Archive for April, 2010

A disappointing visit at the nursery
April 25, 2010

Yesterday the local nurseries celebrated an “open day”, where they opened their greenhouses and made some special offers. I persuaded my boyfriend to drive to a nursery a bit farther away, because according to their website, they had some special herbs (like ginger mint) and good offers. Well, we came there and the herb table consisted mainly of the usual suspects: sage, chives, mint, thyme, but no special varieties. So we took a look at the greenhouses where all the bed and balcony flowers were growing, like begonias and stuff, really nothing special. So I asked the girl there for some vegetable plants, especially egg plants and chili. She said they’d only have the normal egg plants, no variety. Then she said that it would be still too cold outside for the plants, and she didn’t really get it when I tried to explain that I have a so called loggia where plants are protected. And she said that I could grow anything in containers and wouldn’t have to look for a special variety (well, theoretically maybe, but practically…). Then I asked for chilis, she looked for the hot ones (and “hotter than hot chili” as she said, whatever that might be) and came back to tell me that their plants were still too small to sell, plus they only had two varieties, hot and not so hot. I asked for the name of the varieties, but she had no idea. So we went away.

I really need to find a good nursery. I usually go to the garden center, but I’m not happy with the fact that their plants are just transported there from god knows where. They don’t grow they, they just sell them. But at least they have more than always the same ole same ole. I understand that nurseries have to live of something and try to go the safe way with growing the same stuff every year, but isn’t that kinda boring? And do people really want that? I personally don’t. I mean, if you want just the same boring egg plant, you could as well go to the supermarket and buy it. The vegetable I mean, not the plant, because there is no point in growing something that you can get way cheaper and easier at every supermarket. To me, one of the funs of growing plants is to try new, unusual varieties, that might have a lot of advantages compared to the old ones. I don’t get why nurseries (I mean not every, but probably a lot) don’t see this niche and jump in. What’s the point in growing two kind of peppers, one hot, one not, every year, when you could instead grow red, yellow, black, purple, striped, white, green ones, that are hot, fruity, juicy, tasty, mild, spicy etc. and long, tiny, round, squeezed, huge, short etc.?

Seeds sown in week 15
April 22, 2010

Last week I sowed the following seeds on the balcony (on Saturday, 17th)

  • radish in the pot with nasturtiums

Radish is said to grow quite good in containers. There are different varieties, I sowed “Aspern”, which are rather big. They are already sprouting and seem to like the cold weather. I started the nasturtiums indoors, but they’ve already been outside for about three weeks. They were quite leggy, but they recuperate and become bushy. Nasturtiums are one of the easiest plants I know. They have beautiful flowers, and are edible as well. My variety is small and bushy, non clinging, the flowers are supposed to look rather “normal”, as you are used to, which means yellow, orange, red. The only disadvantage is that they attract aphids. Some gardener use this as advantage and plant the nasturtiums near other delicate plants, to attract to aphids to the nasturtiums and away from the other plant. I’m not so sure whether that really works…

  • cilantro

Is said to not mind the cold weather. Hasn’t sprouted yet. I’ve never grown this before and am not really familiar with the taste of cilantro, so I’m looking forward to the first harvest!

  • lovage

Many non-central-europeans don’t know it, but pu-leeeeease try it, it’s great! It tastes like a famous soup spice called “Maggi” in german, so some people call lovage Maggi-herb. You can put it (lovage) in soups, which adds a spicy taste. I personally like to put it into salads. As it’s name says, it’s lovely! The plant can grow up to 1 metre high and is perennial. Not yet sprouting.

  • mesclun

Forgot about the variety, but it’s already sprouting! I plan to harvest only the outer leaves, so it will grow again for a second and maybe third harvest.

  • arugula

Same as with mesclun. I plan to let some plants of the greens bolt, to get the pretty flowers and seeds for next year. Yes, they are sprouting!

The weather is still rather cold, especially in the morning and at night, that might be the reason why the herbs aren’t sprouting yet. I plan to keep you up-to-date on what’s growing with photos every Saturday. Plus I’m gonna show you what has started indoors and what I sowed this week. By now, the focus is more on edible than on mediterranean – it’s just so much fun!

Wordless Wednesday
April 21, 2010

On Wordless Wednesday, I want to present you views from my balcony. E.g. the first hot air balloon this year:

Thank you, Eyjafjallajökull
April 18, 2010

The volcano erupts. A cloud of ashes is spreading across Europe, airlines cancel their flights, it’s just too dangerous. The particles and ashes might damage the jet engines. Thousands of people try to get home by train, or just wait at the airports. The sky above citys is clear, it’s silent, you can hear the birds. No vapour trail in sight, no sound of starting plane engines, older people claim that they haven’t seen a sky this clean since their childhood. The power of the volcano and there is nothing you can do to change it, but let go.

