Sunday, January 31, 2010

Daniel Kitson as the Perfect Panacea in Melbourne

This is a mini, late(ish) night, thesis procrastination post that barely revolves around balcony gardening (sorry). It is also the second form of procrastion for the evening, the first being an enchanting visit to the Arts Centre to see Daniel Kitson's 66a Church Road followed by dumplings in chinatown. While the dumplings brought more than their fair share of pain and regret, the show was, as Kitson so often is, wonderful. I went in with a headache, a pain I'd endured since last night which seemed incurable, and came out feeling like a mellow and contented cheshire cat. His wordsmithery astounds me (and yes I realise this is not a real word, but time has hit double digits in the evening so I am past caring.) If only I could borrow his talent for 10 minutes I could convert this thesis from a pile of vague assumptions on narrative, memoir, self and the Third Reich, to something that has both substance and lilting prose.

His show covered home, or at least the varying concepts of it, memory and on occasions nostalgia in the truest sense of the word. He conjured impressions of the emotive responses we have to the inanimate, and indeed the ensuing animating of such entities to suit our persons and soul. Of course the few mentions of garden, whether it be dreams of his own future flora or peering into his neighbour's cultivations captured the imagination of my green thumb side. All in all it was fascinating. Its run has ended in Melbourne but I think Kitson is off to Brisbane and Perth so go along if you want to see panadol in performative mode. He cured my headache and got me thinking about nostalgia, a good combination for tonight's study fest. I promise a more garden oriented post in the morning, if I survive the writing binge!

Hot and Hotter

It is hitting the warmer part of summer again, although we are not tippoing the 40s which is a releif. It was nearly a year ago that black Saturday happened, where fires ravaged parts of Victoria and so many lives were lost. I do wonder how far the safety measures have come since. At least today is not set be 46 degrees like it was on black Saturday, but it is still 37 degrees with winds of over 50kms an hour. Finger crossed all goes well for those in fire prone areas.

The balcony is getting a lashing from the wind and the sun makes it difficult for some of the softer plants (tomatoes not included!!!) I even chatted with me lovely neighbour about ti this morning and informed her that is was the wind, as much as the sun that was drying her pots out (she has a few herbs, some succulents and a chilli, love it!) I also love the fact we were both still in our pyjamas at 11 o clock on a Sunday morning (I suspect she has since changed, I am still donning the pink gingham, bedtime number) But the sun, nor my pyjamas bottoms are the hottest things on the balcony, this is:

A habanero. One fruit, fully formed and just waiting to ripen to a golden orange. There is another on the way, and hopefully a few more form over the weeks. The ants are wreaking havoc with pollination but it seems a few chillies have managed to escape. Not sure if this is one 'hot' I will embrace, at least not without donning the cooking gloves first!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Proof of Life

Refer to the last post for the reasons behind this little pictoral spread.

Thanks everyone for all the comments. They make life that more smiley. Anyone for yellow pear tomato salad at my place (provided you don't work for the body corporate of my apartment complex???!!!) Might have home grown yellow carrots, roasted egglant, lettuce and cucumber to go with it. Ahhhhh now back to the thesis.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

'Oh it is just too sunny to grow tomatoes here love'

This post might be a little bit ranty but for the benefit of those overseas in he cold Northern Hemisphere I included an old, gratuitously lush picture of tomatoes. Mine do not look like that now, they are wilted, brown and kind of crisp. To the uninitiated it looks like they have been barbecued by the hotter than hot Australian sun. To anyone with any knowlege, they are sick, dying due to a wilt, from the soil, NOT FROM THE SUN!

Now I had inspectors come visit this morning, to see the damage incurred from a water leak coming from the apartment above. It has caused mold to grow in our apartment and it needs to be fixed. Well aparently these 3 men thought I was about 17 years old, and thus spoke to be in the most condescending way. Not only am I a few months shy of 30, but I take offence, at any age, to being treated in an inferior way. They had a letter from my landlord father telling them to inform me of the problems and planned solutions just as they would him, but they seemed to deem it all beyond my head. Then they wandered out to the balcony garden and continued to patronise me in the most awful way. They did not ask me if I had covered any drainage holes with pots, they just assumed that I had because silly little girls with gardens do that sort of thing. No apologies when they realised that of course I hadn't done anything of the sort, that I was well aware that I had to sweep up the excess dirt lest it clog the drain, that it was scheduled as a weekend chore. And when they did talk directly with me they were supercilious and just plain rude.

