Size Matters: Notes from the Balcony Garden I

There’s a little spark of life still shimmering in my balcony garden. So I’m keeping a few notes on what worked well. Next spring I may need a reminder.

By default the balcony garden is a container garden. Some plants are better suited to container gardening than others. Size matters — both the size of the container and the kind of plant.

Overall, I used larger containers this year than last. That makes a difference. Plants like to stretch out their roots and get comfy. Not only do plants— peppers, tomatoes, leafy veg or herbs — grow larger and produce more fruit  in larger containers, the soil will not dry out as quickly on a hot day. That can be a big thing.

Once some plants totally dry out, they may not come back. Also, blossom end rot (not a good thing) is more likely if the soil dries too much between waterings.

I don’t have a hose on my balcony, so I carry water in large jugs or let Mother Nature’s rain give the plants a good drink. Plants in larger containers can take more total water per watering, but they need watering less often. After a good rain, many of them can go for days with no extra water. (My arms get a good workout when it’s dry out.)

Tomatoes really benefit from a large container. Comparing last year’s plants to this year’s, I got more yummy tomatoes from fewer plants. So if the choice is more plants but smaller containers or fewer plants and larger containers, you’re probably better with larger containers.

Home-grown and vine-ripened make such a huge difference in the juicy, sweet and tangy taste of a tomato. Grocery store tomatoes never come close (except a few heirloom varieties if you can find them). Farmers markets can have good ones, but around here, those aren’t cheap.

Tomato varieties that don’t grow as large are probably going to work better on a balcony, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try.

Patio Tomato is a variety of tomato plant specifically hybridized for containers and small spaces, but I’ve never been quite as thrilled with the taste or the quantity. Celebrity Tomato plants grow well in containers, produce more fruit, and taste excellent.

Cherokee Purple tomatoes taste great, but want tons of space. My plant last year was fairly healthy but grew only four nice tomatoes. It was a lot of work for four tomatoes. I’m better off buying Cherokee Purple tomatoes at a farmers’ market. I left them out this year.

Sun Gold cherry tomato plants can get quite large. Huge even. Stretched upright, my plant this year would have reached all the way to the balcony above us. I had to tape part of it to the wall to keep it from taking over. I’m sure it might have been happier in the ground (or in an even larger container), but it still produced a lot of super tasty cherry tomatoes. That was fine. So, I think cherry tomato varieties are a little more forgiving for containers.

Sun Gold cherry tomatoes.

Peppers (hot or sweet) generally grow pretty well in containers (larger is still better). But there isn’t as much difference in taste between home-grown and store-purchased. So I love other things about growing peppers — like being able to just walk out and pick a pepper. It’s nice to see them grow and know that I used only a little soap and vigilance to keep pesty bugs away. Picking them at the peak of ripeness can still provide some amazingly sweet and flavorful peppers. I also like growing hard-to-find peppers that I know I’ll eat.

We liked Gypsy Peppers again this year (though one plant seemed a little different and may have been mislabeled).

Cow Horn Peppers were a huge hit for the hot stuff. They grew lots of beautiful, twisty, flavorful, larger, hot peppers. I would so grow these again.

Garden Salsa peppers weren’t quite as impressive, but they were fine for a pepper with less heat.

Dragon Cayenne was another good one. The smaller plant seemed fine in a not-huge flower pot and the little peppers had nice heat and flavor.

We generally like jalapeños and did again this year. They like a larger pot for good numbers. They still grow okay in a smaller pot, but the quantity is greatly reduced.

Cajun Bell peppers looked almost like habaneros, but weren’t as hot. They were thin-walled, and not as convenient to slice as some of the other varieties. I may or may not grow them again. But they were cute.

.

Hot stuff – Cow Horn peppers.

Next I’ll cover leafy greens and herbs.

Thanksgiving 

On this day of eating lots of food with friends and / or family, I wish everyone much good food and plentiful friends and loving family. May we all have much to be thankful for today and all year. And may we have the wherewithal to give thanks. 

