Summer Gardening 2014: Balcony and Garden Plot

So this is my fourth year of urban gardening and so far, so good. The tomatoes are growing like crazy, the carrots are coming along well and I’ve even got some beets on the go! I can’t wait to make home made pasta sauces and pestos with the veggies and herbs. Living in a city doesn’t mean the end of gardening so long as you’ve got a sunny balcony or access to a community garden.

I kept my balcony garden small this year, growing only the plants that will come in handy: grape tomatoes for making bruschetta, herbs for pasta sauces and pesto, and greens for making green smoothies.

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The balcony measures about 16 feet long and 4 feet deep. I added the upside down tomato planter to help maximize ground space. That way I can still move my bike in and out the doors easily.

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I don’t keep much on the bike side. Those vines growing up the trellis are moonflowers. That small pot contains Malabar Spinach, which is another climbing plant.

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Here’s the plant side. I found a perfectly good white Ikea table that someone had thrown into the junk pile outside our apartment complex, so I brought it upstairs and used it to hold the smaller plants. All of the excess soil and gardening tools can be neatly kept underneath it.

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The self-watering containers are placed on top of old empty storage bins to get maximum light. I put the tomato plant closer to the patio door so I can reach it easily. The kale doesn’t need as much light (I don’t think?) so I put those beneath the tomato where they can catch excess water that drips.

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I chose to grow kale because it is cold weather hardy, meaning it will continue to grow when summer turns to fall and the frosts come. Last year I made the mistake of planting it in my plot, which forced me to bike for 10 minutes in cold weather to harvest it. This year I put it on my balcony where it is within easy reach.

The parsley and oregano are growing like mad. If you forget to water them for a few days, they’ll be fine.

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I’ve found that parsley is difficult to kill.

Basil, on the other hand, takes a bit more work. Pinching off leaves encourages growth, so I’ve made sure to do that. My goal is to grow it as large as possible.

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So far, it’s approximately 2 feet high. The thyme is a ground crawler, so I put that in with it. It won’t compete for light or for root space. I made the mistake one year of putting both basil and bell pepper in the same container and they crowded each other out. Now, I know to keep larger plants in their own pots or in pots with small, shade-loving plants.

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Basil makes a great pesto. Most recipes will ask for at least 4 cups worth, which is why I choose to grow it myself. It’s cheaper than buying it fresh from the store. I’m thinking that next year I should do another container of it and maybe do a few plants in the garden plot so I can do super huge batches of pesto.

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Fresh thyme is amazing in soups and stews, and you can make tea with it as well.

Okay, now for the tomato plant. I just grabbed a grape tomato plant from the market this year without really thinking, and this may have been a mistake. Not a huge mistake, but still, I seem to have a monster plant and I’m not quite sure how to deal with it.

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Tomato plants are categorized as determinate and indeterminate. The first has a growth limit and will produce fruit in one large clump of time. The second has no limits to its growth and will continuously produce fruits. Determinate is better if you want a smaller plant. Indeterminate is useful if you want to have a continuous supply of tomatoes.

I’m fairly certain this plant is indeterminate. It simply will not stop growing! At the moment it is 4 feet tall with a width stretching more than 3 feet. Its branches are invading the parsley plants. On the plus side, it produces grape tomatoes, not beefsteak, so at least I won’t have 10lbs of tomatoes hanging upside down.

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Another tip for growing tomatoes: fertilizer. Last year my tomato plant was growing tons of flowers, but none of them were turning into fruit. I looked into it and discovered that the fruiting process uses potassium. I bought a fertilizer with a ratio of 5:8:10 (nitrogen:phosphorous:potassium) and soon after applying it, the plant fruited.

This year I took precautions and added fertilizer once the first flowers bloomed. As you can see, there are dozens of grape tomatoes on the vine!

I’ve got some rainbow swiss chard too. It grows quite large in comparison to lettuces and spinach, and it needs about 8 inches of soil depth, so for that reason I only planted a few seedlings in a container. The rest of it is in the garden plot.

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I tried something new this year and mail ordered some Malabar Spinach seeds. It is a relative of true spinach, and it loves hot weather. This is useful during midsummer when the temperatures are high and true spinach doesn’t grow well. I planted seeds in mid-July and the seedlings are coming along well.

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I put some in the garden plot too. Speaking of which, I switched over to a new plot this year!! It gets more sunlight than the other one, and it seems to be making a difference so far.

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I’m proud of the extra effort I put into it this year. I added wooden bits to keep the growing areas separate from the pathway. Then I covered the pathway with some straw. That way, when it gets wet, my shoes won’t get so muddy while I’m walking around.

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As for the hockey net, that was already there and I don’t know what to do with it, so for now it’s just going to sit there.

Here are the beets that I planted along the side.

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Beets are related to swiss chard, hence the similar appearance. Here’s the rainbow swiss chard that I planted next to it.

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Then I’ve got some carrots both orange and purple. I planted them early enough that I should get a harvest this year. Last year I just sort of started them in August and hoped they would magically mature in time (they didn’t).

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I found a few pleasant surprises when I took over the plot. First of all, I found these.

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I’m pretty sure that’s garlic. Now I feel better about leaving the garlic cloves behind in my old plot. Also, my neighbours raspberry bush has partially invaded my side, leaving me a few sweet berries.

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I’ve got a bunch of cilantro growing at the back. I want to start more but I’m all out of seeds. I’ll see if Canadian Tire has any packets left, though I’m sure they’re all gone by now. I really wanted to grow a ton of cilantro this year. Damn.

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Now for the tomatoes that I talk so much about. They are getting so large that the branches are growing along the ground. I will need to find a solution so they don’t rot.

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Yeah. I know we don’t need that many pictures but I love photographing vegetable plants.

And now for my experiment of the year: watermelon. There is no way that it will grow any fruit. I planted it far too late. Long story short, I started seedlings early, but they died before I could transplant them, so I bought a plant from the store, which almost died, so I brought it back to life, and now it’s doing just fine. BUT it is still rather small and will certainly not bear fruit this year!

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I’m keeping it around so I can get a feel for the way it grows. I want to see if I can get flowers out of it before the frosts kill it.

Now finally, here’s a shot of the community garden. I love how serene it makes me feel!

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How’s your garden coming along?

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2 comments

  • I absolutely love your enthusiasm.I am an urban gardener too but I only have a balcony.Love your post.

    • I had just a balcony for a couple of seasons. One upside, as I’m discovering, is that squirrels don’t get into your plants when you’re up high enough! Thanks for stopping by.

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