Friday, October 30, 2009

Laptops, Halloween, Leaf Miners and Photos

Oh the joy of shared university computers! It took me 5 minutes just to download an email. And this keyboard is so sticky I am worried my fingers will be permanently attached to it. Why, you ask am I in my university office typing my blog on the 'computer' they provide us with (actually they provide us with 9, between 200 postgrads! We sign a contract that they will provide us each with a computer, a locker and a desk, hmmmmmmmm Melbourne Uni!?!) Well, scarily, the laptop is in for repairs, and hopefully the problem isn't terminal. This means no access to my pictures, which will probably mean no posts for a few days! They just are not the same without the blurry photographs of the balcony garden. Hopefully I can get back online soon to post pictures of the balcony garden all dressed up for the Halloween dinner party I am holding tomorrow night. Alas too, this was a week I had set aside for serious thesis work, so I will just have to make do with the university computer and quit my whinging. At least I have access to one, and i have backed up my thesis. Imagine losing that ...

Anyway yesterday I posted about the Gazanias and other leaf miner victims in the balcony garden. It seems though that the balcony garden is not alone. As I was wandering into Uni I noticed several weeds on the way that were similarly afflicted. Plants too on campus seemed to have occasional signs. This is not somehing I have noticed before. Beginnings of a leaf miner epidemic in Melbourne?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

RIP Gazanias

I loved these gazanias, an impulse buy at the time and not expected to last long but they gave enduring colour to the garden year round.

Now they are gone, victims of a newly rigid policy against leaf miner! Gone too are 4 of the 6 sunflowers. Not happy Jan!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

While I Was Away

Sorry for the delay in posting. I spent a vigorous weekend down at Wilson's Prom and needed some time to recover. I thought holidays were supposed to be relaxing! Still the scenery was lovely and so was the beach house, the food and the company. I'll post the pictures from there sometime soon.

The balcony garden was neglected while I was away but given the reasonably cool but sunny days it managed to survive (though quite wilted by the time I got back.)

One amazing thing did happen while I was away - the lego people renovated! They now have a swimming pool, a kebab guy on the balcony, a sweeping staircase, a garage and a front garden!

If they can upgrade to a cool house, maybe I can upgrade to camera that isn't blurry!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Using Silverbeet

I love my greens, possibly didn't always but these days I cannot get enough. Spinach and silverbeet are top on my list of yummy greens (beet leaves are almost there too.) The balcony garden houses rainbow silverbeet of varying colours.

When I was back in Adelaide my parents took me out for a lovely but noisy meal at a very upmarket restaurant called Enoteca. I have to say ther service was amazing, friendly, prompt but not too in your face. I made a few wrong menu choices and ended up with some perfectly pleasant but not mind blowing food. I suspect my irritable insides were protesting a bit, and the food, if I was in a better state, would have settled better. That said the champagne sat just fine so maybe I just picked dishes that did not go well together (an entree of quail lacked a defining flavour, but was very well cooked, the gnocci too was wonderful in texture but one note in flavour.) Dad, however, picked not one winner but two; an antipasto platter and a Wagyu and Black Garlic Special main that was simply divine (and much more steak than the waitress had promised.) Mum too picked well, and had, what I considered to be the dish of the night, a Warm Pumpkin Terrine. It included muscatels and pinenuts and was wrapped in spinach. It was an amazing and exquisately balanced dish, and I kept trying to steal more and more mouthfuls of it.

What does an upscale Adelaide restaurant and silvetbeet on a balcony garden have in common? Well I was so inspired by the flavours that I tried to make my own version of the dish at home, though with a few balcony gardener additions and subractions. I blanched a few largish silverbeet leaves for 10 seconds and plunged them straight into iced water. Into them I put a mix of diced pumpkin, rosemary, chicken stock, onion and garlic which I had reduced down in a frying pan.

I rolled them up like dolmades

And reheated when the rest of my meal was done. Steak, salad, peas and these silverbeet and pumpkin numbers! Yum.

They were a bit watery but ever so delicious. Next time I think I will add grapes (now if only the balcony garden could support a grape vine but with their root system running metres into the ground I suspect it would be impossible, but a girl can dream! I made these again a few weeks later, using leftover pumpkin risotto, which worked well too. It was cold so it rolled up better and had less moisture so I guess cooling the filling first is the key. All in all a good side dish, and a great way to use up some yummy greens!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Balcony Garden at Present

I thought it was about time for a full length shot of the balcony just to show it off in its newly planted spring glory. Yes, yes, I know I need to give it a good sweep, and there are still a few plants to go but it is coming along nicely.

