29 November 2009

the good, the bad and the ugly

As previously mentioned, 6 weeks of neglect has had a mixed effect on the balcony garden over here at elevated agriculture.

The herbs are a little bedraged, with the chives and basil done for and the mint in need of a trim ( or possibly total removal...but more of that another day).The tomato plant which at first looks fit and healthy has been a little wind beaten and some of the fruit had turned.It does still have lots of little flowers coming through, so a bit of a trim, some aeration of the soil a little organic feed and it should perk up.The lettuce and spinach seem to have benefitted the most from being left alone, but given the small crop of spinach (wilting away behind the lettuce) we have ended up with, I might give this whole planter over to salad.

Last but not least are the pepper plants, the smallest of the romital hot chilli plants is incredibly wind beaten, but the larger plant at the back along with the kuros sweets have some very promising looking peppers haning from them.

Must dash, it appears to have stopped raining sideways and those plants need sorting.

25 November 2009

Agriculturist and [most] plants alive and well

Contrary to several reports in the red tops, Mrs. M has not in fact shoved both myself and the contents of the balcony off the edge.

I have been in varying levels, very busy, very lazy and very on holiday; a heady mix of being both busy and lazy, but somewhere nice a warm.

And the result of this neglect?

Well, the chives and basil are dead, but everything else seems to be doing better than when I'm actually paying attention to it. The tomato plant (weird, weird, weird fruit) is still managing to produce flowers despite the cold and wind.

This weekend I shall venture out onto the windblown galvanised allotment, have a tidy up and take some snaps of current progress, I would go now, but I'm busy lazing in my armchair drinking wine.

For now here's a holiday snap to keep those that prefer pictures to words happy. And yes, I am the flame of scrooges candle.

6 October 2009

pick a peck of chilli pepper?

The kuros sweet and romital hot chilli pepper plants are going from strength to strength this week, with peppers coming through on all 4 plants.Check out the difference in shape, with the sweet peppers swelling outwards in contrast to the long thin spindley chillis.
To encourage growth, I've been pruning back the plants, removing leaves from the lower levels of the plants and thinning them around areas of flower/pepper.The only thing to decide is when I should pick the chillis? Now for a mild flavour and use a few in a thai green curry? Or later, when they are fat, red and full of fire to spice up some buritos?

Man or Mouse?


2 October 2009

costing the earth

Trawling through receipts in my bedside cabinet, I was mildly surprised to see that this year I have spent a total of £36.00 on Dirt, lovely Organic Dirt, but Dirt none the less.

Soil, it would appear, is a very big issue for the allotment holder, who will spend a certain amount of time, effort and money on improving to achieve the best possible crops. It's arguably even more so for the balcony gardener who has to lug it up flights of stairs in 25Kilo bags and pay for every single moist crumbly brown bit of it (soil is not normally considered a desirable attribute when buying a top floor flat).

It is thankfully, quite hard for me to begrudge paying for compost, when the choice is either buy it or don't grow fruit and veg on the balcony.

Admittedly I could have saved a few quid by buying it in bulk, but I'm neither sure my car, nor my back would be able to cope with 150kilos of compost all in one go.

And what if I hadn't taken to this elevated agriculture lark? What do you do with that much unwanted mud?

Speaking of unwanted mud, best go hoover the carpet before Mrs. M notices the footprints...

16 September 2009

weird fruit

As the temperatures and the amount of daylight available on the balcony allotment drop, the tomatoes continue to bloom.

green and red tomatoes on the vineAccompanying the already bountiful supply of gently ripening tomatoes, these little buds can be seen peeping through the thickening foliage.

tomato plant in flowerI'm lead to believe by the gardening books I've acquired and various online resources that this is not normal, in fact it could be considered down right weird for tomatoes at this time of year.

If they carry on like this I'll be digging fresh fruit out of the Buckinghamshire snow come December.

Tomato ice lolly anyone?

