Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sping Plantings and Garden Experiments 5: Corny Corn Corn Corn

Most people I know don't think that I am crazy, they know it. Earlier in the year I announced that this Spring I was going to plant corn. Most told me I was mad, that I could not find a pot big enough or soil hardy enough or that my neighbours above would be picking the corn because it grows so tall. Some internet posts gave me hope that it could be done within my existing means, while others put me off it. So the thought drifted by and the corn plans got shelved. Come Spring planting, maybe it was madness, maybe it was intuition, but the corn planting bug came back with a vengeance.

So I went with it. Instead of planting a pumpkin and a zucchini in the two large pots, I planted one punnet of corn. Four in each pot (though one has a double head which I couldn't seperate.) They have limited space which means limited water but unlimited sunlight and some mulch for protection. I am not expecting a bumper harvest, in fact I'd be happy with one baby ear of corn between the lot of them. I will have to hand pollinate but that seems easy enough. I will have to give them lots of food on a very regular basis. Easy enough too. Maybe the only hard bit will be actually reaching the corn!!!

Is there anything you have grown that people have told you not to because it just wouldn't work? Did it work? Did it die? Am I crazy (that was the only rhetorical question in the bunch.) Will keep you all updated about my silliest balcony garden experiment yet.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Spring Plantings and Garden Experiments 4: Tomato Trials

Tomatoes were what got me into gardening. Well those and a free lemon tree and some herbs. Tomatoes gave me a challenge (according to some it was too much of a challenge, little did they know), fun, tastebud sensations, and when I realised they came in multiple varieties and colours and shapes I was hooked. I blogged about them a lot too - I checked back over my statistics and I have 108 posts about tomatoes! I even kept a tomato tally of how many I harvested.

The first year was pretty tame. It started with some early planted cherry tomatoes I saved from certain death in Kmart. Then some heirloom ones, and more heirloom ones, and a san marzano or two. By the end they looked pretty wilted and crispy fried, I blamed the summer and the general degradation of tomato plants at the end of the hot weather.

Season two it was all systems go, seeds in early, seedlings procured to elongate the harvest even further, and so many varieties, carefully chosen over the cold winter. Heck I even grew tomatoes inside over the winter (the Winter tomatoes too developed this incessant wilt, but again I just thought it was due to the wierd conditions they were grown in.) It wasn't until the second season was underway, and the wilt came early and persistently that I knew I had a major problem. Wilt killed all the plants, though I did manage to harvest some. It kind of resembled fusarium wilt, though I am not sure. Ultimately I pulled most plants after half a harvest at most, some didn't even make it past seedling stage.

I had almost given up hope of a harvest this year, with the memories of dashed tomato plants from last year still firmly in my mind. But I decided to give it one last shot. Using a couple of disease resistant varieties coupled with early planting I am hoping to get some sort of a harvest this year. Growing inside I have seedlings, of a VFN San Marzano, and a brandywine, which the nursery lady convinced me was diesease resistant but I am not sure I believe her. I hope she is right, because brandywines taste divine, but I am not holding my breath.

As a backup plan I procured some seedlings, one apollo improved which is supposed to have increased disease resistance, and two tumbler yellows, which have no resistance whatsoever but they work well to form a mixture of heights, and last year I got a bit of a harvest from them due to their cherry size which seemed to manage to just outrun the wilt. They are already flowering which is a good sign.

Will this experiment work? I hope so, though the lustre of growing these love apples is a little lost without the ability to plant my favourite heirlooms. I love green zebras and I never did get to try aunt ruby's german green. The purple cherokees and white cloud tomatoes which I love so dearly cannot get a run. And mortgage lifters, tomato crack, tomato heaven, tomato awesomesness but are now solanum non grata on the balcony since the wilt. I hate san marzanos, but if they grow then it is better than nothing. I love having fresh tomatoes on hand more than I hate san marzanos.

How do you combat tomato diseases and problems? Has it made you give up? Should I one day give up? Who knows but for now my hopes rest with apollo and his red little friends.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Harvest Monday in Adelaide

While housesitter B is enjoying the spoils of the balcony garden I am here in Adelaide making do with the treasures in my parent's garden. Not that I am without a harvest. There is chard, chard and more chard. Red stemmed chard,

Yellow stemmed and curly chard,

And the most pretty of them all, orangey stemmed chard.

All chardy and all utterly delicious. And still so much of it left to eat. We eat a bit of this steamed almost every night and yet it never seems to deplete. Yay for parents and their gardens. If you want to see posts with different veggies head on over to Daphne's Dandelions for all the harvest news.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Spring Plantings and Garden Experiments 3: Eggplanting

The case of the eggplants in my garden is less of an experiment and more a mix of impulse buys, slow to germinate seeds and an obsession with marbled eggplants. Last year I planted a single eggplant, later in the season, and only because tomato seedlings were hard to get and seemed to just keep dying in my garden anyway. The tag said it was a prolific fruiter which I figued would be good seeing as his new home was going to be a pot. Well he fruited and fruited and I posted often on harvest Monday about my eggplants. Now for most people eggplants are an annual, dying off when the Winter hits. I thought my eggplant would do the same, and he did slow down the production in the cold weather, but he never truly came to a stop. In the frosty weather some of the leaves turned brown and he looked a little ill yet still the eggplants came. This just meant that I never pulled him out. Maybe it was his sunny position by the window but come Spring I already have 5 little though slightly damaged eggplants on this amazing bush.

