Archive for the ‘My garden’ Category


My edible balcony garden
Andrea Bellamy |

Here’s a peak at my third-floor veggie patch. It’s pretty utilitarian. There’s no room for a barbecue or even a chair. Heck, squeezing between the planters can be a challenge. But we’ve got other spaces for those fripperies. This balcony is dedicated to production. And boy, it’s productive. Everything is grown in containers, and this year, “everything” includes peas, beans, tomatoes, carrots, dill, basil, thyme, cucumbers, zucchini, poppies, nasturtiums, and a fig tree. All in a 4′x10′ space. I like it.

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Now harvesting: mid-July
Andrea Bellamy |

Would you look at that craziness? Someone ought to get their plot under control.

Oh wait, that’s my whacked-out bed. The arugula is flowering and flopping, the radishes have flower stalks as thick as woody perennials, and the lettuce is so crowded it’s getting claustrophobic.

Despite the seeming neglect, I’ve actually been harvesting from this, my Salad Garden, regularly. I eat the arugula flowers and toss the elbow-room-only lettuces into salads almost every night. I have no excuse for why I’m letting those radishes grow into small trees, however. Oh wait, here’s one: I’m waiting for them to produce seed pods. Then I’ll eat those, too.

I’m also harvesting ‘Sugar Ann’ peas which I’ve let grow plump (I actually enjoy eating the shelled, raw peas more than the baby pods, I’ve discovered); ‘Sungold’ tomatoes, broccoli, and herbs.

What are you harvesting now?

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Now harvesting: mid-June 2011
Andrea Bellamy |

Last year I decided to introduce a series of blog posts I called “Now Harvesting.” Every week or two, I chronicled the food coming out of my garden. I thought it would be a good way to identify lulls; times when my garden wasn’t producing to its full potential. It would, I thought, help me become a better planner, and thus, grow more food.

Um…yeah. It’s a good idea in theory.

Unfortunately, I don’t think better planning could have helped my garden during this dismal spring. Lack of sunlight and warmth conspired to keep even the coolest of the cool-season edibles stunted and sad.

But things are looking up! I’ve been harvesting arugula and radishes for a couple of weeks, and now the lettuce is really starting to put in some effort.

Funnily enough, this time last year my Now Harvesting post didn’t look all that different than this: greens and radishes. The only difference was that I’d been eating them for at least a month. This? This was my first homegrown salad of 2011. And damn, it was good.

Now harvesting: ‘Red Sails’ lettuce, ‘Garden Ferns’ heirloom Italian lettuce, arugula (leaves and flowers), ‘French Breakfast’ radishes.

What are you harvesting now?

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Sowing and sprouting: early April
Andrea Bellamy |

It may be miserable and wet outside, but it’s balmy here under the Gro-light.

It’s been so wet here in Vancouver that even if the soil weren’t too soaked to support seed growth, not even the most hardcore gardeners are braving the downpours to plant. Today, I literally ran out to the salad garden during a break in the rain, scattered some seeds (no time for actual, measured planting), and ran back inside just as the clouds opened.

Cold? Arugula thinks it’s perfect, thankyouverymuch.

And it’s cold. One might almost say unseasonable. But despite it being about 5°C cooler than optimal, I went ahead and planted my lettuce anyway. (Lettuce prefers temperatures between 15°C [60°F] and 21°C [70°F]).

And boy, did I plant lettuce:

‘Garden Babies Butterhead’ container lettuce from Renee’s Garden
‘Garden Ferns’ heirloom Italian lettuce from Renee’s Garden
‘Heirloom Cutting Mix’ (‘Speckled Troutback,’ ‘Blush Butter Cos,’ Red Ruffled Oak,’ ‘Sucrine,’ and ‘Devil’s Tongue’) baby leaf lettuce from Renee’s Garden
‘Red Sails’ looseleaf lettuce from West Coast Seeds
‘Esmeralda’ butterhead lettuce from West Coast Seeds

Oh, and some more radishes:

‘Crop Circle’ (heirloom ‘Purple Plum’) radishes from Soggy Creek Seed Co.

What are you sowing?

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Arugula and radishes: fashionably late to the spring planting party
Andrea Bellamy |

Finally! I’ve got some seeds in the ground. Normally I’d have had arugula, peas, radishes, and spinach started weeks ago, but all this travel has kept me away from the garden. I’m also totally disorganized this year (normally I’d have one or two of these filled out, too). Thankfully the weather cooperated this weekend and I was able to spend a few glorious hours in the garden.

