Morning Glory Seeds and Bumpin' Pumpkins
Well it's been quite a year for our little garden area. We have come to the point where all of our plants are either alive and flourishing, or dead / dying. The good thing is, I've been able to collect some seeds, so this will be my first year attempting to start plants from seeds which came from plants that I grew! (Whew!)
So far we got to start with the morning glories. The one on the left is ready to seed, the one on the right is still too young:
To open the pod, you simply place it between your fingers, and squeeze:
They come out very easily, so make sure you don't accidentally shoot them across the room!
Once you have collected all of them, put them in a plastic bag, and label them with their name and the year. Seeds do "expire" over time, so when you get your next batch, you may want to replace the previous batch from year to year. I plan to keep them up to two years, and replace as I go after that.
In other news, our tomatoes started turning orange last week, check it out!
Our mint has flowered, I can't wait to try to get seeds from it (not the greatest pic, I'm not very good at close-ups yet):
We have a new friend who has decided to live in our Basil (you can see him on one of the leaves if you look close enough on the left, but he's blurry). He's a little inch worm, and we decided to name him Slimey. He's eating all of our Basil, but I harvested a bunch of it recently anyway, so we just stopped caring. Eventually he will become a moth and either continue to live in our garden, fly away, or come inside and get eaten by one of the cats. Probably Dexter - he's only one year old, and has a fascination with bugs.
Now for the exciting part. The last few years we've been planting Small Sugar Pumpkins on our balcony. I ran them along the edge of the concrete, and they grew and grew. Despite our hand-pollination, they never actually produced any fruit. Recently we had time to do some research, and found that pumpkins actually have male and female flowers. The problem was, the old plants never grew long enough (or I would cut them too soon) to get the female flowers. They only ever had male ones.
This year we did things a little differently - we planted the pumpkin plants in our earthbox, and led it up the trellis. To our amazement, we got female flowers! So this year, for the first time, we're doing it right and polinating the flowers from male to female. The female flowers are very obvious, they have a "pod" just under the base (where the male flowers just come directly from the stem). Here's a picture:
I'll keep you posted on whether or not the flowers produce anything, but we're very excited to have learned something new this year!
The View from our Urban Space
I know this is technically a garden blog, but I just couldn't resist posting a couple of pictures of our view this evening. The bunker-style building on the ground in the first pic is the Canadian War Museum, which is where they hold the Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest.
...and yes, the composition of the second picture really sucks!
Late Summer Update
I thought I should do an update, since things are about to get crazy around here. We've been self-pollinating our pumpkin plants, no actual fruit yet but I'm hoping that will come later.
The herb garden is almost out of control. We have enough dill to pickle two jars already! And having fresh herbs around for cooking is just fantastic.
The rhubarb is far fuller than I thought it would get. As it gets bigger, we keep pulling more and more out and freezing it. One of these days, there will be pie!
We have about 12 peas on the plant right now, plus about 5 strawberries turning red. I think the strawberry plant will be far more successful next year, as it's sent out about 5 shoots and plugged itself into different places in the earth box.
Our beans aren't really useful this year. The plants are already dying off, and they never flowered. We had a similar problem with beans last year - does anybody know why?!? Advice is greatly welcomed in this area.
However, the flowers we have in that box are doing VERY well, I've never seen such big flowers on such a small plant!
The tomatoes are bearing fruit now, and the box they are in is going through about 10 litres of water / week. The round leaves at the bottom of the box are Nasturtiums, and those have already crawled their way into the two boxes on either side of them. Thankfully they're edible; we're planning on using the leaves in salad to pepper it up a bit.
Our clematis and morning glories are almost out of control too! Next year I plan to wind all of these vines in together, so that all the flowers on the wall are mixed - and hopefully not all at the top like this year!
And of course, Dexter likes to watch mommy play in the garden. I would let him out while I'm out there, but he's so young, and there are a lot of bugs for him to chase after, and 20 floors is a loooooong drop! Maybe next year, when he's old enough to learn the rules. We take him out there now, but only with intense supervision. He really wants to be an outdoor cat.
More updates to come after the wedding!