We ate food at my mom’s. The five of us ate food until we felt like we would burst. My stepdad usually cooks the turkey in an old, plain white T-shirt to retain juices. It sounds weird, but always tastes delicious as does the stuffing and giblet gravy (which weren’t cooked in a T-shirt). The sweet potato casserole was dotted with marshmallows and just enough seasoning (brown sugar and vanilla extract) to be super yummy. We made the green bean casserole — our favorite variation with diced water chestnuts. 

Then, when we felt like we could hardly eat another bite, we had pumpkin pie.

While we’re sad about the recent loss of our kitty, we had much to be thankful for. Earlier in the day I did some cleaning and even wrote some words for NaNoWriMo. It was good. 

Tea for Tuesday (on a Wednesday) – Just Peachy III

With Thanksgiving upon us, everybody is probably thinking about food, but maybe not about beverages.

Ice tea is a good classic beverage option. It can be made from scratch for pennies per serving, and it’s a lot more elegant than a glass of sofa pop next to a plate of turkey and all the trimmings.

Here’s one way to make classic sweet iced tea. Click here.

A variation is fruit tea — peach tea is one of my favorites. Click here for that. Include cranberry juice for a Thanksgiving variation

But if you find you have zero time for either of those and want to offer something other than soda pop, fruit juice, or milk, then powdered drink mixes might work.

I tried a lot of powder drink mixes over the summer in my search for a perfect peach tea. (And for convenience because sometimes, I just don’t have time for anything else.)

While scratch is oh-so hard-to-beat, there are some drink mixes that I actually enjoy. The iced tea drink mix that came out on top for me was Crystal Light Peach Iced Tea. I tried many others. I’m not always a fan of Chrystal Light. But this Peach Iced Tea won me over because I can taste the tea and the peach. It has a light, refreshing flavor with enough tartness to taste fruity without overpowering the flavor of the tea or peach. Some mixes add so much malic acid, that it’s hard to taste much else. Those tend to taste tart and nonspecific fruity.

Crystal Light Peach Iced Tea is a sugar-free option that uses artificial sweeteners (Aspartame). That may scare some away (and make others happy). If you don’t drink aspartame, this isn’t the drink mix for you. It nearly kept me away, but in the end that nice peachy tea taste won me back. But I’m hoping they come up with a version using Stevia.

Crystal Light Peach Iced Tea is available in boxes of single-serving, on-the-go pouches or pitcher size packets. Either one is handy in a pinch.

Lost Our Mojo, a Memoriam

We said good bye to our kitty Mojo today. He’d been sick recently. Then he got somewhat better. Then not so great. Today he had a rapid decline, and then he was gone. We’re very sad and will be for a while.

He was a rescued kitty who was our friend for more than 16 years. 

Mojo was afraid of humans for the first few years we welcomed him to our home. He wouldn’t let us pick him up. 

In recent years he was our cuddle bug. He’d plaster himself against our legs when he could. Picking him up rarely bothered him. He even seemed to like it. He loved his kitty strokes and would purr up a storm when we pet him. His paws would knead the air.

He loved playing with toy mice and chasing laser dots. Fletcher (our other kitty) liked to pounce on Mojo while he was playing.

Last winter he slept on my lap a few times. 

For many years the balcony terrified him. This most recent summer he learned to love going out there to bask in the sun or hide out at night. By the end of summer he’d wait by the door for us to let him out. 

More recently he even learned to sit to receive his kitty treats. The expression, “you can’t teach an old dogs new tricks,” did not apply to Mojo in every way possible. 

We will miss him terribly and cherish our memories of him always. 

(Balcony) Garden Variety Magic

The WordPress Daily Post’s photo challenge for this week is Magic.

When sunlight kisses green leaves… There is no other logical explanation for the resulting glow. Magic.

Water, air, sunlight, and living soil. Seeds. Combined, green stems push through and leaves burst forth. Flowers follow. Then a bulge of fruit swells and ripens.