14 September 2009

Spider Sense

Since starting the balcony allotment back in July, I have enviably not had a problem with pests. Which given the wide variety of grubs, mites and bugs that are out to eat any and all delicious foodstuffs the gardener may choose to grow, is quite surprising.

spider on it's web on the balconyOr at least it was until about 3 weeks ago, when we started to get the odd 8 legged squatter in the living room.

Several of my work colleagues, friends and relatives have expressed the view that spiders should be killed at every given opportunity, but I take the attitude that if they're not doing any harm to me then I shall happily return the favour.

This has lead to a catch and release scheme, under which Mrs. M shouts at me, I catch the spider in a glass/envelope trap and deposit it outside. I have since released about 50 spiders, either that or it's the same ones coming back again and again for the spider version of Alton Towers.

This I'm more than happy to put up with in return for the natural, chemical free pest control which my arachnid friends offer.

Anyway, must shoot. The blue and red Lycra beckons!

13 September 2009

I used to have a herb garden...

...but now I have mint garden. My boss said with a chortle, several months and sacks of compost ago. It would appear that mint just takes over.

Unless it lives in the tiny little plastic tubs that it came from the supermarket in. If you keep it in these it shrivels up, then gets all rooty and then produces tiny little leaves which then shrivel up, get even more rooty...

Thoroughly miffed with this and being berated by Mrs. M who is partial to a cup of mint tea; I cajoled the rooty bundles out of their pots and planted them in the aforementioned compost (organic of course) and then completely ignored them.
mint plants in bright yellow planterA couple of weeks on and a gentle breeze through the open balcony door brought a lovely minty scent demanding attention.

The mint has taken over. Which is wonderful in a pot on a balcony, but seeing how deep the roots have set (the planter is 60cm deep and they go right to the bottom), probably not so great in a garden or allotment.

I used to have some rooty bundles...now I have a mint garden.

6 September 2009

hot flowers

It would appear that the Romital Hot Chilli pepper plants are desperate to hand over their bounty despite the cooling autumnal weather and sideways drizzle that we have had in the last few days.

This week on the elevated agriculture balcony we have achieved...drum roll please...flowers!
chilli pepper plants in flowerAs of this morning there are 3 little white flowers on the larger of the 2 chilli plants and lots of little green lumpy bits which appear to be where the flowers come from (pods? flower womb? technical I know).

Following guides from various online resources, I have used a little paintbrush to "pollinate" the flowers, gently brushing the pollen from one flower to the next (feel free to call me Bee Man).

The next step is apparently to keep them well fed, watered and drained.

Fingers crossed for a bumper crop of chillis, otherwise Mrs. M says I have to take the giant bee outfit back to the shops, Aye Carumba!

2 September 2009

The benefits of locally grown produce

It's the Tuesday after the August Bank Holiday, of course we've run out of lettuce and tomatoes. Rats.

Hang on, whats that on the balcony? Two varieties of lettuce and some nice ripe Plum Tomatoes?

Just picking some fresh veg/fruit from the balcony may seem obvious to you dear reader, but until now, nothing had been ready to eat. As a result I was all tied up in the growing rather than the eating.

crops from the balcony in ploughmans sandwichesBoy was I missing out!

Tomatoes that were firm and hadn't been in the deep freeze, lettuce that isn't bruised and battered. Sandwich bliss.

Convenience foods that anyone with a little space/dirt/water should be able to master. And not a Big Mac in sight.

Homebaked bread could well be the next challenge, making my own cheese on the other hand is open to questions. Such as, should I keep dairy cows on the balcony...

24 August 2009

trés bon Rodney, trés bon

I tried to restrain myself, but it just wasn't happening (not from the pun blog titles you may note), water was still making its way over the edge of the balcony and pitter pattering on the galvanised sheet below.

It was time to invest in some drip trays.the elevated agriculture balcony garden

The eagle eyed among you may notice that I appear to have one older and larger tray along with the shiny new ones - this is all that's left of our Christmas tree (It's not dead, just relocated. Honest.) and is now home to the largest of the planters, which is filled to bursting point with lovely lettuce and possibly a little spinach.

