Thursday, May 19, 2011

The rest of the beginning

So, here's the rest of the beginning of the Indoor Vegetable Gardening handbook I'm writing. For my own part I'm packing boxes and planning the tinygardens in the new flat right now.

Something that was both a problem and an advantage was my nack for big and glorious plans. Time and time again I used some of the few pennies left to buy hardware for projects I never finished. Let's just leave these in the closet. On the other hand I'd never become an indoor vegetable gardener had I been the person only messing with sensible projects.

The advantages of indoor vegetable gardening were many. The first one was meningful me-time. My son was one year old when I started the blog Indoor Gardener / Parkettodlaren, and I wrote the first posts while he took his afternoon nap. When he got older gardening turned out to be a perfect task for times when he was awake; he could pour water, taste the seedlings, bury his cars in the soil and even grow some plants on his own. For my own part carrying around heavy soil boxes and big water cans gave me some much needed work out. And my inner gadgeteer had her time with the variuos speciality tools you may need for cultivating things.

As a hobby the indoor vegetable gardening was a success. The family benefitted from the result, and I found it more easy to feed my son vegetables. He didn't really like sallad, but he ate purslane directly from the plant. The strawberries I grew on the balcony proved to be too popular - we had to keep the door firmly shut to prevent him from finish off the unripe fruit.

The blog gave me outlook to the rest of the world. 90% of the gardening blogs I read are written in the US, currently the country with most influence over swedish culture, but the remaining 10% gave me a chance to step outside this sphere. Especially when I started to look at common environmental preservation projects I found amazing stuff. The french, with their taste for coool stuff, turned out to plan buildnings which can brake down pollution and were to be covered in grass. Well, the last thing may not sound so cool, unless you know it's a scyscraper we're talking about. In India I found grass roots projects, some of them usefull for indoor vegetable gardening, and some of them just plain amazing. To build a real garden under the staircase indoors or grow rice on the roof may never be within my reach, but it works in India. In China, a country not known to be environmentally friendly, I found dedicated environmental workers and companies building their business on green technology.

The biggest advantage to indoor vegetable gardening, though, was the vegetables themselves. I'm not a romantic who jumps for joy everytime I come across a homegrown tomato, so I have no scruples in admitting that the taste is not that different between them and storebought ones. On the other hand it was a difference you really noticed. What I didn't know then was that the tomato palnts cleaned the indoor air (which can be dirty) and added moisture to the indoor climate. In addition I could be 100% sure the vegetables were grown without pesticides. Last, but not least, I could pick ingredients for a sallad from my window sills while watching the snow piled high outside.

When I write this I've had a two year pause from indoor vegetable gardening. I'm about to pick up the hobby again, now with better knowledge about plants and indoor climate alike. This book, I hope, will make it possible for more people to become successfull indoor gardeners.

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Beginning of the beginning by Malin Nilsson Norén is licensed under a Creative Commons Erkännande-Ickekommersiell-IngaBearbetningar 3.0 Unported License.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

First letter from the allotment(s)

Well, we didn't get one allotment, we got three. We got in line for one close to our home, but there were thirty persons waiting to get one on that field. Since I don't take anything for granted I applied for one on a field somewhat less popular, but with allotments in the same size and where we have friends. In April we were called on for a viewing, and we got an allotment in fairly good shape. The previous owner was probably into fancy garden design since she or he had placed the raspberry bushes in the middle, and on one side had planted too many red currant bushes. (In my case anything above zero is too many red currant bushes - I don't like the berries and the bushes is insanely fruitfull. We got three of them to give away - anyone interested?...)

Well, half of the allotment was dug through, and as I said it was in fairly good shape. Its neighbour was in a sorry state however. The owner had fought an heroic fight against the weeds. Fought it and lost, which meant the piece of land was up for grabs. I gave the idea of grabbing it twentyfour hours, and then I decided we would take it too. The Indoor Gardener hubby didn't have much to say about it, I'm afraid, but he hasn't complained yet. When I took a walk around our new 'land' I found onions still in the ground, nettles (quikly harvested for a delicious soup) and sticks marking the places where precious plants had met their fate. I was quick to decide to cover up everything in black plastic for at least two years.

Two weeks later we got a message that there was an allotment available at the field where we originally wanted a place. We went out to have a look, and my hopes weren't high since we had been at the end of the line. Imagine my surprise when we got one which was perfectly clear of weeds, and had beeen propperly fluffed in the autumn. We can do whatever we like with it! Of course I accepted the offer.

What about the first two allotments? Could we wriggle out of the contract? Perhaps, but morally it was out of question. We'd said we'd take care of them, signed the contract and started to work on them, then you just can't throw them away after three weeks. However the two first allotments suddenly got other functions.

To make it more easy to write (and read) about the three allotments apart on this blog I've given them names. I could have given them numbers like x1b2, x2b4 and x3b16, but it felt boring. Instead I gave them three human names. Much more easy to memorise and adds a smidgeon of character to these small pieces of land.

This is the allotment formerly covered in weed. Right now it's coverd in black plastic which probably will kill off ground elder, crab grass and other hellish stuff. My grand plan is to replace the plastic with cardboard and straw and plant potatoes in the straw. We have clay soil and this method will choke the weeds while it adds humus. In turn this will soften up a soil that in worst cases acts like concrete. The cardboard layer has to be replaced every year, but I'll be able to grow potatoes in the meantime, and that's a good thing. On the other hand we'll need a LOT of cardboard for this, so when neighbouring alltoment gardeners donated their plastic coverup we were really gratefull.