The magic of mother nature, God, and living things and sunlight.

I had a balcony garden again this summer.

img_2540

The glowing leaves. The tasty peppers.

img_2336

Sun Gold, Orange cherry tomatoes and powerful strawberries.

img_2387img_2409img_2441img_2557-1

It’s not dead yet even with last night’s frost. The balcony stays a bit warmer. Though most plants are limping. They’ve reached the end of the marathon still bearing a few small fruits across the finish line. Some plants tripped and fell on mites. They didn’t fair so well.

Dragonflies visited again this year. They are always welcome to perch and rest. I get to see their wings sparkle. An insect that looked like a leaf was here too. He was new this year.

img_2517

It’s a leaf. It’s a bug. It’s leaf bug. Greetings friend. (At least he seemed friendly.)



A squirrel with more gusto than his pals made the giant leap from a nearby tree to our balcony. We scared each other. He leapt back to the tree nearly missing his branch. And the sway nearly launched him back. It’s not an easy leap. I’m glad he didn’t eat many of the tomatoes. One year they ate them all. Every single one.

Somebody visited again recently. A squirrel? A bird? I only saw evidence. Not the critter. A pumpkin had been nibbled.

img_2743

Nibbled pie pumpkin and winter squash. (I didn’t grow these, but I like them.)

This post was also for NaBloPoMo Day 21.

 
NaBloPoMo November 2016

In Case of Sleep

May not stay awake enough to finish a more substantial blog post for today. Just wanted to put this here while I’m still able to type a sentence.

After a sunny, warm morning,  gusty wind brought cold air in a matter of hours yesterday. Today the wind continues to howl through chilly air. It feels like November. Winter is giving us a sneak preview.

Got some laundry done. Drove to and from dance classes. Rewatched Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Did some writing. Attended a Girl Scout meeting. Still fighting a cold, but better today than yesterday.

In the event that I’m catching zzzs, I’m setting the scheduler to post this mini post. Imagine something in this space that is interesting and inspired. While we’re at it, imagine humor and fantastic use of vocabulary along with beautiful photos.

I hope folks had a nice weekend and have a great week. Thanksgiving will be here soon.

This is for NaBloPoMo Day 20.

The Snowy Village Saga

I once saw a snowy village of epic proportions.

By snowy village I mean a set of decorative miniature Christmas houses made of porcelain and resin arranged into little (or large) towns. You can see these houses in stores this time of year. The brand I see most often is Lemax.

The quaint little houses are embellished with wreaths and holiday lights — all set aglow by a small light bulb nestled inside. There are wee trees and playful accessories like animals, sledders, snowmen, ice skaters, and boutiques to help bring the village to life.

One day (many years ago) a woman, who was a client of the company I worked for, invited our company to her home to see her snowy village in its full glory.

Prior to our visit, we’d heard of the snowy village through the grapevine.

The woman often named a house in the little town for somebody she knew. She tried to tie the little structures to friends or family members. A red house was named for someone who had a red house in real life. Flowers and extra plants for somebody who gardened.

The houses were set up on little streets in little rows. There was a forest section and a graveyard section.

It had been an honor, a statement of fondness and loyalty, to have your “own” house in her snowy village.

One day, as legend goes, an employee left her company on not-so-great terms. So his “house” was yanked from the happy little rows of homes in her snowy village. His privileges had been revoked.

Rumors of the snowy village, and its rules, had spread and there was talk and pretty soon everybody had heard of the snowy village (and what could happen to your house).

One day we were treated to a field trip to see the village up-close and personal.

The ostentatious snowy village covered three banquet tables in her expansive kitchen. The village alone had more square footage than my entire real-life kitchen has today.

There were raised, snowy hills with skiers. There were landscapes and moving parts that came alive with the push of a button.

While I had no interest in having my own Christmas village at the time, it was fun and entertaining (in multiple ways) to see the make-believe town with all its joy (and missing houses). It was a bit of an oddity, but the idea grew on me (of villages, not yanking houses).

