Saturday, November 19, 2016

Another Red Siberian Pole Tomato Update

Red Siberian Pole tomato
My balcony garden this season was a flop.  I had too many interests, too little time, and was too busy with work. My plants on the balcony suffered from neglect and drought.  As colder weather came, and we had several frost advisories, many of the remainder of my balcony plants died - despite being under a roof. However, the other day I noticed that my resilient, hardy Red Siberian Pole tomato by Botanical Interests had blooms!  Now, not only does it have blossoms, but it has tiny green tomatoes.  If you are looking for a hardy pole tomato, this has got to be it!

The Tomato Update Timeline

I had written a previous update about these little tomato sprouts then plants. You can read the entire article in June if you want to. But the summary is:

  • March - I bought my first packet of Botanical Interests seeds
  • unknown date - a planted 3 seeds
  • April 26th - all 3 seeds had sprouted 
  • Beginning of June - I replanted the sprouts
  • June 28th - the plants were growing and hardy -despite the neglect
  • July 31st - I posted an update with the little red tomatoes - the few tomatoes - I got from the other plants. And the little green tomatoes on my Red Siberian

I was so busy and neglectful of my plants on the balcony this year. Only my mint, hibiscus, and Wave petunias survived and thrived. Clearly, those plants like dry periods between waterings. My other two tomato plants turned to tall, brown sticks. But this little heirloom pole tomato would not give up.

In fact, this little Red Siberian pole tomato put on little tomatoes. They ripened and were healthy fruit - no bugs, no spots, no rot.  I tasted them. Because of the severe neglect, they were very small and had tough skins.  I am sure that is only due to the lack of water they received.

In hindsight, I should have saved those seeds. Those little tomatoes grew in the very worst conditions.

Very recently, after having had some frost advisories, and temperature swings from frost to 70 F degree days, I went out onto the balcony to begin emptying the dead plants from the pots so I could store the pots for winter.  Lo and behold, that little tomato plant had a TON of blooms!

I have since moved the plant indoors, to a bedroom window that receives bright morning light. The photo is of the little green tomatoes on that plant.  If I remember to water it and if the cat leaves it alone, I may end up with fresh tomatoes.  I once before had a tomato plant inside, and fresh tomatoes approaching Thanksgiving.  It looks like that may happen again. Cross your fingers for me.

Botanical Interests Heirloom Tomato Seeds

I am completely sold on the Botanical Interests heirloom tomato seeds. I may try a balcony garden again next year. Maybe not.  I will definitely plant these seeds at The Shack, when I finally move up there. These little tomatoes will be perfect for my little retirement homestead.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Skeletons for Halloween Balcony Decorating

Skeletons for your balcony
I love how some people go all out and decorate their homes for Halloween. While a balcony doesn't offer much space for extensive decorating, a few items can make a big impact. These items are especially meaningful if the pieces you choose are special to you, are unique, or have personality. Skeletons and skulls are perfect for adding to that creepy Halloween mood. The following skeletons have that special something.

Crazy Bonez Skeletal Rat

Skeletons are creepy. Rats are creepy.  Make them even creepier by combining the two!  This 11.5" tall decoration will add interest to your budget balcony. Imagine him peeking out from between your planters or perched on your table.  He is definitely an interesting little guy.

rat skeleton

Skeleton with a Lantern Rising from the Ground

This skeleton would look great either looking toward the neighbors or turned, and looking at you form the balcony through your balcony door.  This guy measures just less than 12" x 13", so he could be rising from the dirt in one of your empty planters.  Or with just a small amount of effort, a low container could be filled with sand and a headstone added. Voila, you have a skeleton rising from the grave.

sinister skull & lantern

Mr. & Mrs. All Hallow's Eve Garden Gnomes

These two are packed full of interest and creepiness.  They are a bit pricier than my budget balcony wallet usually considers, but these two make up for it in the amount of personality they have.  At 18" tall, they are a great size for a balcony.

garden Skel-A-Gnomes

Full Figure Skeleton

This guy is a 5' tall skeleton who will look great attached to the roof of your balcony or seated in a chair. This skeleton is not posable but because it is life-sized he can look posed seating in a chair or on a bench.  

