Gardening on a Smaller Scale

White rock balcony

White rock balcony

There is no way that you can compare gardening in a full size zone 3 yard and gardening on a balcony in zone 8. In Edmonton I had a 60 x 120 foot lot and I took advantage of most of the property for my hobby. By the time I sold my house I had seven composters, several raised beds for vegetables and I’d converted half the front lawn to garden. Much to my (late) mother’s chagrin I even grew corn in my front yard.
I had gogi berries, raspberries and haskap (honey berries). I ate Carmine Jewel cherries from my tree in the backyard while waiting for dozens of tomato plants to produce their yearly bounty of juicy plum tomatoes for canning. I’ve grown tomatillos for salsa verde, I’ve had a spaghetti squash plant produce so many squash that I had to take them to the food bank, and I’ve eaten carefully stored carrots and potatoes well in to January.

Those days are over but not forgotten.

A balcony can support all sorts of plants, including fruit and veggies. Breeding has produced a bounty of fauna that is satisfied with life in a container, although container living means much more attention to their care.

Container plants need a good quality soil that retains moisture. They need regular watering and fertilizing – everything they need will have to be provided at regular intervals. Two hot days in a row with a moderate wind and balcony plants can be baked in situ.

My balcony is east-facing so it gets a strong morning sun which abates at around 11 am and by 4 pm it becomes a cool place to sit and enjoy the sound of birds and a gentle breeze. So far all of my herbs and flowers are doing spectacularly and I’ve potted two tomatoes, a Hungarian pepper and a cucumber. I’ve got two different climbers – a black-eyed susan vine and a specially bred clematis which is going like crazy (I’ll blog about that another day).

So although I can’t garden on the same scale as I have in the past, I can still enjoy my hobby. And hopefully I can enjoy some fresh tomatoes in a couple of months.

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Fall Clean-up: Mulch and Protect

Fall is arguably Edmonton’s most beautiful season. No mosquitoes, lovely warm afternoons and calm evenings with spectacular sunsets. The foliage changes to shades of red, yellow and orange, and the air is crisp and fresh.

It’s also the time of year when we have to put down our spades and pick up our rakes, cleaning up the garden beds and protecting them for the upcoming cold winter months.

It can get as cold as -40C in Edmonton during the most frigid nights of winter, so having a good protective mulch over the hibernating plants is a must.

I take a simple approach, first slaying the perennial foliage with my clippers, then pulling all the annuals that won’t survive the winter. Once I’ve done that, I collect the leaves and mess on the lawn and run it down with a mower. I’ll do the same with the leaves from my trees as soon as they’ve come down, and sometimes I’ll borrow from neighbors if I feel I need even more browns.

The resulting mulch is returned to the garden to cover the plants with a 10-12″ airy quilt which will provide that extra layer of warmth they’ll need to get through the coming months.

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Perfect Roma Tomatoes. Every Time.

I have to give a shout out to T&T Seeds of Winnipeg for their amazing Roma tomato called Momma Mia. It’s been a staple in my garden for years, producing beautiful paste tomatoes that I love to make into sauce for those bland winter months. The quantity of fruit can’t be beaten, and I’ve never had any issues with the health and virility of the plants. Highly recommended.

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A Simple Way to Harvest and Preserve Garlic

I like to make my life easier, so I’m always looking for the simplest ways to preserve and consume my garden produce.

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Today I dug up half of my garlic. Garlic is ready when the bottom four leaves of the stalk have turned brown. For Zone 3, this is usually mid to late August.

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After separating the cloves I carefully washed and patted them dry with a towel.

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I then tossed the cloves into my tiny food processor and added enough vegetable oil to cover them.

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I used the pulse button to control the chopping until I had the consistency I wanted, just slightly larger than a mince.

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I put the resulting mixture in a jar, topped it up with a bit more veggie oil and that’s it. The mixture lasts for several weeks in the fridge and after I’ve used up all the garlic I have fabulous oil to use as well.

Note: Storing garlic in oil at room temperature can result in proliferation of botulism, and botulism poisoning is a potentially fatal condition. Always store the oil at less than 3 degrees C and use it only if cooking thoroughly. 

High Bush Cranberries Almost Ready to Pick

I was walking in the Edmonton river valley this morning and I saw that there seem to be plenty of high bush cranberries this year.

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The beauty of these berries is that they are free, easy to pick, and delicious in jellies, smoothies and ketchups.

I’m not going to tell you precisely where I saw lots on the trees, but the Edmonton river valley should be able to provide enough for all of us. The key is to pick them when they’re ripe (I estimate next week), but not to wait too long or someone else might steal your secret stash.