Balcony Garden Pests

Hello friends,

Summer is in full swing in sunny Ca-li-forn-eye-ay and my balcony garden has come to life!  It’s quite the jungle out there on the 4 X 10 space reserved for a table, two chairs, a grill, and an overflowing garden of herbs and vegetables.

Then and now garden

To update you on a few things from the last post, I ended up not using fertilizer.  About once per week I dumped my used coffee grounds in the soil, but the plants grew just fine without chemicals.

I pruned the basil here and there for sprinkling on dishes, but I also had enough to make pesto every few weeks.  Having homegrown and homemade pesto on hand at all times was well worth the effort.

And it was an effort.  Let me tell you.

About a month into the gardening endeavor I started to notice giant holes in my basil.  Soon the holes spread to my tomato plant and eventually spread to my bell pepper.  Somebody was eating my hard-earned vegetable bounty!

I read about all sorts of natural bug repellent remedies on the internet like creating a beer/soap trench for the bugs to drown in, sprinkling banana peels in the soil, etc.  As it turns out, it is much more effective to identify the pest and then find the appropriate remedy.

caterpillar

I posted this picture on Facebook and instantly got several comments that I had caterpillars (caterpillar=not pictured, caterpillar poop=full frontal).  Sure enough, I found one big beast wrapping himself in a cocoon in a basil leaf.  Filthy bastard!

The trick to killing the little jerks is to mix in a saucepan over medium heat 2 cups water with anything spicy and a small amount of dish soap.  I added what we had on hand, which was chopped garlic, onion, jalapeno, cayenne pepper, and red pepper flakes.  Then I put the concoction in a spray bottle to spritz the plants down every few days (make sure to spray at night because the soap might burn leaves in hotter temps).

The pest situation is finally under control AND the tomatoes are actually starting to ripen!  Tomatoes are ready to eat when they turn red and pulling them off the vine takes almost no effort at all.

tomatoes

I made a lovely caprese salad with these 3 beauties earlier this week.  They were sweet and mild and oh so satisfying.  I highly recommend planting your own mini garden because it is definitely rewarding.

How do you deal with garden pests?  What’s the worst critter you’ve battled?

-Mads

P.s. If you noticed I neglected to mention the cilantro, there is a reason.  More updates to come.

Balcony Gardening Steps for Beginners

Hello everyone,

I have posted about my black thumb and failed gardening attempts several times in the past.  After approximately 5 batches of failed herbs last summer, I gave up and started buying adult basil plants to graze off of and eventually kill with my black thumb.

I could not bear the thought of killing more seedlings this year, so I set out to do some research on balcony gardening before I planted my newest experiments.  I’m still learning, so please feel free to correct me (nicely) in the comments section, but this is what I’ve found from my research:

1) Buy big containers with plenty of aeration.  One issue I ran into last year was buying a small (adorable) window box for 3 kinds of herbs, which didn’t allow for the roots to stretch out and grow strong.  I found these great planters and used 12″ for cilantro, 15″ for basil and bell pepper, and 18″ for tomatoes.

Josie looks on approvingly at Home Depot

Josie contemplates the aeration quality of the larger planters at Home Depot.

These little guys have pockets at the bottom to allow for air flow and moisture control.

These little guys have pockets at the bottom to allow for air flow and moisture control.

2) Use moisture-control soil.  This type of soil might not be necessary if you live in a fairly temperate climes.  Since I live in a place where scorching sun beats down in the afternoon, I need a soil that contains moisture throughout the day.  I used the Miracle-Gro brand.

3) Give your plants 6 hours of sunlight per day.  I had to rearrange my balcony to ensure my babies were getting enough sunlight.  Some corners of our small space only see about 2 hours per day, so keep an eye on where the sun hits and when.

4) Be careful when replanting into the planters.  Break up any clumps in the potting soil with your hands, dig a hole for the plant to rest in, loosen up the plant soil without damaging the roots, and gently tamp down the potting soil (not too firmly) around the plant.

plants
5) Use plant stakes.  If you’re growing something like tomatoes, you need plant stakes to prevent the plant from flopping all over the place with the weight of the fruit.  I had no idea this was a thing.
This is a simple wire plant stake used for tomatoes.

This is a simple wire plant stake used for tomatoes.

6) Test the soil for moisture before watering.  One of the most frequent errors I made last year was letting my plants dry up and then over-watering them.  To see if your plants need water, just dunk your finger about 1 inch into the soil.  If it feels a little dry, give the plant a good drink of water.  Most of my plants need daily watering, but they will probably require twice daily watering in the heat of the summer.