5' tall skeleton

Add to these figures a jack-o-lantern and some spiderwebs. Or a string of Halloween lights wrapped around your railing and bunch of cornstalks propped up in the corner and you have turned your balcony into a festive holiday space.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Seasonal Decor - Summer Sunflowers

Sonnenblume Hullkelch CC by SA 3.0
Sunflowers bloom from mid-summer into autumn.  As the remnants of summer hangs on, large sunflower heads bend - heavy with seeds. Sunflower festivals and acres upon acres of sunflower fields are in bloom here in Maryland and in other states across the US. Bright yellow and orange sunflowers are a perfect and inexpensive seasonal theme for your balcony or patio decor.

The very best part of decorating a small balcony seasonally is that it can be done on a small budget. In a small space, only two or three new items will give your outdoor living space an entirely different look.

If you purchase wisely, your items can be reused each year. As summer vacation rolls into back-to-school, beach season is ending, and autumn has not yet begun, you can bring sunflowers from the fields - literally or not - onto your budget balcony.

Decorating with Silk Flower and Beautiful Vases

Fresh cut flowers are beautiful and a favorite choice for decorating in homes.  I am also pleased to see that sunflowers are used in bridal arrangements during this time of year.  What a pretty idea! Cut sunflowers are beautiful.  My balcony is well-lit and quite hot in late afternoons.  So my flower arrangements must be flowers grown in containers or silk arrangements - as cut flowers would not last long at all in the heat and direct sunlight.

Fortunately, there are many gorgeous silk flowers available today.  Including bouquets of sunflowers. If you have a small table or shelf on your balcony, a pitcher or vase full of these bright, happy flowers adds a wonderful pop of color.

Long lasting and colorful sunflower silk flowers

Decorating Large Planters with Sunflower Plant Stakes

I love plant stakes.  One or two strategically placed plant stakes add a focal point and color to your balcony. Whether your style is realism or whimsy, you can find a plant stake that gives you a little spark of happiness when you see it. Plant stakes also come in a large variety of materials; nylon spinners, solar lighted stakes, and painted metal to name a few.

The intricate, metal, painted garden stakes are the ones that tend to catch my eye.  This is an example of a detailed metal garden stake but you definitely do not need to limit yourself to this style.

Painted metal sunflower garden stake

Sunflower Indoor Outdoor Floor Mats

Outdoor floor mats are gorgeous and an easy and inexpensive way to change the look of your balcony during each season.  They are made for the outdoors - weather resistant and durable. Again, this is an item that comes in a large variety of styles and materials.  Whimsical or realistic, subdued or neon bright, low pile or reminiscent of "shag", you can find something that speaks to you.

Please note that if you have a wooden balcony, as I do, and you like small rugs on your balcony, you must take care to monitor that the rugs are not holding too much water between the rug and the wood.  Nasty things happen when moisture is retained between carpets and wooden floors.

I tend to prefer the traditional rectangular "welcome mat" style.And I had planned on displaying one of those. However, this particular mat is so adorable that I've put on in my Amazon cart and decided to share this adorable sunflower mat with you.

Indoor and outdoor sunflower mat

Small Garden Flags

Mini garden flags are a wonderful and inexpensive way to change your balcony decor for the season. The garden flag pole is a one-time purchase. From that point, The 12" x 18" small garden flags are the perfect size for a balcony or patio and the choices of prints and messages are infinite. This milk cow and sunflower field garden flags makes me smile.

Small garden flag - printed on both sides

Sunflower Lights

I occasionally place lights on my balcony.  I love seeing the twinkle of subtle and colorful lights outside at night.  I'd place lights on my balcony more often if I weren't such a lazy decorator.  I have seen some gorgeous and tasteful silk flower garlands with lights wrapped around handrails. Such lights can be purchased as traditional "Christmas Tree" strings or strings of lights on the tiniest coppers wires.  These strings can be electrical, battery operated, or solar.  Whatever power source you require or prefer on your balcony, you can find plenty of color and shape options.

