Friday, May 30, 2008
Thursday, May 29, 2008
Today has been one of those days when my head really hasn't been with me. You know the effect of too many nights burning midnight oil? I've lost things, started up new things and forgot all about them as soon as I left the room, found some other projects in the new room and continued working on them without any worries, untill I have to leave for the first room and finds the first chore, which I continue working on untill... etc. etc.
I've managed to water my plants, I've even nibbled some from my indian spinach jungle. But when I was about to walk to the kitchen for the herbgarden the waterbottle had disappeared into thin air. Myself I had mysteriously ended up in front of my computer in the library.
"Now, where did it go?" I thought as I looked up on the thing that happened to be right in front of me, namely the majestic double window.
There was the bottle, so symetrically wellplaced I had to snap a picture.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
You're not allowed to take photos at IKEA. I suspect it's because they want to protect new patterns and furniture against pirating. Since I'm a nice person I left my camera at home when I went there to buy some plastic boxes. I WILL build that vermicompost I've planned for so long. After reviewing different kinds of boxes, evaluated wooden chests (I want a cover), taking meassures both inside and outside and had some lunch I stuck to my original plan anyhow.
IKEA isn't a furniturestore, by the way, it's a game were you're supposed to walk through the entire building without buying more than you came for. Today I almost succeeded, some terry towels followed me home. Even a master makes mistakes sometimes*.
To give you something to look at I went out and snapped some pictures on my potato instead. Do you see that it looks somewhat uptight and angry? Two days ago I raised the level in the bucket by scooping some more soil into it. The reason is that this is supposed to challenge the plant to grow higher and develop a longer root cluster with potatoes. Challenged it was - the plant nearly glared at me from the bucket, and it had become five centimeters (two inches) taller in two days.
So I scooped some more soil in the bucket. By Midsummers Eve I'll have filled the bucket and in addition to that raised the maddest potatoes of the neighbourhood.
*Several times I've walked through the entire IKEA without buying anything. That should make me eligible for some sort of diploma.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Today I woke up suffering from 'no wanna'. I contract this condition after I've worked hard doing manual labour. Since this was the case today I decided to go nettle picking. It's easy and fast; it took me one hour to harvest seven litres (about one and a half dry gallon). On the other hand it's a snag, those seven litres was reduced to seven decilitres (three cups) when I boiled them. What makes it worth it is that nettles works like stock cubes, two deciliters (one and a third cup) is enough to make a thick soup for four.
Once again I saved the water used for parboiling the nettles. Almost five litres (more than a gallon) I hope will be a good base for liquid fertilizer. Ordinary nettle water is mixed one part to ten with clean water, and if I use this recipe my batch will be enough to make fifty to sixty litres of fluid. Yikes! My plan is to pick a LOT of nettles - I'll be drowning in this! I won't have the heart to throw away perfectly good fertilizer...
Monday, May 26, 2008
Not nettles but my own window herb garden, waiting in line for a taster.
Right now I'm picking nettles like crazy - nettle soup is really a humdinger! I still use gloves and cook my harvest before I eat it (last time I played HaRd Woman my thumbs were swollen for two days). Today, when I boiled three to four litres (about a gallon) of leaves, it struck me that some of the nourishment flows into the first boiling water, the water you normally poor off in the sink. Wouldn't it be possible to use as liquid fertilizer instead? Sure, it isn't a classical recipe for "nettle water"*, but it's worth a try.
Thus I brought out a bucket and cleaned it thoroughly with soft soap, hanged our colander over the rim and drained the nettles. The water proved to be dark brown - definately nutricious. I took the cool water I'd used for cooling the leaves and diluted it (recycling, cooling and diluting in one go - what a hat trick!). Now I had a 'middle brown' solution to pour on a defenless plant.
The choice fell on the cherry tree on the balcony - it'll have its first cherries this year and signals an acute need for nourishment. It helped that the container is big enough to take the entire bucket of liquid. However I poured some on the rose and the watermelon plant since they seemed to need it.
I'll pick more nettles tomorrow, and I have to admit I have plans for the harvest of a month. I hope I'll be able to give every indoor plant a ration a week, and it'll be interesting to see how this works out. Later in the summer the nettles will become bitter, according to consulted expertise, and then I can resort to classic nettle water.
*Nettle water is made by leaving nettles in water for some days. Apparently it smells bad but sustainable growers in Sweden swears by it.
Sunday, May 25, 2008
Patti Moreno again, she has uploaded one of the few serious vids on tomato cultivation, topped up with facts on potatoes.