7) Fertilizer?  I’ve read a thousand different opinions regarding fertilizer.  Apparently this topic is highly controversial.  I bought fertilizer, but I’m going to see how well my plants grow on their own before I decide to use it.  It’s ultimately up to you about whether or not it’s safe for consumption or healthy for the plants.

8) Pray to all of the spirits that your shiz grows. 

9) Prune (trim) your herbs every other week or so.  Some herbs (e.g., basil) will stop growing once they sprout their little flowers.  To stimulate growth, trim back the plant by cutting just above the bottom leaf sprouts.  This youtube video does a great job of explaining how to prune.

10) Enjoy the fruits of your labor! 

This basil looks like it's ready to turn into pesto!  I can practically taste dinner already.

This basil looks like it’s ready to turn into pesto! I can practically taste dinner already.

My plants are already adjusting to their new lifestyle after a week in the sun!  I’m hoping I can keep this up for the duration of summer, but I will not give up!  After all, the Californian sun isn’t always very forgiving.  If I’m successful, I might add some other fruits and veggies to the collection, but I might need a bigger balcony.  😉

Do you have a balcony garden?  What are some useful things you’ve learned over time?  

-Mads

Camping in December

Hey team,

A few friends decided this weekend would be the perfect weekend for a camping getaway.  I know California is warm year-round, but my first thought was, “Camping in December?!  Are you guys out of your damn minds?”  In fact, they were out of their minds, but I went ahead and drank the kool-aid anyway.  So we headed up to Lake Elsinore, CA.

Upon arrival at our campsite, we were greeted with a pile of human hair.

I have seen enough episodes of Criminal Minds to know that does not mean good things.  Either that, or Bigfoot decided to get a quick trim before traipsing back into the forest.

Moving along…

The weekend started out with a hike through mountain lion infested trails.  I’m used to bear country, where you play dead or make loud noises.  Apparently mountain lions will eat you if you play dead.  The trick is to stand tall.  Uhmmm…sure…that will definitely help me.

No matter, the view was way too incredible to care.

Ok, so we’ve got human hair and mountain lions.  I’m feeling pretty confident that I’m going to die at this point.

Then we found this on our hike:

WTH???

Luckily, the only thing that almost killed me was the freezing cold temperatures at night.  I have never shivered for so many hours on end.  Unbelievable.

Lake Elsinore was incredibly beautiful!  I had an absolute blast, but I can officially say that I won’t be camping in December again.  At least, not without a space heater 😉

Have you ever camped in the winter?  What is your best camping advice for the chilly weather?

-Mads

This week’s CSA box

I love waking up on Friday mornings to the shrill buzz of our apartment door.  Not because I love flying out of bed at 6am because I think there is a fire, but because it means the CSA box has arrived.

It’s Christmas every two weeks.

The arrival of the CSA box also means that I need to get my thinking cap on.  I love fruits and vegetables, but Jonathan and I noshing through a plain head of lettuce every week just isn’t happening.

This week’s box is looking a little green:

Today’s lesson in cropping: it’s ok to zoom in on something that makes you chuckle:

tomato butt

The bounty:

3 plums
1 head of lettuce
2 zucchini
2 green bell peppers
2 tomatoes
1 bunch green beans
1 muskmelon (aka funny cantaloupe)
1 bunch green grapes
 

I pay $25 to get this.  It’s all organic and local and sustainable.  It’s more than the grocery stores, but I stand by my decision to buy this every other week.

My “filler” items that I get at Trader Joe’s in between CSA weeks are: onions, bananas, berries, avocados, and pre-made salads.  Those are things we (we meaning me) eat on a daily basis.  Jonathan eats them if I sneak them in.

So, back to my thinking cap…  I might have used up my creative juices on the last bounty.  This green box has me stumped.

Do you have any recipe ideas for these bad larrys?

What are your repeat offenders for fruits and veggies?

-Mads

Top Ten Reasons to Visit Minnesota

Or…if you don’t actually want to visit…why you shouldn’t write it off as a farm state with nothing going for it except a few lakes.

10.  The food.  Minneapolis is by far one of my favorite foodie cities in the US.  From Juicy Lucy burgers at Matt’s Bar to egg & lobster bruschetta at Bar la Grassa.  From steaks on the lake at Maynard’s to rooftop dining at Stella’s Fish Cafe.  Win win win win!

