Monday, March 30, 2009

The Bridgit Jones of Gardens

If only gardens could be perfect. Flowers would bloom all the time giving the garden and abundance of great colours. All vegetables would be perenial, grow in any amount of shade or light and fruit generously. There would be no wilting, no spotting, no blistering, no moulding and no bad bugs, just those of the beneficial kind. It would be a veritable Eden in everyone's backyard, front yard, balcony or rooftop paradise. But alas this land only exists in my mind. At least it did the other night when I had a dream about this magical land of very large tomatoes and multicoloured pumpkins. Perhaps it was the late night cider drinking and cheese eating that caused such a vivid dream, who knows. However I know what has brought on this craving for a perfect hassle free garden, it is three things.

1. Wilt. The poor tomatoes are all wilting. I think it is a bacterial wilt and have done all I can to stop it. I am not willing at present to pull out the last remaining plants just in case I can ripen the fruit in time. It is a sort of race, as the wilt wanders up the stem the fruits get bigger and bigger. If the wilt reaches them they are toast, but if they can just get sizeable and colour up them presto they will one day make it to my salad. Once it gets beyond help I will pull them, ditch the soil, scour the pot and the balcony area. I did this once when pulling the last lot of tomatoes. Maybe it will help. How did it get into my garden in the first place though?

2. Aphids. I am trying to grow purple sprouting broccoli from seed, the first time I have done such a thing. Tomatoes from seed are one thing but Mr Broccoli is fickle. He sprouted, albeit a little slowly and I put him out in individual pots. Then the aphids hit. I only noticed it this morning when looking at the two I have safely inside versus the two outside. The ones outside were looking awfully knobbly, were they growing oddly? Nope, it was aphids. Being such little seedlings I wouldn't spray them, even with organic low dose stuff, so I squished every aphid by hand, well all the aphids I could see. I'll do the same tonight and tomorrow and so on until the little pests are gone, or until a mob of ladybirds takes up residence on the balcony. I thought they were just a spring problem, but no, autumn too brings the little green menace back. At least the intense summer heat killed off the spider mites.

3. Seeds that just wont germinate. The seed packet said they were in date, well in date, by a couple of years. I planted out a couple of siberian tomato seeds, hoping to grow them in our warm window this winter. I also sowed a couple of padron pepper seeds, for inside purposes and just out of curiosity. A week went by, usually they would popping out of the soil by now. Nothing, two weeks, nothing, it is three weeks now and I've all but given up. They just didn't sprout. I put about 4 of each in the punnets and in the past my hit rates have been high, very high. But out of the 8 or 9 seeds, NOTHING! Other seeds are germinating in the balcony garden, but I only have one other set from this seller, some bush beans. They were only planted last week so I'll give it time. I also tried again with the tomatoes, round two, let's see if anything happens this time!

So I guess this post was a bit of a veiled whinge. Perfect gardens would be so nice. No pests to worry about and no heartache when things go wilt and die. Then again there would be no challenges, no irregularities of the good kind and no mystery. Perfect gardens would be, well, boring! So maybe the balcony garden, with all its idiosyncracies is fine just the way it is. My Bridgit Jones Garden.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Fuschia

The photos are a little blurry, I think the camera is on the fritz, but please meet the little fuschia that joined the balcony garden a few weeks ago. He lives in the shadier part of the balcony, along with totally awesome housemate's fern.

So delicate and small, but full of colour

Friday, March 27, 2009

Birdie McBird Baths

The Lovely Ms L emailed me these pics below, taken in a Brighton shop, of two lovely and compact birdbaths. So cute and would be so lovely on the Balcony Garden though I am still deciding whether cost, the fact I would never clean it so we would all eventually die of toxic waterborne diseases and the possibility of attracting the wrong bird is a serious enough set of detractions.