(And yes, I fell for the cartoon version of "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes". Yesterday I spent at least one and a half hour watching old episodes on YouTube. B-movies have a special place in my heart.)
(And yes, I fell for the cartoon version of "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes". Yesterday I spent at least one and a half hour watching old episodes on YouTube. B-movies have a special place in my heart.)
Saturday, May 24, 2008
Friday, May 23, 2008
I've spent my day cutting up pallets. Globalen in Uppsala has given me their disposable pallets and I plan to rebuild them into raised beds for my allotment. I do realise it's ironic I want to raise vegetables in containers outdoors too - I'm a lazy person. Raised bed gardening makes it easier to weed, and you have more possibilities to fend off slugs. And it's possible to mix a supersoil for dense planting. However, I'll put them up this autumn, I need to build them first.
The big news of today is that the first tomato is blushing. This may be a small thing for others, but I'm so excited I'm jumping. Soon we'll have fresh indoor tomatoes!
Thursday, May 22, 2008
The first thing you need to do if you want to grow a giant pumpkin is to buy seeds from giant pumpkins. Simple as that, some of this wisdom also applies to indoorvegetable gardening, but in our case we need to look for "suitable for containers" or "miniature" on the envelope (note that the last term is relative, a miniature redwood is still as big as an ordinary pine). To be honest I'm quite generous on myself in this case, still I say it's an rule worth following.
Take a close look at the photo above and you'll realise why. My tomatoes hails from commersially grown plants - as you may recall I got the seeds from an sustainably grown tomato from the mall. In commersial gardening tall plants are good, in most cases you have good greenhouses and an army of persons willing to climb ladders during the harvest. Indoors in a normal flat the same qualities turns out to be troublesome. I'm lucky to have a 'two story' room, since my plants are about 150cm (five feet) tall both of them.
So I'm sad to tell you this, my dear plants, but you won't be the parents for future indoor tomatoes. My next round of plants will be 'Tiny Tim'.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
I've been asked this a couple of times, and I think the question needs a good answer, both on how I do it myself and more generally on how to gain time.
I have to admit that I cheat a bit; I have a company and work from home. No boss can complain if I take two hours to water my houseplants (however I have to hit my milestones and deadlines properly). Working from home makes my life flexible; I can do some of my chores when my son is present, and I can work for a couple of hours in the evening. This means I can take care of my plants when I feel for it, and not being forced to handle them when I'm exhausted after work.
But how do you do in general to gain time for fun stuff? Here are my most used methods which can be used by anyone.
#1 Split every work into graspable units.
Graspable means two things; you should be able to do the thing in a fixed period of time (fifteen minutes, half an hour or a full one depending on the work and the available amount of time) and the results should be clearly visible when the work is done. This makes it easy to fit the work into the available ratio of minutes (thus saving you time). Above that, this makes it easy to start the job; you know you'll finish in time, and your confidence gets a boost by seeing the result.
Let me use my allotment as an exemple. I split the area into eight patches. Each time I visited my plot I worked one of them, did thorough weeding, raked, sowed, watered and covered it with fibre cloth. This took me an hour (a big unit - I aim to have units of fifteen to thirty minutes), and when I left I could savour the knowledge that one of the patches was done. The result was clearly visible through the white rectangle of cloth on the ground.
#2 Take every chance to keep the chores on low level.
Do small things often instead of heaping them into a giant chore demanding a he-man.
I was lucky when I was alloted my plot. The previous renter works with park maintenance in this area, and had worked the soil perfectly last autumn. This means I have clay soil where I can drag up dandelions with their entire roots using my bare hand. Everyone gardening in clay soil knows this to be a miracle (usualy you end up with the weeding tool stuck in the ground and some ridiculous scraps of the leaves in your hand). I could hardly find any weed.
To keep the plot in this condition I decided to keep the chores on a low level. The first thing I did was to mark walking paths, and told the family that the rest of the allotment was a 'no walk' area (my son didn't grasp the idea, but he only weighs twelwe kilos/twentysix and half pound so I wasn't harsh on him). I take half an hour each day to remove the few weeds I found and look under the fibercloth for spanish slugs. This is much more easy to handle than to expect an entire day of pulling quick grass in the heat of the sun or grey rain.
#3 Streamline the chores.
This goes both for gardening and for everyday business that steals time from it. Me planting waterbottles in the tomatocontainers is a good exemple of stremalining the gardening. Instead of bringing out the watercan thrice a day I refill the bottles once, and can do it during the ordinary watering round.
