Welcome to the Jungle

We have had an amazing Spring so far – with lots of sunshine and warm summer temperatures. This is quite a treat since we live in a pretty grey-sky-ladened region of Germany.

Here are some pictures of “the farm”. I was at our local garden market this weekend and couldn’t help but buy a few plants from my favorite organic farmers. Thank goodness that the balcony in our new apartment is much larger!

Now growing on the farm:

Flowers:

Peonies

Clematis

Tulips

Hyacinths

Achillea

Scarlet Beebalm

White flowering Catnip

Herbs:

Chocolate Mint

Grenada Mint

Spear Mint

Strawberry Mint

Lemon Melisse

Savory

Italian Basil

African Basil

Krim Basil

French Tarragon

Leafy Mustard

Lavender

Koriander

Parsley

Sage

Pineapple Sage

Mandarin Sage

Scented Geraniums

Chives

Green Onions

Bay Leaf

Thyme

Creeping Rosemary

Oregano

Fruits:

Raspberries

Strawberries

Pineapple Strawberries

Wild Strawberries

Blueberries

Cape Gooseberry

Tangerines

Grapefruits

Bergamot Lemons

Figs

Vegetables & Co:

Cucumbers

Tomatoes

Wild white Tomatoes

Brown Japanese Tomatoes

Tomatillos

Purple Jalapeños

Pimentos del Padron

Sweet Habaneros

Purple Potatoes

Pink Potatoes

Yellow Potatoes

mini Striped Eggplant

Cambodian Chilies

Cayenne Chilies

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Expanding my mini urban farm & some good news

I am really excited to share that we will be moving! I have been living in downtown for the last 14 years and we are moving to a neighborhood on the outskirts of downtown – so still central with a bus stop in front of our new home and a train and subway stop a few minutes walk away – but it is green and there is no main road that runs by my bedroom window AND there is a really large balcony included! Yes, that means that our urban garden will be growing (even though we will be downsizing in living space – more on minimalistic living another time) and we will have a south facing balcony with enough room for outdoor dining and lots of planters to provide us with more food. Ideally we would be moving to a small house with a large piece of land that we could farm, but the time is not right. Luckily, this doesn’t have to keep us from farming our balcony. The move is not for another 2 1/2 months but there is a lot to do until then and planning the move of all my plants will take some thought.

So, I have decided to separate the wine crates that I have had stacked on eachother which originally allowed the roots of my plants to grow deep into the lower crates. At least that was what I thought my plants would do, but I recently realized that they were only staying in the upper crate and that I had 2 crates full of soil just sitting empty waiting to be used.

I have not decided how my new mini urban farm is going to look – I feel that I have to be there to make those sort of plans and it will be a project that will grow over time. I have to see how the sun shines on the different spots of the balcony and observe the wind and rain directions – there is a bit to take into consideration to get the most out of a small space.

Yesterday I visited a local garden market with a large variety of organic growers. I wanted to take at least half of everything I saw at the market home with me, but I decided that it would be wiser to just take a few plants and wait another few weeks for the next market since the danger of frost is still possible and would damage or kill my new plants. That would be terrible.

My youngest son loves raspberries more than anything, so we decided to take 2 raspberry plants home – a Summer and Fall fruiting one to make sure that we have fresh raspberries from July until the first frost (about mid November). The gardener that sold us the plants said that they would both fit in one deep planter that was about 60cm long and that a good companion would be strawberry plants. Both strawberry and raspberry plants like well drained soil and raspberries even like drying out periodically. So, when we got home we planted our raspberries in one of the extra wine crates with soil and transplanted 4 pineapple-strawberry plants that I picked up last Fall at my local organic grocery store. Then, we covered the soil with shredded wood to keep the soil from drying out so quickly. Usually, I would use straw, but I am all out and this is what I had lying around.

Using straw or other plants as ground cover in my planters is a valuable tip that I have picked up from my research on permaculture. It saves water and time and keeps plants happy. It tried it out on my plants this winter and it kept them from dehydrating especially when the temperature was too low to water. My experience over the years is that most plants don’t die from the freezing temperatures directly in Winter or Spring but rather of dehydration in winter or from rapidly warming temperatures in the Spring followed by frost and precipitation which damages the plants or even kills many of them.

Part of the permaculture gardening concept that I am trying to integrate into my balcony garden is a zoning plan. This zoning plan can be pretty intricate, but I am breaking it down into 3 vital zones:

  1. Zone 1 – a garden of edible goodies: this is closest to you and your home and where you plant fruits, berries, vegetables, and herbs that you harvest for personal use. For balcony gardeners this means keeping your planters with fruits, vegetables, lettuce, etc (when possible) in easy to reach places that make harvesting easy and enjoyable. You can keep cold-sensitive plants such as tomatoes in a pot or planter directly on an outer wall of your home to help extend the growing season because the wall will act as a battery when it releases it’s heat and will warm up any plants close to it when the temperature drops at night.
  2. Zone 2 – a garden of blooms: a flower “field” surrounding Zone 1 that attracts pollinators (such as bees and butterflies) to increase your harvest. For balcony gardeners this means integrating planters with local and native wild flowers and herbs. Many herbs, such as mint and chives, are good sources for bees while we enjoy their green leaves- a win-win for everyone.
  3. Zone 3 – a wild zone: this space surrounds Zone 2 and is living space for animals that helps keep your garden free of pests. For balcony gardeners this means bird and bat houses or maybe even a mini fruit tree large enough to house a nest. Did you know that a mother bird will collect up to 30kg (!!!) of insects to feed her babies in one season?

We bought a few plants for Zone 2 and are glad to have added: white flowing Catnip, Achillea, and Beebalm to our garden. I have always had various flowering herbs and plants in my garden, but the more I read about permaculture the more I learn how important this zone is.

If you are interested in reading (in German) about permaculture and homesteading, check out my favorite blog here or permaculture and insects here and here.

Strawberry Paradise 

Summer is finally here and I am fully in jelly-making-mode.  I want to preserve all the delicious flavors of summer in a hundred different ways.


Recently, I’ve been busy with rhubarb and elder flowers, and now strawberry is where it’s at.  This Spring I preemptively prepared a strong tee made from freshly picked sweet woodruff on one of my hikes bc it pairs wonderfully with strawberry.


Yesterday we drove out to the small town of Wolkersdorf where there is a strawberry plantation, and we picked 9 pounds of tiny super intensely flavored strawberries.


It’s hard work picking strawberries, and I have really soar thighs today from crouching through strawberry patches for 2 hours.  It was well worth it however!  Ironically, there were so many people who passed by us and we continuously heard “there are no more strawberries left to pick”.  I guess they don’t know that you really have to get down on your hands and knees to find them hiding in the shade of their own leaves.


As you can see from our bounty, we picked quite a few white-tipped strawberries.  We did this on purpose since partially ripe berries have a stronger more intense flavor, and when made into jams and jellies the flavor come out better.

I spent an hour plucking off the green tops, but it was well worth it – the smaller the berry the more flavor that is jam-packed inside.  And, of the nine pounds of berries I made strawberry jam, strawberry-sweet woodruff jam, strawberry-tarragon jam, strawberry-kiwi jam, and strawberry-chocolte-mint jam.  A little goes a long way and there are so many combinations.  Another favorite of mine is strawberry-pineapple jam.

No matter what combination of fruit I use, I always use a 3:1 ratio of fruit to sugar, and top off each boiling pot with the juice of a freshly squeezed lemon.  Get out and get jamming to preserve the flavors of summer!