Balcony gardening

My excuses over the last couple of years for doing no more gardening than failing to keep a supermarket pot of parsley alive have been of two main varieties. First, “we’re really not here reliably enough…”. Second, “we haven’t really got the space.”

Lockdown has sadly seen to the first; we have a rented flat in Norfolk and had been going up to see our son, who is recovering from cancer, and my sister a couple of times a month. We’ve been home in Cornwall since 17th March, and there’s no prospect of our going to Norfolk any time soon.

And the second? Well, our balcony measures approximately 2m by 3m. It contains an ugly wooden cover for our butane bottles for the gas hob; a table and four matching bistro-style (for which read really uncomfortable metal) chairs. They’re a lovely colour, though. My original plan was for three grow bags along the length of the balcony. Full stop. The day before we returned to Cornwall, I bought the grow bags, some little pots, rather too many seeds and a small amount of compost.

I sowed rocket, a courgette – who needs more than one courgette plant? – and broad beans first. Here they are:

the rocket is ready for Monday’s lunch; courgettes not yet

If you look with the eyes of faith and to the left of the bamboo support, you may be able to see radish seedlings too, which are in a row down the centre of the box. Those weren’t planted until I moved the broad beans into their polystyrene tray. I also sowed lettuces and started off some herbs – all that first weekend. Not even I, optimist that I am, really expected to be able to live off what we could grow, but it is fun. The rocket is ready to eat but I can’t say the same for the lettuces….

As you can see, a variety of containers have been re-purposed, albeit temporarily. Ever since we moved to Cornwall it has seriously irritated me that there is no food waste collection in the area. So I went on to the Sutton’s website, before every-one else got there, and bought a hot bin composter – oh, and compost, seeds and plants, a few of which are yet to appear. The composter only arrived a week ago, a month or so late, but the temperature is already building nicely and I hope to be self sufficient in compost soon. A neighbour has kindly given me the remains of a bag which will be enough when I come to transplant the French beans….

which will be a few weeks yet!

Here is the star, though a forbiddingly ugly one, of my balcony.

It prefers a hard surface, and it gets plenty of sun to encourage decomposition. It likes peelings, paper and wood chip in specified proportions. In a week or so I should be able to feed it non vegetable food waste, in our case mostly bones and fish skin, which as the bins haven’t been emptied for almost five weeks is just as well. But the internal temperature needs to be 40-60 C before I can do that.

The plants that are really motoring came from our weekly supermarket delivery, noticeably the chilli. We’ve already eaten about a dozen, but as you can see there are plenty of almost ripe ones and even some flowers. I have another chilli plant on order from Sutton’s but am not holding my breath! Selfish and greedy mint is also doing well but is much less photogenic.

Also just beginning to germinate is my second sowing of rocket.

So there is plenty of room! One of our lovely neighbours has set up ‘the inaugural Fort Picklecombe potato competition’. The participants were given a chitted potato and an eight litre bag of compost. In about three months we shall see who has managed to grow the heaviest weight of potatoes. I’ve no idea what’s happening below ground, but it looks all right on top….

I don’t think that’s quite what ‘earthing up’ is supposed to do

I hope to return with a progress report at the beginning of June.

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