We don't get a lot of birds on the city fringe, some finches or sparrows or something cute and little, and pigeons. The latter I loathe with a passion (that's almost tautologous but allowable on an early Friday morning)

Back when I lived at home my Mum had a bird bath (pictured above) - I remember watching all sort of lovely feathery creatures wallowing in its waters (when there was water in there). The rosellas and lorikeets and more. To bird bath or not to bird bath that is the question. But thanks Lovely Ms L for bringing them to my attention!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Wrapping up the Tomato Season: No. 4 Black Russians

While it took a lot (physically and mentally) to pull the last of the Black Russians out yesterday it had to be done. There were a couple of green tomatoes on the vine but on the whole the wilt plaguing the balcony had well and truly defoliated these guys. On the bright side, it finally means I get to pass detailed and anecdotal judgement on the Black Russians, hooray!!!!!!!!

Where to begin. Black Russians were the first of the non-red tomatoes to enter the balcony garden. I heard about them one day and in true inept balcony gardener fashion developed an immediate obsession. My Totally Lovely Melbourne Friend knew where to find some seedlings and drove me out to a nursery, wherein i purchased them as part of an heirloom tomato 4-pack. I then proceeded to crowd them into a pot where they remained and grew and fought for space like Mexican wrestlers.

Once these tangled overcrowded started their matrix of not-quite-harmony I began to worry - what if the closeness strangled them to the point of no fruit??? So next mission, procure another pot and another black russian tomato plant, surely then at least one should fruit. Again I didn't really size the pot correctly and this guy was always top heavy. But he did produce fruit, 26 of them to be precise.

And Mr friendly overcrowded black russian also fruited, though only about 16.

The green zebra also produced black Russians ... Ok so that doesn't really make sense, or does it. See when I saw that the green zebra might actually be nice I thought I might plant one or two more, and luckily one day by chance at the nusery I found two such willing green zebra seedlings. Oh how I was looking forward to harvesting three vines full of green zebras. But this is a post about black russians ... well it seems one of our green zebras was a little more black than green. Mislabelled, mishwatever, from early on I know he was different. No green stripes, larger fruit, something told me this was no green zebra. Indeed, it looked an awful lot like the black russian next to him. Low and behold when the fruit ripened into a mahogany/black I realised we had black russian number three in our midst.

He fruited well and was the last man standing, only pulled down yesterday due to the wilt. He produced 24 fruits, all very tasty. So on the whole how did black russian fare? It was hardy and despite the wilt also pretty disease resistant. It got a bit of powdery mildew when grown in the back of the balcony where there was less air movement but on the whole was fine. No blossom end rot which was awesome. He grew very tall, way past the stakes and the stakes taped onto other stakes. I think the last one clocked in at over two metres. A bit hard for me to handle at 5 foot 2 and a half. If I pruned him it would keep him in check but I am a gardener with a soft spot for randomness, I am not a pruner and tend to let things run free (god forbid if I ever have children, they'll roam even freer). Once at this size he also needed to be tied up with rope to keep him from falling over in the wind.

The taste was lovely. We had a black russian/black russian night where we ate black russian based pasta sauce and drank black russians. Well ok we intended to drink black russians but given the accidental non purchase of both Kahlua and Vodka we settled for a nice red instead. It worked well though given the sporadic haul there wasn't a large amount of sauce and it was padded out with a few stray San Marzanos.

Uncooked they were tasty too - with a bit of oil and salt and pepper, basil and buffalo mozzarella. Also oven dried in wedges they were uniquely smokey and tasty.

Would I grow Mr Black Russian again? Without a doubt! Although this is a type available from the Vic Market in droves (albeit it at a rather exorbatent 15 to 25 dollars a kilo) as usual it tastes so much better when grown in the home garden. As I am planning to grow another darker tomato - purple cherokee - I doubt I will plant more than one black russian but if mislabelling happens again then it wont be the end of the world.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

It's, It's a Balcony Blitz

Hi Folks. It is still earlyish in the morning. Inept Balcony Gardener has been sick and is taking a day off uni to sleep in and relax. Except that I couldn't sleep in, and relaxing, well that just has to come naturally.

The balcony garden is suffering at the moment. I am convinced the tomatoes have a bacterial wilt, or something, because slowly but surely there is a wilt creeping up the stem, keeping leaves green but wilting them, removing the moisture and causing them to die. May be misdiagnosed but either way my lovely late season tomatoes are dying faster than I can type. So alas today will be the day they go. I know I have to take all of them out, sterilise the pots and clean the area, but a couple are so close to fruiting properly that they might stay in. This wont fix the problem but I want to give them a few more weeks. They will be isolated to their own place but on a small balcony quarantine is simply just a state of mind.