A Quick Photo Update
Earthbox 1: Pumpkins (Small Sugar), Morning Glories, Daisies, Violas, Alyssum
Earthbox 2: Clematis, Lily of the Valley, Coleus
Earthbox 3: Tomatoes, Nasturtiums, Pansies
Earthbox 4: Begonias, Yellow Beans, Hybrid
Earthbox 5: Strawberries, Alyssum, Snow Peas, Shelling Peas
Herbs: Mint, Chocolate Mint, Chives, Parsley, Dill, Basil
We caught these on the inside of the glass on our balcony. We have an arrangement with the spiders outside; if they stay on their side of the glass, they can have all the bugs they want (and help protect my garden). If they're on the inside of the glass, we do what we want to them. These little fellas went for a ride in the wind.
Lessons Learned 2009 (Zone 5, Ottawa Ontario):
1. Sweet Alyssum is like ground cover. It should go in the front of the earthboxes, never in the back (unless trying to fill a ground hole).
2. Nasturtiums, or Tropaeolum majus, are BIG. REALLY, REALLY BIG. Three of these will easily fill the front half of an earthbox. Do not plant with anything else, or it will crowd. On the plus side, I also found out that the entire plant is edible, with a peppery taste. Cool beans!
3. Strawberries require half an earthbox.
4. Chinese lantern plants, or Physalis alkekengi, germinate faster when they're planted indoors, with a lot of access to sun. Don't bother trying to grow them (indoors or outdoors) before May. Also, best to plant them alone, not mix them with anything else.
5. Dill plants are tall and skinny. You can grow them very close together. Go dills! Go dills! Grow dills!
6. Parsley does best if you plant it in stages. Start one set of seeds, then start another 3 weeks later, then another 3 weeks after that. That way, when you've depleted your first set of parsley, you'll have plenty more on the way.
7. Peas don't grow very tall very fast.
8. Clematis grows VERY fast! It made it to the top of the trellis by July 1.
9. Violas grow quite tall, best to keep them in the second row, behind the Alyssum.
10. Zip-ties work very well for keeping Small Sugar Pumpkin plants tied up so that they will climb the trellis.
Strawberries… on my balcony!
This year we tried something a little different. We bought a little strawberry plant and put it in one of the earthboxes. I positioned it so that it would get the most amount of sun (second to the Rhubarb, because it's so big I can't move it!).
This week, our strawberries started turning red. It only took about two days for them to become fully red, and they are beautiful! The plant is also sending out creepers and plugging itself into the soil to root. Not only that, but it's grown about 5 or 6 new strawberries since we planted it! I had my doubts, but this is turning out to be a successful experiment!
The snow peas have hit a point where they are starting to climb the trellis, although we still have to show them where to go because, of course, they follow the sun!
Sadly, the beans aren't growing very fast. I had some difficulties last year with getting the Provider Beans to grow, and this year they are having the same problem. None of them have sprouted yet. However, the Kentucky Wonder Yellow Beans are doing very well, five have popped up so far, and I expect more!
One of the things I'm most proud of this year is the herb garden. The Mint and Chocolate Mint have really taken off! The Parsley and Chives are well established, and the Dill and Basil, while still quite small, have finally taken to their window box.
The tomatoes are doing well. One had died, we replaced it with a (very sad looking) Stevia plant. It still has quite a bit of fresh growth underneath, we're hoping it will take off from there once it establishes in the earthbox.
Our flowers are already filling in nicely! I don't think there will be a single empty spot in my earthboxes this year. The clamatis is growing like crazy, I'm not even sure that it won't overgrow the top of the trellis by mid-July. The Coleus is also growing like crazy, and I'm sure it will try to take over the balcony if I'm not careful to trim it back. The Morning Glories are growing, but slowly. Which is fine; my experience tells me that it won't take long before it's trying to grow onto my neighbour's balcony above us!
I've been unusually busy lately with wedding plans, so although I started our garden about three weekends ago, I just now got around to updating the blog. I also want to apologize for the fact that the images in this post are not resized to the standard sizes I usually use. I have to rebuild my system and I have yet to install a decent photo editor.
We started the flowers and tomatoes and other plants which take a while to grow in our Lee Valley Seed Starter. Every year I'm happy with the purchase of this, it is a great way of starting your seeds and not having to worry about them going dry inside. I don't want to sound like an advertisement, but Lee Valley has a LOT of great products for the garden. We also picked up their Bottle Top Waterers which are fantastic to use around the house with a 500ml pop bottle. And I cannot believe how well the Sticky Traps worked. In about two weeks I had to replace all of the ones I had put up because they were COVERED in fungus gnats. It was one of those things that was both disguisting and fascinating at the same time.
