Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Harvest Monday: Sadface/Happyface

Mixed emotions here on the balcony garden: lotsa lemons and limes, but broccoli woes abound. There are sadfaces and happyfaces depending on the whim of the harvester.

What happens when there is more aphids than broccoli ... the first harvest Monday sadface fest. Yes I harvested TWO heads of broccoli this week. One was delicious, and eaten raw along with snowpeas, some other veg and curried pumkin soup:

The other, was trash, wasted, and I just couldn't bring myself to eat it let alone photograph it. There were more aphids infesting this head of broccoli than tiny green florets. Usually they're just on the leaves but this time they were everywhere. The head was tightly grown and these guys weren't going anywhere. Hot water, soaking, rinsing, they weren'y going to budge. In the end it got left out of its place in the intended risotto (Kale and mushroom, using kale from the Balcony garden) and wallowed on my kitchen bench until it became too ruined to even use. Major sadface moment.

But in happyface news I used a few of the lemons to make the most amazing lemon meringue cupcakes! I took them to uni and the lucky few who got one were well pleased. The lemon curd was super tangy and tasty. Happy faced campers all around.

But this does mean there are only one or two lemons left on the tree ... cue the potential sadface moment on the horizon. However, it is a happy face for the win because I have several limes from the lime tree sitting in the fruit bowl and they are going to make one delicious drink soon.

Yay happy face and yay harvest Monday. For other, less aphid filled harvests visit Daphen's Dandelions.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

How to grow corn on a balcony

I never thought it was anything out of the ordinary, put seedlings in a pot and voila - corn! Though from everyone's encounraging and heartwarming reactions to last Monday's harvest post I guess it isn't the oft done thing. I do recall, when first deciding to 'corn-pot' that I googled around and only found a little info on the subject. One person grew it in a converted bathtub, and another in a big container, so I knew size mattered. Other than that I just stumbled in and hope for the best. After two seasons and a few good crops a few failed crops I am beginning to get a handle on this corn growing thingo. So here are a few tips, pointers and other things I've worked out about growing corn on your balcony. (I do note I blogged about this ages ago, but the post wasn't very informative, though it does contain a tonne of great pics and shows just how far I have come.)

1. Size does matter

Corn needs good soil, and lots of it, so you need something large enough to grow it in. The bigger the better, but given this is a balcony you also need to consider weight. The bathtub idea, while romantic when considering the claw footed beauties I'd seen in home magazine pictures of million dollar bathrooms weren't going to cut it here. Not even your standard bath, simply because of the weight. The solution ... polystyrene boxes. And the best thing was they were free! Lots of people grow in these things, and a regular one could fit about 5-6 corn stalks. That wasn't big enough for me, and I found they dried out pretty quickly so I put two and two together, and when I say that I mean I put two polystyrne boxes together (with their middles cut out) and made myself a megapot. Now this held even more corn and gave it enough nutrients to survive.

This is megapot above, when filled with this winter season's crops -broccoli, kale, lettuce and carrots.

2. Potting Mix

Same as I say for tomatoes, and for any vegetables, use the best potting mix you can afford/make. Corn seems to like to be fed, so do it.

3. Hand pollinate

Not with a toothbrush like you do tomatoes, (wierded out by that statement, then visit this blog post to get an understanding) but with the wind. The pollen from the tassels or corn flower (the bit that comes out of the top and has flowering sorts of things on it) needs to rendezvous with the silks (the lady bits) on the top of the little itty bitty corn (and yes the corn inside there pretty much is baby corn, give or take a few days.) Still confused, see below, the bits in exhibit A (left, flowers/tassels) need to meet the bits of exhibit B (right, silks).

 You need to do two things to help this along, and one is not to play Barry White on the balcony and leave glasses of wine lying around to set the mood. What you do need to do is to plant the corn in clumps so it has buddies nearby (another reason why megapot is the best) and then shake it a little when the flowers and silks are visible. Sometimes the tassels/flowers appear a lot earlier than the silks, just hang tight, and usually things work out. If not (which has happened) it could be because the temperatures are wrong for corn and unfortunately there isn't much you can do short of hoping someone else has a corn crop on the balcony next to you.

Each silk that is pollinated is a kernel so you want to make sure you  get that pollen where it is needed. If not you might end up with a sad looking corn like this:

or worse, you might end up with no corn at all. (the pot pictured well below with the 3 sisters technique is an example of weather causing odd growth, it sometimes happens, and you just have to go with it.)

4. When do I pick it?

Once they're pollinated they'll grow and fill out. You will see this happened over the next week or two until they look pretty big and juicy. The silks will brown off and you may even see kernels sticking out the top of it. That's when you know they are ripe. They'll also stick out at a greater angle than before, even up to 90 degrees, (see maths does come in handy in real life, thanks Mrs Fleet and Mr Kennelly for giving me the mathemetastical grounding to work out the ripeness of corn!) The corn below is almost right, it is starting to move away from the stalkm but needs to get a little fatter.

Once ripe just rip it off the stalk, or twist if you feel like being delicate. You can eat it without cooking if it is this fresh. It is great in salads or just as is. If it is a little old or mealy then cook it, just remember to remove the husk before serving.