This is the allotment in fairly good shape - the one we got first. As I said half of it was dug over, and a rasberry shrubbery was oddly placed in the middle (actually portruding from the middle of the short end) and three red currant bushes (anyone interested?) plus one gooseberry bush. A smaller part is covered up, apparently because of an heavy attack of ground elder. This will be where we grow our berries. We already have raspberries, and I hope to plant a few black currant bushes (three red currant bushes are up for grabs), perhaps a blackberry bush, and a big strawberry field. I'd rather plant raspberries, but our son wanted strawberries and the plants was far cheaper, so I had to give in.

The perfectly fluffed allotment last handed to us. (When you garden in clay soil fluffed soil is what you dream for.) Angelina will be cultivated according to a modified variety of jidutu xiangchuan (a tradition more than a thousand years old). Since an allotment is comparatively small (six times ten meters / eighteen times thirty feet) I had to scrap some of the details to save space. This is ok, since jidutu is very pragmatic. Here we'll cutlivate our vegetables, although so far I've just meassured were the beds will be, and promised our allotment neighbour she'll get her sticks back by Saturday. Since she was the prevous owner of Angelina and saw to fluff up the soil I also thanked her. Many times.

(Yes, I know most of you haven't heard of jidutu xiangchuan - I'l go into depts about it in the future.)

So, these are the three pieces of land the entire Indoor Gardener family will battle this summer. Tomorrow we'll spend the entire day watering and sowing on Angelina. If we're lucky we'll manage to plant some bushes on Precious too. (Anyone wants red currant bushes?)

[Sorry about the belated update - computer problems.]

Thursday, May 05, 2011

First part of the beginning

So, here's the first part of the beginning of the handbook I'm writing. I'm splitting it into screen reading appropriate parts, since this chapter turned out to be a bit long. This is the crude text I'll revise a few times before I put everything together. The good thing about that is that you can add pointers and ask for things missing if you want it in the book. NOTE: If anyone know anything more than me about Joy O.I. Spoczynska I'll be really happy if you tell me in the comments. Appart from her being born 1922, coming from Canada or England and being an entomologist I haven't found a thing.

When I started to grow vegetables indoors I was mostly alone. I had a predecessor in canadian Joy O I Spoczynska who wrote books about self sufficiency in a flat during the seventies and eighties. Apart from that there were little about ”normal” gardening - you could find a lot about hydroponics and similar that craves special gears, but little information on vegetables in ordinary pots. There was litterature on growing herbs indoors, and when I made a small survey on the different gardening forums I frequent ( and - both swedish) that was what most indoor gardeners grew. But a few had tried other things, and that made me press on with my odd experiment. When I write this indoor vegetable gardening is beginning to catch on in Sweden. At the Nordic Gardens fair ”the Indoor Garden” was a best seller - a steel box with a plant light and water ciculating to make it possible to grow herbs on the window sill. Yes, it's herbs again and it is a slow process, but it's still a start.

In the beginning I had a lot of problems. The worsts were my own lazyness and procrastination and lack of knowledge. I handled the lazyness by starting a blog (Indoor Gardener / Parkettodlaren) to document my experiment. If I hade promised to the world to show what happened I would feel bound to keep up the work, was my theory. It worked for several years. The lack of knowledge was worse. I hadn't been gardening for several years, and didn't know anything about what critters and illnesses could affect vegetables. If something happened I didn't notice, and if I did notice I didn't know what to do.

It was more fun to work out the perfect crops. I had to do it through trial and error, which made a perfect excuse to buy too many seeds of different varieties. Mostly I chose the exact wrong vegetable. For exemple I wanted root vegetables, since I don't like sallad. But to grow one carrot per pot was not a effective way to use the scarce space available. For a while I grew turnips, but gave them too much fertilizer. The leaves turned out thick and green, and the root became a chewy and stringy... string. I never started any potatoes, since I by then had worked out that I couldn't provide any working grow light for it. On the other hand the turnip leaves turned out to be tasty in gravy and tiny carrot leaves are a palatable replacement for sallad.

Vegetables that grew too big was an experince of its own. Since we are permanently low on money I tried to save as much as I could. Part of that was to plant some seeds from a tomato I bought for our sallads. The seedling grew into two meter (or six foot) monsters who bombed their suroundings with cherry tomatoes. (They were placed on a window sill in a room where the ceiling was five meters (fifteen feet) above the floor, which meant the fruits could come from a height of more than three meters (nine feet). When I was done contemplating an indoor helmet I cut the plants down, and replaced them with tomatoes cultivated specially for small spaces; Tiny Tim.

The new tomato plant were provided with company - two seedlings of land kelp. The crop seemed promising when I read about it in the seed catalogue, high yielding and such. Only when the plants started to grow I learned that they could grow vines as long as fifty meters (150 feet). Luckily enough they didn't get that far, but they became big. I got lots of leaves from them, and they sent vines behind the sill, the wall papers and between the walls and the window case. The big harvest was a curse, since no one in the family liked the taste. Three years later I still have frosen land kelp leaves in the freezer.

My last problem was the recycling. I didn't have the heart to throw away perfectly good soil when I'd used it only once. And all those twigs and leaves I had to remove could certainly go into a compost. So I set up a vermicompost and started to heat sterilize the soil in our stove. It worked. I had a crude circular flow of soil and plants going, but it took up space and drained my energy which meant my interest for gardening regularly crashed.

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Indoor Vegetable Gardening Handbook, beginning pt 1 by Malin Nilsson Norén is licensed under a Creative Commons Erkännande-Ickekommersiell-IngaBearbetningar 3.0 Unported License.

Next week will probably be an epic tale of our strife at our allotments, and the week after that you'll read the rest of the beginning; the advantages with growing vegetables indoors.