The other 3 trays contain the tallest planter (filled with mint. Mojitos Ahoy!), the middle sized planter (some very lazy peppers) and the trimmed back, fruit heavy tomato plant.

The Chives and Greek Basil are also lurking in the gaps and give a rather nice filled out look to the otherwise boring trays.

The major benefit of all this added plastic, other than not having an angry neighbour, is that I have been able to give the lettuce and tomatoes a bit of a soak, which from the growth that's now being seen is a good thing.

It's easy to forget that plants in pots/planters/grow-bags can dry out very quickly, so thirsty varieties do actually need "over watering" when not planted in the ground.

Water, water, exactly where it should be.

18 August 2009

Sea Scouts Support Tomato Plant

Not in the litteral sense, but my 5 years in the Sea Scouts is now benefiting my ever growing tomato plant.

Before you think I've gone mad and am blowing a Bosun's Call at it whilst wearing a Pork Pie hat and neck scarf, perhaps I should explain.

tomatoes on a homemade trellisThe tomato plant which was until this evening drooping under the weight of 30 plum tomatoes now has its very own homemade Bamboo cane and Jute twine trellis which I lashed together using one of the two useful pieces of information that my mind has retained from my days in the Scouts, How to tie knots (the other being that teenage boys left alone with rope can be absolute bastards).

I also took this opportunity to cut back the bushy plant and pinch out some wannabe shoots, which should give all that lovely fruit a chance to ripen.

Now where did I park my Battleship?

11 August 2009

Peeping Tom

Plum tomato peeing through the greeneryDon't worry, I haven't been spying on the neighbours, the Tom in question is of the Plum variety and after weeks of trying has finally turned a bright pillar box red.

Cutting back, pinching new leafs out that try to form between stems and keeping the compost moist seemed to help, but I think the most credit is due to the Sun which decided to make a welcome return over the weekend, topping the thermometer out at 40* ( lovely heat trapped in the brickwork and reflected off the metal flooring).

If the weather stays bright and breezy we can expect a bumper crop of 30 or so more; if not then at least there's that delicious tomato vine smell drifting in through the balcony doors.

Tomato plants, the Chanel no.5 of the Agricultural world.

10 August 2009

Water, Water, Everywhere...

Ahh, nothing quite like a nice relaxing Sunday walk in the Cotswolds, followed by a confrontation with our downstairs neighbour.

"we need to resolve this situation. you get me?"

Well, not quite. I wasn't aware there was a situation. And what did he want me to get him?

"when you water your plants my balcony get wet. I want to sit out and chill wit me girl."

Now I "got" him.

No problem, nothing to resolve, I'll water more carefully.

I get the feeling he wanted some sort of argument, but whats the point? I knew I was in the wrong, Mrs. M had been telling me so for weeks after all.

It would seem that watering plants is a topic that crops up lots in gardening books, blogs and websites. How much? How often? Fizzy or Still?

The general consensus seems to be that most plants could do without the buckets of water that novice gardens such as myself feel the need to chuck all over them and that careful and considerate watering is the way forward.

Wet Balcony from aboveCommon sense really. If lots of water is running out the bottom of the planter/trough/pot/growbag, then it's not benefiting the plant and probably not doing great things for neighbourly relations (check out those water marks).

Over the coming days I plan to experiment with watering less, checking how moist the compost is under the top layer before I even fill the watering can and using a plant spray to mist the leaves and top of the mulch. Maybe using the odd drip tray just in case.

Good job I didn't invest in that irrigation system eh?

8 August 2009

Lettuce Out

lettuce, spinach, chilli and sweet peppers in yellow planter bagsAfter 3 weeks in the glasshouse, the lettuce and spinach was rapidly outgrowing its seed trays.

Of the 10 Dynamite and 10 Delight lettuce seeds planted I ended up with 13 little plants after pricking out which all seem to be pretty healthy if a little spindly.