The Zinnias have always been aphid infested. And now, after several attempts at eradication they too have got to go. So it is bye bye Zinnias, hello something new and pretty for the hanging pot (probably more beetroots)

The various basils in the garden have been lovely over summer, but in the changing weather they have suffered as much as I (grr to this bug i caught). So the lemon basil and lime basil are coming out, along with the last surviving strawberry spinach caught within. The citrusy basils will make a fine dessert pesto bound for my freezer. The thai basil and purple basil are coming out too - will make a nice marinade out of them. That should clear up the balcony substantially. Then i can sweep and mop and disinfect and try to get rid of whatever nasties are plaguing the place.

Then I will collapse on the couch!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Wrapping up the tomato season: No 3 Mortgage Lifter

If you read the second tomato wrap up season post you may already have an inkling about my feelings for the large red beefsteak tomato, Mortgage Lifter. It is a tomato that I bought by accident when I only knew the word seedling and not seed. I went out trying to buy a Black Russian seedling, and Totally Lovely Melbourne Friend tipped me off to an awesome nursery on the other side of town (she even drove me there!!!) However, on arrival we could only find it in an heirloom mix pack, hence the overcrowded large pot was born. I don't actually know which one it was in this picture below, I forgot to label them!!! It was only upon fruiting (or lack of it in Tigerella's case) that I knew which was which!

It contained a Black Russian, a Green Zebra, a Tigerella that never fruited and a Mortgage Lifter. I was not too excited, I mean it was just a red tomato. Yay for the others but Mortgage Lifter, no real expectations there. Sure people raved about it, and it had the back story filled with cultural nostalgia and success. Sure it looked pretty, even when green. But it was still just a red tomato to me.

Once one started ripening, I got a little excited. It seemed kind of glittery in the sun, pink with some sparkles of silver. Bling tomato, I thought, ok fits in a little better here on the balcony garden. Then it turned a deeper pink, then red. All too soon it was time to consume. And that was the second the obssession was born. I didn't notice it at first, but I seemed to get a little tingle everytime one ripened. Then it was quickly into a sandwich, or on a salad and consumed with glee. It was only after I realised I had to pull the vine out that the hunger and salivating at the thought of a mortgage lifter had taken full hold.

This was magnificent tasting. Given its overcrowded postition I am not surprised it didn't produce a really large amount of fruit - it only produced 12 large beefsteak fruit, 5 of which were pulled off green during the cull.

I was so saddened the second I knew that the dead and dying vines around it meant his days were numbered. I wanted to hold on, to get the vine ripening pinkness underway. But eventually it became too late and the Mortgage Lifter tomato was pulled. Of the five that were pulled green all subsequently ripened and were heartily consumed.

I think I might have mucked the tally up, forgetting to add one or two in my post-eating Mortgage Lifter delirium. Still it wasn't up there with the others in production number, but quality was what was key. A few brown spots, bugs and what have you marred them a little but no blossom end rot which was a winner in my books. Usually only one ripened at a time so it was a steady stream of 12 rather than a glut. Sorry for the photo below, I wanted a single image of him, but alas the only one I have is rather blurry

He was also the vine upon which this sport (pictured below) grew. It was so mild in taste, nothing really like a mortgage lifter. It was oxheart in shape, again nothing like a mortgage lifter but it grew off a shoot of the vine and it was marbled with the same red hue.