I think these little solar powered sunflower lights are adorable! The would look great wrapped around my balcony rail with a garland of miniature green leaves.

Battery operated string of sunflower lights

Sunflower Seat Cushions and Pillow Covers

Imagine a light yellow bench cushion with a sunflower printed throw pillow.  Or, slightly less budget-minded, a sunflower printed bench cushion with a yellow throw pillow.  Either of those choices would spruce up a late summer time balcony with no other seasonal items necessary.

With the exception of two folding chairs, I do not have furniture on my small balcony.  I do use printed cushions and pillows for both seating and decorating.  I love how textiles can change the entire feel of an area. And prints can be chosen to display an individuals taste. I think our personalities shine through our print choices.

Indoor outdoor sunflower throw pillow

Sunny yellow indoor outdoor furniture cushion

Related Articles:

I do not tend to decorate based on the season's color trends. But after reading this article about Pantone's Top Color Choices for Fall 2016, I may choose colors based on what's "in" this autumn. I think these colors are gorgeous.  A floor mat, throw pillow, and garden flag in these colors would make me happy. I'm not sure what it is about the tones of these colors; spicy mustard, dusty cedar, airy blue, and more, are very visually pleasing to me.

Maybe you are fortunate and have yard and garden space beyond a balcony or patio.  In that case, I recommend that you visit a Hoosier and her Indiana Garden blog. The veggie photographs alone are worth the visit. Her blog ranges from roses, to flowers, to grasses, and how to manage clay soil.  Definitely worth a peek for gardeners.

Be sure to visit and follow me on the Budget Balcony Living Pinterest board.  I'd love to see your ideas for those budget balcony, patio, and outdoor living ideas.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Fresh Tomatoes from My Balcony Garden

The tomatoes from my balcony garden
I have a small balcony space and a brown thumb.  In addition to those problems, this season has been very busy for me and I've neglected my plants. Despite the neglect, I have a few, small, ripe tomatoes that will be going into a smoothie today.  If you think you can't grow your own plants, maybe this will help convince you otherwise

My Tomatoes on a Balcony

I'm not good with plants. My adult children hear about my latest plant purchase and joke about "how long until you kill it?". If I had more than two children, they would probably form betting pools about how long it will take for me to kill the plant.  But for some reason, tomatoes love my balcony.

This year, I have been especially busy and my plants - even my tomatoes - are neglected.  I coax them back from dehydration each week or so. As a result, the tomatoes I've picked are small. They are a bit larger than cherry tomato size when they should be plum size.  I tried one last night and the skin is a bit tougher than usual, but what can I expect when they've lived through almost weekly droughts? The taste was still far better than the tomatoes I purchase in a grocery.

These tomatoes are from plants that were from seeds that I started inside. When I am organized, I use an old, large fish aquarium for a "greenhouse".  After the starts were large enough to go outside, I transplanted them and took them outside.  Due to my lack of organization, I can only guess that they were seeds saved from a Bonnie Plant tomato plant - before I knew about the difference between hybrids and heirlooms.

My heirloom Red Siberian pole tomato plant is surviving the droughts better than my other tomatoes. However, I was really late starting those three seeds.  That plant is just putting on blooms. I'll have to update again when I have ripe tomatoes from it. Provided I don't neglect it to death in the meantime.

If you believe you can't grow something on your balcony, give it a try.  Some plants will respond to your space, light, and level of care (or in my case the lack of care) better than others.  You might surprise yourself and be able to produce enough for a meal or two.


Lovely green Red Siberian pole tomatoes. Growing in spite of the extreme heat and my continued neglect

Sunday, July 3, 2016

4th of July Budget Balcony Decor

"Liberty" garden flag
The 4th of July is my favorite holiday and seeing balconies tastefully decorated for Independence Day brings me great enjoyment. The best thing about decorating a balcony is that the area is small and can be personalized and decorated inexpensively. Just a few items can bring patriotic celebration to your outdoor living area.