Okay: there wasn’t much glory in it. I totally neglected to do any fall/winter clean-up, so those hours saw some serious debris removal and weeding.

I started with the salad garden, one of my five garden “areas,” and the most shady. Last year, it produced a ton of leafy greens, earning it the moniker “The Salad Garden.” Doesn’t look like much, right?

After some weeding and the addition of compost and some alfalfa meal (a nitrogen-rich fertilizer that those greens are gonna love), it was ready to plant. I do the “square-foot garden” thing with this particular bed – an intensive planting technique that works really well for greens. Only half the bed is mine (as you might have guessed from the above photo). These raised beds are in a common area of our townhouse complex and are shared with neighbours, which is pretty rad.

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Japanese maples in autumn
Andrea Bellamy |

'Ao' Japanese maple

I’ve always thought of our back patio garden as a spring garden, with its ferns and ephemeral natives. It took a positive comment from my husband for me to look objectively at the space and think, “wow, it does look pretty great right now.” I know, duh, right? With three Japanese maples—one normally red, one green, and one yellow—plus a fourth deciduous tree (a European hornbeam) it should look pretty damn good in fall.

So, since my last post focused on trees I could grow if I had the space, I thought I should celebrate the ones I have—especially since they really are giving it their all.

'Beni Kawa' Japanese maple

Here’s Acer palmatum ‘Beni Kawa,’ otherwise known as that totally-out-of-control tree. Despite the fact that it is too large for its space, I do love its colouring. Its new growth (and it always seems to be growing) is deep red, and its leaves are a lovely pale yellow—at least until fall, when it seems to burst into flame.

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Now Harvesting: late September
Andrea Bellamy |

harvest: late september

‘Garden Babies’ butterhead lettuce; ‘Chioggia,’ ‘Touchstone Gold,’ and ‘Red Ace’ beets; ‘Blue Lake’ beans; and ‘Pruden’s Purple,’ ‘Sweet Baby Girl,’ ‘Sasha’s Pride.’ and ‘Odessa’ tomatoes.

The garden is entering its period of slow decline. And while I really love perennial gardens in the fall, with their russet tones and funky seed heads, a veggie garden that’s slowed production just reinforces the fact that winter—and it’s imported produce—is right around the corner.

There’s winter gardening, of course, and soon I hope to harvest the arugula, kale, mache, Asian greens, spinach and lettuces I sowed in August. But right now, I’m in a bit of a lull, just coaxing the last few warm-season crops to maturity. I’ve still got tomatoes and beans coming off the vines, while I think the zucchinis and cucumbers are pretty much done. A few measly lettuces and beets,  sowed in midsummer, are ripening now. Oh, and there’s herbs, of course, and a ton of green onions (I thought the seeds were expired, so I tipped the whole packet into the container. And, well, yeah. The seeds were most definitely not expired).

What are you harvesting now?

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Garden storage in urban spaces
Andrea Bellamy |

In my book, I wrote something about how, when you’re gardening in a small space, everything is visible…and thus, there’s no room for broken tools, ugly containers, or plants you’re really not too fond of.

It’s true. Unlike with many larger properties, in a small urban garden, balcony, or patio, you don’t have the luxury of a hidden corner where you can stash your crap until that elusive day you can sort through it. You’ve got to make every inch of available space work extra hard.

And that’s hard.

Gardening is messy work. No matter how minimalist you attempt to be, gardening always seems to bring with it bags of potting soil, tomato cages, gloves, spray bottles, plant tags, and empty containers that need homes. Unless you resort to keeping them inside (like you’ve got room for that!) it’s tough to store these things neatly and securely outdoors.

It’s always been a challenge for me. And it’s one, I’ll freely admit, that I don’t have worked out yet.

That’s why I’m sharing my current garden storage solution with you. I’m not totally happy with it, but it was the best I could do while sticking within a tight (less than $100) budget.

The darkside of the back patio

This is the ugliest corner of my back patio, which is why I’ve never shared it before (my husband would disagree, of course, but he’s uncommonly fond of barbecue). What you’re looking at is the back wall of my house (my living room is on the other side). That round vent-like thing is the “chimney” for our gas fireplace. If we had tons of money, I would replace that with a double-sided fireplace that could be enjoyed indoors and out. But we don’t, so the chimney stays, and we try not to look at it.

Besides being somewhat unsightly, the chimney gets hot when the fire’s on, so I can’t place plants, furniture, or, say, a custom storage cabinet against that wall.

