It took a few hours, it usually does, but I've sown the seeds into the little seed pots.
Why hours, you say?
Well, to be honest, first I took several hours to PLAN where the plants are going to go: whether in a big or small pot and whether on the back morning balcony or the front afternoon sun balcony. I had to go through my seed collection, see which ones I wanted to plant, which ones I didn't, and purchase a few more seeds that I was out of. Once the idea of where everything was to go was set, then it was time to get to sowing.
I had to figure how many seeds to sow of each plant, and then I made a diagram of each seed tray and which plant was occupying each seed pot. For someone who has a balcony garden (and hopefully a little community garden), there are quite a lot of seed trays! In total, I have 3 large seed trays with 54 places for seeds in each tray (that's 152 spaces), a medium tray where I used 2 egg cartons OR 24 places for seeds, another smaller one with 12 spaces and finally just a tray that I put in 12 Radish seeds. Whoa, I know! Fact is, I'll probably be getting more plants like Mint or whatever else catches my fancy when I visit the nurseries come the warmer weather :)
This year, I decided to grow a few veggies. I usually don't (more of a wild and medicinal kinda gardener, what with limited space and all), but I made place for Tomatoes (a determinate variety for a pot), Cukes (vining, so I can grow them vertically in a pot), and Bell Peppers (mini, perfect for a pot). The so-called "pot" to which I'm referring here is actually an old plastic bottom of a ferret cage. I used to have rats as pets, and once they passed away, I decided to repurpose the bottom. It holds about 6-7 inches of soil, perfect for square foot gardening :)
I'm placing this large "pot" on a wooden table and under the table I'll be growing greens in some long flower planters: Lettuce, Spinach, Mustard Greens and Cilantro. Since they tend to bolt in the heat, they'll fare better in the semi-shade provided by the tablecloth on top of the table.
What else will be growing on my sunny morning back balcony? Several medicinal and edible plants, including St John's Wort, Lavender, Zinnia, Stevia, Chinese Scullcap, Meadowsweet, Mignonette, Sweet Trefoil and Tansy. Strawberries will be there for the picking, trailing from hanging coir baskets, while Purslane, Parsley and Chickweed (and others still) will be enjoying the comfort of a 3-tiered wooden cart. Wild unidentified plants will probably come to stay for a spell, as they did last year, while I identify what they are. Some may in fact even overstay their visit, as was the case with Hawkweed, Loosestrife, Creeping Bellflower and Lamb's Ear, but what fun to make new friends! :)
On the front balcony, right before you come up the stairs, friendly purple-striped Mallow and brightly-oranged Pleurisy root greet everyone with starry eyes, whether they come in for a visit or not! On the stairs, taking in the full afternoon sun are Marigold, Marshmallow, Borage, Yarrow and Sheep Sorrel. Baskets of yellow, orange and red Nasturtiums hang gracefully from the wooden beams over the flower pots bordering on the edges of the balcony: more lovely Marigold, Sweet William, Shepherd's Purse and Lemon Balm. Enjoying the semi shady conditions of the balcony itself are a couple of members of the mint family, namely Mint and Nettle, as well as a sweet, lovely lady friend of mine that has bestowed such friendship and love, Wormwood! There are still some empty spots remaining that I'm happy to offer a home to when I go plant "shopping:" perhaps some edible Geraniums or wax Begonias or a stunning Hibiscus plant. What wonderful encounters to be seen!
On the small plot of land out behind the balcony, I'm thinking to grow a few shade tolerant plants. Last year we received so much rain that the soil was continually wet. I lined up some flower pots all along the side of the house and put in some plastic flower fence pieces to make it pretty. I added in Mint, Chickweed, Joe-Pye Weed, Lemon Balm and others. The Lemon Balm seemed to fare the best, receiving the most sunlight, but growth was very slow. Chickweed did alright on her first growth, but didn't grow well after that. Mint seemed straggly and Joe-Pye weed and other seeds I planted never showed. I was most disappointed, but I had to wonder if it wasn't all the rain AND the shady conditions.