No matter how you celebrate the 4th, I wish you a happy, safe, and wonderfully independent day.

Nature's Red, White, and Blue Blooms

Healthy plants and flowers are always my favorite decorating idea.  Truly blue flowers are not the easiest to find. However, I have discovered that Wave Petunias come in shades close to blue.  I had not paid attention to Wave Petunias prior to this year but have discovered that they are an amazingly beautiful and hardy choice for a balcony. The continuous blooms on my balcony are a treat this year.

A mixture of these red, white, and blue petunias would be great arranged together in a single hanging basket or together in a large planter. Or each color in a separate small planter but arranged next to each other on a shelf.  Start the plants early enough, and by July 4th, they would be cascading over the rail. Wouldn't that be pretty?

Had I planned ahead, and I will do so next year, a basket of red, white, and blue Wave Petunias would be an excellent way to display red, white & blue.

If you are not able to find wave petunias locally, you use the "store locator" on the Wave Petunia site or you can choose this Wave the Flag pelleted seed assortment from U.S Seal

Easy Wave the Flag mix by US Seal

Small Patriotic Garden Flags 

I have used small garden flags on my balcony for years.  I typically have one planter large enough to hold the small flag stand. I have found that 12 x 18 inch garden flags are a perfect size for a balcony garden.  If high winds are a problem on your balcony, typically not on mine but is occasionally a concern, the garden stake can benefit from additional support. A simple zip tie can be used to attach the garden stake to the railing and provide more than adequate support.

The best thing about small garden flags is that they can be changed with each holiday, season, or your mood.  Garden flags can add such a personal touch to your balcony.

Applique Patriotic Garden Flag

Toland Home Garden Welcome Flag

Outdoor Red, White & Blue Lighting

I love just a bit of lighting on my balcony. I prefer privacy from the neighbors' prying eyes. So I prefer subdued lighting. Over the years, I've used candles or a string of small lights - such as a small string of holiday lights.

Nowadays, lights come in such a variety that they can be holiday or celebration themed.  Strings such as these red, white, and blue stars would look great attached to a balcony rail on the 4th of July.

Patriotic Stars Light String

Solar Powered and Waterproof Chinese Lanterns

My first small garden flag remains my favorite garden flag. Unfortunately, I've taken very few photos of it. This is early summer last year - tomato plants, peppers, a flag, and a gorgeous blue sky. Though small, your balcony is part of your home. Make it yours.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Red Siberian Pole Tomato Update

Red Siberian pole tomato seeds
While I've gotten a late start with my tomatoes, and I haven't been the most attentive container gardener this year, I do have an update about my Red Siberian pole tomatoes from Botanical Interests.  I am very pleased with these seeds and hope to be as pleased with the fruit.

My Tomato Timeline

In March I made an early visit to the garden center and chose some seeds by Botanical Interests.  I am attempting to learn more about heirloom seeds and plants (in preparation for my retirement to a country home and a large garden).  I ended up purchasing a pack of Red Siberian pole tomato seeds by Botanical Interests.

Normally, I would have started the seeds in my makeshift greenhouse (a large aquarium in front of an east-facing window) that week in March. But I put the seeds aside and nearly forgot.  Unfortunately, I did not write down the date that I did finally start them.

I started three seeds. Only three seeds. I expected one (or none) to sprout.  My balcony garden space is limited and I thought I'd just try one of these plants. Of the three seeds planted, ALL THREE SPROUTED! Yes, I am internet shouting.  I do not have a green thumb and I truly expected zero to sprout during the first attempt. It excites me that 100% of the seeds sprouted.

On April 26th, I had these three, healthy sprouts and was confident enough that they would continue to grow, that I took a photo of them.

Then promptly forgot about them.

They wilted, I'd remember to water them then forget again. They wilted again, then bounced back when I remembered to water them.  All in all, and in spite of the neglect, they grew very well.

A couple of weeks ago, I finally transplanted them to another pot and moved them out to the balcony. When re-potting tomatoes, I always strip off all of the leaves except the top few and plant them deep. Whether it is accurate or not, I believe that technique creates a better tomato root system and a stronger plant.