The spinach on the other hand wasn't quite as keen to sprout with only 2 of the 10 planted seeds pushing their way through the mulchy, moist organic compost mix.

All the plants were transfered over to the 2 remaining yellow planter bags, where they seem to be thickening out and settling in nicely.

With a bit of sun on the balcony plot, Mrs. M and I could be enjoying home grown lettuce in our sandwiches by the middle of the month. Yum.

Caned & Stable

chilli and sweet peppers caned & stable in yellow planter bagsHaving survived in their pots for a week without blowing over in the wind/drizzle, I thought it was time to transfer the peppers into my freshly acquired planter bags (1" gravel topped up with lots of the organic peat free compost).

No sooner had I done this than we had a few proper windy/rainy nights and the peppers were left a little bruised, battered and bent out of shape.

A few lengths of bamboo cane and jute twine sees all 4 plants now caned and stable in the upright position.

31 July 2009

Relocation Relocation

Acer TreeI've always had doubts that Acer trees are meant to live on balconys, although I haven't previously voiced this opinion as it would lead to a serious "I told you so" session with Mrs M.

Today however I swallowed my pride and admitted I was wrong, the poor little Acer was looking a little scorched and wind beaten. It was time for it to go to a new home.

Fortuantely one of my work collegues, who I have come to think of in recent months as a good friend, and his lovely horticulturalist wife kindly agreed to take it off my hands (with some communication through a rabbit). Thank you Mr & Mrs C.

Tom & Barbara GoodThe departure of the Acer has given me more space in which to put some planter bags for the pepper plants (seedling lettuce and spinach now destined for the concrete troughs) and concentrate a little more on plants that provide produce. Just call me Tom...or Barbara.

29 July 2009

Pepper Pots for Pennies

hot and sweet peppers in potsDrawn in by the SALE banners, I called into Homebase on the way home for a mooch. Not feeling the need for a cut-price sit on lawnmower, gazeebo or shower cubicle, I headed out to the garden centre area and discovered these bargain peppers.

Reduced from £2.99 to 69pence a plant, I snapped up two "Romital" Hot Chilli Pepper plants and two "Kouros" Sweet Pepper plants. All organic and grown to Soil Association standards according to the labels.

I've given them a bit of a water and moved them to the balcony edge, letting the rain give them a rinse. The plan is to plant them into the nomadic concrete troughs, a job for the weekend!

28 July 2009

In the Beggining...ish

It's been nearly a month since the Christmas tree went off to live with my folks and the rowing machine (eBay bargain...I have no other defence but that) was sent off to the great big recycling pile in the sky.

This left a rather barren looking red Acer tree, four concrete troughs that have moved home with us three times, and a couple of pots of mint which seem to grow no matter how much I ignore them.

Obviously I needed some garden stuff!

strawberries in elho flower bridgeA trip to the local garden centre saw me come away with eight strawberry plants (a mix of Cambridge Favourite and El Sante), 50 litres of organic compost and four rather wonderfully named "flower bridges", part of the Corsica range from Elho, which balance on balcony railings and lock together underneath.

To date we have shared a bumper crop of five strawberries. Not the best ROI but man alive they were fresh.

A week or two after this, far too late to start my own plants (thanks for the seeds mum) I felt the need for tomatoes, so popped back down to the GC and got a huge Red Plum plant for a bargainous £1.99. This got the Organic Compost treatment and is now heavy with the weight of 20 big green tomatoes, a little more summer and they should ripen nicely.

galvanised miniture glasshouse from habitatFeeling the need to grow something from seed, and thanks to a previous Birthday gift from my rather lovely wife, I had the perfect environment to start them off on the otherwise exposed balcony.

Reusing an old seed tray destined for the tip, the last of the organic compost and some Duchy Originals Spinach and the excitingly named Dynamite and Delight lettuce seeds (I guess you need a flashy name when you're a green leaf that gets coated in Salad Cream), I filled the little glasshouse and now await the first green shoots.

Bring on the greenhouse effect!