Gardening season starts now!

What should I start with? First of all, I’d like to wish all of you a very happy new year! I didn’t mean this break to be so long and have been terribly missing blogging, meaning especially you, my dear visitors and my blogging friends, to whom I owe an apology for not giving any sign of life for such a long time. I would love to thank all those who kept in touch from the bottom of my heart! I would have never met you without my blog and this reason alone was enough to keep me wanting to come back here one day.

Even before I stopped writing, I felt the “pattern” of my posts was too restrictive and this thought haunted me during the long break from blogging. Even though I wanted to keep on writing about recipes, I planned to share also other food-related subjects, such as edible plant gardening, which has been a steadily growing passion for the past years. With this first post labelled as “gardening” I hope to share my experience with those of you who already grow plants and maybe encourage those who think they don’t have conditions to grow more than a bought pot of ready-to-use basil, to make the most of their available space!

I started, like most food lovers, with potted herbs, first bought in supermarkets, then in gardening shops. Finally, when I discovered the thrill of growing plants from seeds (or bulbs!), small space gardening became a full-time hobby keeping me busy most of the year and starting already in mid-February.

You might think there is not much to talk about gardening in February, but for me this is the month I am waiting for since the end of autumn because this is when the growing season starts for good! Here is what I’ve been or will be doing this weekend before the end of the month:

  • sowing chilli and tomato seeds indoors
  • sowing herbs indoors (at the end of the month)
  • repotting chilli and tomato seedling (which grow quite quickly), still indoors (end of the month)
  • changing the soil of perennial plants, such as these beauties which woke up from winter sleep on my balcony already mid-February :
Wild garlic/ramsons (Allium ursinum)
… and my office lunch (tuna & pasta salad) with my own wild garlic leaves!
  • tidying up my balcony, pots and trays
  • buying new soil bags and fertilizers
  • checking the stock of bird repellent accessories (I’ll try to talk about these soon!)
    In short, February is a busy month even for a humble balcony gardener like me!

If you are new to seed sowing, here is some advice I can share from my previous gardening experience, i.e. in Switzerland, plain area, one sunny and one half-shaded balcony :

first of all, why bother with seeds???

  • unless you are extremely lucky, you will not find all the plants you’d love to grow and taste ready to buy as seedlings, especially if you look for foreign/rare plants or different varieties of chillies (I will never find aji chillies or even jalapeño seedlings in an gardening shop here)
  • if you have special growing conditions (such as a pot on a balcony), you might need special plant varieties best for these conditions (such as dwarf tomatoes, short & bushy dill, etc.)
  • it’s often cheaper, especially if you use big amounts of certain herbs (dill, coriander, basil…)
  • plants germinated and grown until a certain level in professional greenhouses might not adapt well to your growing conditions
  • most of all because it’s lots of fun! (not to mention the calming and relaxing effect even indoor gardening proves to have!)

when to sow?

  • if you don’t live in a particularly warm area (such as Southern Europe), it’s best to germinate chilli and tomato seeds indoors, in February (though some advice March);
  • I sow certain other plants indoors at the end of February or in March (shiso, mitsuba, coriander, Chinese celery…)
  • check for every plant you sow because some leaves or herbs (such as dill) can be sown outdoors as soon as there is no frost and at worst taken inside if the weather forecast announces frost during the night

germinating medium

  • soil: I’ve already tried different germinating media ; for chillies, tomatoes, edible leaves and herbs (in general small soft seeds) soil is sufficient ; and no need to buy special expensive soil for seedlings ! I buy good quality balcony soil and add about 1/4 perlite (the white spots you see everywhere) which retains moisture and helps to drain the soil (perlite is also great mixed with soil for mature plants, but maybe I’ll mention it later)
  • cotton pads or paper towels (see below)
  • coconut coir: I’ve had several times a very bad experience with this medium and no longer use it (I always had tiny bugs appearing at a certain point)
  • rockwool: I used to like this medium (clean, usually precut to fit seed trays) but noticed some seeds didn’t like it as much as soil mixed with perlite; rockwool is often used in hydroponics
Seedlings, two weeks after sowing; time to repot some of them! (As you see, some haven’t germinated yet)

pots, seeds trays or other containers ?

First of all, whichever you choose, it’s important to cover it. If the cover is not transparent, remove it when seedlings appear. Transparent covers can stay as long as they aren’t too low for the seedlings.

  • the seed tray you see above, with individual small containers and a cover, is my favourite method to grow chillies and tomatoes and in general plants that will be big when fully grown ; I sow two-three seeds per division and repot the seedlings to individual small pots when they are several weeks old
  • herbs and small leaf plants : it’s better to sow several seeds in a bigger pot, such as these :
Papalo, qillquiña or Bolivian coriander – my very first experiment with this plant
  • some people prefer to germinate the seeds first on moist cotton pads or paper towels, kept covered in a small box or ziplock bag ; afterwards, they are transplanted into pots filled with soil; I use this method for stubborn seeds only
Cotton pads are perfect for germinating seeds (as long as they are kept moist and covered until the seeds germinate)

temperatures, water & light

  • once the seeds germinate, either they should be put close to a very sunny window or (in case of chillies and tomatoes), even better under a grow light, such as this one.