Today, on June 28th, this is what these little plants look like.  Despite the continued drought and flood that my gardening style has taken on this year.

What I have learned is that these seeds sprout easily. The sprouts grow very well. And despite the neglectful gardening style this year, the plants are growing quickly.  I am looking forward to being able to sample the tomatoes that this plant is sure to bear.

Related Information

While I purchased my seeds at a local garden center, you can also find them online at the official Botanical Interests site. I really like their collections and selection.  I just need to get moved out to the country so I can attempt a larger garden.

It is also important to understand that balcony and container gardens require additional watering to begin with.  I am convinced that using a self-watering planter has been the only reason I haven't killed off my entire balcony garden this year.  If your life is hectic, or you are forgetful, definitely use self-watering containers.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Mint: Easy and Beneficial

Last year's mint
Mint is a wonderful plant. It is a perfect plant for a balcony container garden. It is so easy to grow that it is a great plant for folks who doubt their green thumbs. Not only is it a pretty and full plant, it is a beneficial plant. Mint is useful in the kitchen, makes refreshing drinks, and is reported to have a variety of health benefits.

Mint - An Easy and Vigorous Plant

The joke about me and plants is "How long until you kill it?" There are many, many plants that I cannot grow.  I am definitely not a green thumbed expert.  There are a few plants that have done well in my gardens over the years, but not many.

Mint is a great plant for beginners and people who aren't good with plants either due to lack of skill or lack of time.  It grows profusely. In fact, I think it is better suited to container gardening as mint is known to take over gardens if allowed.  I seem to only have photographs of my mint as young plants. I will have to remember to take photos of how large and bushy they become over the summer. In the second photo, you can see where I have pinched off the top few leaves for use in a smoothie.  It seems that the more I pinch, the better the plant grows.

My mint on my balcony is so hardy that when I've not watered my plants frequently enough, the other plants take some time to bounce back after I water them.  If they bounce back at all. But the mint will turn from droopy and water-deprived to lush and upright almost before my eyes.

This year's mint

Mint - the Tasty Thirst Quencher

In the heat of summer, I'm thirsty but nothing quite quenches my thirst.  Then I found that floating a few mint leaves in a glass of ice water not only tastes great, but takes care of that feeling of thirst. I moved from ice water with mint leaves to smoothies with mint leaves. Whether it is a green/fruit smoothing or a simple cucumber smoothie, they taste even better with mint added.

Reported Health Benefits of Mint

Mint reportedly soothes stomach aches. I have found this to be true.  Mint is also reportedly also soothes skin irritation via topical applications as well as providing health benefits such as antioxidants.  As I'm not a doctor, I don't know these things to be true. But I am very aware that when I am consuming smoothies, with mint, on a regular basis, I feel better physically.

Please do your own research about the health benefits of mint. Sites such as Medical News Today are easy to find and list those reported benefits with more detail.

Mint Smoothies are the Best!

I recently purchased a NutriBullet Pro, after my old blender completely wore out.  I love the NutriBullet and you can read my review here.  My favorite ingredient in smoothies is my mint. Depending on how much you use, the mint can give a subtle, refreshing bit of flavor or a BAM of strong minty freshness.

In fact. just talking about mint smoothies made me so thirsty for one that I paused while writing this in order to make one. Today's smoothie contains: a generous helping of mint, watermelon, a splash of orange juice, and a few spinach leaves.

Mint Resources

For more recipes, uses, and how-to-grow mint directions (which is a little silly since it basically grows itself once introduced to dirt), I recommend that you search for mint on Amazon. Looking at that list reminds me of how important mint is in our lives. Mint chocolate, mints, mint colored clothing, mint extract, and mint lotions, soaps, and beauty aids.

Top 50 Mint recipes

And because I am less talented in the kitchen than I am in the garden, I probably should keep a jar of mint chutney in the cupboard. If my little balcony garden ever produces enough ripe tomatoes at the same time, I plan on making some fresh tomato and mint salsa. How delicious does that sound?

