Monday, August 29, 2011

And the Winners Are...

These little orange flowers came back from the dead after our heat wave
and have been blooming non-stop ever since!
I wished I knew the name of these flowers. I came close to pulling this plant earlier in July when it looked like it had been killed by the heat wave. But I decided to give it a chance, continued to water it and sprinkle and feed it the Better World plant food. As if to show me that yes, indeed, it was a survivor it came back with a vengeance, a proliferation of flowers it has put out ever since. So, it is the clear winner on my balcony. It has survived and thrived all the heat, the winds and aphids. If you know the name of it, please drop me a line and tell me.

A little close up of this gem.

And the snap dragons have continued to bloom.
I have NEVER had snaps last this long, ever.
I also show the snap dragons as the runners-up. They were assaulted by all the same things as the little orange flowers, but I did spray them with insecticidal soap and they survived that. Very impressed and I have to say that the Better World plant food has perhaps, been of assistance in this.

Soon I will be leaving this balcony behind. I will take some of the flower baskets with that survived. Much of the garden is done now. I only got one cucumber from my plants so that was disappointing. But most of the flowers did well, the lettuce was fantastic, the peas good, and the spinach and swiss chard also did well. 

I will post how things go on my new balcony, as soon as I get settled and see how the plants are adapting. It is a northern facing balcony but only 7 floors up this time and it looks to be more sheltered. We'll see how things go. 

I hope my blog has helped answer some questions or give you ideas you were looking for this year. It has been fun and I have enjoyed meeting new friends as a result. Thank you so much for joining me on my journey and I hope you have had a great season as well. It truly has been a beautiful summer.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

After our Storms today

Well, I took down some of the planters from the balcony railings as winds as gusty as 90 kms were predicted. We really didn't get anywhere near that so I didn't really have to do so but I would rather do that then container overboard!

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Aphids are Here, Again

Well today I was out watering my plants. I fed them last week and another feeding day approaches but today I decided to just water. I noticed my little daisies weren't doing as well as they should be. I was about to write it off to the heat but a closer looks showed a shiny, sticky substance on their leaves. A closer look, yep, aphids. Again.

I got out the insecticidal non-toxic (to us humans anyway) soap. I trimmed back the plant so got most of them off that way, and then sprayed the heck out of it. I made double sure to spray the plant from underneath as well and then sprayed the dirt as well.

It seems that I am able to keep them under control, but they do seem to emerge during the heat of middle summer. I guess there is no getting away from them, but one can keep them in check. Good luck with yours!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Lettuce has Bolted, Peas are Drying Up, Pansies Dying But All is Not Lost!

I think it hit 38ºC today. It was one of the hottest days I have experienced here in Toronto yet. Some of the plants are hanging in, some not. A few days ago the aphids kicked up again and I had to totally pull up a basket of pansies as they were completely infested. Pansies just can't take this intense heat and couple that with the wind, I can't blame them. The Gerber daisy is a bit burnt as is the orange carnation but it really just happened today under this intense heat. I have confidence they will rebound.

But I can tell you who are the hardy ones. Coleus laughs at all this. The snap dragons, though not putting out new flowers are holding their own. Petunias haven't even noticed the heat. The swiss chard is doing very well as is the growing heirloom lettuce (even though I completely over planted the basket).

I will try to get some shots tomorrow and post them. It was really just too hot to be outside at all. I have been double watering the plants to make sure they don't dry out in this humid heat.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Profusion of Snapdragons!

This grouping of snapdragons inhabit one box. They have grown both
in size and have quadrupled their blossoms. 
 A few weeks earlier
Honestly, I even though I love snapdragons, I usually pass them by as once I plant them they bloom a bit and then die. But, I decided to try again this year. I planted these, each a single plant (one pink, one white and one fuchsia) and my God they've not only survived but thrived! This is what they looked like after about 3 weeks worth of feedings of Better World. I did find some aphids in the white one and pruned the most heavily infested portion and then sprayed with insecticidal soap (non-toxic). Luckily, it looks like they're gone but you have to be vigilant.

I am so happy with how the all the flowers are looking in their railing baskets. I could not be happier.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Cucumber Conundrum

My cucumber plant was doing so well, and then...
Okay so my one solo cucumber I replanted several weeks ago was doing great and then, it started. The leaf by the base of the vine started to spot, turn yellow then dry up.
Leaf dried up by base of plant. Notice the next leaf one up starting
to do the same.