This year, if my landlord will permit, I'd like to plant directly in the soil. The grass where I had the flower pots is gone, leaving bare earth. Ah-ha! This is a simple trick known in permaculture, that if you use a layer of cardboard, followed by a 1 inch layer of compost followed by 6 inches of straw (or a layer of mulch), you can stomp out the weeds. Weeds need light to grow, and doing this simple method (called sheet mulching), means the weeds will die from the lack of sunlight, PLUS you can even plant directly in this sheet mulching. Simply move the straw over a bit to make a hole, drive a knife through the compost and cardboard and put the plant into the hole you've made, then arrange the straw around the plant. Done! The roots of the plant will go into the soil and you won't have to worry about weeds. Boo-hoo for me, because I'm a real keener for weeds! But that's a bedtime story for another time ;)
Getting back to the land: my idea is to use the technique of sheet mulching using cardboard, compost and mulch to cover the grassy areas. Since I need to create a path to get to the shed out back, I'd like to make a gravel path, maybe a brightly covered one in white, leading up to the gate. On either side of this path is where I can grow plants. The area on the right closest to the balcony receives very little sun, so I'm thinking about adding in Joe-Pye Weed, Boneset and Elecampane. I've read that Mesclun (<- this link has some shade tolerant veggies, check it out) can do well with only 2 hours of sun, so she might be another option. I'm also thinking Violets, including Johnny-Jump-Up, and Chickweed might work, and perhaps other members of the mint family, including various types of Mints herself (e.g. chocolate Mint, orange, Mint, etc.). This is a project to be seen whether it will get approval or not. If not, then I will certainly use the space where I planted last year, only I would like to plant directly in the soil as opposed to using pots. I do think that if I make the area look pretty (and pay for all the materials too of course) that approval should be forthcoming. I'll keep you posted :)
Lastly, I sowed some seeds to have a herb garden. This is also another pending idea, as I called the city for a garden plot and have my name on a waiting list. The city's garden season hasn't opened yet, so the woman on the phone told me. I can't say whether all the plots are taken or not, but in the neighboring city, they have 3 community gardens available, so I could always hope to use some space there. Either way, I'm interested in having a herb garden that requires little maintenance. The herbs that I've sowed include: Sage, Rosemary, Tarragon, Savory, Oregano, Spice Basil (kind of like Tulsi or Holy Basil), Martina Basil, Thyme, Anise Hyssop and Marjoram. I sowed in some Chives as well. Love those Chive Blossoms in salads! :)
Hold on a minute! There is one potential project left. Yes, at work. They have a backyard that is little used. The soil is covered with grass and some weeds, mainly Violets, Plantain and Dandelion, and I had wanted to make a garden there for years. I didn't know how, quite honestly, I thought I'd have to dig up the soil and add topsoil and compost and all that, and what work. Whoa nelly, hello permaculture!
Oh, didn't I mention that I'm taking a certification course online? Oopsy, but yes! I registered with The Regenerative Leadership Institute. It's a 3 part course, the first 72 hours are offered FREE online. To get certified, you have to pay a fee and you have to design a site (it could be your backyard, for example) plus pass a multiple choice exam. I thought it was a great way to get myself started in permaculture, and then later on I'll probably take another hands-on course in the fall (you know, like actually getting involved in building a keyhole garden or seeing a Hugelkulture, as opposed to just reading about them). There's also another FREE intro to permaculture course happening on the Canvas Network in collaboration with the Oregon State University starting in May but you better SIGN UP NOW. Again, if you are interested in learning about Botany, there will be a free (well, a donation is asked for and that would be pretty nice considering most Botany courses run for several hundred dollars) course starting next week, that is, the last week of March. See more about it HERE.