Premium mint cilantro chutney

Sunday, May 15, 2016

A Review of the Wonderful Wave Petunia

I do not recall a single time that I've ever purchased petunias for myself or have attempted to raise them.  I've just never been that attracted to them. It's not that I disliked them, rather, there are too many other flowers and plants that I like better. Recently, I made an impulse purchase, choosing these petunias without much thought. And WOW, I'm glad I did.  I am already planning where I will plant many more Wave petunias.

My Impulsive Petunia Purchase 

This year, I wanted to find a small plant for a splash of color on my balcony - with the sole intention of trying to attract hummingbirds more quickly.  The plants from the seeds I had sown, were coming along, but nothing was blooming. I had placed my hummingbird feeder out with no known visitors. Because I was feeling so impatient to attract the hummingbirds, I decided to purchase a small, inexpensive, and colorful plant in hopes of catching the eye of the returning hummers.

There were some blooming flowers at the local home and garden store, but not many of my favorites. As I passed the buckets full of petunias, I just grabbed a pink plant and a very dark red plant.  I took them home and literally just plopped them into a single, long planter.

24" long planter with drainage tray

The Wave Petunias are Doing Great!

The other day, I decided to take some photographs of these vigorous flowers.  Our weather has had some very cold snaps and dreary days.  I have been a neglectful plant owner. Some of my plants have been drier than I'd like them to be due to my forgetfulness and busy schedule. Even so, these petunias are blooming continuously and growing like weeds.

The pink plant is slightly more vigorous than the deep red plant.  But both are doing great.

pink petunia

Unexpected Petunia Bonus

As I am reading articles about petunias - since I am a complete petunia newbie - I am thrilled to find that petunias seem to be fairly easy to propagate. Some folks claim that petunias can be over-wintered in cold climates and/or moved indoors and propagated.  

I can propagate plants, but only the plants that are the most willing.  So I'm thrilled to read that these are willing participants. 

The view of petunias from my comfy cushion

My Only Complaint

My only and very small complaint about these flowers is only about the packaging. I found that it wasn't very easy for me to find the type and color of petunias - on the tag or the planter. Only after I took photographs of the tags, did I realize that I have the "easy wave" petunias.  And I'm still not seeing what colors I have.

The tags are larger than many, and that's a plus. But I think the type and color should be printed more clearly and/or on the back side of the tag. On the front of the tag, the brand name "Wave" and the variety name of "easy wave" were hard for me to sort out at first.

I believe I have the Easy Wave Pink Passion and the Easy Wave Red Velour. I determined that by looking at the varieties listed on the Wave website.

red petunia

That is an exceedingly small complaint. And does not impact how I feel about these vigorous, beautiful, and FAST growing plants.  Wave Petunias are perfect plants for container garden on a sunny balcony.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A Hearty Hibiscus

Today's blossom on my balcony
Once again, I have a hibiscus that is thriving and blooming like crazy.  I do not know if most gardeners consider a hibiscus to be a hearty plant or not, but I've had great experiences with hibiscus plants on the balcony. Since I typically have a terrible time keeping plants alive, I have come to believe that hibiscus is a hearty plant. And an excellent choice for a well-lit balcony or patio container garden. If you are wondering what plant to get for your balcony, you might want to consider a hibiscus too.


I had previously thought hibiscus plants only grown in warm and exotic locations. On islands and beaches.  But I began to notice them growing on beaches and near marshes locally.  I love the blooms so much that I picked one up at a box store, for just a couple of dollars, and hoped for the best but expected the worst.

My balcony is located in Maryland (zone 7). It gets cold here in the winter.  Last year, I made the mistake of not bringing my hibiscus in during the winter and it froze to death. But the winter before that, I brought it in and placed it in a sunny, east window. That plant bloomed through the winter.

The plant that bloomed for me indoors

Wherever you live, I suggest placing a hibiscus in a very sunny location.  Mine loves my southwest facing balcony.  I have also noticed that if they seem to do okay when I change their locations, and fairly quickly respond to a location they prefer.  However, when I bring them inside, they look sickly for a short amount of time - before bouncing back.

