Yes, outside of working a lot, all I’ve been up to these days is obsessing over my plants. It’s hypnotic, relaxing and exciting all at the same time. Every morning before work I tend to my little urban garden – watering if necessary, and cleaning up any dried leaves and flowers. Afterward, I leave the balcony door open, sit down at the dining room table with my coffee and my laptop and just watch. I love seeing honey bees come and go. If they’re doing a good job of pollinating, maybe we’ll actually get some zucchini or cucumbers soon.
On my day off, I take care of messier and more time consuming tasks like going to the garden center to pick up supplies, re-potting plants as they get bigger, and sowing new seeds to ensure a continual supply of fresh herbs. That’s also the day I wage war on pests. There is a lot of great information on-line about natural and organic methods for warding off all manner of pests and disease that threaten plants. Golden Harvest Organics not only sells seeds and gardening products, but they also post extensive information about organic gardening and natural pest control. I purchased Neem Oil and Castille Soap to combat aphids, but apparently there are a number of other methods that can be employed. They range from placing tin foil on the soil surface to reflect light to the underside of the plant leaves, where they usually hang out, to spraying them with a tea made from tomato leaves. I’d love to get my hands on some ladybugs to do the job for me.
Another pest which has been a big problem is the fungus gnat, which breeds in damp conditions conducive to mold and fungus. It has rained almost every day this June, and while everything is lush and green, my balcony is now the perfect home for fungus gnats. It’s been nearly impossible to keep my plants dry. I removed the saucers from under all the pots since they only provided a breeding ground, and I covered the soil with cedar mulch to keep the surface dry. Despite my best efforts, some pots got really heavily infested, and I had to resort to an organic insecticide to keep them under control. Gnatrol, which I also purchased from Golden Harvest Organics, is a brand of Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis a bacteria that targets the larvae living in the soil. Apparently it biodegrades quickly, and is widely used for organic agricultural applications. Although most of the information on the web indicates that it’s safe for people and pets, the product safety sheet that came with advises measures taken to avoid direct contact with the product. So I take the necessary precautions, and won’t harvest anything to eat until the stuff has had a chance to degrade.
A server at the restaurant also has an organic garden on her rooftop, so we’ve traded both plants and ideas. She has also had a big problem with fungus gnats and is using Nemotodes, a species of roundworm that eat fungus gnat larvae.
The garden has become a great learning experience. Through trial and error, and some help along the way, I have learned things like how to replant seedlings with enough of their stems embedded so they form strong root systems (thanks to an info sheet sent to me by Golden Harvest with my FREE mystery tomato seeds). Sadly, some plants did succumb to my bumbling – to much water, too little water, not hardening off properly etc, but despite all the factors working against it, my little garden is showing lots of promise. Most of the plants are in their permanent pots now and are growing rapidly. I’ve even been able to re-plant cuttings from overcrowded pots and get new plants. The zucchini plants are producing squash blossoms now, and the lemon cucumber vines have already grabbed hold of the balcony railing and are threatening to take over. There’s cat grass for the feline members of our family, and best of all, I get to bond with our 9-month old puppy Sadie, who seems to love the garden as much as I do.