So, last project: designing a garden at work. I'm going to use sheet mulching again. The land is organic, having never had any chemicals or fertilizers or anything added to it for the past 10 years. Leaves from the trees at the border of the property have fallen naturally, so the soil has had natural compost for years! I'm going to make a bed of cardboard, followed by a layer of compost and then a layer of mulch. I doubt if straw is going to be available, so I'll add a layer of mulch on top. Then, I'm going to plant a veggie garden. I'm thinking the usual easy-to-grow ones like Tomatoes, Cukes, Beans and Peppers. Might do a few Potato plants as well. Sure, you can add a wire fence or trellis so the plants can climb on up. And you don't have to use transplants either. In fact, once I make those holes into the cardboard with a knife, I'm going to add seeds directly in there. It'll work out fine --- just need to make sure my boss gets all the necessary materials because that's key ;)
There you have it. My soon to be garden ideas! I'll take some pics later on, once things grow in, of course :)
Stay tuned sunshine, 'cuz there's gonna be lots of bright days ahead. Stay smilin' sunny, ya hear :)
Is it the beginning of the foraging season already? Um, not quite. There's still snow on the ground, although the weather has warmed up and the snow is melting. Spring will offically be here in a week! That means, time to get the seeds sown in the pots!
Last year, I started planting in late February, would you believe? It would've been OK if we had had an early spring, but that was not the case. Spring came as late as April and we had a very wet month of June. This year, however, promises to be, well, a lot more promising!
I have tons of seeds that I collected from last year, including seeds that I got from Richters. I bought a few more herb seeds as I'm thinking to get a little plot that the city offers to citizens who don't have a garden. It's a tiny space of land, 3 x6, but I thought about planting a herb garden, such as Thyme, Rosemary, Oregano, Savory, Tarragon, etc., herbs that prefer drier conditions and require less care than other fussier plants ;)
I'm also thinking to asking my landlord if I could make a little garden on the tiny spot of land behind the balcony leading to the front door. Some of the land gets some sun while the other half is really in the shade, so I was thinking about using plants that are more shade tolerant or those that grow in forests. I'm not sure how my landlord would take to the suggestion, however, so I'm not going to count on it if he vetoes the idea.
Interestingly, it does seem that I am always managing to expand my "balcony" garden with each passing year. This year, I got the idea to add 2 more brackets onto the balcony posts so I can have 2 more hanging baskets (I'm thinking Nasturitum, pretty and edible too). There's also a little spot by the stairs that I might be able to fit in a tall planter (I'm thinking Comfrey) and another little spot close to entrance coming up the driveway (I'm thinking another tall Comfrey planter).
I'm mad for plants and gardening, what can I say ;)
I'm also thinking to plant some greens like Lettuce and Spinach this year, using square foot gardening principles. I have an idea to get a box and place it under a table where I usually have a big box that has annuals. The table will provide some shade for the greens and allow them not to bolt so fast! Parsley might be another addition to that box as in my experience she prefers part shade to full sun.
On the educational side of things, I've been looking into getting a certification in permaculture. It all started with looking for some more info on growing my own veggies and having some more horticultural knowledge, and lo and behold, my research got me looking into permaculture! There's a certification offered where I live by the standards of Bill Mollison, the founder of permaculture, so it seems pretty snazzy. The price is likewise...pricey! There's a course being offered in the summer, but I'm thinking the fall might be a better time as I tend to work more hours during the nicer weather, plus there's always such fun foraging adventures to be had!! Oooh, can't wait!
I've also been looking into a school that offers clinical herbalism combined with naturopathy as a certification. I'll need to get more info before I decide to take any classes there, although there are offering a few plant identification classes that seem right up my alley.
And speaking of classes, if you are looking to learn botany online and for a pretty reasonable price (say, by donation), there's a new course that's going to be offered around the start of spring, the last week of March. It uses the book Botany in a Day by Thomas J. Elpel and there's a Facebook group of people where you can get extra support. It's exactly what I've been looking for, as I bought the book during the Christmas holidays and started to read it, but felt I needed a little bit more motivation and support to get into all the classifications and Latin terminology! You can check it out HERE if you're interested.
Getting back to my balcony garden, I'm thinking to grow some Strawberries in some coir pots on my back balcony that gets a lot of sun. I'm also thinking to invest in getting some deep totes or maybe milk crates to be able to offer more soil for the plants to grow in. And speaking of soil, I'll definitely be adding compost, worm castings and seaweed fertilizer to enhance my soil! I may make some compost tea, and the thought had occurred to me to collect some worms during the spring when it rains so much that the sidewalks are littered with them! Ha ha, free beautiful worms to enhance the soil! I won't be collecting any worm castings (aka their poop), just want them living in the pots to enhance the soil. I noticed last year that there were too many bugs on my plants (aphids, white flies), and I take this to mean that the soil was not strong enough. The potting soil I bought did seem a bit weak and I didn't add any compost to it, silly me. Growing in pots is a much more sterile environment that growing in the ground, but we can still amend the soil so that it has a healthy soil-biome!
