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Balcony Gardening

Dinosaur kale in our balcony garden. What a show-off.The one question about apartment gardening that I am asked more than any other is: what should I grow this year? Fair enough. My sort of obvious, kind of cop-out answer has always been: grow what you like to eat.

My expertise on small-space gardening was always a bit theoretical. I’ve grown tomatoes and a whole bunch of other things in a small garden at the cottage, but it’s really twice as big as some community-garden plots in downtown Toronto. Stretches the “small space” definition. This year though, we moved into a new place with a balcony, just in time to cultivate some plants that gave us food this summer and that made our apartment a more pleasant space.
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Gardening 2009

Last view of the garden covered in frost in October

Winter has finally taken hold in full force here in Toronto.  There has been snow on the ground for several weeks and overnight temperatures are regularly in the double-digit negatives but I’m thinking about gardening.  Last year I had started seeds (parsley and  lettuce) by Valentine’s Day and while I don’t know if I’ll be quite as ambitious this year it is definitely the right time to start planning the garden.  But first I need to do a final wrap-up post for last year’s garden.  I hope this will at least provide a green reminder that the ground isn’t always frozen and white.

Peas dried and saved from the 2008 garden

Peas: After a pretty successful crop in 2008 I saved some peas and planted them this spring.  This first experiment for me in seed-saving had very mixed results.  I’m confident that the peas were properly dried and stored because they germinated in the ground and produced healthy shoots.  I was surprised and frustrated to return to the cottage one late-June weekend to find that all of the shoots (along with their handful of nascent flowers) had disappeared.  I strongly suspect that birds who managed to foil the pea defenses that I improvised from bent sticks (a la Jamie Oliver) ate the tasty shoots.  I haven’t yet seen a bird in (or even near) our garden but vigilance is definitely not constant at a weekend, cottage garden in the spring.

Peas are a contender for garden space in 2010.  Working both for and against them is the fact that they make such a delicious in-garden snack–I eat my fair share and it makes it easier to recruit weeding helpers but it cuts into crop size. (more…)