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I’m Back and Here’s How My Garden Grew

6 Sep

Phew, my last post was in MAY people. Serious slacking, right? My spare time has been occupied in Nomzilla, on vacation in Canada, and finding ways to avoid this awful, awful Dutch summer weather. And I also turned 30 (more on that in another post). I was pleased that after 3 weeks away, the non-stop rain and lack of sun didn’t absolutely destroy my plants. In June, it looked as if the aphids and leaf miners had left my beets and rainbow shard in tatters, but they stuck it out and I’m happy to say I enjoyed some sauteed beet greens last night!

This is the third year I’ve grown fruit and veg on the balcony, and definitely the most successful. Here it is:

The little garden that could

I added the calle lillies and the violets to get a bit of colour in there. I’ve also got basil, thyme, rosemary, oregano and mint. I’ve been eating fresh raspberries every morning for the past two weeks!

Rasberries love the rain!

And my super-strong beets have been my proudest achievement. The beets are small, but tasty. Quite honestly, I grew them for the beet greens because it’s my absolutely FAVOURITE veg ever. Steamed and then tossed in butter and balsamic = dreeeeeaaaamy.

Green goddess

This year, I grew my tomatoes upside down. Have you heard of this yet? It’s a great space saver. I got the idea because my Aunt Sharon did it a couple years ago and had success with it. You grow the plants from seed, and when they get their first true leaves (plant is maybe 10-15cm tall), you transplant them into a bucket with holes cut out in the bottom. It’s a two person job. One person has to hold the bucket up (once the plant’s root balls are placed upside down into the holes), and the other fills the bucket with soil. The benefit is that you don’t need to stake the plant, and the water goes straight to the roots. The plants have lots of little green cherry tomatoes waiting to ripen, if only that goddamn sun would shine. SIGH.

Lots of green tomatoes waiting for some sunshine

So, all in all, pretty successful balcony crop this year. Even on a tiny balcony, I can still enjoy produce that I’ve grown from seed, not too shabby at all! Next year, I’m going to see if I can get a long, deep trough or maybe some larger grow bags. I’m also going to plant some garlic…and hmmm, any other suggestions for small-scale growing? Let me know!

My Balcony Garden – Week 3

7 May

Er, in case you couldn’t discern from the title of this blog, I live in Amsterdam. If you’ve never visited, let me tell you that living space is at a premium. We live in a 55 square metre apartment on the first floor. We have a 4×1.5 metre balcony that (lucky for me) is south-facing.

As a Canadian gal, I grew up having a vegetable garden in our yard. It’s so satisfying to grow your own food from seed.

This is the fourth year that I’ve had a balcony garden. The weather obviously is the deciding factor on how my plants grow. Last year, it was gorgeous here until August, and then it rained non-stop. The lack of rain and no sun stunted (or ruined) my strawberries, peas, and carrots. The fail-safes (lettuces, tomatoes and herbs) were fine.

This year I’ve got: rainbow chard, cascading cherry tomatoes, beets, Asian lettuce mix, raspberries and herbs (cinnamon basil, regular basil, flat-leaf parsley and oregano).

Rainbow chard - a good choice for the balcony.

I don’t know how or why and I don’t want to question it too much but we’ve had one helluva spring. And by “helluva”, I mean, the entire month of April has been not only sunny, but extreme above-average temperatures for this time of year. Last year in mid-April I was wearing my winter jacket still. This year? It’s been 24-27 degrees. Unbelievable!

Here’s how the weather’s been on the balcony garden:

Maximising space on the balcony is always a challenge and a compromise. Not ALL plants can be grown in pots successfully. I’ve opted for easy growers (lettuces and herbs) in hanging grow bags (which I got at Hema if you’re in Amsterdam) and wall-mounted pots + larger pots for the beets, swiss chard and raspberries. When the tomatoes grow their first true leaves, I will transplant them into a large bucket, which will be modified so that the tomatoes grow upside down.

I’ll post more on that soon.

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.