After greens, tomatoes are one of my favourite edibles to grow on the balcony. My plants are tucked under cloches right now, so all I have to worry about is too much heat instead of too much cold. Which unfortunately is appropriate for this time of year.
Tomatoes are relatively easy to grow. I don’t start tomatoes from seed because of limited space in the apartment, so each season, I buy three or four plants.
Tomatoes are vigorous growers. Mine are planted in my three largest clay pots that measure 33 cm (13 inches) across and 30.5 cm (12 inches) deep. I know my containers will be a solid mass of roots by the end of the growing season. Tomatoes are heavy feeders so I don’t reuse soil in my tomato containers. Half soilless, half compost is what I start fresh with each spring and then I top dress with compost throughout the growing season. Tomatoes are sensitive to our cool spring evenings. With daytime temperatures between 15-25°C right now but night time temperatures dropping to 3-8°C it’s still a little early here to set out tomatoes without some protection – especially if you have just brought them home from the nursery.
I always grow the tried and true variety Sun Gold (indeterminate, hybrid), a guaranteed heavy producer with wonderful taste – and the perfect snack for a hard-working gardener. New to the balcony garden this year is Healthy Kick (determinate, hybrid), a plum tomato. This one caught my attention at the greenhouse because of its dark green foliage. It looked so healthy, it got to come home. I’ve since read both good and bad reviews of this variety, so time and taste will tell in August.
I have a three-container cycle going this year with my greens on the balcony garden. I’m planting in clay troughs that measure 51 cm (20 inches) long by 23 cm (9 inches) wide by 20 cm (8 inches) deep.
The mesclun greens, pea sprouts, spinach, cress and radish sprouts take about 30 days to be salad-ready so a simple 10-day planting cycle is the plan. And the seeds kinda set the pace. When the first container starts to sprout, it’s probably about 10-12 days, so it’s time to plant another container. The amount that I’m planting should be enough for a week of greens. The containers get east exposure, so although the growth rate might be a little slower, the greens won’t start going to seed before I get a chance to harvest.
And when you follow a continuous planting (and harvesting) strategy you have lots of opportunity to switch it up and plant a variety of greens to blend and mix for each meal.
And just a footnote to my Grow Up post I’ve added a Dropmore Scarlet Honeysuckle to my climbers list. A promise of summer-long blooms was the tease. I’ve never grown this one before, so I’ll see how it settles in. And although it is considered hardy for Zone 2, it’s doubtful it will winter over.
My small collection of Agave in the windowsill garden has now increased in size, quite literally. The new additions were part of a shipment of cactus and succulents I discovered at the local nursery – just begging to come home with me and join the gang. I succumbed. They are so different from the ones I already have and these new plants are in great shape. They are now sitting in my dining room, patiently waiting to be re-potted.
I’ve posted before about how difficult it is buy nice clay pots in town and at this time of year it’s next to impossible to find what I want. So these beauties will stay in the dining room until spring when I hope a fresh shipment (or two) of terracotta will be delivered to a local nursery. Alas, no ID tags on the new Agave either, so I’m busy trying to match a name to a face. Which is not a easy as you might think – there’s a lot of variation in leaf colour, size and pattern in these plants.
I’ve decided to keep the balcony garden layout simple (and hopefully less cluttered) this year and showcase the troughs. So on the south side of the balcony I have set up eight of my troughs in a somewhat symmetrical layout. I’ve elevated the troughs at each end of the metal railing and left the rest on their rollers so I can move them about. It will make trough planting and maintenance so much easier. I use the metal roller platforms that you can buy at most nurseries. I’ve had mine for a few years, so if you look after them they can be a one-time purchase. The wooden platform rollers are a waste of money if you have heavy containers because the wood can’t take the weight.
We’ve also got new folding deck chairs to test drive this summer. I think they are going to be a great addition – comfy seating and easy storage.
I’ve potted up three tumbler tomatoes. They’ll be protected under my plastic cloches for the next few weeks and most likely will be moved in and out of the apartment every night until it gets a little warmer. But it was time to get them into big containers and let their well-established root balls spread out.
It’s a start. Next weekend, I’ll tackle the east side of the balcony.
