Posts Tagged ‘gardening in small spaces’

Summer is in full swing in Texas.  We wake up to a balmy 80 degrees, then move up to the mid to high 90s later in the day at about 50% humidity on a good day.  I check the balcony garden almost daily.  As this is my first balcony garden, the developments continue to amaze me.

The tomato plants in the Topsy Turvy planter continue to bear fruit.  Although I did notice the tomatoes are much smaller for the mid summer harvest, but they are just as tasty.  I suspect the heat and humidity are causing the fruit to mature at a much faster rate.   The netting I placed around the plants are holding up well, and no birds have eaten any of the tomatoes.

The zucchini plants are flowering quite actively, but I have yet to see actual zucchini growing.  The flowers just dry up and fall off.   This could be because of high humidity or poor pollination due to lack of bees or butterflies.

The mint plants are growing taller but the leaves are quite small; flowers are now turning to seed.

The basil and rosemary plants are doing well.  Other herbs like parsley and green onion are still alive,

The jalapeno and bell pepper plants got flooded in the planter when the tropical storm hit a couple of weeks ago; the pot did not drain well.  I moved the pot to another location to see if they improve.  The stevia seeds that I planted did not grow at all, but I heard that these seeds don’t thrive in the heat, so I will have to try again in the fall.

I feel lucky we have not had too many bugs in the balcony garden, except for a few mosquitoes.  Too avoid getting mosquitoes in the house and attacking the family, I do not go out in the early morning hours, or too late in the day when the mosquitoes are abuzz.

With this week’s  “garden bounty” I was actually able to make bruschetta using a day old  french baguette that got hard and crunchy.  I mixed five chopped tomatoes with chopped basil and parsley leaves, a clove of garlic and olive oil.

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Being prepared and becoming self-sufficient is not only about buying emergency supplies.  Learning survival skills if a big aspect of the preparedness mindset.  Since we started our plan to prepare for emergencies, I’ve acquired some new skills:

  • Plant a garden – We have a small balcony garden.   I first planted seedlings bought from Lowe’s, then moved on to growing plants from seed.  NEXT STEP:  acquire heritage seeds and grow a larger variety of plants.
  • Use a gun – My husband has owned a gun for a while; we recently bought a gun for me then went to the shooting range so I can learn to load and fire the new gun.  NEXT STEP: obtain a concealed carry permit
  • Bake cakes and muffins from scratch – I previously used baking mixes, but now bake muffins and cakes from flour, butter, sugar etc. instead of relying on pre-made mixes.  NEXT STEP: Bake bread from scratch
  • Basic sewing – I previously took clothes to the tailor for sewing needs, now I can sew buttons, shorten or lengthen hems, repair a tear, etc.  NEXT STEP: Create an article of clothing.
  • Change a tire – Watched my husband change a tire and practiced doing it after.   NEXT STEP: Change the oil
  • Cut up a raw chicken into serving sizes – I used to be intimidated by those whole chickens and only bought pre-cut pieces.  Now I buy the whole chicken and cut it up myself.   NEXT STEP: Kill and skin a chicken.  I watched my Dad do it, but need hands on practice.
  • Read a map – I previously relied on the GPS, but have since learned to read a map. NEXT STEP: Learn how to use a compass

This is a very small list since we just started our journey.  There are a lot more survival skills we still need to acquire such as building a fire without matches, hunting, fishing, building a shelter, just to name a few.   Learning about survival has shown me how much we take for granted and rely on others to do basic living activities.  It is not easy to give up old habits, but I did find that you save a lot of money by doing things yourself.  Another benefit is I found out that it is fun!

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I got my first tomatoes!  I have been watching these babies grow larger and redder, and now I have finally picked them.  Okay, I did pick one green one, as an experiment.  I wanted to see if the green ones can ripen on the counter.  A few gardening sites do say the green ones should mature after they are picked, but you have to leave them out, and not refrigerate.  We sliced one and ate it; I must say it was sweeter and more flavorful than the grocery tomatoes.