And here is the second leaf, doing the same thing.

See the light spots on the cucumber leaf. Notice
how well the basil plant is doing in comparison.

The end of the vine is doing quite well and the little cucumber fruits
are looking good. However, closer to the base of the plant, the cucumber
fruits are dying and drying up.

Cucumber plants from organic seeds. I am noticing those little spots showing
up on these new plants too. 
I have been researching online to see what this can be. I haven't fed my plants with any Better World plant fertilizer for about 3 weeks as I had run out and just been too busy to get down to the garden center to pick more up. However today I just got some more so have made a tea and will let it steep for a few hours then water them before sunset today. One thing is that they could be nitrogen depleted and that can show up as these symptoms. I sure hope that some proper feeding might save the first cucumber plant and keep these from getting worse. Also, cucumbers don't like to be splashed from the top with water? Who knew? It is suggested to water them close to the base.

Last year I had one cucumber plant and got several cucumbers from it. Well, that's the challenge - to see what works, what doesn't and find solutions to problems that might arise.
Here's hoping the food works and gentler more direct watering!

Better World Plant Food Official Website!

The official Better World Plant Food website is up and running!
Okay, gotta go and check it all out!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Hand-made Bamboo Trellis Still Holding!

Even after a few mighty wind storms the trellis holds!
I just wanted to show you an update of the snap peas. They have climbed up and above the trellis! I could have added another foot onto the trellis but it seems to be sufficing. The sugar snaps are finally producing and they are delicious! So yes, one can grow sugar snaps in a balcony container on the west side even with the winds. Hardy little beggar, that one.

Fresh Lettuce Omelet for Breakfast!

Delicious lettuce omelet with a side order of snap peas!
Just wanted to share one of the small pleasures of a balcony garden. I had run out of swiss chard and spinach for my omelet that morning and thought, hey, why not lettuce? So I raided my lettuce basket and came up with enough for an omelet. Also my sugar snap peas were finally bearing some fruit so I added them to the side. They tasted sweet, fresh, incredible.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Muse is My Balcony Garden

The Balcony Gerber in oils!
I am loving my balcony garden and all the reference shots and drawing and painting from life opportunities it gives me. I thought I'd share one of the "A Painting a Day"one hour paintings I have done inspired by the surprising resilient Gerber Daisy. Maybe it's the Better World plant food and consistent care (like watering) but I have never been able to keep a gerber alive very long. Amazing!

If you'd like to see more of my "A Painting a Day" oil paintings check out my blog at There's a new one everyday so come back each day to see what is new, if you'd like.

And by the way, I found some aphids the other day. Was Johny-on-the-spot with the insecticidal soap and pruned the most heavily infested portions of two plants. I think I have held them in check but you never know with these little white imps. Checking daily and so far, all is well.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Time to Harvest Peas

Just a note that my regular peas were harvested yesterday. I got about two cups of pea pods (enough for one meal) and actually I was able to eat them without shelling, more like a snap pea. They were a lighter green but sweet and delicious!

The snap peas are starting to fill out now and they are a nice mid value green. Interesting in that they are slower to mature than the regular peas.

So far I would say that the vegetable that produces the most food per square inch or the most bang for your balcony planting buck is lettuce, believe it or not. The peas were really nice though.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Snap Peas Growing Like Crazy Supported by Trellis in a Container

The sugar snap peas are three feet tall! 
This is the first time I have ever grown snap peas and I had no idea they grew to such a height before they flowered. I had constructed a trellis that was smaller but then as I saw them continue to grow I added a second bamboo trellis behind the first one. It seems to be working well enough. If a storm comes though I would move them to the ground and against the wall for support.

The snap peas at the upper left, regular peas behind
and cucumber seedlings lower right
As you can see it's really beginning to look like a little corner garden. The snap peas have about 11 flowers and have already borne one pod which was delicious! I will be feeding them again this week. The regular peas don't need trellising or staking but the sugar snaps sure do. I love the height of them but next year I think I will grow them behind the regular peas and have them in the long box. They look beautiful from inside the apartment as they blow to and fro in the breeze. I almost forget I live nineteen floors up. 