Such a pretty and interesting flower


Apparently, hibiscus do not prefer to be kept moist.  I'm a neglectful plant owner and often let plants become far too dry.  I notice that I've forgotten to water my plants when they start to droop.  Then I give them a good soaking.  The hibiscus bounces back and produces a ton of blooms.


Even though my hibiscus plants clearly do okay without daily watering, I do think they seem to do better in a self-watering planter.  With these planters, I don't manage to let my plants die of thirst, and yet they aren't kept too moist. I think these planters are great choices for hibiscus plants.

I did read somewhere that if you give a hibiscus an extremely large container, it will spend it's energy growing roots as opposed to flowers.  And because I'm slow to move planters to larger containers as they grow, I think I've proven this theory to be correct - smaller pots equals lots of blooms.

Self-Watering Planter

Related Links from Experienced Hibiscus Experienced Growers:

I do not expect you to take my word for it. In fact, if you bought a plant based only on what I say, I'd be a bit worried.  So I highly suggest that you do some research and check out some of the following information. Or, do you own research.

But, I can assure you, the photographs in this article are of my hibiscus plants. I am confident that if I can grow healthy hibiscus plants, you will be able to also.

Hibiscus Care

Hibiscus in Pots: Container Growing

Tropical Hibiscus Year Round by the University of Illinois Extension

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Budget Balcony Bug Control - Aphids

I have a small garden on my balcony.  The occasional wasp, bee, and mosquito have been my only insect pests over the years. Until today. Today, I discovered an aphid infestation on my container rose!  I did not initially know what they were. I had to do some research. And then do research on rescuing my rose bush from their destructive grasp.  I will share what I learned so you will be prepared if you ever notice aphids on your balcony!

Insects In Your Container Garden

I have a young rose bush that I took up to my acreage to plant. Unfortunately, I ran into some obstacles and was not able to plant it there.  I brought it back to the apartment with me and planned to let it live happily on my sunny balcony until I could take it up and plant it.

Today, I noticed that it was looking a little ragged and sickly.  At first I thought it was from all of the traveling we did last weekend.  I touched a leaf and realized it was very sticky.  Upon closer examination, the plant appeared to be covered in BUGS! I stifled a scream and ran inside to research what kind of bugs they were; friend or foe. And what to do about it.


I discovered I had a large family of Aphids on my rose plant.

"Aphids are small, soft-bodied insects with long slender mouthparts that they use to pierce stems, leaves, and other tender plant parts and suck out fluids." 
"Low to moderate numbers of leaf-feeding aphids aren't usually damaging in gardens or on trees. However, large populations can turn leaves yellow and stunt shoots; aphids can also produce large quantities of a sticky exudate known as honeydew, which often turns black with the growth of a sooty mold fungus. Some aphid species inject a toxin into plants, which causes leaves to curl and further distorts growth"
                                 -- both quotes from Aphids Management Guide by UC IPM

So I found my answer. These little bugs, exuding sticky nastiness all over my rose bush were definitely foe. And had to go.  But how to get rid of Aphids feasting on a plant, in a container, on a balcony, was the next question.

Ways to Control Aphids

I found many different suggestions for ridding my plant of these destructive pests. The suggestions ranged from pesticide sprays, to homemade natural sprays, natural enemies, to physically evicting them from the plant.

A partial list of aphid pest control approaches:
  • Chemical Pesticides
  • Organic Neem Spray
  • Soap & Water Spray
  • Essential Oils Spray
  • Release Lady Bugs 
  • Bug eating birds
  • Literally Pick the bugs from the plants
  • Spray the bugs from the plants with the garden hose
In addition to those items, I read about sprinkling flour on the plant/bugs, using a garlic/onion concoction that required a food processor, and other home remedies.

I am not generally against pesticides. But I do prefer to go natural when I can.  There was No-Way-In-Heck I was going to pick those nasty little things from my plant with my fingers! While the birds and the lady bug solutions would be my choices on the acreage, I don't imagine my neighbors would like a flock of guineas on my balcony. Nor would the lady bugs like to be confined to my balcony - even if I could.