This year I’ve invested in two grow lights for the first time and my chilli & tomato seedlings have never been so plump and healthy!

  • each plant has its own minimal sprouting and growth temperature, so check well before sowing (to make sure the seeds sprout in best conditions ; for example chillies, from my experience, germinate best at around 23-25°C); I simply keep my trays on a shelf over a radiator and this is the best spot (if you have no warm spots in your house and it’s rather chilly during the day, you can buy heating grow mats, available in gardening shops and online
  • some plants can be germinated outside in quite chilly (though not freezing) conditions, for example dill
  • germinating medium must be moist all the time, but not soaking wet (though certain stubborn or a bit older seeds must be soaked before sowing; check the seller’s tips or look for them online) ; make sure it never dries out and spray it regularly (do not water seeds or tiny seedlings with a can!)
Green shiso seedlings, several seeds sown in the same small pot

other accessories and equipment

No matter what you sow, when and in which conditions, it’s absolutely necessary to mark exactly what you have sown ! Such kind of labels is the best because you can reuse them every year (wooden ones look great but they rot…. at least from my experience).

If I haven’t convinced yet those who own only a small balcony space and would love to grow edible plants, have a look at my last year’s very last chilli harvest! The date on my photograph says 6th December!

My last 2020 harvest (6th December!) of aji limon/lemon drop, a Peruvian chilli pepper which thrives on a Swiss balcony!

I would love to hear from you and learn from your gardening experience too, so please share your thoughts and tips!

17 Replies to “Gardening season starts now!”

  1. Welcome back Sissi!! What a very nice post to start with. Your garden skills have always blown me away especially having seen pictures of your patio garden and the amazing number of plants and produce thriving right outside the door. I have to admit that I’ve never had much luck starting with seeds so I end up taking whatever the gardening center has. However, after seeing your idea of using the cotton pads for germination, I might give it another try. What a great idea! Thanks for the great information and again, welcome back!

    1. Dear MJ, thank you so much for such kind words and all the compliments! I’m not sure if I deserve them! I see myself as a messy, impatient though very passionate small space gardener. You warm my heart, dear friend!
      Good luck with sowing! Cotton pads are a great way, though I use them rarely… it’s a bit tricky to remove sprouted seeds without destroying the thin roots!

  2. Great that you are back! I have bought a few months ago chives (Schnittlauch in German) in the pot. Any good advises how to keep them? Thanks, Istvan

    1. Hi István!!!Thank you for the kind message! I hope you are doing OK!!
      I would definitely advise a Lechuza pot! Such as this one:
      The easiest way to keep ready-to-use potted herbs at home! Does marvels even with supermarket herbs.

  3. Long time no hear! Have you tried growing wasabi before? I’m curious if you’ll have any luck growing it to “fruition” – would be great if so, since it’s almost impossible to get a hold of in my experience!

    Normally we would be planning our balcony plants around now but we’ll be moving to a house in the summer so next summer we’ll be able to do things large scale with a greenhouse!

    Tried planting a whole bunch of stuff last year… Sadly nothing really came to much. A few sad tomatoes and a bit of basil 🙁

    1. Hi Charles! Such a lovely surprise! It’s so nice to hear from you! How are you??? Still in Sweden?
      The small wasabi leaves you see come from quite an old plant actually. I think I have had two wasabi pots for the past four years if I remember well (the other one was slower to grow back this year, so I haven’t posted the photo). Unfortunately, I haven’t had the rhizomes. They are very difficult to grow, I think, but wasabi leaves are difficult to kill (I did torture them the first year by accident…. with bugs and too much heat…) and are delicious. It’s such fun to grow exotic edible plants anyway!
      Good luck with the house moving! Thank you again for this message! Hope to hear from you from time to time! (I miss your blog!)

  4. Hi Sissi! I’ve always enjoyed reading your posts immensely (and the comments from your readers too, very instructive) in the past and when I took a peek at your blog last Sunday morning, I was most agreeably surprised. A picture of seedlings and ‘green talk’! Why, that very morning I had sown my yearly batch of favourite chili pepper seeds in wet vermiculite. Black Hungarian, Piment d’Espelette, Jalapeno, Poblano… impossible to find them fresh here in the South of Holland. Mature Habanero and Thai pepper plants on the other hand are well available in pots for planting mid May and they too thrive in our small vegetable garden. The ramsons are already showing their noses in the shadowy part… To keep this short, I have a question. Yesterday, I re-read your posts about Taberu Rayu – I am still enjoying my own take on the ‘slow’ version – and decided to order 1 kg of Korean chili powder at Amazon. I wanted the real thing and, after searching the Net, it seems impossible to buy it in smaller amounts here. Look forward to opening that packet and stuffing my nose in it! Where for G’s sake do YOU store such big amounts of chlli pepper powder, you who buys it by the pound? Divided into smaller amounts and frozen, to keep it tasting fresh or something? Btw, I was thinking to add some shop-bought dry fried onions (bawang goreng) to your quick Taberu Rayu version (condiment we love to have with nasi goreng). How’s that? Love to hear from you!