Friday, June 17, 2011

What Plants on Your Balcony are Poisonous to Your Cat - Do You Know?

Tiffie eating her safe cat grass earlier in April
Well, did you know that daisies are toxic to both cats and dogs and cause vomiting, diarrhea, hypersalivation, incoordination and dermatitis? And begonias, yep, them too especially the tuber portion of the plant. Unfortunately I bought 3 large planters of them that can only rest on the floor so I watch my cat like a hawk when I am out with her. 

If you don't know what is or isn't safe just go to the ASPCA website and scroll through the plants or search for the plant by name. They have a great visual and written list. If you find this information helpful please show them a little love cause it takes moolah to keep their efforts in existence and bring this VERY important information to us!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Organic Local Cucumber Seeds Growing Fast!

The organic cucumber seeds from Cubit's Organics! Notice the cucumber
seedlings sprouting in the background.
I ordered these seeds a few weeks ago from Laura at Cubit's Organics (located in Toronto) that I found on and finally decided to plant them June 6, just 8 days ago. I followed the instructions on the back of the packet. I used a 7" deep by 7 1/2 x 24" plastic container (I am looking into finding non-plastic light containers for the future) and filled the soil to about 5 - 5 1/2" in the container. I added some shredded seedling containers under the soil so give additional drainage. I planted the seeds 1" deep (more or less) and I think there may be more than the suggested 6 seeds per square foot.  It says to be careful not to over water so I am paying attention to do just that. I have feed the seeds at least once with Better World plant food. 

Cucumber seedlings fast to germinate in just a few days! They are in the right
basket. To the left of them is romaine lettuce. At top lettuce ready to harvest
with a transplanted cucumber potted just underneath the sprouting and
growing cucumber seedlings. Good ole chives to the far right. 
Well, today is June 14 and the little seedling are growing strong!  I'll keep you posted on their further growth developments. 
Until then you can order your own fantastic Toronto organic vegetable, herb and fruit seeds from Laura at
Let her know I sent you when you do and I promise, you won't be sorry.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Toronto June Summer Sunset

One of the things I love about facing west
After you see the beautiful balcony garden all day, sometimes you get lucky and have a fantastic summer sunset at night. It lasts only a few moments, but what a sight!

Fading into the soon to be night sky
What a perfect ending to what was an overcast day! Night everyone. 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Lettuce Ready to Harvest!

The lettuce basket runneth over!
Isn't that a gorgeous site? I planted this basket with seed mid April and kept it in the south, south-eastern corner of the balcony up on an old chair so it would get more sunlight over the day. It was grown without pesticides or herbicides or petroleum fertilizer. I watered it with regular water and every now and then water left over from steaming organic kale, spinach or swiss chard and two feedings of Better World. Now it's finally ready to harvest some leaves! I decided to go and and judiciously cut the leaves close to the where the leaves come out of the earth, but not too close to injure the plant more than necessary. I wanted to leave the rest of the plant to live and grow more leaves. 

Here are the chosen all washed up (not that they were dirty at all, which is such a great benefit to growing your own food - you know EXACTLY where it comes from, no ecoli!).

Washed and ready to be eaten. Yes!
I added some organic cucumber slices, roasted organic cashews, fresh snipped chives from my balcony and olive oil and salt. It tasted fantastic. There is just nothing that compares to harvesting and eating your own home grown food. However, your local farmer's market is a very close second : )

Friday, June 10, 2011

Where to Get some Better World Plant Food in Toronto

Got this list of locations that you can buy Better World plant food from the Lazy Gardener Blogger so posting it here for those of you who are trying to find them. I think soon the company will have their website up and you may be able to buy it directly from them but don't quote me on that. 