I know my balcony garden will not be nearly enough to feed the family, but I am finding that gardening is fun and rewarding.  And picking your first harvest… priceless!

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Earlier this year I  started listening to a podcast, The Self Sufficient Homestead, run by Johnny Max and the Queen.  Their website is sshomestead.com.   They have been doing all the self-sufficient homestead activities I someday hope to do:  growing a large garden, raising chickens, raising fish through aquaponics, home brewing, bee keeping and many more.  For now, due to space limitations in the apartment I can only manage a small garden, I still continue to listen for information and down to earth ideas and humor.  I do enjoy their shows.   They recently started a seed exchange website, where participants can trade heirloom seeds, which are non-hybrid, non genetically altered seeds that can propagate themselves for generations.  I am new at this, and only recently learned that this is the kind of seeds that you would want in your garden.  The website is:  http://www.heirloomseedswap.com

Since I am just starting out and have no seeds to swap, I checked the site for seeds for sale and found they had Stevia herb seeds.  Stevia is used as a healthy sugar substitute, as it is sweet and all natural with no side effects.  Not sure how it will work yet, that is why I am trying this out.   The description said the seeds will cost only $3 for 100 or so seeds.   That is a good deal.   I emailed Johnny Max to find out where to send payment.    I actually did not expect a quick response, after all, I am sure they are busy working and running a homestead. I am happy to report that he responded quickly and was more than willing to help out.

Now I am just waiting for the seeds and will update at a later post.

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My husband and I were arguing about how to protect my new tomatoes from getting pecked by birds.  I was watering the plants, and got excited when I saw these little baby tomatoes peeking out; then I spotted a bird building a nest over the balcony next door.  I think covering the plants with a makeshift net made of pantyhose or something similar would work, but he thinks it’ll look weird and the neighbors will report us for having unsightly things flapping in the breeze.   I will have to research this further and which brings me back to the subject of today’s post.

To become more self sufficient, a common piece of advice is to grow your own vegetables.   Ideally, you would have a nice sized backyard to start your garden, but apartment dwellers have very limited space.  So we decided to try growing some vegetables in the balcony.   I don’t have a lot of plants:  just a few tomatoes, peppers, mint, rosemary, basil, green onions, parsley and cilantro.

Here are some ideas to get started:

-Check apartment rules regarding growing plants in the balcony or porch.  Our building has no restrictions regarding plants in the balconey, so we were all set.

-Container gardening is the best way to grow vegetables in a limited space.  I bought wire boxes that can hang from the balcony, plastic containers that fit in them, as well as large pots,  and filled them with Miracle Grow soil.  Since I am new at this, I need all the help I can get!  I planted the tomatoes in a hanging Topsy Turvy planter that I got as gift.   I may also start a few more vegetables cheaply in five gallon buckets.

-Starting plants from seed is cheap, but will take longer to see results.  As a beginning gardener, I chose to buy live tomato and pepper plants from the garden center, but started herbs from organic seeds purchased at the same time.  Herbs grow quickly.  It is a great feeling to see those little shoots growing out of the soil.  Some good choices include tomatoes, peppers, zuchini, herbs that you like to use such as mint, oregano, rosemary, chives. Here is a quick tip about green onions:  do not throw out the roots that come with the green tops, stick them in water or soil and they will grow fresh shoots, you won’t have to buy it again for a while.

-Read the instructions that come with the plant or seed packet, and research your chosen plants in the internet.

-Save on water usage by collecting water that usually gets wasted, such as the cold water from the shower as you’re waiting for it to warm up, water used to wash vegetables and fruit, water used to boil eggs, etc.   So far my water bill has not increased in the month that I have had the garden.

-Water only when one inch of soil has dried out.  Then give the plants a deep watering.  Depending on your climate, you may need to water every other day or every three days.

-Once the herbs have grown a few inches, pinch the tops to encourage growth.  After only a couple of weeks, my herbs started getting sturdier, I was able to give some away to friends.

I used to think you needed a large backyard to plant a vegetable garden, but now that I have tried it, a small space will do just as well.

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