I can't say for sure what plants I'll be growing just yet, but I need to get a move on it, I know! The seed packets are waiting for me on the table, and I've even cleaned out the sprouting trays, so it's a matter of me sorting it all out! I know Nasturtium, Calendula, Malva Sylvestris, Nettle and Stevia are on my list. Probably St. John's Wort and Sheep Sorrel. Marshmallow and Pleurisy root. I've got so many that I need to decide: Motherwort, Joe Pye Weed, Shepherd's Purse, Fireweed, Lemon Balm, Purslane...And still so many others! I planted some Lavender and Sweet William last year so will see how they've fared being in the shed during the winter. Chickweed is always on my list, she's such a sweetie greeny :)
I might get some more seeds from Richter's ~ that's the thing about gardening, there are so many intriguing plants and you want to play with them all! But I was thinking about getting some Centaury seeds as she's a bitter plant in the Gentian family known to be an excellent dewormer, exceptional, so one lady was saying, at unhooking those nasty bugs that have their hooks digging into the intestinal wall. I'm all for it if it works and Centuary is an easy plant to grow.
Annuals: I've got Mustard (yep, she can grow under the table with the Lettuce and Spinach), Zinnia and others that I can't recall to mind. I'm hoping to make a nice Zinnia lemonade this year, as last year I planted them in the wrong spot. She's definitely a fussy one, needing room to breath and sun, sun, sun! She was none too pleased growing close together in narrow flower pots on the front balcony that got the afternoon sun. Oh no, she was fussy and told me so many a-time! So this year, we'll give her the proper conditions and I can hopefully partake of a special cooling tea! Cleavers, yes, I'll plant that lymphatic helper too. And Borage beauty, she's so gorgeous, I love her sweet flowers and tender, cuke-like leaves. That's right, I have some seeds for Dame Rocket and Meadowsweet, and I'm cold stratifying some Rose seeds and ooh, forgot her name now, oh yes, that's right, Sweet Cicely, she's used as a sugar substitute. We'll see if they come out as these kind of things can be tricky, trying to imitate nature and all...
OK, no more hogwash talk! Off to get myself into seed planting action! Keep you posted on the results of my gardening efforts.
You take care now, Sunshine, and keep lighting the way despite the snow :)
Sun is back! But they cut the grass at work, so not much plants to forage, unlike you're interested in juicing grass...Hey, good source of chlorophyll, but I'd do if as a last resort, personally.
The roses are flourishing in some areas! White ones and pink ones! Busy today, so not so much time to smell the roses. BUT, did bring my pruners and collected a bunch of mugwort! Yes, also called cronewort. Yes, the plant reputed to help open your third eye. Yes, the same plant used to make moxa in Chinese Medicine, a VERY EFFECTIVE technique to treat menstrual pain and joint pain. Yes, the same plant can be used to treat worms and parasites. Yes, some people use her to make dream pillows. Yes, she is in the same family as Wormwood (artemisia), which is often used in naturopathy to treat candida and parasites. Bitter? Oh you betcha! But she's good for you! I add her fresh or dried to soups...Just a handful, mind you. Then, when you puree everything together, you'd never know she was in there (but she is!).
Quick tour close to the local mall revealed Lamb's Quarter has grown; Dandelion flowers are gone, now puffy white; Coltsfoot flowers are all gone, just the leaves remain (and so they shall remain as they contain PAs); Milkweed is growing up, but the seeds have yet to form (young leaves are OK to eat at this stage, but I wasn't hankering for any today); Dame Rocket & Garlic Mustard are still around; and Vetch has started to come in! I love eating Vetch flowers. I had a few while collecting mugwort.