Evergreen Brickworks Garden Centre: 550 Bayview Avenue, Toronto ON
The Big Carrot: 348 Danforth Avenue, Toronto ON
Homegrown Hydroponics: 26 Meteor Drive, Toronto ON; 521 Dunlop Street W, Barrie ON; 289 Rutherford Rd. S#22, Brampton ON; 79 Woolwich Street South, unit 4 Breslau/ Kitchener ON
Davenport Garden Centre: 368 Davenport Rd, Toronto ON
Matchbox Garden and Seed Company: Kortright Centre, Vaughan ON
The Backyard Urban Farm Company: 44 Columbus Avenue, Toronto ON
Chedoke Flowers: 945 Garth Street, Hamilton ON
Bill’s Garden Centre: 903 Pape Avenue, Toronto ON
East End Garden Centre: 1395 Queen Street East, Toronto ON
Harpers Garden Centre: 1039 Wilson St. E, Ancaster ON
Karma Food Co-Operative: 739 Palmerston Ave., Toronto ON
Qi Natural Food & Naturopathic Clinic: 710 Bloor St. West, Toronto, ON

How to Get Your Balcony Railing Containers to Sit Square against the Railing

The black iron balcony basket support device doesn't really do that great a job of holding the container square to the railing. What to do?
I took all my balcony rail and wall containers down the other day when that storm rolled in and finally am getting around to putting everything back up. I thought I would share a little trick that both utilizes those little pots that you end up having to through out (because they're not recyclable and, for the life of me, I can't imagine why not cause they SHOULD be) and makes your balcony rail containers actually sit properly square to your wall. Here is the trick.

You get that iron support screwed onto the top railing as per the instructions then you end up with the container like what you see in the picture above. Then you do the following.

This pot actually IS recyclable but I am going to keep it
to use to make the container sit square. It is a 4" pot across
and 3 1/2" high. 
Take one or more of those 4" pots left over from planting your greenhouse plants into your container. You can double up the pots for extra strength or put one on either side to balance. I choose just to double them and put them square in the middle of the iron back support. This limits the ability to actually see them once your container is in place. 

Sitting square in the middle of the iron back support

Now your balcony railing planter sits square! Ta-da!
Now your container should be sitting square. This way water doesn't pour out the front of the container like it use to when the container wasn't sitting straight. Also it looks A LOT better. It's just a problem with skinny railings I find. I have one of these iron supports on the 4" thick side wall and it sits square.

Much better!

The final product. Sitting square and looking good!
I have the other baskets (4 in total) one on the left and three on the right and when they are up you barely notice the containers if at all. It makes the visual line much more impressive, you don't have as much water and earth spillage and it just makes everything prettier. Simple, cheap solution. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Peony Miracle!

Here she is, one of two of my peony miracle blooms!
I think I bought this peony two years ago and it was already in bloom. I took it home and was in Heaven! When that bloom was done that was it. The next year the plant did not bloom at all. Buds came, dried up and then fell off. I went back to the garden centre where I bought it and was told that perhaps ants were involved, in that, ants might have a symbiotic relationship with the plant and the buds might need them to open into full bloom. I wondered how I could cajole ants up 19 floors to scurry over my peony plant. Oh well, I thought I would just have wonderful green plants without blooms and so be it. Then I fed them with what is proving to perhaps be a bit of a wonder child plant food - Better World bug poop plant food. Bug poop. Who would have thunk it? And just for the record, the Better World plant food people are not paying me a single thing to say any of this - not that I'd be against it, but I don't think they know I exist. : ) 

Regardless I am cautiously optimistic that their food is making my plants happy!

another view of one of my Heavenly-scented beauties!
As soon as I had fed my peony this food, about 2 weeks ago, I swear within a few hours the plant stood more upright, the stems more straight then bending over. I had a feeling something good was happening. I think I may have been right!

In it's corner with close to five to six hours of
sunlight, some wind protection and
two feedings of Better World plant food!
I am very happy to see this latest development. The peony has not been removed from it's original container by the way. 

I came across a helpful site on peonies and this what they had to say about peonies in containers.

Note the point about leaving a peony in a pot on a balcony in Montreal - that it would probably kill it. Um, I wonder if that meant Toronto as well cause I did just that, and both my peonies survived?! I am a lucky balcony gardener indeed!

Here's my Nancy Nora Garden Peony
I have two peonies in their original containers that sit nestled in against the east and south wall. This one, a Nancy Nora Garden Peony, developed such bad powdery mildew last year that I wondered if it would make it at all this year. It received two feedings of Better World as well. Considering how hard the plant was hit last year I am amazed that it is around at all so I didn't expect any blooms this year. It has developed lovely deep green foliage and I think this year may just be a building reserves year for it. I am very happy to have it still with me.

