feet tall now and half a dozen tomatoes on the go. My beets are coming up nicely. And although the jarrahdale pumpkin has yet to produce a rflowering female (i see one on the way though) the plant look great and is growing fast. I might not get any pumpkins from it but it sure looks good. So things are all that bad.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Flowering like mad

I counted 13 male flowers open on my sugar pumpkin vine this morning with no female flowers even close to opening on either of my pumpkin plants. Up until now I haven't seen any more than 2 or 3 males open at a time.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Waiting for Beets on the Balcony

I planted some beets last week: Chioggia and Yellow. The Chioggia came up fast; all of them. But only a couple of the Yellow beets have germinated. The temperates this past week have been very hot. A heat wave actually. That could have been a factor. Anyhow, I planted some more seed and I'll see what happens. It would probably be better to wait another week or two to stagger the crops anyways. In between the two groups of beets I planted a few baby carrots which have started to sprout up also. The whole crop is planted in a 1'x3'x ~1' deep box up against the "rail" of my balcony in the sunniest spot I have available. I have some Bulls Blood seed here also and maybe some other variety. It's a few years old now but I might eventually try some of that at the end of the month in the spots where nothing comes up.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Finally... Tomatoes.

My pumpkin pollination attempt was definitely a success. Now I just need to wait. I see another female about to open but it looks a little weak and I think it might fall before opening. Would be nice to get another pumpkin on the plant.

My brandywine tomatoes are coming along nicely also. The plants are just under 5 feet now. I didn't do a good job of staking and pruning and they're starting to get a bit bushy but I can live with it. First few tomatoes started popping out last week.

The aphids are winning the battle on most plants now. All peppers and eggplants. Neem oil is doing nothing for the peppers or the Bambino Eggplant but it does appear to be working on a small Casper Eggplant I've been mostly neglecting. The spider mites are doing well also. All herbs I purchased from a large and very popular garden center are infested. Still finding mildew on the pumpkins but it's managed. The only plants without issues are the tomatoes.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

First Pumpkin?

A new female flower opened on the sugar pumpkin a couple of days ago and there happened to be a couple of males open and ready on the vine also. I used every bit of pollen I could from them to pollinate the female. Still not sure if it worked. If it did I might have some trouble in the future trying to support this thing. It's at the top of the trellis off to one side.

My bambino eggplants are growing well but the plants are absolutely crawling with aphids. The neem oils isn't working fast enough for me. So i clipped off the fruit that had formed - probably should have done this a while ago to promote further fruiting. And I brought the plant to another family member's condo. There are no plants on that balcony so there the aphids can live in peace and I don't have to worry about mass infestation on my balcony. I'll hit it with some more neem oil and keep it watered and fed.

Last year I had a similar issue with bambino eggplants. The aphids were everywhere. And then one day, they just disappeared. The plants shot out lots of new growth, flowers and fruit and did quite well until fall came around and the aphids returned.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Just another day on the balcony

My hot wax peppers are coming along well. Just need them to plump up a bit and ripen. I planted some chocolate peppers a while back and I thought they were bell peppers but they seem to be coming out quite long. Nothing like a bell pepper. Maybe I had the wrong seeds. I cut one open and had a taste and it wasn't hot. Just have to let them ripen and see what I get.

hot wax

I've been spraying the odd spot of mildew I find on the pumpkin leaves with neem oil and it appears to be keeping it under control. So far so good. The one female pumpkin flower I attempted to pollinate didn't take but I see another higher up that is getting ready to open.

powdery mildew

The neem oil seems to be working well against the aphids on the eggplants also. Or at least I think it is. I guess there could be other reasons for their decline. I still see some aphids on the new growth but nothing like I would expect to see. I've been spraying the new growth on the pepper plants also - aphids everywhere. I've got too many peppers anyways and I don't know why I decided to grow eggplant again. I should have used the space for more beans and peas. A watermelon would have been nice.

And it's time to say good-bye to the snap peas. They've come to the end of their season. No new flowers or growth. I've been snacking on them for the past couple weeks and have a few more to go. I think I'll be planting some more in August for some fall snacking.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Pumpkin Pollination

The first female flower on my sugar pumpkin opened in the night and lucky for us, a single male flower was open too. I clipped off the male flower to get good access to the pollen. Then with a small artists brush I delicately transferred all the pollen I could collect from the male flower evenly over the stigma in the female flower. A few days from now I should know if it worked or not.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Trellis for the Pumpkin

With a quarter sheet of plywood and a few 8' 1x2's I was able to assemble this trellis for my one and only sugar pumpkin. When it reaches the top I'll train it around and back down the trellis and by then I should have another side vine growing up somplace. The first female flower on this plant is ready to open. Perhaps tomorrow. There is a male lower down on the vine that also looks like it will open soon. Maybe too soon. That's the problem with only growing one plant.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Progress with Peppers

I planted a pair each of California Wonder, Chocolate Bell, Hungarian Hot Wax and Klari Baby Cheese. The wonders and the chocolate bells are flowering and trying to fruit but the plants look kind of ragged after being wind blasted over the last couple of days. But the hot wax and klari peppers are doing great with lots of peppers coming out.

I sprayed my eggplants with a a diluted Neem oil solution in an attempt to combat the aphids. The recommended dose was 0.5% Neem to water and a bit of detergent. Too early to tell if it's working. There are a few dead aphids on the leaves though. Don't really know if they're dead but they don't seem to be crawling around or doing anything. Might just be the result of the detergent in the spray. I've read that Neem is also good against powdery mildew which I've spotted on one of my pumpkin vines so I gave it a blast of Neem here and there also.

Speaking of pumpkins, I constructed a proper trellis for my plant. Just need to get it set up. With the trellis I will be able to maintain the vines vertically which should allow the leaves to collect more sunlight given that all of my sunlight pours in from the west and not overhead.

Friday, June 11, 2010


So early in the season and I already see problems starting. I found a spot of mildew on a leaf of one of my pumpkin plants. Not a problem yet but I've seen what happens when it gets out of hand. On the other pumpkin, the new leaf growth is coming out a lighter shade of green with a few tiny dark spots - doesn't look good. The bambino eggplants are officially aphid infested. I'm trying to keep them away from everything else for now and squish out what I find when I find them. And most of the beans I planted that have come up are rotting - too much water. What was I thinking.

On the positive side though, the snap peas are doing well and producing lots of flowers. The broad beans are up and looking healthy. And I'm getting lots of blossoms on my pepper plants.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

First Pumpkin Flower

Temperatures have been a bit cooler this past week. Bad news for the peppers and tomatoes, good news for the peas. And everything is trying real hard to flower. I noticed a single flower open on my Sugar Pumpkin this morning and the vine is barely two feet long. I don't even have a trellis up for it yet.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Aphids On My Eggplant

I potted a pair of bambino eggplants last week and already there are aphids sucking on them. These were plants I started indoors back in April or maybe even late March and never saw an aphid during their time indoors. I used new potting soil in the container they went into. I can't recall using that container last year but I'm sure at one time something in that container had aphids but I don't recall what it was or when.

It wasn't a complete infestation of aphids though. Just a few that were easily eradicated. I found them when I noticed a few spots of honeydew on the lower leaves - a dead give away that there are aphids feeding on the upper leaves. The plants are looking healthy so if I can keep them that way and get rid of any aphids I see whenever I see them, everything should be fine. Of course, I say that now. I might not be as attentive come late July.

I've also discovered spider mites on a small container of Golden Hops that I picked up at a nursery last weekend. I bought it on a whim, picturing a container with huge hops vines stretching up over a trellis. The plant sat for a while before I finally had a really good look at it. A couple of the lower leaves were dried up and curled and I could see the fine webs that the mites leave on the undersides of the leaves.

Spider mites are incredibly small but if you stare at a leaf that has them long enough you'll notice them moving around. They are also an absolute pain to get rid of for balcony gardeners. So I have to decide what to do with this little plant. Hop vines can reach lengths of 20 feet so you can imagine the trouble I'll have if this plant were allowed to grow up and became infested. The mites would quickly spread to my other plants. Not good.

I'm still in the process of potting my started plants. It's a never ending process. Was looking at some Klari "Baby Cheese" Pepper plants I have yet to pot and noticed the lower leaves are yellowing and falling off. I should have re-potted these a long time ago. I have been applying a mild dilution of fertilizer but it's just not enough. Time for a more permanent home.