5. Other little tidbits.

Try the 3 sisters technique ina really large pot (I did.) It is corn and beans and squash/pumpkin. In the first three sisters pot the corn went really well, the beans were tasty but the pumpkin died. I might try this experiment again next summer. Below is the only picture I have of of the second 3 sisters pot. The corn in this pot struggled as the weather was too hot and it got too straggly. I got a few ears of corn from this one, but not many. However, in this case, at least the zucchini thrived.

Also, corn isn't just yellow. I grew the most amazing yellow and white version last season and there are also fully white versions.

 If you want to go exotic you could grow other kinds of corn, red, black, blue, multicoloured. These versions aren't sweet and are often used dried, popped, ground or decoratively. Still they can look amazing and I am sure you could have all kinds of kitchen fun with these veggies. If anything this post proves that with the right knowledge and plannig you can grow just about anything on a balcony! Ever grown corn? Got any more suggestions? 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Lemon meet Lime

The lemon tree was one of the premier plants on the balcony - first posted about way back when. The lime tree followed after I decided to up the fruit tree content of the balcony in lieu of vegetable space (it was a slight soil saving measure that seems to have more than paid off.) After years of struggling where harvests were a meagre 1 or 2 fruits, the lemon tree has finally come into its own. Check it out in all its glory now (above and below):

I've picked a few lemons thus far, for garnishes, drinks and dessert purposes. The dessert was a slightly overcooked lemon delicious. I'm not sure if it was my oven, or the recipe (I'd vote the latter), but on my recent trip to Adelaide I gathered my Mum's amazing, handwritten recipe and will woo the man with a second attempt. But this first one at least tasted great served with blueberries!

And if you want to check out something culinary that is a little more decadent that this dessert head on over to my other blog, A teetotal 2012. It also shows my recent sewing projects including that quilt!
 I try and drink freshly squeezed citrus juice as much as I can in the winter. It involves freshly squeezing one or two of oranges, lemons and anything else I please that morning. It tastes delicious and helps give a good dose of vitamin C. In my 'time'-poor last few months I've barely managed this seemingly small task, but on the odd occasion I have it has been wonderful. I use it to ward away colds and other nasties in the winter. Even better with home grown lemons and limes thrown in the mix (this one had the juice of one orange also).

The lime tree itself is growing well, and I've harvested a couple for similar purposes. One even almost made its way in my superman's amazing attempt at spiced slow roasted chicken last Sunday (I'm still savouring the last few bits in sandwiches.)

Citrus trees are great plants for a balcony garden. The fruit is multipurpose and the smell of the blossom, which is there many months of the year, it phenomenal. They are heavy feeders but I just put some slow release on 4 times a year and they're happy as Larry if Larry was eating Mum's lemon delicious. No need to buy those fancy dwarfed citrus plants, they're just a waste of money. ANY citrus can be dwarfed and rootstock has little to do with it. With the right pot, soil and pruning regime any citrus can be kept at the size you want it. After 5 and a bit years in my hands (and a couple of years at its former home) the lemon is finally playing ball and the lime only took 2 and a half years to produce!!! Now that's what I'd call a winning combination.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Floral thoughts

I popped home to Adelaide last week to visit the folks. It was to make up for Easter when I went to Adelaide and spent the entire time marking assignments. This time round there was no marking to be done, although it didn't mean I was completely work free. I spent most of the time hanging out with these fellows:

And spending quality time with my Mum and Dad. To say thanks to Mum (and Dad) for taking such great care of me I have a tradition of buying some flowers, and this is what I stumbled upon this time.

I know some people think buying cut flowers is a waste, they just open and die, but I'm not just some people. I happen to love cut flowers, and feel it brings the garden indoors. Yes you can have indoor plants, but indoor plants are not without their problems. I've posted before about the flowers I cut from my balcony garden and bring inside for colour. But the rest of this post is meant as a thankyou to my delightful other half, who looked ater the balcony garden in my absence, but who recieved no such pressie! And how do I thank him? By showing the world his lovely and thoughtful nature. Here is a collection of only some of the flowers he has bought me over the last few months. They were for different reasons (e.g. I was severely overworked, I had just finished a PhD so congratulations were in order ... and just coz!)

I don't know why I don't have pics of more of them, as they were lovely. Such a thoughtful and kind man. He also brought home three seedlings on the weekend, a red kale and two varieties of peas.They went straight in the garden and should prove tasty when it comes time to harvest (look at my latest harvest here) This was after he bought this lovely fern below, which I promptly accidentally killed!

 I have never given him flowers, but I did once make him a bag. Well I make everyone bags, as they help me practice my sewing. And I guess I cook him delicious food, but I do that for myself as well as him. All these flowers and he just gets one bag, think I better lift my game :)

Monday, June 4, 2012

Harvest Monday

What better than to return to writing with a Harvest Monday post! It won't be a long one, if only because this stupid new blogger platform has made it extra hard to post, oh fun! So many harvests have been missed while I took a break from the blog (due to excessive work) but it doesn't mean they haven't been enjoyed. Here are some of the things I've harvested over the past few months.

There was the last tomato (above) and the final few corn. All delicious and enjoyed with a number of meals (details to follow in a different post)

Some winter greens such as snow peas, kale, silverbeet and more

And the first of the citrus! A lemon and a lime! (all used up in this pic)

With semester drawing to a close I hope to have more time to devote to this blog and will finally attend to all the posts I promised.