I can almost hear a few of you exclaim "But bringing out the watercan won't take many seconds!". True, but don't underestimate those extra seconds. Remeber that you, at best, have four hours after work a normal day. If you have a family two of those are earmarked for the kids in the form of help with clothes, general upbringing, bathing and putting to bed. Thirty minutes to an hour goes to preparing dinner, and the same span will be used for other household chores like cleaning the table and do the dishes. A normal day you'll be happy if you have any private time at all* (no wonder people sleep badly these days - most burns midnight oil to at least be able to watch some tv). Every second of the evening have value equal to a dollar, don't waste that on unnecessary work - even if you are single.
Since I have a family and my amount of time is firmly set I spend a lot of effort streamlining our life (use the following list as an inspiration). We have the normal set of household appliances, and have added a dryer (saves a lot of time compared to hang the laundry, we use an energy efficiant one with a heat pump), a baking machine and a roomba. As soon as I find an european retailer for scooba I'll by one of those too. (Swedes are not big on practical household machines - save the vacuum cleaner, dryer, washing machine and dishwasher - so this is an unusual list of appliances.)
Instead of weekly grocery shopping we do a monthly raid to shop everything that'll last a month or are possible to freeze (I've prepared an extensive checklist to make sure everything we need gets bought). We've subscribed to ecological fruits and vegetables and get them delivered to the door once a week. I still have to buy milk at the store, but heading in for a few parcels takes a lot less time than a full shopping round.
I try to keep important tools and important stuff within reach but out of daily life. My soilbins and watercarboy are kept in a closet close to the windows with most plants. The smaller tools and the seeds are kept on a shelf in the library (close to the working table). This may seem like an obvious thing to do, but many times a thing is put where there's an available spot instead on the best place. We do so too, that's why we regularly reorganise rooms and storage space (one unit at the time) and we always start by thoroughly analysing its use and how maximise its functions.
#4 Ignore unessential things
It's not possible to have it all, you'll be forced to leave some things to pile up untill you pry away time for it. As you can see from the photo above I'm deep into this business, letting working space clutter up with things that should be done. This irritates me since I want a home cut from the pages of an interior design magazine. At the same time I know that there are only twentyfour hours to a day. Each day I do what needs to be done, if I can find time for something that should be done I consider this a bonus. My longterm plan is to clean the home using method 1 and 3, so I can apply method 2 on our entire life. And I count on more cluttered periods in the future - life do always bring surprises.
*This is a swedish scenario. STAHMs and STAHDs are extremely rare due to the fact that it's impossible to live on one salary here.
Monday, May 19, 2008
...as I said I don't do it willingly. I even spared my son's favourite window when I surveyed how many windows I had available for gardening. He loves to stand there looking out on the world and I hadn't the heart to take this spot away from him.
You can see the window above - and all the plants are his.
We sowed the strawberries first, and when I realised how slow they grow I let him plant some nasturtium too - he needed to remember that he had sown a plant when he saw the first seedling. Two containers could stand in that window without covering his view. For his birthday I bought him "Castor odlar" ("Castor is gardening" - ok, I admit I lead him astray a teensy weensy bit), which made him want to plant white beans just like the main character in the book. White beans were purchased and planted. When I visited the Nordic Gardens Fair I promised him a flower - that's the little pansy between the two big terracotta pots. He specifically asked for an orange flower. Then the teachers at his daycare started a "little green thumbs" project and made him start up some parsley and lemon balm.
You can still look through the window, but I have to admit that I mostly look at the windowsill thinking
"How did this happen?"
Sunday, May 18, 2008
Saturday, May 17, 2008
If you've just started your indoor vegetable garden and want some free greens (and are living on the northern hemisphere), then this is the time to go out and pick nettles. Just remember to put on some gloves before you start and keep them on untill you're sure the nettles are cooked. I've tried all of the tricks to pick them barehanded, so nowadays I cover my entire body and use a pair of old leather gloves.
(This vid is shot in Norway, what you see is a very norwegian landscape. The ingrediens, however, are as common in Sweden.)
Friday, May 16, 2008
It's been a long week for the entire family. I noticed that my son was a bit tired when I picked him up at daycare, so I promised him prolonged movie time "since it's friday". One and a half hour later hubby finds us asleep with Maisy Mouse on autorepeat.
(It was the dvd where Maisy harvests vegetables in the garden in one episode. No, I'm not willingly leading the youth astray, it just happens.)
Oh well, but my vegetables are thriving, both indoors and outdoors, so I think this home is ready for the weekend.