Then, and this was the final straw, they dared to tell me about my gardening skills. A lush balcony full of greenery, complete with greens that wilt at the slightest hint of sun was set before them. And my tomatoes, the last of which still need to be pulled but with all my spare time taken up on thesis work they haven't quite managed to be ousted yet. Well these 3 men all had views on those. It was the sun, the aussie sun that was killing them. Never mind the lush green foliage at the top of each plant, the mostly unblemished tomatoes still ripening on the mostly defoliated branches below. Yes it was the sun, plain and simple. When I informed them that in no uncertain terms that the wilt was caused by a disease they told me I was wrong. I repeated that I had a perfectly good yield last year and it was only with the entrance of a disease that I could not erradicate that the wilt occured, they thought I was still wrong. One even dared say 'What are you some kind of botanist?'. To that I just smiled and realised there was no point in arguing. These guys would think what they liked, my views wouldn't change their minds, after all I was just a young girl. With that they left. Still don't know when the damage will be fixed or what they intend to do with it, because a young woman like me apparently doesn't need to trouble herself with such issues! I half expected them to smack me lightly on the bottom and send me to the kitchen to bake them a pie!!!

Bah. Sorry for the rant folks but really, it is 2010, who still treats women that way? I may call myself totally inept balcony gardener but I don't think I am that useless. I'd like to see them write a 100 000 word thesis integrating autobiographical studies with history, teach history to university students for less than $10 an hour, keep a balcony garden thriving and blog about it. And now for those who still are reading this, here is more tomato porn, which proves, without a doubt, that I can grow tomatoes on my balcony :)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Yellow Flowers in Lieu of Harvest Pictures.

Alas no pictoral harvest post today. My camera is with a friend in the archives, and I didn't manage any blurry shots of the food I picked this week anyway. There was a harvest and it involved an eggplant which I stuffed with tomatoes, zucchini, rice and the insides of the eggplant itself for one meal, a few small zucchini, the dwindling tomatoes that manage to ripen, some carrots (some yellow ones from the carrot pot, some small purple ones from the tomato pot that got turfed yesterday), lots of silverbeet and plenty of herbs. I am not sure if this counts as a harvest post when there are no pictures. Actually here is an old picture of an eggplant - it's from the same bush so maybe we can just imagine! :)

Hopefully next week I can put in a harvest post before I have my 24 month thesis review and head off to Adelaide to visit my family. Still chugging along on the thesis while entertaining some lovely house guests at the moment so busy, busy, busy. I enchanted them with my yellow and purple carrots last night, along with the ubiquitous gnocchi, which went down a treat. In more floral news, things are beginning to bloom yellow on the balcony. Another sunflower has taken flight.

There are plenty more where that came from. I seem to have planted them everywhere in the garden at the moment, 4 around the eggplants, 5 in the new zucchini pot and one randomly in with some radishes! The marigold, even though it doesn't need to protect the tomatoes anymore, is beginning to open.

There is another yellow flower staring at me at present - a female zucchini flower, but no male flower on the plant. There was a male flower in full bloom yesterday so I took Dan's advice and put it in the fridge for safe keeping. Now to see if it actually worked!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Hurricane Proofing Your Home

* Today's post is a guest post from the lego people that live on the windowsill.

You may remember us from such posts as living the tomato life, and strawberry pots are just not big enough. We are the lego people who live on Prue's windowsill. Back in the day our house was small, really small.

Soon we upgraded to bigger digs, more elaborate but a bit more flimsy, and this is when the trouble began. You see, we live in a hurricane zone, a pretty bad one too, where Hurricane J strikes quite often and with catastrophic ferocity. I know Hurricanes are usually named in a sequential, alphabetical order but this hurricane is always the same. It comes, it tears our home apart, engulfs some cheese and crackers, then disappears for a bit. We've asked Prue if we could move somewhere safer but she doesn't approve of that, and the one time she tried Hurricane J caught up with us anyway. We don't mind rebuilding our home, it means we get to try out new looks. Here is an old design.

When Hurricane J hits, one day the house will be up, then a few pieces get ripped off.

Then piles of rubble.