Of course, when there are no planes, there are problems: people can’t get home, are stuck somewhere in cheap hostels, wait endlessly in line for some information of the airline or the airport, cargo can’t be sent, not your overseas mail nor first-aid-packages to e.g. Haiti, oh-so-important people can’t fly around the earth in business class to manage some…well, maybe hedge fonds, for who knows what exactly they are really doing? Fact is, these days a lot of people are losing a lot of money because no plane goes – no exception. The recession that we just got out of might strike again, with more people losing even more money – but wait – because of some stupid planes?

How did things work a few decades or even years ago, when there were no cheap airlines, no all-inclusive-holidays, when flying was so expensive that only some flights and only for the most important people of a company were available? I guess they didn’t. I remember that when I was a child we sometimes flew on holidays. To Greece or Turkey, once to Singapure and then on to Australia. I loved flying. It was fun, but most of all it way something special, real special. We didn’t fly for every singe holiday, only about once in every two years, sometimes once a year. The other times we drove by car (not very ecological as well) to the nearby Italian coast. I know the promenades of Grado, Bibione and stuff, and I loved it as well. There was nothing I missed, except for the nice, wild feel of a greek island, but hey, get over it. Last year I went to Coventry for a conference and took the plane from my small town to London Stansted. My colleague and I had booked quite early, the tickets where cheap, not those cheap 1-Euro-tickets, but still way cheaper than going by train. And way more comfortable. But I realized how things had changed, I think I haven’t taken a plane in 7 years. There were a lot of restrictions on you, like the liquid thing, you know what I’m talking about. And during the whole flight people tried to sell us something. It didn’t feel comfortable or exciting anymore. Flying was nothing special anymore, it was just another transportation thing. The McDonalds of transportation. And on days like these we realize how fast it could be over.

When I was on my exchange term in Italy, I talked to a lot of people, many of them already studying abroad or going home to wherever several times during their Erasmus. In half a year, I guess many of them took about 3 or 4 flights home or somewhere else. That’s quite a lot. It was great for them, flying is cheap and you get to see a lot of the world, but ecologically spoken, it was a catastrophe. For I always find it kind of confusing to know how much grams CO2 per person per kilometre a flight causes, I decided to calculate my CO2 emissions on the flight Klagenfurt-London Stansted and return for you. With this flight, I caused 660 kg CO2. To give you an idea: That’s what a fridge causes in 6,6 years of running. That’s a third of what a middle class car causes in a year. That’s more than two third of what a person with their lifestyle in India causes in a year. But it’s just 1/6 of what a flight (from middle Europe) to the Carribean causes. Flying causes almost ten times as much emission as going by train. I’m not suggesting not to take the plane at all – every now and then we just want to see parts of the world that otherwise couldn’t really be reached in a fair amount of time – but we should cut it down drastically, not just because it’s an ecological crime but because it’s possible. Just think of the managers mentioned before. Why can’t they just use skype? My guess is, it would work. There are other ways to communicate. Technology is here to help us, we only have to use it. Plus you don’t have to be anywhere anytime.  That’s why it worked a few decades ago, and that’s why it will work this week as well, and why it could work the next few years too, without us destroying the only earth that we’ve got. You can see it now, the air above Europe is clear, no plane in sight, and the world still keeps spinning round.

Guerilla gardening
April 18, 2010

It was time. It was night. 10 p.m. The little primrose had been waiting on my windowsill for weeks to get out. I put it into a black bag, together with a small scoop, a bottle of water and some horn meal in a plastic bag. I wore a black jacket and put the hood on. I went just outside of my building. In the darkness of the night I tried to find the right place for the primrose. I tried it on the back side, where I could see it when I look down from the balcony. But on this side are many balconies and when a guy stepped on his balcony on the first floor to smoke a cigarette, I panicked and went on. Then I found the perfect place: To the left of the entrance. Nobody could spot me, all windows were dark, the other buildings far away. The soil was easy to dig. I made a hole, put some horn meal in it, took the primrose out of its pot and into the hole. I closed it and watered. The whole intervention took about 3 minutes.

On the picture I took the next day you can see the details: I planted the primrose into a rose bed. There are some rose beds in our apartment complex. I think roses can be beautiful, but they need to be very well maintained. Two times a year some cutting and weeding isn’t enough. Plus they bloom about two weeks a year, then the beauty is over. As you can see, the soil is not very good as well, there are many stones. Plus weeds grow into the bed and the edging is falling apart. Weeds on the sidewalk and garbage complete the picture. Enough reasons to do some gardening here. The place is very exposed and basically everybody who walks by can see the primrose. But I wonder how many people actually notice it. I can easily go there to water it at night (not necassary right now, it’s raining). The horn meal should provide fertilizer for the next few month, next year I can easily add new.

Since I did the guerilla gardening on a land that I pay for it’s not really guerilla. I’m not sure about whether it’s really my land or I just pay a kind of fee for it’s maintenance. But anyway, I can as well maintain it myself.