2 purple sprouting broccoli (one is hiding round the corner)
3 cucumbers
1 Zucchini with one more on the way
Lemons on the lemon tree, nectarines in the nectarine tree
Succulent corner is content
16 full size tomato plants and 6 tumblers and counting!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Garden Bloggers Blooms Day

There is only one flower that matters in the balcony garden right now - the first ever zucchini flower. It is a girl flower, and there is another girl flower about to open. Like a proud parent I took photos from every angle.

In the hetero-normative world of balcony gardening a zucchini cannot be fully formed without a male flower. Alas the male flowers are still in a juvenile phase. The only thing to be done is to cut off the female zucchini flowers, small yellow zuke and all and stuff them with goats cheese and chard, then grill them and eat them! If zucchinis aren't your thing then here is a selection of gazania blooms from the balcony today.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Tomato Seedling Problems and the Question

As you can see from the past few posts the tomatoes have been steadily going into the balcony garden. I'm pretty obsessed about tomatoes. Possibly not as obsessed as Tomato Lover (I can't believe I only discovered this blog a few weeks back, it's like the day I discovered Abebooks and realised my thesis on Third Reich memoirs didn't have to cost a fortune, truly awesome.) But I am still obsessed to some largeish degree. I grew a few tomatoes from seed this year, but they weren't without initial set backs (lack of germination being the number one.) However i did manage to nurse quite a few varieties into happy little seedlings and a few have been placed in the garden. These include Aunt Ruby's German Green x 2, Flame x 2, a Pineapple and a Hillbilly.

More seedlings were planned, I was simply waiting on the pot space. There were also leftovers and these were gifts for eager friends. Then disaster struck. One seedling I had given a friend looked sick, and when you held it up to the light it had wierd transluscent creatures swimming about in its stem. What could they be? Suffice to say she turfed it. After that I went back and looked at my seedlings. The ones in the garden seemed ok, the others looked oddly mangled. I couldn't see the bugs, but I bet they have something to do with the evil fungus gnats (these seedlings were inside at the time.) They were summarily ditched. Alas no more personally seeded seedlings of tomatoes for the balcony garden this summer. I am now at a loss with what to do with the incumbent pots - do I plant more store bought tomatoes (there are heaps of varieties) and hope problems don't all crop up at once, or do I plant something else like more zucchini or even eggplant or carrots?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Herb Flowers

This week I tried something different for my indoor arrangement. My coriander had gone to flower and I didn't particular want to wait around to collect the seed. So I put it in this week's posy, along with more lemon thyme. The room smells amazing and the posy looks pretty good too.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Daniel Kitson and the performative plants

Daniel Kitson, a UK comedian who has the ability to make me giggle to the point of breakage was in town last night and Miss J and I were lucky enough to see him, front row no less for his final show in this run. The show this time was entitled 'We are Gathered Here'. Sometimes Kitson raves about words, the content of words, a kind of semantic ramble interspersed with autobiographical anecdotes that he crafts into humerous moments, . Othertimes he pulls out his inner slightly foul-mouthed alter ego and cracks anatomy jokes, mostly a particular part of his anatomy, though always for a reasonably higher purpose (pun probably not intended.) It is in these shows, such as last night's where he manages to seamlessly put existentialist idealism and the phrase 'crack a woody' in the same sentence. Gold, well at least this psuedo-academic, wannabe-gardener thinks so. His topics last night were intetwined but mostly followed these two themes:



Can you work out what they were? The first one was death. Grim sounding topic for a comedy show but as usual the mix of intellectual lyricism and anecdotal humour paid off. The second, well it wasn't zucchini but a more abstract representation made by zucchini. If you are not sure then check out this post for more clarification! Thanks for a great night Daniel Kitson, and see you next time.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Snow Peas, Lemon Trees and Busy Bees

Most of the snow peas in the balcony garden have been pulled to make way for spring crops and because they were infected with spider mites. Though two pots remain, one was the first I planted, the other the last planted and is only just coming into flower now. Fern at life on the balcony did the wonderful post on Asian vegetables and I wholeheartedly agree with her advice and will have to get my hands on the low growing snow peas, 'Oregon Sugar Pod' she calls them. I picked a giant kind on snow pea on the basis that it was powdery mildew resistant (supposedly) and didn't get stringy if left on the bush too long. They did grow more than two foot, and more than 2 metres!

Luckily the neighbours on this side are rather friendly and don't mind the impending overhang. Still, these will be gone soon, red spider mites are taking hold again, and the lemon tree needs to go to its summer home which happens to coincide with the exact spot the snow peas have claimed residence. Speaking of lemon tree check out the daily visitors to mine!

Awesome bees, pollinating away. Unfortunately they still seem to miss the tomato flowers so I need to hand pollinate them with the new electric toothbrush (a blue on this season!!!) If you want to see pictures of what to do with lemons, and other citrus at this time of the year pop on over to Jamie at Garden Amateur, he has a great post on keeping the citrus to a workable level.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Succulent Surprise

I got this hanging succulent from my old housemate as a birthday present. I loved its green and purple links and held together well during the hot summer months. Then it surprised me, with these stunning yellow and orange flowers!

Love surprises.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

This week's vase

Purple, white and lemon thyme were the themes for this week's posy.

These flowers were not so good as cut flowers but for the few days they lasted they gave colour and fragrance to the living room.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Carry on Carrots

As stated earlier this week, the tomatoes came in and the carrots went out. Half the carrots went into a lovely bolognaise on Saturday night (which went with homemade sweet potato gnocchi, very delicious.) The others have been supplementing the salads in my meals of late. One of the loveliest was this smoked salmon salad.

Each day I take leftovers with a side salad. The carrots went well in there (and the snow peas, broccoli and silverbeet made the risotto a treat)

I still have two pots with five or six yellow and purple carrots in them each. They will be gone by the weekend to make way for two more tomatoes (existing homegrown seedlings this time!!!)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Pots, Dirt, and balcony saving measures

When it comes to keeping the balcony neat and tidy I am not really the best at it. Tyre dust, potting mix leftovers, petals, you name it, it blows around on the balcony. A sweep in the summer keeps it at bay, and a mop every now and then helps keep the nasties down but better planning and some other measures can also help. The balcony garden is due for a mop, but doing this takes up a significant amount of time. To avoid mess and dirt build up there are a few things you can do; pot choice, potting mix and mats are just some.

For a balcony garden the bigger the pot the better (though watch your weight limit and make sure you try and use lighter pot options, I know terracotta and glazed pots look great but they can add undue weight to a garden. Not only will bigger pots help give your plants plenty of room to move, they will retain the water better, and mean less pots to move when the cleaning times come. Here is a picture of an appropriately sized pot.

This is perhaps less appropriate.

As is this.

I have lots of little pots interspersed around the big ones which makes things tedious but adds variety to the garden. It is up to you how many pots you have and how big you go, but the more pots means the more you have to move when cleaning.

Trays are a must if you want to keep the water from running all over your balcony. This causes problems for some plants who don't like sitting in a tray of water. If this is the case put the plant up on something, pot feet, a bit of wood, anything, to help give a bit of spare between the pot and the drainage tray as this will help a bit. I don't do it currently, but will in the future given the powdery mildew of late last summer.

Self watering pots are great for an Australian balcony or any balcony really. Not only do they retain water, they provide a gap between the plant and its dirt and this water. Most plants, unless they are pond plants, don't like wet feet. Self watering planters provide that space.

Now I don't actually follow their daft instructions and water the reservoir only. I use these like normal pots and water accordingly (mostly at soil level because we don't want powdery mildew.) The downside with these pots is that they cost more, and you need a bigger size than you first think because part of the pot is taken up by water/space. But they are great for the plants and reusable (wash your pots between each use and use new potting mix always.) Oh and when you leave the store, make sure the inside shelf is intact in your self watering pots, otherwise you'll be using them like regular old pots, like this one!

Hanging pots are great too, they can catch the water and maximise space in the garden.

Potting mix, that's another key to balcony garden growing success. For my veggies I use a high grade organic potting mix. It is expensive and tough for a student budget but the plants love it, and they grow well with it which really is a money saver in the end. Besides there are other areas where you can cut costs (see the section below on using old phone books!!!) Thriving ground cover or companion plants in pots, like basil in a tomato pot helps keep the soil intact, so it is less likely to blow away on Melbourne's frequent windy days. Good potting mix helps give these plants the start they need.

Apparently non-slip plastic mats go well under plant pots too and will help minimise dirt. I don't use them but I am considering putting them in the garden in the future.

I put some of my plants on stands (none of them the regulation, standard, store-bought kind) to help play with height and also allow the plants better access to sun. Anything waterproof will do, an old container, a silver bin originally used inside that was given to you by a useful hoarder of a relative, even phone books wrapped in a bin liner!

Regular sweeping and mopping is the best tool for keeping the balcony clean and tidy but pot choice helps minimise problems along the way. Has anyone else got advice for those wanting to keep the mess of a balcony confined garden down?

Monday, October 5, 2009

Baby pictures on the balcony

As promised here are the pics of the little zucchinis and the new head of purple sprouting broccoli on the balcony garden.

The are still just babies in size, but I can't wait until they are ready. The post on pots, bases, and dirt minimising in a container garden is in the process of being finished, just got to get my camera out and film the damage/evidence/useful bits. So too the post on carrots, harvests and more is on its way. if only there were more hours in the day and less thesis writing to be done!