Occasionally bits end up where they shouldn't, like a postbox on the roof!

One day we decided to build a castle instead, because historically they seemed like strong structures.

Unfortunately Hurricane J got to that one too. There was the Bar but after one particularly bad spate of hurricane ocurrances that got flattened also.

This was the shortest lived house, it lasted about 20 minutes!

So now we sit here, blocks in hand ready to rebuild. Any suggestions? What is a Hurricane J proof house? A pyramid? A bigger castle? An igloo? We are up for any suggestions! Oh and if you see our Ungle Bob, say hi. He is the adventurous fellow who one day, fed up with the hurricanes took of with his rucksack. He was last spotted somewhere in the bathroom.

I heard he had progressed to sitting atop the world map these days! Thanks for letting us guest post and we look forward to your suggestions on new houses to build.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Driven to Basil Distraction

Ugh thesis writing is keeping me away from the blog and away from the garden. Infuriating!!! Plus my camera is getting dithery in its old age and barely any photos from it are useable. The guest post from the lego people is coming soon, they promise me. Thanks for all your comments on the few posts I manage to write in this busy time, it keeps my spirits alive (writing a thesis on Nazi memoirs can be altogether draining on the grey matter.) In the mean time enjoy some thai basil that in my time starved life at present has gone to seed.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Harvest Monday

Just a little harvest this week. Another martini glass of tomatoes ripened inside.

Leaving these behind to gain colour or wrinkle and die.

Four small purple bush beans.

On the cucurbit front, two baby zucchini, one unpollinated, one accidentally knocked off and one lopsided cucumber, probably pollination problems.

Now with most of the tomatoes torn out the harvests will be smaller - but there is some hope, 4 eggplants of varying sizes on the eggplant bush!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Growing Tomatoes on a Balcony

This is my post for Fern at Life on the Balcony's Container Gardening Blog Carnival and it is all about the main reason I got into balcony gardening in the first place - tomatoes. Sure I had herbs and a lemon tree before the 'matoes' hit the tiles but it was these love apples, with their variety of colours and amazing home grown taste that got me hooked, and saw the few pots dotted in and around the balcony grow to many pots all over the balcony. I am by no means an expert on tomato growing in pots, but luckily through trial and error, googling and just plain experimenting I have managed to work out a thing or two about this endeavour. So without further ado here are the five ideas (note not rules) I live by when planting tomatoes in the balcony garden.

1. Indeterminate is just a label (but it is an awfully good idea to invest in some good stakes for the never ending growth spurts)

So many seedlings in the nursery shout 'perfect for pots' or 'container friendly' which are squarely aimed at the balcony gardening market. They are good and the fit well in pots, but they are usually a pretty basic tomato. That's great if you like to start with the basics or love to follow the many rules and guidelines set out on today's society. But for those who like to live on the wild side, or maybe just like to tip toe over to the rainbow section of life for a second or two and jump back without anyone noticing, don't let labels limit you. I have only ever planted one type of tomato (in two varieties) that was made specifically for pots.

These were cherry tumbler tomatoes and are pretty much the only thing you can grow in hanging pots that make cascades of tomatoes which head towards the ground not away from it. As far as labels go, cherry tomato is another doozy because most cherry tomato vines are bigger than normal vines (I made that 'mistake' early on in my growing days, but luckily I planted them in an onground pot and the results were delicious.)

So if you want something other than red, other than round, other than golf ball sized, look outside the box earmarked for pots. Green Zebras are fanstastic and tart and green when ripe. I've heard Aunt Ruby's German Green are another amazing green when ripe tomato (but alas none thrived in my garden due to wilt, an ailment we will get to in idea number 4.) Black Russians kept my balcony sitter so happy one summer with their rich, dark brown, smokey taste. Tigerellas with their yellow striped red look give normal salad tomatoes a good run for their money. Pink Mortgage Lifters are my idea of a perfect tomato. Yellows and Oranges, rippled Zapotecs, the ubiquitous Purple Cherokee and even white tomatoes can all be grown in pots. Yes they are all indeterminates (that means they keep on growing till weather, wilt or wild dogs pull them down, not that we get too many of the last variety on the balcony.)

You will need to support them in some way. I use stakes, lots of stakes, and old stockings to tie them on with. I am not sure the body corporate is too happy about my bright pink and purple ties but so far they have kept mute about it. I guess they are just happy to have such a lovely garden as a centrepiece (yes my apartment is dead centre of this complex and it always features in the realestate ads, in fact I can tell if the photos are out of date according to the state of the balcony garden!!!) You can really use anything to tie them on with, so long as it is secure.

So instead of going to the easy, peasy pot friendly tomato why not buy with your eyes and go for one of the tastier, showier, heirloom numbers.

2. Feed your tomato friends with food, love, and watery fun times

Ok so I admit it, occasionally I talk to my tomatoes. We don't get too political, though the environment is quite a hot topic, but sometimes the ones closer to the door like to argue about the new developments in Summer Bay or muse about how suave Jarvis Cocker was on Spicks and Specks. So they get the love and they grow in return.

Of course there are the other goodies that they need. Pots don't hold a lot of soil, so the soil that is in there should be top notch. I do spend a significant amount on top grade potting mix, but the results are worth it. Extra top ups of food and seaweed solution for good roots help from time to time. The leaves will probably let you know when they are hungry as they will turn a violent shade of yellow.

So too the leaves will tell you when the plant is thirsty. Tomatoes plants are thirsty fellows and in the Australian summer they need a good drink everyday. In a country with water restrictions this can be a tricky enterprise, but there are amazing ways to save water around the house. Water at even intervals too, particularly when fruit are formed, otherwise they will crack (though generally this just degrades their aesthetic value, and non-fusspots can certainly still enjoy eating them.)

3. Tomatoes work best with friends (but not all friends are good, some are 'toxic')

Lego companions for tomatoes are something of a staple for the balcony garden however they are not the friends I am talking about in this instance. Companion planting is good in gardens but it was tailor made for potted gardens. One pot, two plants, twice the yummy goodness. Usual bedfellows for tomatoes include basil (I use the sweet green kind), carrots (any colour here will do) and marigolds. The basil can add flavour to the tomato and also goes well with it when eaten! Carrots add air to the soil which helps the tomatoes root system. The carrots might end up a bit deformed, they may bifurcate when they hit a root or end up stumpy but they will still taste great (refer comment above about cracked tomatoes, fussy eaters may not agree.)

Some neighbours are bad for tomatoes and will inhibit their growth. At least as pot gardeners we do not have to worry about tomatoes number 1 enemy, the walnut tree, which excretes jugolone from its roots that can be highly toxic to tomatoes. If anyone manages to companion plant a walnut tree and a tomato (or even to put a walnut tree in a pot on its own) then they deserve the consquences. Infact Walnuts don't play nice with many plants, so bear that in mind. Don't say you weren't warned.

4. Wilt happens

Bacterical Wilt, Fusarium Wilt, Verticillium Wilt, they happen. Late Blight, Early Blight, any Blight, they happen. Moulds, funguses, caterpillars, aphids, white flies, fruit flies, fungus gnats, they all happen. Sometimes you can't help much, sometimes there are sprays, sometimes the sparrows do the work for you. I, unfortunately, am mostly in the first category. It seems a wilt, I suspect fusarium, has infiltrated the balcony, and caused the deaths of all my lovely heirloom varieties. Sad for me, but not impossible to overcome. I can plant resistant varieties, and yes if I look hard enough some are even yellow and orange coloured. This is limiting but it is a solution.

When you get a tomato problem just google, that's what I do. Google image is great because you can match the symptoms. Look up forums, ask other gardeners, come on here and ask me! Don't let a small, medium or major issue make you not grow your beloved love apples.

5. Toothbrushes of the electric kind are your best friend.

Most apartments with balconies are in a city, or in the city, the inner city in fact. Mine is, it is smack bang on a four lane road (6 if you count the trams, 7 if you drive like some of the Melbourne drivers I've witnessed.) This is not the favourite territory for bees. Luckily it reduces your chances of a painful sting but the tomatoes won't be so thrilled about your awesome pain reduction manouvre. You see tomatoes need pollinators. Some say wind works but I say that's a lot of wind in itself. My balcony is extremely windy but it didn't add one bit to the pollination of my first crop of tomatoes. No bees = no pollination too. So what do you do? Stare at the plants and will themselves to pollinate?

