Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Big Look Back at the Balcony Garden in 2009 (a.k.a. there will be tomatoes)

It is New Years Eve and I am supposed to be putting in a few good hours of study on my thesis, making a cheese platter, setting up the bedroom for my cousin and heading off to a very low key night with a few girlfriends. However, I am procrastinating by blog writing and considering it is probably time to take stock of the year that was. To make it interesting I promised gratuitous tomato pictures for those in need.

January, I mostly spent with my folks in Adelaide, so the balcony garden got a little neglected. It also showed me how my parents coped in Adelaide's very hot and dry conditions, they had to install fake grass.

Late January and well into February was boom time on the balcony, despite the evils of the long heatwave, and Black Saturday which ravaged Victoria. However, in my little place it meant visits by the neighbour's cat (who had a habit of sneaking up when you least expected it)

and tomatoes. Lots and lots of tomatoes. My favourite had to be the mortgage lifter, it was addictive! Unfortunately I think the wilt and sunscald will claim ALL prospects of any mortgage lifters this year.

March was time for blooms. My favourite was the snapdragons which were in the hanging pots. They bloomed ALL YEAR, and in September I moved them out of the hanging pots and into smaller individual pots and they were still blooming! Infact it is 38 degrees today and while they are wilting they are still blooming! Amazing

April brought with it more lovely blooms, particularly refreshing were the gazanias and sunflowers.

It also saw the end of most of the tomatoes which made way for the snowpeas, a bountiful crop in the winter.

May saw me turn 29 and reflect on my life thus far. It also brought with it the final tomato. I planted some white cloud tomatoes late in the season and despite being ravaged by wilt a few made it out alive, and straight into my BLT.

June heralded the beginning og the broccoli season. even though it looks like a contender for a bondage club mascot it survived the poorly trellised snow peas around it and provided me with the tastiest broccoli for months ahead. I am planning to plant far more broccoli this Autumn.

End of June and beginning of July and the winter indoor tomato experiment was off. Alas the wilt ended up attcking here too, helped along by some evil little fungus gnats, but we did get a fair few tomatoes off the initial siberian (the one in the back).

In August we had the inagural balcony garden roast. It meant loads of carrots and other yummies and a rather large and painful overindulgence in wine.

In September we met Sid, the unfortunate snail who, along with his comrades, began tearing the balcony garden to pieces. After a brief conversation it was bye bye Sid.

September also saw blossoms galore on the nectarine tree.

October was when the zucchini went in and thrived.

And from November we got ripe zucchinis, mostly baby ones due to the problems with germination and boy flower hiding, and more inportantly we got the ripening of the tomatoes.

Which in December just kept on coming and coming.

And this is the balcony garden as it stood a few days ago.

Although there are now a few more holes, due to the slow but necessary removal of the dying tomatoes. This hole was where a hanging pot once held cherry tumbler tomatoes.

Still the new year definitely looks full of promise! Hope everyone has a lovely new years and see you all in 2010!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

One cucumber is not like the others

When I tell me friends I am growing lesbian cucumbers they just think I have a speech impediment and correct me by saying Lebanese Cucumbers. I then correct them saying no I actually am not too fond of lebanese cucumbers and do indeed have lesbian cucumbers growing on the balcony, as they are cucumbers that seem intent on only producing female flowers. Yet the cucumber saga has taken a very odd turn. I do believe that I have a cucumber growing!

See the above picture is proof (and it has grown even more in the last few days.) The one next to it died and dropped off but this one kept on growing. It is about the length of my hand now. The thing is these lovelies have not had a male cucumber flower since the one I saw in the first few weeks of their life and that seems like the dark ages. Now I am beginning to think maybe that male flower was merely a dream and these are actually parthenocarpic cucumbers that Daphne mentioned which only have female flowers. If not how else would this cuke form? All a little crazy but hopefully tasty.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Harvest Monday

And no surprises for guessing what was in the balcony harvest this week ... you guessed it ... zucchinnis and beans and silverbeet! Ok so you thought I was going to say tomatoes, and well, you wouldn't be wrong, I have harvested quite a few of those which I'll show later but first I wanted to vary it a little bit. This week saw the harvest of a full size zucchini, a rarity in the balcony garden seeing as the ratio of male to female flowers is abut 1:1000000! I also picked a few smaller ones which I roasted up with Christmas leftovers. The big zuke went in last night's risotto.

As you can see by the above picture the zucchini was not alone. I harvest silverbeet once or twice a week, just small quantities to add to the greens in my meals. The probably explains why I never have many photos of it, as it is small and routine! The beans were a bonus this week. I got a packet of gourmet bush beans as a bonus in an extremely affordable ebay haul and decided on a whim to plant them. Boy are they tasty and their small size means they fit well into the balcony garden. Only four so far, but that's good for the beans as they have been terrorised by snails and struggled in the early Spring heatwave.