I have decided to leave him in until he expires of his own accord though he has been moved to a different position to make way for a different sun loving plant.

By keeping the old plant in that meant I didn't have the larger space I thought I might have for my new obsession, the fairy-tale eggplant. It is a mottled pale purple and white, so pretty, and apparently so tasty. I set off to the nursery to find one, and even after visiting three separate nurseries could not procure a single seedling. I ultimately settled for another normal eggplant, though he didn't get the luxury of a large pot. You can see the size difference between him and the apple tree pots in the photo below. Despite the cramped space he seems to be growing up nicely.

I did have some caspar white eggplant seeds and decided it best to sow those if I wanted anything other than a generic eggplant in the garden. So far they are either invisible, or lacking germination. They are the pots at the front just behind the tomatoes. They are the pots with a whole lotta nothing in them. Infact the only thing to germinate was the white squash, the thing I was least keen on! I'm not holding my breath that any will germinate, but fingers crossed anyway.

A bit despondant about the white eggplant failure a few weeks later I was out at the nursery again, and low and behold I stumbled upon the fabled fairy-tale eggplant! In my excitement I bought not one but two seedlings, and reaching home realised I had a similar dilemma to the zucchini issue I wrote about yesterday - not enough large pots. One of them ended up in a bigger rectangle pot which should work well, while the other ended up in a slightly smaller round pot pictued below. I wonder how these will do in the balcony garden.

Now all I have to do is get the white ones to germinate and I can have a multicoloured eggplant garden, complete with the granddaddy eggplant from last year.

Do you have any favourite eggplants? When I was at the garden shop the old fellow next to me (who certainly wasn't staff) told me his favourite eggplant. It was the long lebanese eggplant. I might try that one next year, but for this year I think the garden is full!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Spring Planting and Garden Experiments 2: Squished Squash

Everyone knows that plants need space. Some need more than others but all in all space is a good thing. Space in a balcony garden means using larger pots and not planting too many things in the one pot. Space means investing in a suitable amount of potting mix and the like to help your plants mature to the appropriate size. I did that last year with the yellow zucchini and it produced exceedingly well. The pot was a grand size and it looked in balance. It also produced a tonne of lovely sized fruits.

This year that pot had already been taken for a higher purpose (to be mentioned in the next few days) and the blackjack zucchini was ready to go in now. I managed to fit one into one of the large rectangular pots which was pretty small given it also houses some other companion plants but it seemed large enough for the zuke to thrive.

But what to do with the other two seedlings? I could do what I did last year and palm them off onto unsuspecting friends. Or I could buy a bigger pot a squeeze it in somewhere. Or I could go crazy and experiment with pot size. Being the ever so rational being that I am I went with the last option, manic overcrowding. How small a pot can I grow a zucchini in and still get produce?

Witness exhibit A - a smaller round pot filled with one seedling. Note it barely has two leaves yet, this is already a tight sqeeze.

Exhibit B is only slightly bigger. Square and mulched to the brim but still not really anywhere near an adequate size. Indeed to give you an idea of size the round pot used to live inside the square pot. I thought it looked ornamental, the snails thought it looked like home so the two had to be separated.

I will be intrigued to see how big these grow or if they get stunted or if they just up and die. If they do or do not bear zucchinis. If they do bear can it still get to marrow size? Much more fun I think than simply giving them away or making concessions. Probably not a revolution in gardening, more an experiment in stupidity but I am happy with it. Watering will be more constant as will fertilisation but maybe just maybe these little pots can work.

I do have a couple of slightly larger pots currently housing carrots. They should be ready for eating before I plant the other two zukes I have planned for this garden (these will be yellow ones, currently only green ones are planted, hence the general disregard for pot sizes. Yellow zucchinis are my favourite, green ones are too generic for my tastes.)

Have you ever experimented with size or crowding? I know for some plants (actually most plants) it stunts their growth. It'll be an interesting Spring on the balcony...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Spring Plantings and Garden Experiments 1: Strawberries

This Spring I have planted some new things, some old things with new improved varieties and some impulse buys. From 'resistant' tomatoes, to strawberries of multiple varieties, to two varieties of eggplant, to blackjack zucchini in odd sized containers, to corn, yes corn, the Spring garden was under way before I left for Adelaide. Housesitter B was primed with instructions about these new plantings and how to water them effectively. She was a great housesitter last time so I am sure she will be great this time too. Over the next few posts I will run through, in detail, each of these new planting and see what I have chosen, the conditions it is being grown in and rate its chances. I'll also ask for your tips, trick and to tell me if the method is madness or just might work. Today I will start with the tamest of them all, strawberries.