UH-OH. Some of the mugwort was wet (dunno why it's been two days since it rained). And muggie actually had white flies on her!! I never would've thought!! OK, so it wasn't like it was the best source as it was on the border of a somewhat-used parking lot. I took off all the leaves from the stems and when I spotted the white fly, I wondered if I should keep her or not. Some of them were going to flower soon, some not, still quite young...I supposed I could throw some in the soup, after I wash her first. Sigh, I was so hoping to dry her! But, I guess it wasn't the right time and I'm sure they'll be other opportunities. Oh yes, muggie can be quite the invasive plant! Anyway, I have 2 plants growing, so even I don't find any mugwort growing anywhere (doubtful), at least they'll be a bit for tea (well, to dry and add to soup anyway).
Got seeds from Richters today. Oh pooh, I was a bit disappointed that 3 of them were missing. I was really hoping to grow some Motherwort again. Yes, she's in the mint family and the name "mother" gives it away that she's most helpful for women's reproductive issues. However her latin name, leonarus cardiaca, also speaks of helping to have a strong heart. Being quite bitter, though, she's best taken as a tincture, but I throw her in my soup as well. Yep, if you haven't figured it out by now, I add so many wild edibles and herbs to my soup cauldron! What's that? No, not with some eye of newt! Sweet carrots, yam, squash and other root veggies are needed to balance the taste out!!
Motherwort and Mugwort may sound like the same thing, but they don't look the same at all (although they are both bitter!). Click the links to read more about them.
Horehound and Agrimony were also missing. I'm not sure if they'll still send them if they get them, but it's already getting late to sow seeds. The spring came late and there are still many cool days and nights. A few of my annuals, like Zinnia and Pansy, are slow to come. My other annual, Mimosa, has yet to sprout any sprouts at all. I'm beginning to think she may not make an appearance at all. Well, all's well that ends well, because my seeds will be needing a home, so all in all, Mimosa's pot could be used to grow something else! All right, enough of all this all stuff!
Shall I tell you what I will be planting?
Oh, all right. I'll tell you a few of them, but not all.
Because I'm still researching them!
I calculated that it takes me about 1/2 hour to check at least 3 references for one plant. I sometimes check more, depending on the information I'm able to find. My fave sources are Michaels Tierra's books The Way of Herbs and The Way of Chinese Herbs, Opening Our Wild Hearts to the Healing Herbs by Gail Faith Edwards (no longer in print), Plants for a Future Database, A Modern Herbal and Natural Medicinal Herbs. There are many other sources out there; Green Deane's website Eat the Weeds has some mighty good info and Wikipedia can be used as a general source (like getting the latin name or a seeing a pic).
Boneset and her cousin Purple Boneset or Gravelroot. Boneset is used to help break the flu quite successfully, you know when your nose is now running, now stuffy, you're feverish, and you have muscular aches in your body? Right. While Gravel root has more the reputation for being used for kidney issues, like cystitis, kidney stones and urinary issues. I'm actually not so much interested in their medicine as the way they look!
That's right, I no know such thing as "weed," only friends who go by the name plants, animals, insects, humans, stars, planets, and the beyond...
Never thought I'd be growing plants as "ornamentals;" although even ornamental plants still have medicine (many plants used as such in TCM). Really, I think that every plant has some purpose...but more on this to muse upon in a future post perhaps.
I got strawberry seeds! Fragaria vesca ruegen, Alpine Strawberry. The Topsy Turvy planter was sold out at the many stores I checked, but no bother; you can easily plant her in a coir basket, which is what I'm thinking of doing! Now that I have all these seeds, I have to find a good home for every one of them!
I'll tell you one more plant I'll be growing and then that's it! Gotta leave some goodies for next time ;)
Valerian. Yeah, she's the plant that induces sleep, a nervine for sure. She has what I call a "poo" smell. She looks very similar to a several other friends, including Cow Parsley, Chervil, Angelica, Wild Carrot, Yarrow and Hemlock.
While Valerian leaves are edible, I'd prepare for an afternoon siesta if you're going to add a few leaves to your salad :)
'Til next time, sunshine!
Curiosity Got The Cat: