27 April 2010

budget window ledge lettuce - Part 2

10 days on and the lettuce seeds are nicely settled in their ClipperTeas tins and are starting to sprout, well most of them are, the exception being the Dynamite seeds of which all but one is refusing to germinate...a few stern words may be needed!

As you can see I was a bit more ham fisted than normal whilst sowing the seeds and the Delight especially needs thinning out.

Some carefully plucking of those seedlings that were very close to other stronger ones has freed up a bit more space to grow...and created the worlds smallest compost heap/bowl.

Another 10 days should see the lettuce ready for its finally thinning with some obvious candidates to carry on to full lettucehood - anything that looks like it might survive may well find itself out on the balcony in one of the troughs.

17 April 2010

budget window ledge lettuce - Part 1

As an elevated agriculturist, space is always tight, so using up any ledge, gap, nook or cranny that things will grow in is a must.

This week, whilst pondering washing the dishes and getting dazzled by the glare off the window, it became clear (unlike the window) that what the ledge needed was some salad.

Now growing salad leaves has to be one of the simplest and most rewarding crops that flat dwellers can grow, all it asks is a bit of dirt, a bit of light, a bit of water and a little tiny bit of TLC. In return you can pick leaves as you need them and avoid spending out £1.50 a time on the deep chilled offerings from Tesco.

With the budget/beginner theme in mind, I've tried to keep this as cheap and simple as possible. For those under the age of 18 and the terminally clumsy, you may want to get an adult to help you. Here's what you will need to join in:

  1. Tins or pots with removable lids that can be used as drip trays. I've used some rather handy Clipper Teas Promotional tins.
  2. A grow bag - this is the cheapest way to buy compost/soil, approx £1.50 for a 33litre bag.
  3. Some seeds - I've decided to grow three varieties (cos/delight/dynamite) which will cost you about £2 a pack, but these will generally last for 2-3 years or could be shared out with your green fingered chums.
  4. A skewer to put some drain holes in the tins/pots.
  5. A chopping board (safety first).
  6. Your hands - for compost scooping and drilling.
  7. Some water - no need for Perrier, tap will do.
Now your ready to go!

Clipper are rather good at promotional freebies, unfortunately (or fortunately) I drink a lot of tea, so didn't have much need for 4 tea caddies - fear not however, they have a use! With easy to remove lids that can act as a drip tray and a good solid construction, they are ideal for window sill growing.

  1. Start off by removing the lid from your chosen container, I had to carefully pry the catches open, and then smooth them back into shape (no cut fingers ta).

  2. Flip the container over on the chopping board, grab your skewer and firmly ease it through the base, ideally you want 6-8 holes depending on the size of your container.

  3. Repeat until you've done all your containers.

  4. Time to get dirty. Give the growbag a bit of a shake to get all the compost at one end, then cut open the other - the great thing about growing in old tins/tubs is that they can be used as a scoop.

  5. Once all your containers are full, you will need to draw a drill down the middle of them, I used a dibber, but you can just use your finger, you want to go about as deep as the first joint (13mm for the pedants out there).

  6. Sprinkle some seeds down each drill - Although it is tempting to just do it from the packet, you will have much more control if you put the quantity you need in your hand and go from there. I've gone massively OTT, but they will need to be thinned as they sprout so don't panic if you do the same.

  7. If you have used different varieties (and you care) now is a good time to label your containers, I've used some seed markers made from reclaimed oak scraps, but old lolly sticks are a great free alternative.

  8. Do the washing up.

  9. With the dishes done, you can now put your containers in the sink and give them a water. I used a wine glass, pouring about 1/2 a glass into each. Once your done, the lids can go back on the bases to catch any drips.

  10. Stick them on the window sill and see what happens - if they look to be drying out in a day or so add a little more water, but don't be tempted to flood them - too much is just as bad as too little.

    Here ends lesson one. If you have found this useful, please leave a comment, tell your friends or even have a grow yourself!

14 April 2010

riddle me this

It is a well known fact that gardeners are drawn to tools, gadgets, gizmos, books, magazine and garden centres as their subconscious does all it can to keep them from the garden.

Fear not though my dear gardening chums, I have made it into a garden centre, bought something and made it back out again!

Even more unbelievably, I bought only the thing that I went in for!(no pink crocs, grow your own drugs books or hand painted pots here)

So I have a riddle, basically a wide holed sieve for getting sticks, stones and quite possibly a few bones out of your soil.

With all my soil/compost having come bagged up it is quite heavy on the wood chips and also contains the remnants of last years crops.

With these banished, the coil is now my smoother, softer and ready for some seeds - just in time for the weather to turn.

6 April 2010

2010 - UN International Year of Biodiversity

Biodiversity is probably not the first thing that springs to mind when thinking of balconies, but a few pots of compost, some seeds and a little TLC can work wonders.

Last year saw tomatoes, dynamite lettuce, delight lettuce, spinach, plum tomatoes, chives, mint, basil, 3 types of strawberries, Romital hot chilli pepper and Kuros sweet peppers; which is about as diverse a group of plants as your likely to find 15 feet in the air on a sheet of galvanised steel.

Is Elevated Agriculture Bio-Diverse?

Well, that I'm not so sure about.

Do I do anything to encourage or accommodate wildlife?

After much head scratching, I have come to the conclusion that I'm a pretty great kinda guy and am perhaps the king of balcony based biodiversity.

Ok, so I'm not providing a home for the Steve the Urban fox, or Dave the neighbourhood badger, but the pollen found on the pepper and tomatoes flowers were rather popular, has attracted plenty of smaller creatures.

With this in mind, I have chosen to add Borage to this years offerings.

"What's borage?", I hear you ask, according to the Duchy Originals packet, it's bright blue flowers are attractive to bees and its leaves have a crisp cucumber flavour which are great for salads - so edible for me and also for our struggling British honey producers. 'triffic.

In a shock development, one of my chums who we shall henceforth be referred to as "The Birdman", has approached me to grow some dye producing plants for a top secret project, one of his four chosen crops (yet to be divulged) will soon be joining the edibles.

Its a small contribution to the food chain, but the flies attract spiders, the spiders attract birds...well, you get the idea.

All that's left to do now is sit back and wait for Ban Ki-moon to call...