My Balcony Garden

17 Jun

When I was a kid, my grandparents lived on a 66 acre farm in Harmony, Nova Scotia. We used to visit them almost every summer, and some of my best memories involve being barefoot in the gardens, picking something for dinner, or for a big batch of jam. Grampa used to feed us raw asparagus straight from the ground, and at 7-years-old, I really thought that was a perfectly normal thing to do.

Now that I’ve been in Amsterdam for quite a few years, I realize the effect that having no space for gardens, and therefore, not growing your own food, has on your relationship with produce. For many, fruit and veg comes wrapped in plastic at the horrendous Albert Heijn, a chain that has monopolized the Dutch grocery store market in North Holland. There are a few ‘farmer’s markets’ in the city, most opened only on Saturday, but if you stock up then, you’ve got to eat everything up by Tuesday before it goes off. Just freeze it, you say? Well, most people here have bar fridges with shoe-boxed sized freezers…the kind of fridge you’d have when you were living in university residence.

This says a lot, doesn’t it: in most grocery stores here, the amount of space given to fresh produce is often much less than the amount of space given to pre-packaged, ready-made meals. No wonder why the Dutch have a terribly bland reputation when it comes to food, most people don’t know how to cook!

Anyways, back to the fresh stuff. My balcony is 1.5 metres deep and probably about 4 metres long. That’s big enough to grow some stuff, so for the past few years, I’ve been doing just that. I’ve successfully grown lettuces and tomatoes, though we went on holiday when everything was ripe last year, so our friend Adam got to eat them all.

This year, I’m growing yellow tomatoes, beef heart tomatoes and courgettes. And I’ve just planted some carrots and peas. One of the reasons I grew courgettes this year is because I want to stuff the flowers and I haven’t been able to find courgette flowers in any market in town. Here’s my progress so far:

Tomatoes were planted in April…

Courgettes, also planted in April.

The peas…I saw a teeny, tiny shoot this morning. I planted these last weekend.

There’s something absolutely thrilling about growing your own food, even if it’s in a small pot on a Dutch balcony. Even if something doesn’t work out quite well (strawberries circa 2009), it’s satisfying standing on my balcony each morning marveling at how quickly something has grown.

3 Responses to “My Balcony Garden”

  1. janine June 17, 2010 at 12:55 pm #

    here, here! well done!
    i too have discovered my natural green thumb as my winter ozzie garden currently has broccoli, spring & red onions, spinach, basil, lavender, rosemary, oregano and a curry plant. sadly the snow peas didn’t make it. but i had an unbelievable fruitful harvest of tomatoes last year (i’ve never consumed so much salsa, sauces, salads in my life!).
    do you grow in the winter? i’m finding some plants are tougher than i would expect (all the ones as mentioned). although the outdoor temperatures are not as cold in winter as they are in holland, they do drop considerably especially at night. have you tried winter growing, perhaps on a windowsill? basil is great for pesto and sauces and the lavender is a natural air freshener fresh or dried.

    i also found that raw (as in not boiled) crushed egg shells works great when mixed in with the soil if you do not have regular access to compost. and if you can believe for my potted plants i actually go digging for worms as they too help to fertilise.

    but it sounds like youre doing great!

    • amansterdam June 17, 2010 at 1:19 pm #

      hey janine, that’s quite the garden! send me some pictures! To answer your question, it’s way to rainy and damp to grow anything outside in the winter here, but I’ve definitely stuck it out with a few herbs inside. I had a huge lavender bush on the balcony last summer, and all the flowers came off straight away and never came back! I’m going to try the egg shells, I’ve heard that from a few people before. I can buy dried lamb poop pellets at the market, so I’ve been using that to fertilize.

  2. janine June 17, 2010 at 12:57 pm #

    oh ya, and down with the man with their grocery stranglehold who deny citizens access to fresh produce!

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