I would definitely grow this again. I bought Mum some seeds for christmas as she had raved about this tomato previously when eating it at a friend's house but somehow got it and the Money Maker variety confused. Similar(ish) name but poles apart in fruit. I hope hers grow well next year in the dry Adelaide heat. Although next tomato season marks the beginning of my foray into almost all seed-grown tomatoes I may again 'accidentally' purchase this heirloom pack, just for Mr Mortgage Lifter. He proves that not all red tomatoes are the equal, some red tomatoes are more equal than others.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Golden Beetroot

So I have a new obsession - Golden Beetroot. As a child I hated beetroot, it was soggy and dangerous to eat. Guaranteed the times Mum would serve it I would slop it down my front and cause all sorts of crankiness for she-who-washed-my-clothes (I am meaning dearest mother here - come on I am talking about when I was a kid, not like when I was 26 and still living at home and ...) It also had a wierd flavour, kind of metallic but like dye, like earthy waterpaint, or something. When I got older I used to spend weekends at my boyfriend-at-the-time's house and occasionally he and his housemate would cook up the world's best roast. I'm not being overly generous here, this really was the world's best roast. I lived in England for two years, I know a darn good roast but this, in its supreme succulence and flavour beat them all. Honestly I still salivate when I think about these nights (about the roast not the boy). With it he would generally serve roasted beetroot. Like a good girl I eat all I am given when out for a meal at someone's house. The process of roasting using wonderful oils and meat juices made these beetroots so lovely and soft ans tender. I became addicted.

I now cook with beetroot whenever I get the opportunity. Beetroot risotto is awesome, and borscht is something I am working towards perfecting. Now I am a gardener of sorts I am trying my hand at growing beetroot. I have the usual bulls blood beetroot and a supposed white beetroot and a collection of mixed beetroot seeds that prove to be pot luck when you plant them. However my all time new favourite is golden beetroot. I keep picking them way too young, eating the leaves raw or steamed and utilising the baby beet in whatever way possible. When I say baby beet, i mean baby beet, they are positively tiny. In fact, when I roasted them last weekend totally awesome housemate and Hurricane J both remarked that while the steamed beet leaves were lovely they were not at all sure when or if they had consumed the golden beetroot itself.

I used one the other night in a stirfry. So delicious. More tasty and less likely to cause discolouration of attire (at least it won't make it red) But I need to learn to wait until they get a little bigger, then i could make golden borscht or golden risotto. I have already planted a second lot and will await them. In fact I have considered multiple plantings, one to leave to grow big, the other to sate my ever increasing hunger for this less messy cousin to the dark red beetroot.

What's your opinion on beetroots in all their many colours?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Wrapping up the Tomato Season: No. 2 Roma San Marzano

In the second installment of the wrapping up of the tomato season we have what I think is a fitting number two (pun pretty much intended). Ok so I shouldn't have much against this harmless guy, San Marzano, he is the workhorse of the tomato family, the paste pioneer, and a reasonably prolific fruiter. It's just that, well, he just isn't right for the balcony garden. Not that we are too cliquey here, anyone is welcome, but to get the recurring pass to the VIP room you have to be a little bit out of the ordinary. That said I will try and give an informative and unbiased rundown, though as you can tell my mind is pretty much made up ... or is it???

About an hour ago, when i started considering this post I thought Mr San Marzano was not such a bad guy. He fruited prolifically for a small, pot-bound plant. This single plant gave me 25 tomatoes over a reasonably shortish reason, struck down by wilt and other such balcony bred diseases (when one goes the others seem to want to follow suit). Usually between one and three would ripen at a time. Good for an eating tomato, but for a paste tomato it was a bit annoying. He suffered a bit of blossom end rot, probably more my fault than his, and on the whole he survived the heat ok.

They tasted fine, as romas go, but these are not really your eating raw type tomato. Even with the extra goodness of home-grown taste they were pretty much average in a sandwich. They never made me get that tummy-tingle you get when the eating of a super ripe Mortgage Lifter is imminent. I don't know about you but I think Radiator Charlie cross bred those babies with an addictive chemical because I get strong urges to munch them down rapidly when they are in the house, and go through withdrawals at the end of their season. More to come on that front in an upcoming post. See look here, case in point. This is a review about San Marzano and I just spent the better half of a paragraph discussing the merits of Mortgage Lifters. San Marzano just don't trigger a big response in me.