9. Oktoberfest is not a joke.  I didn’t realize how seriously Minnesotans took Oktoberfest until I moved to California and realized people don’t give two cents about Oktoberfest here.  Well let me tell you somethin’ (said in an old granny voice), Oktoberfest in my home state includes brats the size of your forearm, Polka music and dancing, Hefeweizen flowing like water, and DAS BOOT.

DAS BOOT

8. Loring Park’s movie in the park summers.  I realize now that movies in the park is a pretty common deal.  However, summer nights in Minnesota are fabulous and the movies are not to be enjoyed without Sebastian Joe’s ice cream.

7.  The music scene.  We need a moment of silence for the hippie weekend that was the 10 Thousand Lakes Festival.  *silence*  That being said, the amount of concerts, bands in bars, and up-and-coming stars is nuts.

Rock the Garden concert

6. Cabins.  This bears repeating.  I love me some cabins!

5. My hairdresser.  I know, I know.  “Mads, you can find hairdressers all over!”  Well, that’s true, but they don’t do color like she does color.  Nor do they get rid of your petite mullet (pronounced moo-lay) or fill your session with hilarious sarcastic quips.  No, my friends, you can not find hair dressers like her.

4. SNOW.  I mean…ok…maybe not snow, but definitely SEASONS.  Watching the out-of-doors change from stormy sweltering nights to crisp crunchy fall days is like watching a miracle unfold year after year.

3. Seasonal attire!  I have the opportunity to wear all of my warm fall/winter gear.  I especially love scarves!

Winter

2. Lakes.  I know lakes is sort of a no-brainer, but I’m totally including lakes.  Get over it.

Photo courtesy of my friend Sarah

How could I not include lakes?

1. Tis my home.

What do you love about your hometown?  Are you still there or have you fled the state?

-Mads

MY VEGGIES ARE HERE!!!!

I’m not sure if I told you peeps about the CSA box I decided to order or not.  I could check my old blog posts, but that would be waaaay too much effort.

So, here’s the deal, I decided to order a CSA box!  CSA is Community Supported Agriculture…basically you sign up to receive a box (you can pick the size) of various produce items (you can pick your favorites) to be delivered to you on a regular basis (you pick how often).

SQUEEE!!!!!

Jonathan and I decided on a mix of fruits & veggies to come once every 2 weeks.  We told the service about our dislike for beets, mushrooms, and lima beans, and they don’t ever add those icky things to our box.  The items that they add are whatever happens to be in season from local farms.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited to see vegetables in my life!

Our first box contained:

3 oranges
1 cantaloupe
1 small box strawberries
2 avocados 
5 tomatoes
5 sweet gypsy peppers (excited to try these!)
6 carrots 
10 baby gold potatoes
1 head of romaine
 

Before you get too excited, it does cost a bit more than grocery store produce.  We paid $25 for these local organic fresh goodies to be delivered.  Worth. It.  Especially for us city folk.

Check out Yelp! to find one in your area.

Do you have a CSA box?  How do you squeeze fruits and vegetables into your meals?

-Mads

Wish List

The holidays have come and gone.  Next up is Valentine’s Day, but I don’t know anyone who does a gift exchange for the occasion.  In any case, here comes the 10 month stretch of no gifts (excluding birthdays).  Tis time to treat yourself to something special.

My wishlist:

A plain ole meat tenderizer.

There is some debate on the utility of meat tenderizers, but I love me some flat chicken.  I hate chewing my way through 2 inch thick chicken breasts.  The end.

Lush shampoo bars.

These smell gorgeous, use real organic ingredients, and last forever.  I really can’t say enough good things about Lush products.  Find a store immediately and ask the salespeople to demonstrate their products.

Basil.

I need some full-grown basil in my herb planters.  Stat!

How I Met Your Mother: Season 6

How I Met Your Mother is obviously one of the best shows on TV.  If you don’t believe me, just watch seasons 1 through 6 and then get back to me.  I need the sixth season.  The sooner the better.

A new Prius.

Obviously a new car would be helpful.  Anyone want to buy me a Prius?  Seriously though, gas expenses are killing me!  I work 50 minutes away from home and my 10 year old Isuzu Rodeo only gets 18 miles to the gallon.  With gas at $3.43, you can do the math on how much of my salary goes to the pump.  Woof.

I may or may not have revealed how much of a hippie I am in this post.  I am a sick hybrid between hippie and yuppie.  You shouldn’t be friends with me and you certainly shouldn’t be reading this blog.

What’s on your “it isn’t a holiday, but damn it’s time to buy myself some stuff” wish list?

-Mads