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.