Anyway, here's our seed starter with our new spring plants:
The new earthboxes are making this year's garden a lot easier to plant. I'm not stuck with a whole bunch of little pots to have to maintain throughout the week, and I can spend more time admiring my garden and less time tending to it.
In one box, we planted tomatoes and nasturtiums. Unfortunately, one of the tomato plants died since then, but Z's mom has provided me with a beautiful Stevia plant which I think I will put in place of the Tomato. It will be nice to have some fresh sweetener in my garden!
Since I'm in Ottawa, and on the 20th floor of an apartment building, we can't just adhere to the age-old rule of planting on the May long weekend. This year, as in past years, I covered the more sensitive plants with the tops of pop bottles, and fixed them to the earth with metal tent pegs. This was just temporary, to protect them from frost and high winds while they're young. Since we live downtown, and are surrounded by other tall buildings, this is a necessity as the winds get quite strong.
I dug rows in the back of the earthboxes and planted my peas and beans directly this year. My peas have already started coming up, and are about to latch on to the trellis. Unfortunately, none of my bean plants have risen yet. I'm going to give it another week, and see what happens.
We have a couple of plants from last year. The Lily of the Valley popped up very early in the spring, and was hearty enough to survive all spring frost. The Coleus I took from a houseplant that I had. I snipped a few of the vines off and started a new plant inside.
This year we tried something a little different. We bought a lot of new plants, including Strawberry and Cucumbers for pickles. The strawberry already has 5 berries on it, and is growing strong. I do have my doubts about how well it will grow since we only get partial sun, but it's a fun experiment. The cucumber, sadly, is already wilting. We think it got a good spot of frost and that might be what's killing it.
Last year we had a heck of a time trying to deal with our aphid problem. I read that it's a good idea to plant flowers around your vegetables, because the bugs will be more attracted to the flowering plants than the vegetables. So this year, we bought a bunch of pre-started plants from the local garden centre.
Flowers in our garden:
Begonias (I think, they look like begonias!) and Ageratum Hybrids:
Purple Daisies, Penny Violas, Alyssum, and something I can't remember (the orange flower made up of smaller flowers):
We have three Herb boxes on the balcony this year. I'm looking forward to fresh herbs every day this summer, and to the idea that maybe we can bring them inside in the winter and continue to grow them on the various windowsills, as long as it doesn't get too cold for them. If it does, they may have to be relocated. We planted mint, chocolate mint, chives, parsley, basil, and dill. The basil and dill don't look too happy right now, but they aren't dead yet. I'll have to keep a close eye on those ones.
So there you have it - our garden for 2009! Every year I blog this, and I hope that someone somewhere out there can pick up a few tips and tricks from our experiences of balcony / container gardening. And if you have something to share, please comment, this is how I learn best!
How to make an Earthbox (DIY)
Balcony / container gardening can be made very easy by having self-watering containers. These are containers that have water reservoirs in the bottom, and save you the time from checking your soil every two days.
To make the containers that I have made, you will need the following supplies:
1 large rubbermaid tub
1 1-inch PVC pipe (should measure 1 inch taller than your rubbermaid tub)
5 3-4 inch PVC pipes measuring 6-inches high (usually you will buy one long one and cut it down to 6-inch pieces)
You will also need the following tools:
1 drill w/ drill bits
1 jigsaw (or other saw suitable to these needs)
1 permanent marker (I find a black Sharpie works best)
DIRECTIONS - THE RESERVOIR TUBES
The reservoir tubes are the five tubes that sit at the bottom of the tub. Two (or more if you wish) will be filled with soil, the other three will be left unfilled and act as supports for your soil landing.
Cut each tube to be approximately 6 inches (or 1/3 of the size of the tub).
Drill four holes at the tops of each of the tubes, at even distance from each other. These holes need to be big enough to fit a zip-tie through.
Drill many holes in the tubes; this is to allow water flow through the support tubes, and to allow the soil to wick the water up from the bottom.
DIRECTIONS - THE FILL TUBE
Make sure the fill tube is cut to approximately 1-inch higher than the tub.
Drill three holes, vertically, at the bottom of the fill tube - this helps keep the water from getting backed up when filling the container.
DIRECTIONS - THE SOIL LANDING
The soil landing is the insert that sits inside the tub, and the most amount of work in terms of planning.