Thursday, May 15, 2008
The iceplant has been the biggest disappointment so far, it didn't taste good at all. I'll give it another chance when I've started up the vermicompost. Right now I give it syntetisized fertilizer, and that ought to affect the taste. Everything else has been edible, and by now I've developed useful routines around harvest and cooking.
My biggest discovery is that we don't eat sallad to every meal. When I started gardening I just assumed that this was the case. Now I know that we eat meals that don't need greenery at least twice a week, ie. porridges, soups and pancakes. (In Sweden pancakes are a meal for dinner or supper, traditionally served after a bowl of thick peasoup (I can't really call that an entrée, it's half of the meal). Some of us cheat and eat only pancakes, but you get the general idea.) Some days you don't feel like a leaf sallad and chop up some carrots instead.
My other discovery is that you need to have the sallad ready already in the pots. In other words: you need to grow several kinds of vegetables at the same time. Right now I only have indian spinach, leaf amaranth and nasturtium wich makes variation hard. So the experiment continues, now with the goal to find more kinds of vegetables useful for indoor gardening.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Me picking leaves for the sallad.
The tomatoes drink more than two bottles of water each day. I refill the bottles, but I don't like the sound of roots breaking when I press them back into the soil. To solve the problem I cut off their bottoms to be able to fill them while they were still in the pot.
That was not a good idea. The water ran straight through bottle and soil in no time. I should have realised that it needed some sort of suspension to make the system work, but I've seen tomatoes watered this way outdoors. Outdoor tomatoes, on the other hand, have an endless buffert of soil beneath them. Duh!
This strikes me as a good exemple of mistakes you have to do in order to become a good gardener. The skill improves greatly by those few occasions when you do everything backwards. So, after wiping the water off the floor and replacing the bottles, both I and the tomatoes are happy.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
We all have days when gardening is a chore rather than a pleasure. Most of the times this is because we are literally tired or bored with something we've done for too many days. So what do you do to get back the geist?
Start with a good day of rest. Take twentyfour hours of doing something completely different, like staying in bed eating icecream (don't mind the sheets, we live in the age of washing machines and laundromats). Then decide to have days like this in the future too. It's not a coincidence that christianity (as well as jews (jewiality?... my dictionary fails me on this one) and islam) have a sabbath every seventh day, and that its observance is among the most important decrees of the religion. You don't have to be religious to copy this custom - we are all tempted to nibble on the battery loading when something important is to be done*.
Don't be surprised if your day of rest brings along a host of new ideas. When you work a lot with something (gardening in our case) the brain gets overloaded. As soon as those important thoughts (I need to weed, boil more water, plant hundreds of potatoes and call my mother in law) aren't thought the periferal ones (why don't I ask my inlaw to help me garden?) surface, and they can be rather good.
In addition to rest you need some inspiration. In general I read gardening books and magazines with a lot of colourful pictures and, if possible, good and well written articles with lots of facts. And I surf YouTube for chreative gardening. Patti Moreno is a case in point - I may never raise pygora goats, but I get a kick out of her doing it. If she manage a thing like that I can probably grow a slightly different carrot or tomato without too much trouble.
But, what if you've tried all of the above and you still are fed up? I have to admit that I keep on working anyhow - I can't expect to be in glimmering form every day. If the feeling persist I'd probably change interest gradually, but it hasn't happened yet, and I hope observing the sabbath will keep me vaccinated against fatigue.
*I we were mobile phones we would all have worn and almost empty batteries.
Monday, May 12, 2008
I've removed the pots with "Mini Happy Plant" from my tomatoes. That goo didn't have a chance to provide water fast enough for the plants. Instead I used an old, well established trick; you drill a hole in a soda bottle cap (I used small ones here), fill the bottle with water and shove it cap first into the soil. The hole in the cap allows the water to flow slowly and the plants can drink as much as they need. I could actually hear slurping sounds from the bottles when the sun was at its hottest.
Finally I'll won't wake up to discover that I'm minutes late for watering, and that the tomatoes have withered to the point that they seem dead as doornails. A hefty dose of water has revived them before, but it stresses the plants and I may end up with bitter tomatoes. Now it'll be interesting to see how often I'll need to refill the bottles.
Sunday, May 11, 2008
Saturday, May 10, 2008
Thursday, May 08, 2008
Hey dude! Could you spare some room up there?
Today I dug down some cheap themometers at my allotment. This because I've learnt that different crops are to be sown according to the temperature of the soil. Twenty degrees Celcius (68¤F) means you can grow everything you want - including beans.