So I made a soap spray.  

After doing more research, and halving other recipes, I mixed a cup of water and slightly less than a teaspoon of dish soap. I sprayed the plant liberally. And waited.  The soapy water appeared to be effective as many of the bugs keeled over - feet in the air.  Other bugs tried to skeedaddle but didn't get farther than the edge of the pot.

I then took the rose bush and container into the tub. Tilting it at an angle, I gave it a gentle shower to rinse the bugs and soapy water from the plant.

Only time will tell if the soapy water damaged my plant. Or if the aphid infestation caused the leaves to curl up enough to create permanent damage to my pretty new rose bush. But so far, the soapy water followed by the shower seems to have been effective. 

Monday, March 21, 2016

First Garden Center Trip of the Season

Red Siberian Pole Tomato
Isn't it exciting, the first warm and sunny days in a region that experiences the four seasons? The snow melts away. The sun seems brighter and you begin to notice the white cotton clouds drifting across a cotton candy blue sky.  And it hits you.  



That is what happened to me. I felt the spring bug bite. Even though our first-day-of-spring weekend included rain, gloom, and a few wet snowflakes and it was too early in the year to plant anything, I had to go.  

I drove to the Garden Center in the drizzle. 

Garden Planning

Oh how I wish I was good at planning a garden. I'm not good at it. In fact, I'm terrible at it.  My excuse is that I currently live in a small apartment and only "garden" on a balcony. That's my excuse for not paying attention and being organized.  

Trouble is, I was just as bad at garden planning when I had a huge yard and a sprawling veggie garden.  I need to find ways to be more organized.

I felt the pinch of disorganization a couple of years ago. I had THE most amazing tomato plant on my balcony.  It produced wonderful, round, plum-sized fruit that were the tastiest tomatoes I've ever had.  As the weather turned cold, I brought that plant into my kitchen and used a light bulb to supplement the waning natural light of autumn. That plant produced tomatoes well into November!

Tomato picked on Nov. 18 - small but so tasty!

I saved some seeds and planted them the next year. 

But did not have the same result. How disappointing.  I'm 
not sure if I confused the seeds and planted the wrong ones. 
don't know if my original plant was a hybrid and I got bad results from planting hybrid seeds.  I just don't know.

My goal this year is to find an "heirloom" tomato that I love just as much and then save THOSE seeds successfully.  

Garden Store Trip

My wandering to the garden store, in the rain and cold, was in part to look for suitable tomato seeds. I think if I start them inside (I used a huge, re-purposed fish aquarium to start seeds and small plants) I will have decent sized tomato plants as soon as the balcony is warm enough.

I also needed to think about my herbs and lavender plants. Last fall was a tough time for me in many ways. As a result, I left all of my plants outdoors. And they died.  Typically, I would bring the mint and rosemary to overwinter in the house.  Last winter I also had a hibiscus bush that I overwintered in my bedroom, in front of an east-facing window, and that plant bloomed nearly all winter.  But alas, my poor planning left it to freeze on the balcony also.

I headed out, knowing that I would at least try to find a tomato situation. And with no other plan.

My Purchases

I wandered around the seed packets for so long that I began to think they must think I'm a shoplifter or a vagrant.  A very kind employee came to see if she could help.  I told her of my tomato lament and how much I wanted to have that plant all over again, but that I probably blew any chance of that.

We talked hybrid versus heirloom - and that if I really wanted to try to become a successful seed saving gardener, I need to stay away from hybrids.

She pointed me toward the brands of seeds that she recommends.  Among those brands I found the the Red Siberian pole Tomato by Botanical Interests

The description includes:

"Only an heirloom tomato that came from the climate of Siberia could tolerate the fickle and sometimes cool temperatures that exasperate gardeners in spring!"

I am a little concerned that it is a 6' high pole tomato!  But if I can be creative with attaching it to my rail, this might work out really well.

If you've had experiences with either this tomato or this seed company, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comment section.

My garden store treasures