Sunday, 31 May 2015

Longterm Garden Planning

The more that I look at the Balcony Garden, the more I think that rather than merely going for "production" in both quantity and monetary value (lol, which hasn't worked too well), the way to make the garden the most valuable to myself would be for it to produce me with my own salads a few times a week, for around six months of the year. I have only four large rubber-maid containers out there at the moment, but I'm pretty sure I could add another three if I turned them lengthwise. 
Left: Carrots, Strawberries, Zucchini & Cucumber / Right: Tomatoes & Nasturtiums
In the back corner, I could keep things pretty much as they are now, filled with tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers and carrots. They all grow fairly well together, and also easily add to a fresh salad... but if I tried to grow potatoes back there again, like I did last year, they would interfere with eachother too much (Potatoes & Cucumbers are not Companion Plants). Plus, unless you are making potato salad, it's not a very "salad-like" vegetable - not too mention the problem of having to rotate your containers for the next three years, to ensure that more root-vegetables don't grow in it again before the soil replenishes. Too many root-vegetables out there, and you'll end up damaging your crops with scab and other such things after a few years... which makes root-vegetables very unnattractive to me, considering the other things I could grow instead which are arguably of higher value.
Left: Peppers, Nasturtiums & Tomato / Right: Kale, Radish, Watermelon & Salad Greens
Up front, I could have another container where the peppers are, and another in between the two already up there, if they were turned length-wise. Then I could start off the season with three full pots of kale and find a few other things to grow during the hottest months, and in the end of the year, plant ALL the big pots full of kale. That would make for quite a bit of kale - although, I think from now on, the only kale I'm going to grow will be the Red Russian variety. It only takes 45 to 60 days to grow, while most other varieties take around 80 to 90 days. That extra month, at both ends of the year, is quite a significant amount of growing time.
15oz Kale Harvested from One Pot
Plus, last year I produced 20oz of Kale out of only one pot, but this year I've pulled out only 15oz, although, as you can see, I still have another full pot to harvest. But, with proper planning and Red Russian Kale's significantly shorter growth period, perhaps three crops of kale could be pulled out a year, rather than two. Imagine if I could grow four pots in the spring, then perhaps another seven pots in the fall time - that would be a heck of a lot of kale, making quite a bit of salads and stamp-pot.
Left: Sprouting Salad Greens
If I expanded the garden with three more rubber-maid containers, I'd have to find another place for all the pots on the floor. Of course, I still have the railing to hang containers off of, but between the cost of the containers and especially the hangers ($40+ per container, plus $15 to $20 for the container... plus soil = $60/container), it is just cost-prohibitive to put six or seven containers on the railing - at least compared to the value I got from the rubber-maid containers, which grow far more crops but only cost about $18/19 each to set up, including the soil! When I look at that glass partition on the balcony, I think it would be much cheaper to rig up something alongside it that could hold containers - heck, I could even build a shelf myself, and I'm sure it would be a lot cheaper than spending several hundred dollars just to hang containers off the railing. It sure would be nice though, to have several containers, perhaps planted 2 weeks apart, continually sprouting with enough salad greens to have a fresh salad three or four times a week.
Here's how I think a season of crops could work (RM = Rubber Maid Container, PB = Planter Box):

RM #1 (Front) = Peppers x 8plants, Beans, Kale (Fall)
RM #2 (Front) = Kale (Spring), Beans, Cantaloupe (Summer), Kale (Fall)
RM #3 (Front) = Kale (Spring), Beans, Watermelon (Summer), Kale (Fall) 
RM #4 (Front) = Kale (Spring), Beans, Brocolli (Summer), Kale (Fall)
RM #5 (Side) = Kale (Spring), Cucumbers, Califlower, Pumpkin(?) or Kale (Late Fall?)
RM #6 (Side) = Radishes, Cucumbers, Carrots (Spring), Carrots (Summer), Kale (Fall)
RM #7 (Side) = Radishes, Cucumbers, Zucchini, Kale (Fall)

Front Corner Pot #1 = Tomato & Nasturtiums
Front Corner Pot #2 = Tomato & Nasturtiums
Back Corner Pot #3 = Tomato & Nasturtiums
Back Corner Pot #4 = Tomato & Nasturtiums