I also saw this in my photo collection. Above there is a picture of a few San Marzanos amongst other balcony garden tomatoes. Like all good plant parents I regularly get out there and photograph the produce, whether is be flowering, fruiting or harvested and ready for consumption. When trawling through my photos I realised there just weren't many pictures of this guy. It's like the child in a sitcom who is flirting with the idea that maybe he/she is adopted and tries to prove this by the lack of early photographs in the parental photo album. It turns out that the parents were just not camera friendly, or lazy, or whatever, it is always a neat solution in sit com land. But in the balcony garden photo album no photos means no love, and I guess I just don't love Mr San Marzano. I did love him a little when green, because I found this one below, but that's pretty much it apart from group shots and the one picture of the plant growing, though no sign of tomatoes so technically it could be any tomato (but I know from its position which one it was)

He makes great paste (I'm not actually sure how wrong that reads) But when you can get a 5kg box for a couple of dollars at the Vic Markets down the road his value is lessened. The balcony garden is such a limited space, even though I managed to cram in 18 plants this year, and more in a second late planted crop, I just don't think I can stretch it to include this guy.

So San Marzano is great a tomato in theory, he fulfills his function, but when pressed for space I think I will err towards to the unique. Then I came across this guy - the speckled Roma.

He is unique, he is paste, he is San Marzano but speckled! And he is possibly/probably going in next year! I bought some seeds and we will just have to wait and see.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Citing the Construction Site Sight

I have been meaning to post on this for a couple of days, but waited until the construction was over. Two things happened.

First of all there was Hurricane J. Whether it came about due to clumsiness that was induced by my incessant, frightened jumping during the watching of The Exorcist or a certain someone really had it in for the lego people (I suspect the former) but Saturday night saw the couch bump the strawberry bush and knock the lego house flying. It was Oz all over again, except without the Tinman and Toto and my floor never really resembled Kansas anyway. Plastic interlocking carnage, it was an horrific sight.

Secondly, and more strangely it seems lego people know how to reband and reuild. However, it was bigger and better than lasttime. It seems when I repotted the Hillybilly tomato and placed it next to the strawberry bush the dishevelled lego house decided it was time to pack up and move out of hurricaine valley. Sure the strawberries were tasty but the whole ordeal with the flying had really shaken them up. They not only took up residence in the Hillbilly, they UPGRADED!

So i sighted their construction site, which not only included a balcony, but two stories this time.

Split level living, complete with microwave and cupboards in the kitchen, a seperate dining area and a second level for sleeping.

I am not sure how four people share one bed but it seems to work! Go the lego people, how industrious. I wonder what they will add next ...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Mental about tomatoes: Ornamental tomatoes

I am slowly getting together a couple of posts about the end of season roundup of tomatoes in the balcony garden. As the Black Russian is still fruiting and the Green Zebra I will hold off on those. The Purple Cherokee, Hillbilly and White Cloud are still growing so their summaries will be a long time off yet (if ever, given that I planted them so late fruiting to full colour will be a miracle). Stay tuned though for indepth though possibly unorganised/unsystematic summaries on Mortgage Lifters, Tumbler Tomatoes (red and yellow) and San Marzanos.

In the meantime here is a picture of my accidental purchase on the weekend. I went to buy potting mix, and i came back with an ornamental tomato. Ok so the sign on the punnet said Red Robin tomato, but given it is so late in the season and this is such a small bushy indoor plant I decided to designate it as ornamental. I mean, in the long distant past tomatoes were viewed by the English but never eaten. This tomato, while providing ample viewing pleasure will actually be eaten, but I am not holding my breath for a spectacular taste.

Speaking of accidental purchases I also decided to buy a small punnet of sage. Having tried twice to grow this and proving my adept hand as a sage killer I thought third time has to be a charm. Let's see how long this guy lasts.

And the shopping did not end there. Despite the economic downturn and the fact my credit card has taken a severe belting I could not help myself, and purchased this little bird feeder, hidey hole thingo. I always wanted one so hopefully this will attract some more birds to the balcony (and luckily it is too small for the icky pidgeons)

I also purchased this Zebra Fern. The velvety leaves and contrasting colours just succoured me in. It is currently living on our dining table, but may not attract enough light so might have to find it a new home.

Thre you have it. Slightly mental overpurchases on a student budget but sometimes we just need to err towards extravagance. When it provides slightly tasty morsels, in the case of the tomatoes, herby goodness for its hopefully not too short life, in the case of the sage, a home for finches and lush green indoors beauty, then it is not all negative.