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 :
- 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!
SEED SOWING TIPS
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
- 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
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 :
- 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
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!)
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!
I would love to hear from you and learn from your gardening experience too, so please share your thoughts and tips!