PB #1 (Railing - Side/Inside) = Salad Greens, Mustard Greens (Fall)
PB #2 (Railing - Front/Inside) = Salad Greens, Mustard Greens (Fall)
PB #3 (Railing - Front/Inside) = Salad Greens, Mustard Greens (Fall)
PB #4 (Railing - Front/Inside) = Salad Greens, Mustard Greens (Fall)
PB #5 (Railing - Side/Outside) = Strawberries
PB #6 (Railing - Front/Outside) = Strawberries
PB #7 (Railing - Front/Outside) = Strawberries
PB #8 (Railing - Front/Outside) = Strawberries
PB #9 (Place on Floor)= Salad Greens, Mustard Greens (Fall)
Hanging Pot & Various Small Pots on BBQ & Floor = Parsely, Mint, Dill, Chives, Garlic, Echinacea (Fall)
That would total as follows:
1 x RM Harvest of 8-10 Pepper Plants 
10 x RM Harvests of Kale
1 x RM Harvest of Cantaloupe
1 x RM Harvest of Watermelon
1 x RM Harvest of Brocolli
1 x RM Harvest of Cauliflower
2 x RM Harvests of Carrots
1 x RM Harvest of Zucchini (2 Plants?)
+/- 12 to 16 Pole Bean Plants
+/- 9 to 12 Cucumber Plants
+ 4 x Tomatoes & Nasturtiums
+ 5 x PB's of Salad Greens Rotating All-Season
+ Radishes Planted where/when Space Available All-Season
+ Strawberries & Herbs Producing All-Season
If I could get the little balcony ripping like that, it would not only look extremely cool but it ought to produce easily enough for me to be eating good, healthy garden salads on a regular basis throughout most of the year.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

First Salads from the Garden

The lettuce and kale have been growing gangbusters out on the balcony - especially the kale. Kale has definitely proven to be the most easy thing to grow so far. In fact, as I was sitting out there pondering on the magnificence of my green thumb, I started speculating that perhaps what I should do next year is turn those two containers length-wise, and buy a third one to stuff in between. That way, I could plant a new container each month - starting in March, April and May - and since it takes around three months to mature, every month I'd have a full pot of kale to pick leaves from for salads or to make a couple of pots of stamp-pot. Since kale is such an excellent cool-weather plant, I suspect I could almost get three crops a year - with a pot maturing each month.
Kale (Left) and Lettuce (Left and Right)
The same as the lettuce - it would be ideal to get a couple more containers growing, and space their planting so that there is always some ready to harvest throughout the growing season. The pot of lettuce on the bottom left is a pretty small container and I've already harvested two salads from it, but I only planted one row in it - although I could have easily planted two rows. In the other container of lettuce - on the right - I planted three rows, and I suspect they will do just fine. I'm a little leary about growing lettuce out on that deck during the hottest months of the summer, though. There's really not a lot of shade out there and it gets pretty darn hot. Well, I'll try to keep these two pots going alternately throughout the summer to see and if they do okay, I'll work out a better system next year. This fall I'd also like to plant some mustard greens, since they are also a cool weather plant like kale, and can easily grow well into the fall. In fact, there are few things I'd like to try and grow this fall and winter - kale of course - but also some other cool weather plants I've been researching a bit, like echinacea and garlic.
The tomato I didn't grow myself, it was already in the fridge - but do you see those radishes there? Heh, okay, my radish harvest is still pretty pathetic - only about one ounce, but it's better than last years! (How could it not be?). I suspect the problem this year was that one night of frost back in April. After that, the plant leaves never really grew much more, although the radishes beneath developed a bit more - but still not to a satisfactory size for most of them.
Another Pathetic Radish Harvest!
I think in the future, I'm no longer going to dedicate a full container to radishes. I planted a few more a week or so ago in a bare patch in my carrot container. There's only 6 or 7 plants in there, but they grow fast and don't really take up too much space. I suspect that a person could easily grow radishes all year long simply by stuffing a couple of them in between the other plants here and there - like in your tomato containers, there's plenty of room once they get going to hold a few radishes beneath them. 
The Raspberry plant is perking up! (Left) - Carrots, Cucumbers, Strawberries and soon, Zucchini (Right)
Six of the cucumbers I planted along the edges of the two pots have come up as well, plus the two I still had inside when the frost killed my transplants back in April. Hopefully, with eight plants, I can fill in that screen mesh behind the containers with a good crop of cucumbers. I also planted two zucchini seeds in the far right container. I don't know if two is too many, but we'll find out. I think a big zucchini plant in the back corner of the balcony would look really lush and cool. The tomato containers as well have been supplemented by planting a few nasturtiums in each one - I seen just today that the first few have popped up through the dirt.
Peppers (Left) and Tomatoes (Right)
Although I mentioned possibly expanding the kale operation next year, that is not going to be the plan for this year. I've been trying to figure out something that I can grow in those two pots once the kale comes out in a couple of weeks, and I'd like to plant something that grows well in full sun and high heat - so that kind of removed things like broccoli and caulifower, which are cool weather plants. Instead, I decided to try something really "summery:" watermelon and cantaloupe. I think I could only grow one watermelon plant in a container, since the package says they are supposed to be planted five feet apart, lol. The cantaloupe I hope can grow with three or four in a container. I don't know, maybe this will turn into a flop - but I'll find out by the end of the summer. Also, as you can see, I bought some Miracle Grow plant food. Last year I didn't use any fertilizer at all except for compost, but last year I also didn't have too great of a harvest to brag about. Hopefully, this fertilizer does as advertized and significantly increases the garden's production.