A view of the other side of the Nancy Peony.
 It's deep green foliage looks good!
So there you have it. My Peony miracle! I will continue feeding them during the summer and fall as I have read that they are heavy feeders so I hope that with the Better World product, I will rebuild the soil so the plants can bloom again next summer and be more resistant to disease as well. So far so good with the powdery mildew. My two catnip plants showed some good beginnings of the mildew (supposedly they are notorious for developing it) so I threw the one plant out as it was beyond hope and the other I cut it right back and check on it daily now. If any more develops I will toss it out cause it just isn't worth risking the other plants getting infected from it as powdery mildew is easily spread.

One last parting shot of the beauty on the balcony.
I will transplant them this fall into larger containers. They've earned it!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Overlooking a City Summer Sunset...

looking south south-west from my 19th floor balcony
Won't you join me for a summer sunset tea?

Big Storm Rolling In

Shot from inside my balcony door and through the dirty window
and pigeon net. Notice there are NO balcony hanging containers on the railing.
After a day of high heat and humidity (I think it was 42ºC with the humidity today) no surprise we got a boomer on the way. They predicted winds up to 120 km so to be on the safe side all the hanging containers got taken down and the big begonia is in the apartment. After the last big wind storm we had (where one of my heavy hanging containers got ripped overboard) I just won't chance it. I don't want to injure anyone on the ground. Looks like it this storm may pass as fast as it came upon us. Ah summer.

Transplanting the Cucumber into a Container and Finding It a Home on the Balcony

Finally transplanting the cucumber
So I finally transplanted the cucumber. I wanted to wait till it was a little larger as I had heard that cucumbers really don't like having their roots bothered so I thought I'd wait till it was larger so it could withstand the trauma of transplanting. 

I noticed a little while after I transplanted it that one leave was wilted. I had sort of dropped it on it's head, so to speak, as I was trying to get off the coconut husk container. I hate those things. Anyway, it spilt out an landed on it's head so I hope it bounces back. Otherwise $3.50 down the drain. We'll see though, I have hope!

It's new home!
I found a spot lower down and that way it's vines can grow out onto the ground and be supported. I just love cucumber vines. A little prickly, but they look gorgeous! I also planted some cucumbers from seed today, an heirloom variety and I will post on that shortly.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Time to Harvest Spinach and Radishes!

Harvested one row of spinach that is in the pot and the other row still in the basket container

I noticed the radish greens were getting kind of high and looked like they were preparing to go to seed. The spinach needed to be harvested as well. So I began.The spinach was/is lovely! I think I will get one big or two medium feedings of it and I will do a salad instead of steaming. Since I know where this spinach has come from and my hands were clean when harvesting it, as well as washing it twice in clean water, to get the maximum nutrients and taste I will be eating the spinach leaves raw. Even though I buy organic fresh lettuce from the store I ALWAYS steam it.

The radishes were, well, a disappointment.  I think I got 4 if I am lucky. The rest were nothing but a little red root or an orb of wood. Two things I think I did wrong:
1) The container wasn't deep enough
2) I waited too long to harvest

So, I may try again, plant some radishes in a container twice as deep and also to make sure I pull them before the greens bolt. Well, that's what this blog is about - figuring out what does and doesn't work. The spinach though, great for basket containers so I'd say it was a success!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Before and After the Windstorm


looking north on my 19th floor west-facing balcony

and looking to the south from my 19th floor western facing balcony.

And after. The large coral begonia had been thrown and I quickly setted it right so in the picture it is upright but actually I found it on it's side. Begonias stems snap so easily I was sure it was injured, but luckily it was in pretty good shape considering.

Notice all the plants on the far southern wall are no longer there and things are strewn across the floor. Also note how some of the snap dragons are missing from the rail containers...

All the snap dragons snapped off by the wind!

Tiffie always has to inspect the situation.

See where the plant was snapped, right at the base. 
The rail container pansies were battered, but pansies are resilient and they are coming back. The sugar snap peas were somewhat disturbed. It is June 6th and they still aren't flowering so I  am not sure if they will produce or not. The snapdragons, like I said, seemed to take the most damage. The dahlias are amazing, still and the lilacs didn't notice a thing. Even the peonies seemed to hold their own in the north-eastern corner of the balcony.

So, there you have it. One heck of a wind and rain storm with some carnage but overall, not too bad. But there sure is a lot of dirt to sweep up!