When I first began to garden I grew strawberries. Two Lowanna strawberries in a pot, no thinning of the runners and no idea. They produced well, were very tasty but got overcrowded and eventually were overrun by spider mites. I didn't plant strawberries for a while and contented myself with the slightly insipid but mega-cheap punnets from the markets. I longed for the taste of a proper strawberry, or really I just realised that I like snacking when I am out in the garden (who doesn't!!!???!!!) By luck my good friend Ms G gave me four bare-rooted strawberries she had left over from her bulk purchase, 2 hokowase and 2 kurowase. After planting them and caring for them I had ... 1 kurowase left. My ineptitude, or simply a lack of good drainage had killed off the other three. Remember if you are planting strawberries and there are repeated winter downpours, try and dry your soaked seedlings out somewhat, by any means possible.

I decided that the single remaining strawberry in that pot looked lopsided and lonely, it needed a friend. So I toddled off to the nursery to buy a companion. Problem was they didn't have any that I wanted and the few that they did have looked emaciated and more brown than green. Kind of like the ones I had already killed at home. Stopping at another nursery on the way home I found the same problem - although I did come across these little wild strawberries.

For me wild strawberries are as different to normal strawberries as caramel is to chocolate. Both are great, but very different. Others don't share this view but I am sticking to it. Strawberries are great, don't get me wrong, but they are ubiquitous. You find them everywhere and despite the many varieties they are all quite similar. Biggish, juicy, red and yum (except for the yellow strawberries, oh I wish I had those.) Wild strawberries are a whole other kettle of berry. They are tiny and I never find them in shops. I used to find them in my Aunt's garden and had to restrain myself from picking them all before she got any. The taste is a little tarter, stronger, but truly amazing. Wild strawberries to me were the diamonds of the berry world. So instead of buying a single strawberry I bought a punnet of these wild ones and planted them in various other pots in the garden (my Aunt later told me off for spending $2.49 on wild strawberry plants when they grow like weeds in her garden!)

Don't worry, they have since been mulched so stand a better chance of surviving the Australian Summer.

But this still didn't solve the problem of the half empty pot. One day I wanted to go for a walk, a long walk, a healthy walk, a 10km walk in fact, to Bunnings. I wanted a pot, a giant pot, for the lemon tree. Well I did walk, and it was healthy, but I didn't find a pot. They were completely potless at the shop. But I did purchase two new strawberries - a Hokowase and a Lowanna. Hokowase went in with the kurowase, and the lowana got a pot of its own.

So from no strawberries to several pots full of different varieties. I'd like a few more so I could get a good harvest but I currently lack the space. So far the oldest one, the kurowase has flowered and made one little fruit. (the flower is pictured at the top of this post.) I hope it doesn't ripen before I get back (otherwise Housesitter B is welcome to eat it.) The hokowase is also flowering, so fruit shouldn't be too far behind. Hokowase are supposed to be low acid while Lowana was bred to withstand typical Australian conditions (even though technically there are many different climate conditions in Australia but I digress.) The wild strawberries haven't grown much but they are there to tantilise my taste buds.

Do you have a particular favourite when it comes to strawberries? How do you go planting them in pots? Any tips? Are spider mites simply inevitable when you plant these things? While my garden is complete with strawberries my Mum has none. I did find a lovely strawberry pot behind her shed and I am heading off this morning to put it to use. While it is a bit late to plant them, I've never really taken notice of timing stipulations, so in my view she should have some yummy strawberries come Christmas.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Harvest Monday Returnings

Sorry that it has been a little while between posts. I blame work and study commitments and the fact that I lost the cord that connects my camera to my computer. Luckily I am on holiday in Adelaide (with housesitter B looking after the balcony garden) so I have a little more time to write and in the process of packing I found my camera cord! So today's harvest Monday post will be a wrap up of the harvests from the past few weeks, including produce from my garden and generously donated produce from my Aunt's garden. I have other things to tell you about the garden, in which Spring has definitely sprung, but they can be held off for other posts.

So far I've harvested almost all the broccoli, which is pretty little now as it is only side shoots. I picked all the snow peas and promptly pulled the lot out which weren't producing. Silverbeet, I eat this almost daily. Unfortunately I keep forgetting to photograph it, though stay tuned for pictures of my Mum's rainbow silverbeet which is just huge.

My aunty supplemented my harvest with her harvest which included beetroots, brussel sprouts and broccoli. Yum

I turned them into this yummy beetroot risotto that I made to impress someone. :)

And look out for future harvests of these little yummies ... (there are 5 on the overwintered bush - 5!!!)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Purple Pretty

Sometimes flowers can be just as pretty before they open.

Maybe even prettier ...