Instead, we bought a low, cheap, resin storage bench, which does a pretty okay job of hiding most of my tools and garden crap.

inside the storage bin

Here’s a peek inside. Bags of organic fertilizers, tools, potting soil, gloves, twine, etc. My biggest problem with the storage bench idea is that doesn’t allow for much organization. Stuff gets buried. But it manages to keep everything dry and contained, and really, that’s about all I can ask for the price.

How do you corral all your garden stuff?

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Now Harvesting: early-September
Andrea Bellamy |

Zucchnini, broccoli, and beans

As you can see, I’m still collecting beans and zucchini, while the broccoli plants I harvested from in early summer have rewarded me with a second flush of petite heads. I love that.

I’m also harvesting tomatoes, scallions, herbs and cucumbers, and am still eating potatoes from last month’s harvest. I’ve planted most of my winter garden, so hopefully will be seeing greens back in rotation within a couple weeks.

What are you harvesting now?

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Tomato harvest 2010
Andrea Bellamy |

'Sasha's Pride' tomato

I’d like to introduce you to some of the tomatoes I’ve been harvesting this year.

I grow tomatoes every year, without fail. They are a must-have, even though they take up a significant portion of my growing space. For me, the major problem with growing tomatoes isn’t blight or blossom end rot. It’s choosing only four or five varieties to grow out of the many hundreds available. I agonize over my tomato selections. Do I grow a favourite from last year’s harvest? Or try something new? Usually, I opt for new—always on the search for the Best Performing, Best Tasting tomato. This year, I grew five varieties, two of which I’d grown before.

Sasha's Pride tomato

This is one of my new ones. ‘Sasha’s Pride,’ also known as ‘Sasha’s Altai,’ is a Russian heirloom with a great story. It’s an indeterminate (vining) early-ripening tomato with clusters of golf ball-sized fruit. Though I think it’s a beautiful plant, with its velvety stems and pagoda-shaped fruit, I find the flavour a little mild for my taste and probably won’t grow it again. Apparently I’m unusual, however, because Organic Gardening magazine rated it one of the top 10 early ripening tomatoes.

Odessa tomato

‘Odessa’ isn’t going to win any beauty contests, but it makes up for the cracks it always seem to develop by ripening extra early and performing well. This is the second year I’ve grown this variety, though I think I’ll skip it next year in favour of looking for another early season tom that doesn’t split. ‘Odessa’ is also an indeterminate heirloom. Its fruits range from the size of golf to tennis balls.

'Pruden's Purple' tomato

Every year I grow one large-fruited tomato variety. Something wrinkly and any colour but red. You know, something that screams “heirloom!” This year it was ‘Pruden’s Purple,’ but in the past I’ve grown possibly every readily-available type of Brandywine, ‘Purple Calabash,’ ‘Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter’ and more. And because I’ve grown all these tomatoes, you would think that I would know that they just don’t work in my climate. They ripen too late. They want more heat, and they want it to last longer. So let it be known: this is the last year I will attempt to grow such elusive beauties. From now on, I’ll stick with smaller, early-season varieties. Sure, I got four or maybe even six toms off ‘Pruden’s Purple,’ but for the size of this plant (it’d reached 6′ by the time I lopped off the top) I wanted bushels.

'Sweet Baby Girl' tomato

I wasn’t planning on planting ‘Sweet Baby Girl,’ but when my mom brought over an extra seedling that was already miles ahead of what I had growing, I had to find a space for it. I’m so glad I did. ‘Sweet Baby Girl’ is a hybrid determinate (bush) cherry tomato that has the absolute sweetest tomatoes I’ve ever tasted. Seriously, they’re like sugar: there’s no hint of acid. Will I grow it again? Absolutely. As long as my mom buys the seed again!

'Tumbler' tomato

Finally, I grew ‘Tumbler.’ Known as the hanging basket tomato, I picked up a ‘Tumbler’ seedling on a whim and tucked it into the basket I was making. ‘Tumbler’ is a hybrid bush tomato that produces small (1′-2′) fruits in clusters. This is the second year I’ve grown it, but the ones I started from seed last year did far better than this year’s, purchased at a nursery. I love the novelty of growing a tomato in a hanging basket, but the flavour of ‘Tumbler’ (bland) doesn’t cut it. I won’t grow this again.

What are your tomato stand-outs this year? Any suggestions for early-season tomatoes I should try next year?

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