Ok now for the money shot, ok maybe I won't go that far but for all you Northern Hemispherers who are stuck under snow for the holiday season here are the tomatoes I harvested this week. As usual there were a tonne of cherry tomatoes. Although this looks to be the second last haul, and the final haul for the red cherries as I had to pull the first two bushes from the garden. Both of the red tumbler cherries were in hanging baskets and were more brown than green so I pulled them to make way for, well just to make a bit of space up there. The yellow tumblers are hanging on, but it will only be another week or so before they join their comrades. I can't beleive I am already harvesting and pulling up tomato plants, it is only December!!! There was an additional yummy tomato this week, a green zebra! These would have to be one of my favourite kinds of tomato, so interestingly coloured and tangy.

So there you have it, the harvest post for this week. I wonder what goodies will turn up next, and also how long the rest of the tomatoes will last due to the rapid onset of the evil wilt (I think fusarium but it seems a bit odd, experiments are underway!) If you want to see other lovely harvests from around the world visit Daphne's Dandelions, she wraps up the harvest posts every week!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Christmas Cheese Platter

I trust everyone survived the hectic whirl that is Christmas. I got to spend two days of it with my rellies in Gisborne. On Christmas Day we enjoyed an amazing and mostly traditional meal, though I did chime in with the cheese platter. It was a bit awesome if I do saw so myself! Tomatoes from the balcony garden, a camembert, a brie, a roquefort I requitioned from other purposes but vow to replace, a trio of firm cheeses which included red leicester, pear paste, two kinds of biscuits and some red currants for Christmas cheer.

All involved loved it! Oh and I am not too keen on photographing myself on this blog, but for Mum's sake I couldn't help but include this pic. This Christmas I proved to everyone that I am a little less scared of babies that I first thought, because I got the task of calming down santa's littlest helper on the day (I think he was trying to eat my shoulder at that point and despite the obstacles he faced in my odd body shape he seemed content.)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Succulent Presents

We are doing a Kris Kringle (a sort of secret santa) this Christmas with all my relatives. It helps me greatly because I am a bit cash strapped and buying pressies for everyone (or making them which is usually the case) can get quite expensive. I got one of the easier rellies to get a pressie for, and it was a tad lucky because I had already made part of her pressie a while back, an apron. Don't worry she won't find out, she has two small children so has little time for the internet. :)

However, despite the one present clause the other rellies are getting a little something extra from me this year and it didn't cost a cent. Two of the succulents had babies, lots of babies actually.


I potted them up using leftover pots and some special succulent potting mix I bought with my nursery voucher (also hidden in this picture is a pressie for Miss L, 3 sunflowers germinated, just for her, although you can only really count two thanks to my awesomely bad photography!)

Here they are all wrapped and ready to head north for the night.

I hope everyone has a wonderful christmas!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Eggplant Growing on an open Balcony

Eggplant may be a tricky one to grow, but it was an impulse buy for the balcony garden, in place of a zucchini that could not be located. I first posted about it here, and I was a bit worried it would never grow well. It is in a tricky spot behind the glass getting loads of way-too-hot afternoon sun (I know it likes sun but afternoon sun in Australia is a killer.) But it seems to be happy, even with the sunflower seeds I planted around it and, then, the other day I spotted this.

One lovely, slightly spikey eggplant flower! As we don't get many bees around here I jiggled a brush inside it a little to stimulate pollination. Not sure if it is like tomatoes and one flower pollinates itself or if I need to move it between flowers but at least I am fairly sure it isn't a boy flower/girl flower scenario which is causing havoc amongst my cucurbits. Fingers crossed I may just have an eggplant or two this year which would make up for the stupid wilting tomatoes (yes I don't care if they hear me, tomatoes that are weak and wilty have no place on my balcony) and the lesbian cucumbers, not that I have anything against lesbians at all, but in the plant world unfortunately the girl cucumber flowers really need to plaly with the boy cucumber flowers on the variety I am growing. Fingers crossed a boy flower appears from somewhere before the powdery mildew pounces!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Harvest Monday

Tomatoes! More and more tomatoes!!! You can see the horrible cracking the black russians, but also the lovely variations in colour as they ripen! Yum.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Chili Time

Just as the last of the peppers and other chilies are being reeled in over at Michelle's garden (I have been in awe of her harvests of the hotter stuff for months) mine are beginning to hit spring bloom. The thai red chili, which produces tiny but quite hot little numbers is back for its third year and there I thought it would only ever be an annual. It actually fruited up to about September so it really hasn't had a huge break in between. Now it is laden with green leaves, flowers, and a few new green chilies just waiting to colour up.