Continuous Container Gardens, by Sara Begg Townsend and Roanne Robbins nicely illustrates an approach to gardening that can work for a balcony gardener. Especially if you have one of those tiny outdoor spaces that has room for a chair and one container – which is increasingly common in many big cities. The idea? One container is all you really need for four seasons of gardening.
This is an how-to book. And assumes a bit of gardening knowledge. The four seasons for each container have been photographed and start each chapter so you can easily see what the key plants are. The photos illustrate how to switch out selected plants in a single pot throughout the year to reflect what is available and seasonal at your local nursery. Plant match-ups are suggested with enough information, I think, to help you successfully find the recommended plants or substitute as you need in your region.
Each chapter takes a slightly different approach to a container, varying container and gardening style, colour palettes and plants groups. The authors provide tips on the fundamentals, like selecting containers for your space, potting mixes, watering, fertilizing and drainage requirements to help get you started. And their plant picks show they are not afraid to mix it up and combine perennials with shrubs, vines, annuals, grasses, herbs and vegetables and even the occasional bulb or two. They present a wide range of container ideas that – once you get the concept – can be modified to meet the needs of your gardening zone, sun exposure, gardening knowledge and of course your budget.
The only caution is that depending on where you live, some of the planting ideas might not be the best to deal with the wind conditions on your balcony. But if you are looking for inspiration for that little piece of garden that is all yours – no matter how tiny – Continuous Container Gardens might be the only reference book you need to help focus your efforts.
It was a good growing season for the hypertufa troughs. Many of the plants are now 3-4 years old and are well established. I dare not fuss with them and am always amazed at what pops up every spring. I’ve been watering them weekly, while I wait for the winter freeze up.
We have had an amazing fall. No serious snow yet. It’s also noticeably drier. Alpines in the mountains would already be snuggled under a layer of snow and frozen up for the year. I’ve moved the troughs to a corner of the balcony where they are out of the direct sun but open to the elements, both wind and snow. It’s important to try to keep the troughs frozen up once winter settles in.
A couple of the troughs are becoming a little fragile. Corners and edges softening up a bit – I think that is because they were not quite cured properly when they were built. Putting the troughs on castors helps move them easily, but also makes it easy to play bumper cars when moving them. I could be more careful.
I’ve planted a few tiny plants into the rock this year, but am pretty sure they won’t live to greet the spring. Always worth a try though. I’m hitting the books to start making my list for next spring – as the troughs fill up, I get a bit more selective about new additions.
These photos help remind me about the textures, shapes and colours I’m working with and where the empty spots are. Still room for a few more – plants that is, not troughs.
It’s been a great summer for the bamboo. Not only has it continued to grow, but it has remained bright green, pest-free and is even starting to sprout new sturdy shoots. The two containers have been tucked out of the wind and been mostly in the shade for the entire growing season. The sun has started to track a little lower as we head out of summer, so the bamboo plant at the front is now starting to get some sun.
When I see new shoots, I always think of the Mythbusters. But it also makes me think about how I’m another year closer to the clay pots exploding – there are serious rootball growing here. I’ve been putting off transplanting because although the containers are pretty heavy I can still lift them and move them back into the apartment. Of course, when they are out on the balcony, they are on rollers. So, just starting to think about how I’ll be wrestling these back into the apartment when temperatures start to drop. But no action required yet.
I’ve noticed that it’s getting harder to find terracotta containers here for the balcony garden. Curious.
The two largest nurseries in the city don’t seem to carry them any more. The nursery where I purchased my large terracotta troughs last year (that I’m using for vegetable gardening), just cleared out all of their stock. What’s going on?
My balcony containers are hypertufa, cement, granite and terracotta. I like the warm feel of terracotta. I like how it absorbs moisture. I like it’s colour and texture. I like that it gets heavy when it’s been watered. I like that you have to be careful with it and deal with it before the big freeze hits in the fall. To me, a terracotta pot is an intrinsic part of gardening.
Two of the small, local run nurseries that I frequent still have a bit of stock. So I scored two more large troughs to expand the vegetable garden. Looks like they might be my last.
And these three beauties pictured below were part of a recent blow-out sale at another nursery. I think they had been in the store a while, full of dust and filled with plastic plants. But, behind the grime was the beauty of clay. These pots have a gorgeous shape and a rough, textured finish. They are ready for real soil, plants and water.
A perfect celery pot don’t you think.