This solves one of my big problems; how am I supposed to find space for presowing outdoor crops at the same time as I sow a new round of indoor crops? All available windows are filled, and all the other spaces are tagged for different purposes. I've looked thoughtfully at beds and kitchentables several times, but we need space for living too - and that without hitting our heads on growlights every now and then. This warmth means I can sow outdoors at once and save my precious presowing area for the plants that really need it.
So, now I onle need to build those nurseries I've talked about for so long, at the same time as I sow a new round of indoor crops and take care of my allotment.
When I'm planning I always think there are seventy minutes to the hour.
Wednesday, May 07, 2008
Tuesday, May 06, 2008
Divas due for the allotment.
I'm experiencing a downperiod right now. On earlier occasions this has meant that all my indoor plants has withered and died. This time I've actually watered them as I should. I regard this as a step forward and plan to continue this way. Perhaps it's the extra time in open air that my allotment gives me that's doing me good. I go there every day and try to find something to do - even if I only spend half an hour on the place this means a lot of outdoor hours on a week.
Tomorrow my indoor divas really needs attention though. I plan to indulge in one big cup of hot cocoa from hell and then tapdance through the common procedures of watering and showering. After that I'll rest, I hope...
Monday, May 05, 2008
I bought seed potatoes which were full of sprouts already at the plantmall. Most of the customers had ignored them, but the other varieties were out and this one is slightly frost hardy, so I decided to take the chance. Most of the taters stands proudly in a window to grow better sprouts while they wait for the day they'll be planted. One, however, is already in soil. I can't do anything without adding at least one experiment, and this one sprouted (ahaha) balconypotatoes.
My neighbours subscribe to washingpowder in buckets, and were kind enough to give me one of the empty ones. The proportions compared to a normal bucket are slightly different - it's a bit taller. This means you can make a selfwatering container out of it with plenty of room for the water and still have big enough space for serious cultivation.
But why end the experiment there? Those disks of cocosfibre I bought at the latest faire have been searching for their purpose over the last weeks. (Yes, I know I bought them to use them as bedding in my vermicompost, but being able to change plans at the drop of a hat is a virtue.) I decided to sacrifice one of them.
According to the instructions I put the disk in lukewarm water for ten minutes. Everyone who's used peat pellets knows what's happening; you put a flat little disk into water and a tower of fluffy 'soil' raises to greet your seeds. I have to admit, though, that it's somewhat scary when the disk says "vooom!" and a thirty centimeter (one foot) tower erupts from the bucket.
The cocos fibres was enough for the layer under the potato, so what should I use for the top layer? I took a look at the bag with balcony soil. It was icecold, dripping wet and slimey since it's been left out for the entire winter. Unfortunately this was the only soil I could use. I decided to make this quality a part of the experiment. To bolster the chock I fluffed the soil thoroughly and refrained from watering. Usually I fill the water magazine this way, but I can do it some other day with this one.
Sunday, May 04, 2008
Saturday, May 03, 2008
Today I left one of the gardening malls carrying (among other things) a small bag of seed potatoes 'Marine'. In search for inspiration I took a look at how Patti Moreno grows hers. It's interesting to see that she doesn't 'presprout' her potatoes before she plants them - this is common, almost compulsory procedure in Sweden. To get some meat on the bones I then looked at a person I've never before seen in action (believe it or not). I have to admit that I'm now tempted to grow some in a bucket on my balcony too.
Friday, May 02, 2008
Today two meals included homegrown vegetables. For lunch we had hotdogs, spagetti and a 'this and that sallad', ie. I cut leaves from those plants who could afford it and mixed them (the leaves I mean) in a bowl. The sallad of today consisted of nasturtium, chives, leafamaranth, indian spinach and mizuna, and I served it with a few drops of dressing. The taste of the amaranth has proved to be somewhat tough, and needs the muscles of a good red wine vinegar to stay in place and cooperate with the rest.
For dinner we had nettle- and indian spinach soup followed by (swedish) waffles. The indian spinach isn't big enough yet to provide food for a three person meal. But it's not far away; one of the leaves I cut today was A4 sized (about lettersize). An unforseen problem is that tenders leaves and sprouts tastes delicious. I've found myself nibbling them like candy and then try to smooth it over with an "at least it's healthy eating"...
(Yesterday I wrote a post on how I was affected by the collective hangover in Uppsala eventhough I'm a teetotaller. Apparently it was worse than I thought since I posted the text on the swedish motherblog Parkettodlaren. Sorry.)