Size Matters: Notes from the Balcony Garden II


In my previous notes on balcony gardening (here), size matters in container gardening which is pretty much the only way to garden if you want to grow stuff and don’t have a yard or land. Container gardening is also helpful if you have a yard but poor soil or no sunny spots where you do have soil. 

Containers allow you to put your plants in the sun on a patio, balcony, deck, or front porch or even move them (within reason). You can extend the growing season by bring cold-sensitive plants indoors for the first couple of hard frosts.

Along with craving large containers full of soil, some plants are hungry for sunlight. Sun is especially important for tomatoes and peppers. Most edible plants need full sun. But there are a few plants that don’t mind a little shade. 

Greens and some herbs can be a little forgiving if they don’t get all-day sunlight. I usually put the tomato and pepper plants where they will get the most sun, then let the other plants fend for themselves with the scraps of sunlight that fall elsewhere.

I tried two kinds of greens this year along with some lettuce and arugula. I didn’t grow tons of any of them. This year was mostly an experiment to see what will grow and what we’ll enjoy.

Greens

Japanese Giant Red Mustard – This is a variety of mustard plant with a reddish tinge on the large green leaves. It’s pretty. One pot looked more like a decorative plant then an edible. The flavor has a spicy mustard kick which I enjoyed. Leaves can be eaten raw in salads or sandwiches or cooked like Southern greens (which will mellow out that kick). 

These seemed to want larger pots. While they want good light, they will bolt in heat. So strong, hot sunlight can make them bolt faster. Bolting is when a plant sends out a flowering stem that will go to seed. Too little sun and they won’t flourish. But a bit of shade from a tomato plant, for example, can stretch the growing season. Once Mustard goes to seed the leafy parts stop growing and get bitter. But the seeds can be used for seasoning or grinding into mustard paste or powder. 

I might have liked Japanese Giant Red Mustard more if they grew well for longer. They were fine through most of spring but were done by late spring and early summer. On the upside some of the seeds self-planted and are now growing in one of the nearby tomato pots. I’ll see how they do. They aren’t very big yet, so they may not get big enough by the time cold weather kills them. 

Swiss Chard – Bright Lights Variety – This is a variety of Swiss Chard that comes in different color variations. Red, yellow, white, and purple stems have green leaves some of which can be tinged with red. Swiss Chard is in the same family as beets and generally tastes like spinach. It can be eaten raw or cooked. Once they get really big, the stems are best cooked. Or you can cut the stem out and use the leafy parts raw. 

Swiss Chard was by far the best surprise of my leafy greens experiment.

I planted these from young plants in early spring and they are still alive and didn’t bolt. They’ll grow bigger in larger containers, but I left one in the small plastic container it came in and it’s not dead yet. So these are hearty plants! (Maybe they’ll just never die.) 

I’ve purchased Swiss Chard in the grocery store, but find that it doesn’t last long in the fridge. That makes growing this nutritious plant extra nice, I just snip a few leaves for sandwiches, adding to salads, or chopping into soup or rice dishes. Plus its absolutely beautiful! 

Swiss Chard can be fairly cold tolerant (I think), so I’ll see how long it lasts with winter soon upon us.

Young Swiss Chard and a mustard plant that had already bolted by late spring.


it’s not dead yet. Swiss Chard picked today.


Additional posts will cover herbs, lettuce, and arugula.

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