Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A Tiny Garden

Container Gardening

I am not lucky enough to have a backyard that I can fill with rows and rows of herbs, flowers, and veggies. I really wish I did. Instead, I have a balcony that measures about 10 x 4.5. It's not a lot of space. I can't grow anything that requires a whole lot of room for roots, or anything that crawls, creeps, or climbs. I'm working on the climbing problem. I think I can put some wire mesh along the side wall of the balcony in a way that won't be "offensive" to the people who check our apartment balconies for infractions. 

I realize that some of you are still locked in the snow, but now is the perfect time to start your container gardens inside, if you plan to start from seeds. If you start from seeds in a cooler climate get yourself a Jiffy plastic greenhouse and starter pods or try this nifty alternative using old soda bottles: Soda Bottle Greenhouse. If you live in a warmer climate, you can start your seeds outside, in whatever container you plan to keep them in. Make sure you keep your seeds moist and somewhere they will get enough sun to sprout. Also make sure you follow the directions on the seed packets, especially when it comes to planting depths. Lemon balm needs to be started right on top of the soil, but most herbs need to be started at 1/4" or so under the soil. If you seed packet doesn't have directions, look them up! I got an extra packet of seeds with a recent online order, but I never would have known how to plant Crocus sativus if I hadn't looked it up. (That, by the way, is the Saffron Crocus.) 

Once your sprouts are large enough, transfer them to larger containers filled with potting soil. Small bags of potting soil are available at Walmart for $.98 and fill about three 5" pots. 

This year I started with a mix of seeds and small plants already started. 

This year, so far, I've got mint, parsley, hot peppers and basil that I bought already started. I bought plants because I wanted to have the ability to use some of them immediately. The empty pots aren't empty at all. Inside those pots are lemon balm, dill and lavender. The large spiny plant in the middle is an aloe plant. I am a little bit of a klutz in the kitchen and the Florida sun can be brutal when you least expect it. I use the leaves of the aloe plant to treat burns of both kinds. 

Those little flowers are going to be peppers soon! 

Start small. It's easy to forget to water, or water at the wrong time of day, or any of the other millions of things I seem to have done that kill plants. I moved the rosemary inside when it was really cold. I forgot to move it back out. Lack of sun or too much sun can kill anything. Don't water your plants during the middle of the afternoon, when it's really hot. You can easily wind up cooking your plants. Water early in the morning or after the sun goes down. In addition to making sure the soil is moist, I like to give the leaves a nice healthy spritz with a spray bottle. I actually leave myself notes reminding me to water the plants. 

Plant herbs you actually use. My roomie keeps calling the parsley cilantro.  It's definitely not cilantro, I don't like cilantro, except in Vietnamese cooking, which is not in my culinary wheelhouse. (I'm working on that, I swear.)  

Do you need to feed your plants? No, most herbs don't like fertilizers at all. Can you use a store bought fertilizer if you want to grow flowers or veggies? Yes. Do I? No, my cats have enough ways to get into trouble without adding a bag of chemicals into the mix. If you wanted to you could start a mini compost heap using a plastic bin with a lid . . . go ahead and Google it. It's definitely not for my cat filled household.   

Finally, if at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Sometimes seeds just don't sprout. Sometimes we forget to water. It's okay. 

This is one of my favorite fresh herb recipes! It's also by far the easiest!

Cucumber and Herb Salad

1 Cucumber
4 Mint leaves
4 Parsley leaves
Red wine vinegar
Salt and Pepper

To peel or not to peel? If I'm using a conventional cucumber I peel. If I'm using an English cuke, mini cuke, or Kirby (pickling cuke) I don't peel. 
Slice the cucumber into 1/2" wheels and quarter them. Chop the mint and parsley. Add vinegar, salt, pepper to taste and chill in the fridge. This salad makes a great side dish for just about anything, but particularly meals with rich sauces!
A fun summer twist? Add chopped watermelon and thinly sliced red onion! 

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