    1. Hi Hélène! Thank you so much for such kind words! I’m happy to learn that you also grow chillies. I’m glad you weren’t disappointed by the slightly different subject of the recent post and I hope you’ll share your gardening experience from time to time and point out mistakes (if I understood well, you are a much more experienced gardener with a REAL garden!).
      And you are also a taberu rayu fan! It’s the hot seasoning I use most often!
      I don’t think I’ve ever seen Korean powder sold in smaller amounts than 0.5 kg (I have been buying it for years from a French shop called “Kimchi Passion”, if you don’t find it in Netherlands, I have always been very happy with my orders!). Before opening I keep the chilli powder at room temperature, but once opened it has to be refrigerated (otherwise Korean chilli gets quickly mouldy, maybe I’ve already mentioned it somewhere), so luckily I have two fridges, haha! No need to freeze it! Just make sure it’s well resealed and refrigerated after opening. It keeps fresh for long months.
      Dried fried onions addition sounds like a wonderful idea! Please let me know how it tasted!
      It was a pleasure to meet you and read such a kind and interesting message! Thank you!
      PS I’m sorry for such a late answer, but your comment was in spams… I discovered it only tonight.

  5. Still in Sweden, yes! 🙂 I keep meaning to write again on my own site but… I always lack inspiration and time. In that vein as well I also kind of lost focus but I might try and start posting again soon so watch this space 😉

    Some of the things I tried growing last year were Thai Basil and Chinese chives… sadly they failed miserably, but admittedly I find it much less fun to remember to water things than the actual planting :-/

    My wife and I are planning on getting a large greenhouse (I think it will be around 60 square metres) so I see plenty of cucumbers, aubergines, zucchini etc on the horizon, despite the short summers 😀

  6. Welcome back dear Sissi. I worried about you during these trying times. I’m so happy to read your post and comment.

    Unfortunately, I have not had great experiences with sowing or growing edible plants, with the exception of herbs which I buy as small pots, they just love my deck containers.

    When we first moved into this house about twenty years ago, I took a storage small room in our basement (maybe three square metres) and made it into my grow room, I even bought a grow light! I planted tiny tomatoes, red peppers and a variety of herbs. They were doing well until the mice nibbled them off and what the mice didn’t eat, became mouldy! So that ended abruptly. Mice were eradicated but my enthusiasm waned for years. Then, I got the itch again and bought a large, raised bed (about half a square metre) and put it on top of our garage which is the sunniest location. We planted tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers only to discover that tomatoes and cucumbers don’t like each other, so they didn’t grow well and what grew, the wildlife ate. We created inexpensive covers to protect our produce from the wildlife but they still managed to take a nibble out of every piece! Last year our covers were a bit more engineered but the plants thrived and grew out of their protective cover. So this year I will grow flowers in my raised bed. I can’t live without my herbs so they will decorate my deck every year.

    I have been seriously considering getting a small hydroponic garden (winters are very dark inside) with its own grow light to continue growing herbs throughout the winter. My favourites are flat leaf parsley, basil, cilantro, chives, and tarragon. Outside, i always grow my favs along with rosemary, a variety of sage, a variety of basil, a variety of thyme and so on. Last fall I dried my herbs with salt when we put the planter boxes away and I’ve been using them in my winter cooking. How I long for spring.

    Welcome back! I am so happy to read your lovely words again.

    By the way, the links are not working.

    1. Hi Eva, thank you so much for the kind words! I’m so happy to be back to and to read your message!!!
      You’ve had quite a lot of adventures with gardening indeed! I don’t live in a house, not even at the ground floor, so I don’t have animal problems (only insects and I had some disease when I used to water too much). Every gardener’s situation is so different… Actually I also had lots of problems at the beginning, due to the lack of experience with my particular growing conditions (most available growing tips were for real gardens) and also because I assumed everything will simply grow if I take care of it… I was so wrong! Even certain herbs aren’t that easy to grow in my experience. Between different temperature and light needs, different bugs eating them, different sizes of pots, watering, feeding…. not to mention sprouting the seeds! I have learnt a lot from my own mistakes in recent years!
      PS Thank you for telling me about the links. I’ve just corrected them. Silly mistake! I must get used again to blogging!!!

  7. What a pleasant surprise! You have certainly been missed, I presumed that you had given up blogging as so many friends have over the years. Your post reminded me of when I started all my seeds for my New England garden. You would think that now that we live in Florida that it would be so easy to have a garden but it is not. Summers are too hot and too rainy for much to survive. All I have now are a few herbs that I grow on my screened in patio.

    1. Dear Karen, thank you so much for such a kind comment and for visiting my blog again! I have also missed blogging and visiting your wonderful blog too!
      As Charles said on his blog, it was a pity to let go something one has put so much effort into… (well, I’m sure he said it in a more beautiful way!). You are right: I thought Florida is a place to easily grow at least some plants! Maybe you can grow tropical plants? You are lucky to have a screened patio! It’s probably more space than I have! Thank you once more for your visit!

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