With the passing of years, I could see appeal in setting up our own, much smaller, Christmas village.

We can make a scene in a happy little town where I never need to vacuum the floor, empty the trash, or do the laundry to have it look pristine and well-kept. I can decorate an entire house with holiday trimmings by simply removing it from its box and plugging it in.

We do not name any parts or buildings after anybody in particular. But we like things that we can related to —a reminder of something we’ve done in the past.

Our newest addition is a mini Christmas tree sales lot. It reminds us of purchasing fresh-cut trees, and the time my daughter volunteered at a tree lot. We get a splash of instant holiday joy.

This week, I discovered that I can buy Lemax brand village items for a lot less.

Lemax products are often clever, but the paint is not the highest quality. It varies a lot (sometimes the little people have lopsided eyes). Most of the figures are resin, not porcelain. And I think all the pieces are made in China. So they shouldn’t be expensive, but prices have climbed over the years.

Our local Michaels craft store had been our go-to shop to see Lemax Christmas (or even Halloween) Villages. There are several Michaels stores nearby. But we’d limit buying to times there was a good sale or we had a good coupon (or those rare times when it’s possible to use a coupon on a sale-price item).

This week I saw that both Sears and Kmart carry Lemax. These stores aren’t as close to home, but their everyday prices are often less than Michaels sale prices.

Take the new Snow Angels figures for example. At Michaels they are $13.99. With the usual 40%-off, sale price that becomes $8.40. With a coupon and a sale price, on a very few days I might be able to squeeze that down to $5.60. At Sears the same item is a regular price of $6.99, and the Sears website currently lists them on sale for $3.49. Michaels, I’m disappointed in you!

Somehow, I feel much more holiday joy gazing at Snow Angels that cost $3.49. I think I’ll use our own full-size Sears and Kmart shops for future little Christmas village purchases. Maybe, I’ll yank the Michaels village store out of our options for now.

The WordPress Daily Post’s Daily Prompt was Ostentatious.

This blog post is also for NaBloPoMo, Day 19.

It Would Be Mythical

The WordPress Daily Post’s Daily Prompt is Mythical.

A few months ago I could have gazed to the future and fancied that one day, one glorious day, the Daily Prompt would be mythical. 

I knew today was different when I awoke. My head felt …. 

And so this sunny November day — it is the day of the mythical prompt. 

And it is a Friday which makes it even better. 

I have a sniffle and I ate too much yesterday, but I won’t let that stop me from making use of this mythical opportunity. This won’t be the last. 

Let That Percolate 

The WordPress Daily Post’s Daily Prompt is Percolate.

Percolate seems like such a lively word to me. Something will always happen if you let it percolate for a while.

My grandparents used to percolate coffee. They had a metal pitcher (the coffee pot or coffee percolator) with a metal basket and filter inside. At the top sat a lid with a clear knob which gave a view of the coffee once the water started to boil. Liquid popped up and down. 

The water was only lightly colored at first, but by the end they had rich dark coffee bubbling up inside, dancing away. It looked like it was trying to escape so many times over. One time it did. The lid popped off. 

Let that percolate in your thoughts for a while.

NaBloPoMo and NaNiWriMo, halfway update 

We are now past halfway into November, so everybody participating in either NaBloPoMo or NaNoWriMo should have a lot of writing done.

With NaNoWriMo, I should have over 25,000 words behind me. I don’t. I’m not surprised that I don’t. (I didn’t think I would.) So far I have more words for NaNoWriMo than last year. I need to figure out how to upload the words to make them official. I’m good with that. 

My NaBloPoMo goals are better, I had a few wobbly days, but I did write and post every day. Just a few days were light and a couple of times I mostly revised an existing post or started one but didn’t entirely finish before midnight. It’s not perfect but not at all horrible all things considered.

Right now, I’m tired and may be fighting a cold. So it’s challenging, but I feel very good when it’s done.

Previous Older Entries Next Newer Entries