New this year was a habanero, first posted about here and a slow starter. Now it really has taken off and is a similar mass of green leaves, flowers and tiny, tiny, tiny green habaneros.

Can't wait to cook with the first ones, the habaneros, well, I'll need a bit more time and bravado for that!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Truffle Cheese and Garden Greens

Decadent dinner alert, turn away now for those who do not wish to read about slightly luxurious market purchases in this fiscally difficult time (I'm a student so it really won't be that decadent) It was Friday, I had the whole day and night to myself and my uni work, so what did I do ... got out of the house!!! I wandered down to the Vic markets, persing the organic mushroom shop in the vague hope that the $160 a kilo chanterelles had miraculously become 1/64th of the price and I could afford a few for my meal. No surprises that the price reduction wasn't on offer, moreover there were no chanterelles to be had at all. Missed them by that much.

Undetered I ventured into the cheese section and headed straight to the french cheese shop which had, on earlier occasions, stocked truffle cheese. It seemed that the truffle cheese had gone the way of the chanterelles and the shop looked bare. Luckily it turned out that the family of 8 million standing in front of me nattering away to the shop lady was just in the way of the cheese and it was, in fact, there. $92 a kilo is cost prohibitive at the best of times but unable to fork out for a real truffle I decided this was my best option to get a bare glimpse of that yummy earthy taste. Most of the cheese stalls at the market have a minimum size to buy and I was prepared for a reasonable outlay having saved so much on the chanterelle n0n-purchase. However, happy chatty lady was content to cut any size I wanted, so I settled for a 50gram piece, which was more than enough for 3 serves of risotto!

Armed with the brown rippled cheesy goodness I toddled home to toil in the kichen. The risotto had to be a simple base, to showcase the truffle cheese. So I picked a few welsh sprouting onions and some silverbeet to use from the balcony garden.

I chopped the onions with some garlic and cooked them up in some oil.

Then made the plain risotto with little more than a vegetable chicken stock base.

Then added grated truffle cheese and some soft gouda for texture.

Served it up with a lovely side salad mostly procured from the balcony garden.

Et voila, one slightly decadent dinner but when you factor in that the cheese covered 3 meals, and was only $5.50 this really wasn't the bank breaker it could have been.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Garden Bloggers Blooms Day December

Wow the 15th of the month rolls around quickly. For me it means rent day, but for most of you garden bloggers, myself included, it means something far more fun, Garden bloggers blooms day. Well it is December, and according to the weatherman we are set for a scorcher tomorrow; up to 40 degrees or so and windy as hell. Last time it was windy the sunflowers took a real beating. Ultimately they ended up looking like this specimen below, just exquisite for garden bloggers blooms day (note the sarcasm.)

Luckily the multiheaded sunflower still had a few more buds and was able to redeem itself. The balcony is quite green at the moment (except for the wilting tomatoes) although that is probalby set to change once the heat sets in to stay. Still if you know where to look there are blooms. Snap dragons secretly hide, blooming only for those who know where to look (blurry camera problems means you only get pictures of three but there are six seperate small pots dotted around the place.)

The cornflower is a beautiful bolt of blue in the back of the balcony garden. Oh and although it is slightly/very/extremely late in the season I planted some black cornflower seeds (that one's for you Fern!!!) and some pink cornflower seeds (inspired by Grace's uber pink garden) and some white ones (for all you northern hemisphere folks stuck in the snow) just to see if they can add some amazing colour to the balcony.

As for veggies, the zucchini is constantly flowering, again still only girl flowers, but by the looks of it some boys are soon to arrive.

Alas I cannot say the same for the cucumbers which are girl flowers and girl flowers only. I'm waiting for them to put up a 'keep out boys' sign on their potted clubhouse.

The beans are finally flowering after surviving snail attacks and an early spell of hot weather. I have both purple bush beans and regular bush beans, though the white ones are definitely far more compact.

Of course the tomatoes continue to flower, but I am having real problems getting them to set fruit due to their wilt. Some do well, others, less well but at least they keep flowering so it means I can keep trying with my pollinating electric toothbrush and sheer determination.

Lastly I turn to the basil. All of the basils have gone to flower, early, so grrrrr. But this is normal and I keep putting more seeds in as we go and pulling off the flowers when I see them to give the growing basil a little more time. Except for the spicy basil, which I don't mind flowering because I rarely use it in large quantities and the purple/white flowers on the green plant are just too pretty.