No, you get proactive, and you get a tooth brush, an electric toothbrush. The motion of the head of the toothbrush mimics the vibration of the bee. It is called sonication. Don't trust me, then look it up. By touching the flowers, or the stem, or wherever on the plants that works for you, you can make the tomatoes pollinate. You have to do it daily, usually when the weather is warm and the flowers are open. Yes your neighbours will probably think you are bonkers, and they will continue to think you are bonkers after you explain the reason to them but who really cares what they think. They wont think you are all that bad when you have baskets of tomatoes to share with them will they!!!

So there you have it. Totally Inept Balcony Gardener's guide to ideas on how to grow tomatoes, any tomatoes, in pots. You can even try growing them inside in a sunny window over winter. I did, with mixed results, but the tomatoes were awfully tasty! Don't let a confined space get in your way of an heirloom harvest.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Harvest Monday and it is 42.3 degrees outside!

It is hot, hot, hot, hot out there and yours truly was a little slow off the mark in moving the pots inside and into the shade covered section today. I waited until it was 43 degrees outside before performing this duty to protect all and sundry from the ridiculously hot Australian sun. Some pots, like the cucmber pot are too big to be moved, ever, not even if we get another 46.6 degree day. I did discover that an old sarong makes a great makeshift shade cloth when draped and tied between two tomato stakes. Here is a picture of my handy work. The ties used??? Old stockings cut up into useful sizes!

and here is a picture of the now barren part of the balcony, sweltering in the heat! At least it gives me a good excuse to sweep and mop it later this evening when it cools down.

Oh and note to self, next time you decide to run out onto the white-tiled balcony in this weather remember to put your shoes on!!! I don't think the soles of my feet could have burned any more if I was walking on hot coals (or in any event I don't think I'd made a very good firewalker)

Anyway enough about hot Melbourne days and onto much more sunnier (pun not really intended) horizons - harvests. Would anyone care for a martini? A martini of ripe tomatoes that is! My favourite flashing light martini glass that usually comes with me on picnics to swill champagne from was lying around the kitchen and I thought it would make the perfect vessel to contain a few of the ripened tomatoes. Apparently I even took it outside for a spin according to this photography!

Green Zebras, Black Russians and cherry tomatoes have been ripening indoors instead of on the vines due to the wilt. Here is the master collection of ripening tomatoes!

I also ate the L shaped cucumber! It was still pretty tiny but oh so very tasty.

I have had lettuce most nights, but this hot spell has killed off any chance of more. I will plant some once the weather cools slightly.

And now for the star of the show - the first ever balcony garden eggplant! I did pick him this week and he was just little bigger than my fist. I know that is small and he probably had a lot of growth left in him but with today's very very very hot and sunny weather I thought better to eat him now than when he is bigger but fried to a crisp.

I diced up the eggplant, along with a few baby zucchinis that never pollinated, and put them in a tuna pasta bake! Soooooooooooooo tasty.

If you want to see other harvests pop on over to Daphne's Dandelions! I am going to put my feet in an ice bucket and sit in front of the air conditioner thinking about snow.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Slightly off Sunflowers

Since the windy day of a month ago destroyed my giant sunflowers, I have had to make do with one smaller, multiheaded sunflower until the later planted 5 or so others in various pots make it to the flowering stage. This yellow sunflower has given me a lot of lovely heads in the past few weeks, though it was not without some problems.

Problem number 1 - the sunflower head that forgot to grow a stem!

The poor flower head ended up growing into the main stem and put out a few petals at various angles. Problem number 2 - I don't actually have a photograph of but it is the sunflower that only got 2/3rds of the way there. The head is fully formed on one side, and half formed on the otherside, leaving it very lopsided. Kind of like the elephant man of the sunflower world.

Not all sunflowers get it right but even in their munted, awkward shapes these heads make me smile. Now to wait and see what the next ones look like ...

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Balcony Garden Salad

Take some lettuce and a cucumber

and chop them up nicely.

Procure some tomatoes (slightly riper than the ones pictured here)

unleash your inner artiste (sic) and arrange accordingly.

Add some sliced carrots (note these must be colour co ordinated.)

Et voila - one lovely little balcony garden salad to go with any meal you so desire. Sorry for the short post, but thesis is being a little needy of late. Stay tuned for a guest post from some unlikely folks in the next few days, and possibly an eggplant update!