It’s officially Spring Break week for me so I’ve been taking the time to focus myself on some projects and get things settled around the house. Among those projects is getting my plants settled and getting ready for the growing season!
Our apartment has nearly all South facing windows, and a South facing balcony, so I decided I wanted to turn our balcony into a food garden using containers. I started some seeds (minimally successfully) back at the end of February for early Spring crops and then later for a spread of flowers.
My kale seeds came up easily, and so I transplanted the four best seedlings into larger containers. After growing a little more in front of our big window that opens out to the balcony, I moved them outside. It’s still getting pretty cold at night, even as we’re starting to have some days in the 60s. We’re still having frost warnings too. But Kale loves it! I have one in a 10″ terracotta pot, one in a mushroom plastic container, and one in a gallon milk jug out on the balcony, and after the temperature dipped down, the plants look even more happy and resilient than before.
The spinach, not so much… From the seeds, I only had 2 of 8 sprout, and of those two only one survived transplanting. I put it outside with the kale, but the cold seems to have withered it significantly. However! I have a volunteer spinach plant that is doing fantastic! How do you get a volunteer plant, Kecheri? No idea! Last year I dropped lettuce seeds into a glass coke bottle just for fun and the lettuce grew as well as can be expected. Then I pulled it out, used it, and put the bottle away somewhere. Then this year, I happened to leave the bottle I assumed was empty sitting out while surveying my different planting containers for this years garden. Well, a few days later, something sprouted in my SUPPOSEDLY EMPTY bottle! It’s been growing very nicely since the bottle makes a sort of miniature greenhouse, and the leaves are pretty spectacular! It’s definitely a spinach plant by the shape of the leaves. I have no idea how it got there, but I’m definitely not complaining. So that spinach plant has continued to grow really well outside on the balcony and started filling out the little stem of the bottle. I’m not sure what the effect the confined space will have on it’s growth, but we’ll have to just wait and see.
Also successful is the German chamomile (the kind used to make the tea) seeds I bought in February. I’ve had close to 100% seed germination and the little stalks are looking pretty strong. I have some sprouted in my seed starter, pending a transplanting into a more permanent home, and some started in a mini greenhouse I made from a plastic clam-shell salad bar container. The ones in the salad container are doing particularly good, look strong and healthy. I’m excited they came up so quickly and so successfully, but I’ll have to figure out what I’m doing with them as e enter warmer weather. I don’t think they take particularly well (according to some google searching) to transplanting and would rather be planted in their final containers later in the season, but we’ll see! I still have plenty of seeds so I can always do that once the weather is warmer and I’m ready to do more work outside.
To no surprise, the catnip I planted in the seed starter and a salad bar container greenhouse like the chamomile has sprouted fairly successfully as well. Mint plants are particularly easy to grow and spread, so I’m not too surprised, but as this is the first year I’m trying to grow catnip, and my first year with a cat, I’m excited all the same.
I’m growing a number of other herb plants as well this year. In addition to the chamomile and catnip, I’ve picked up some starter plants from our small, local plant nursery. I have Italian oregano and a rosemary that I’ve transplanted into gallon milk jug containers, and a lavender still waiting to be re-homed. As much as I use spices in my cooking, the herbs are a must. (Even though I can get good herbs at the spice and tea shop where I work, nothing beats fresh.) Once weather gets a little warmer and I can start moving things outside, I think the herbs will really take off. So far, they’ve really been thriving in the big window.
I’m also focusing on growing vegetables this year since we’re in such a nice sun situation here. Already I have some potatoes that sprouted in our cupboards growing pretty well in five gallon buckets. My crop last year ended up rotting out after we got so much summer rain, and I’m not entirely positive the buckets have sufficient drainage. The first year I grew potatoes and had a really successful crop, I had mixed my soil with a lot of moderately sized rocks, which I didn’t do last year or this, so we’ll have to see how it goes. Good news is that if these rot similarly, I know how to correct the problem and will still have plenty of growing season to correct the problems.
Vegetables I have seeds for this year are cucumbers, zucchini, broccoli, cabbage, and bush beans. Some of the seeds are a little old, so I’m unsure about germination success, but others like the cucumber, zucchini, and beans are new. My mom is moving houses this year and has offered to lend me her self-watering planters for this summer, which will be great and I think will be enough room for one of these big vining plants. I also want to try my hand at tomatoes in buckets, but haven’t taken steps towards starting them yet.
I still have our living blue spruce Christmas tree outside on the balcony. I picked up a couple 15″ pots, one of which I plan to transplant the spruce into. Then, I can transplant my avocado tree (that I started from a pit two years ago) into the spruce’s current pot, and stick something else in the avocado’s pot.
I’ve gotten into researching and trying out regrowing plants from kitchen scraps this year too. I regrew a bok choi from the base in January or February, but killed it by harvesting leaves too quickly and not actually planting it in dirt. Even so! It lets me know that I can grow a bok choi NEXT time with some precautions. I regrew and transplanted carrot tops for the carrot greens, and those have been growing really happily in the kitchen since planting. At the moment, I’m going to try and regrow some leeks, and be sure to transplant them when new growth comes up. Growing from scraps is pretty exciting because I’m really into sustainability, and have been since I was a kid, and limiting food waste by replanting and growing more food is excellent.
Speaking of limiting food waste, I also have a compost going in the corner of our balcony. Eric’s sister gave me an empty, locking-top kitty litter plastic bin that I’ve been throwing shredded paper scraps, exhausted dirt, and food waste into for a few months now. It needs to be turned, and is pretty full since we eat mostly whole foods and generate a fair amount of scraps, but I think it’s doing what it’s supposed to, which is super exciting! It doesn’t smell much, and the food does seem to be breaking down. My mom has kept a compost since I was a little kid, and aside from the lack of grass cuttings that always made up a lot of her compost piles, my little kitty bucket compost looks like proper compost! I’ve been adding it into a few of my plantings already, like the potatoes that are heavy nutrient feeders. I think when I have the proper planters, the compost will really come in handy.
Some background here, my mom is a big gardener and I’ve been helping her in the yard and with the vegetable garden since I was a kid. We were part of a neighborhood sustainability club that focused on community beauty through gardening, sustainable practices, and environment friendly projects and events like Sweep the Creek. In high school, I helped to found a gardening club at my school in senior year, and we dug up a courtyard to install a vegetable garden to be used and maintained by the home ec and horticulture classes. I’ve always had strong beliefs in the value of food gardens and I have a significant love of plants in general. SO the fact I have the opportunity to take advantage of all South facing windows has been thoroughly utilized and my indoor plants have thrived through the winter. Now that it’s almost warm enough to star utilizing the opportunity to use a take advantage of a South facing balcony, not obscured by trees and the like? I am itching with excitement to start laying the garden out in my small space and planting things. I really want it to be successful, and we’ll just have to wait and see, but I have a good feeling about it.
April and May are really when planting season starts where we are, so I’m jumping the gun kind of significantly, but once the weather warms up and starts staying warm, I will really be able to launch into this project.
Stay tuned for more updates and some pictures!