1. Cut around the outside of the lid, so that it will fit inside the tub. Keep in mind that the tub will probably taper towards the bottom - use this to your advantage, and leave some of the part of the lid that warps upward. This will keep gaps from creating around the outside of the tub. Try to cut the lid so that it fits well around any weird shapes in the tub.
2. Trace five circles, the same size as the reservoir tubes. Trace both the inside and the outside of the tubes, and place these traces as follows: one by each corner, and one in the middle. If your tub is particularly large, you may want to add a sixth tube, spacing them three on each side.
3. Trace and cut a circle the same size as the fill tube, at the end (as close as possible to the end without breaking the rubber lid).
4. Cut two of the five circles (or three of six, if you have a larger tub), preferably opposite sides from one another. DO NOT CUT ALL OF THE CIRCLES!
5. Mark and drill four holes around the outside of the circles you have just cut. Mark and drill four holes around the INSIDE AND OUTSIDE of the circles that you drew but didn't cut. These smaller holes are where you will attach the reservoir tubes with the zip-ties.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER:
(This is the fun part. You're almost done!)
1. Attach all of the reservoir tubes to the bottom of the soil landing. I find the best way is to insert the zip-tie, top-down, into the inside hole, and then circle it around to come up through the outside hole. Do this loosely, because if you make the zip ties too tight right away it is very difficult to work with the other tubes.
2. Once all of the reservoir tubes are attached, tighten all of the zip-ties and clip the ends. When tightening the zip-ties, it's best to have the hook from the zip-tie flat against the lid.
3. Slide the fill tube into the hole you previously cut for it, with the three holes at the bottom (with the reservoir tubes).
4. Set the whole unit down NEXT TO the tub, and mark and drill 2 holes in the tub itself. One hole should be slightly lower than the other. This is for water overflow, in case you fill your earthbox too full. It will save you from accidentally soaking your soil.
5. Set the whole unit INTO the tub, and attach the fill tube to the side of the tub with zip-ties. Mine took two zip-ties because they weren't very long. Most rubbermaid tubs have small holes already in the handles - if yours doesn't, go ahead and drill them.
6. Fill the two "empty" reservoir tubes with soil and pack it down. This is what will wick the water up to the top.
7. Fill the rest of the earthbox with soil.
8. Fill the water reservoir using the fill tube. The first time you do this, you will want to watch the overflow holes. After you fill it, I suggest you find a long wooden stick and mark where the water line is. This will make your life easier in the future when you need to find out how much water remains in the reservoir.
Voila! You now have a self-watering container for your plants! The most beautiful thing about these (especially the size I made) is that you can pretty much go 2-3 weeks before you have to water them again.
As far as replenishing the soil goes, I add new soil each year and remove some of it, mixing it well. I also use a heavy dose of Miracle Grow once a month, directly into the water supply, to help nourish the soil throughout the summer.
Opening the Balcony 2009
We had a beautiful day last Saturday, so I decided it would be a good day to open the balcony.
I started by pulling the tarp up that was covering all of last year's pots and earthboxes. There was a significant amount of soil on the concrete, mainly due to us leaving gaps in the tarp for air flow. I had to sweep the balcony, what a mess!
The next job was to find a spot for all of the extra wood. This is where having a house and a shed would have been nice, maybe next year. It was difficult to find spots for everything on the balcony this year, because of the three new earthboxes.
We purchased 6 fresh bags of soil this year, and I transferred about half of the soil out of one of the earthboxes into the new earthboxes, and supplimented the extra space with the fresh soil. I find this is the best way to save money in the garden, although every few (three or four) years I replace all of the soil and start fresh.
We don't add very much to the balcony each year, and yet every year I am amazed at the amount of stuff that we pull out of storage.
We still have a LOT of soil leftover, I will have to discard about six pots worth. But at least I have the watering system set up!
One exciting point of opening the balcony this year - Z's mom gave us a rhubarb plant last fall, and it came up on its own, with no water, this year! Since taking this picture, the plant has already doubled in size.
Unfortunately, I ran out of zip ties and couldn't put together my last earthbox. However, here is the balcony, all set (minus one earthbox) for planting.
I have already started a few tomato plants this year (two Matt's Wild Cherry tomato plants and two Bonnie Best tomato plants), and once the chance of frost has passed (I'm waiting until June this year) I will be planting the beans and flowers.
One new thing we are trying this year is adding flowers to our garden, to help attract insects away from the vegetable plants.
I will be updating again in about a month, when we get the planting started.