I’m planning to do some more guerilla gardening and will keep you posted.

Guerilla gardening
April 16, 2010

I just did my very first piece of guerilla gardening. Adrenaline is still rushing through my veins – haven’t felt such an excitement in a long time! I’ll try to photograph the little guerilla gardening tomorrow, in the meantime find out more about it: The Official Guerilla Gardening website.

Spider mites’ damage
April 15, 2010

I spent the winter term in Italy, in the meanwhile, my boyfriend took care of my plants. Amongst them a beautiful oleander. I got it last spring and since then it doubled in size. The blossoms are salmon (I don’t like the pink ones) and not filled – just a plain beauty. But already during the summer I had some problems with spider mites, because it’s always dry on the loggia, for even the strongest storm doesn’t reach to the door, where I put the oleander. I sprayed pesticides, quite successfully. In September, before I left for Bologna, I put the oleander in, close to a window (facing east) in the staircase. I don’t exactly remember how it happened, but somehow I found out that the oleander had spider mites again. Maybe I saw it on a photo in my bf’s blog. I advised him to first of all put the oleander into the shower and rinse the leaves. Well, you can see here how it looked.

Spider mites don’t like water. However, as soon as it’s dry, they spread like crazy. Plus they like it warm. Our staircase is very dry and quite warm (not the ideal conditions for overwintering an oleander, but he didn’t mind). So you should first of all try to create the conditions they don’t like, which would be cold and wet. Put your plants into the rain, away from your radiator, in the cold basement or – if you can’t do any of them – into the shower. And shower. And shower. After some showering, I advised my bf to put back the oleander, make a mixture of 2 tsp of dishwashing liquid, 2 tsp of oil (rapeseed) and mix it with 1 lt water, then put it into a spray bottle and spray the mixture onto the plant every day.

What it does: First of all it creates a wet environment. Second, the dishwashing liquid (you can take soap water as well) helps the oil to mix with the water. Plus it helps the oil stay on the leaves and mites. The oil itsself is supposed to kill the mites. I’ve had very bad experiences with spider mites and have to say that even this mixture might fail, but not, if you spray and spray and spray consequently and every day. Sometimes even twice a day. During the whole process be careful that the liquid doesn’t drop onto the soil, put newspaper or a plastic bag over it. And spray a lot, not just a few times, but ’till the liquid drops off the plants’ leaves. And try to reach the bottom side of the leaves, because that’s where the mites eat them. Pay special attention to the new shoots, they are softer and more delicious to spider mites, so that’s where they normally start. Apply the liquid for about 10 days every day. If you see that there are less mites, don’t just stop, but continue spraying about every three days. A mite goes through different stages of development, and not in every stage they are visible and exposed to the spray. So keep spraying every 3 days for about 2 weeks, then switch to once a week. I kept spraying mine ’till the end of winter (which means: ’till I put it onto the balcony again) once in two weeks. No more mites. That wouldn’t have worked if my bf wasn’t soooo great! Thank you, Thomas!

Anyway, the damage the spider mites once did will stay. As I said they eat the leaves, or rather put their tiny sting into the bottom side of the leaf and suck out the cell that they just struck. Then they move on to the next cell. And the next. And so on. So the damage looks like tiny little spots where the leaf just turnes white. To give you an idea:

That’s my oleander, yes. You see the heavy damage best by the difference to the new leaves. I don’t know if the white leaves affect the chlorophyll production, but I guess they won’t change it for the better. So my plan is to cut every year some of the oleander’s stems, so it will thrive anew, with new leaves. I don’t want to cut the whole oleander at once, because than it won’t bloom at all for a year (or maybe even two). According to my plans I’m gonna have a whole new oleander within three years. At least as long as I’m able to keep away the spider mites…

Get the project/blog/balcony/party started!
April 6, 2010

Dear readers,

this is it. My try to get a beautiful, relaxing, yet useful nice mediterranean balcony garden in 2010. To be exact, it’s not a balcony, it’s a loggia, that’s a balcony closed in with walls from 5 sides. That might make the whole thing a little bit more difficult, because except for one advantage (no neighbor can see what you do) to me it has only disadvantages, like less light, a ugly wood railing, a feeling of being closed in etc. I might come back to that.

Anyway, that won’t keep me from growing what I want. I’ll try edibles and ornamentals. The seeds are already started, waiting for the last frost date, which is the 15 may, I’m in a hardiness zone 6 and the balcony faces west. Less than ideal conditions? We’ll see.

As i mentioned, the plan is having a mediterranean or south-american styled balcony, but form follows function, so the fancy looking pots will come when I have money for them. And for I am a student on a budget, plants will have to do the job in the meantime. Plus the balcony garden should be as “green” as possible: organicly grown stuff with organic fertilizers and as much recycled materials as possible. I should mention that I’m in no way a professional and most I know about plants I know from books. So we’ll see how much of it I can apply. Happy gardening!