Category Archives: Food Gardening

Broccoli – Signs of Life

Some might say it’s overly ambitious to attempt to grow broccoli on a balcony with only partial sun. Some might say this, but not me. Nuts to that.

I hatched this plan back in August after discovering the Purple Sprouting Red Spear Broccoli variety available through West Coast Seeds. The plant’s description got me excited:

These extremely cold-hardy biennial plants grow over the winter months ready for early spring harvest. Purple sprouting broccoli provide very small, sweet purple flowering shoots in the spring. Sow in late summer for February to March harvest.

It was already late summer. Why not give it a shot?

I began my mission by germinating and planting 10 seedling. Over the next months the plants grew taller and leafier and broader, and several of the stalks turned yellow and died. I have a habit of overcrowding all of my pots, so I figured this probably wasn’t a bad thing. This was nature weeding out the weaklings for me.

The plants got taller and broader still and by January my mind began to fill with questions: Had I started my seedlings too late? Or was it too cold, too dry, or too dark? Would these plants ever produce any real, edible broccoli?

Then came the snow.

One month later I spotted the very first semblance of a broccoli crown at the apex of the biggest plant. Exciting! Now that it’s almost April, I’m astounded by the plant’s progress every day.

Though I’ve yet to taste this home-grown vegetable, I’m satisfied that my experiment has been a success. My only remaining question is, how¬†will I know when the plant is ready to harvest?

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The Freshest Salad I’ve Ever Eaten!

First, I have to admit that I’m not really a salad person. To my taste buds, salad is “okay,” but I never find it that exciting. Perhaps I’m being a bit extreme since there are a few types of salad that I like, but what I’m really not too jazzed about is lettuce. Blah.

For me, lettuce is one of those things I buy because I know it’s healthy. I put it in my shopping cart (often out of waistline guilt) because I know I should be eating salads more regularly than I do. But so often, once I’m finally ready to get down and use it, I find my lettuce old, wilted and rotten.

Rotten lettuce is anti-motivational, but I’ve found a way to restore my faith. I’m growing my own lettuce patch! Now, instead of buying lettuce only to have it waste away in my produce drawer, I pop out onto my deck, trim off a few leaves, and voila! It’s the freshest lettuce I’ve ever eaten.

The best parts about growing lettuce are that it’s super easy to do, it doesn’t take much space (I’ve got 6 heads in an 18″ x 13″ plastic pot), the lettuce is always perfectly fresh when you’re ready to use it, and the plants keep regenerating themselves. Each time you’re ready to eat some, just pluck off the larger, outer leaves and the lettuce head will keep growing for another meal. Somehow I stumbled into Sustainable Salad Eating 101, and the greatest part is, I’m actually excited about eating salads now!

I ordered a blend of Romaine & Baby Green lettuce seeds from West Coast Seeds, and I would definitely recommend them. They germinated quickly, and the leaves have a light, buttery taste.

Last night’s salad, the pinnacle of our home-grown goodness, also featured Swiss chard, carrots and cherry tomatoes grown by us. It was by far the freshest, most pride-inducing salad I’ve ever made. (Sure, we also added cucumbers, mushrooms and feta cheese, but a girl can’t be expected to grow everything!)

So, if you’re like me and you’re not too excited about salads, try growing your own lettuce instead. It’s fun, it tastes great, and you might be surprised at the results.

Homegrown Carrots

Roughly three months ago, my husband and I were wandering through Canadian Tire and we happened to pass a big seed display. We hadn’t put much thought into our summer flowers yet, so while he wandered the aisles looking for camping supplies, I started scanning the seed packets for plants that fit our growing conditions the best.

The flowers did have a certain visual appeal, but many of them required full sun, wouldn’t work well in small containers, or wouldn’t have enough time to fully mature and flower before the fall weather arrived. For a moment I considered whether I should just buy greenhouse-started plants like I’d done in previous years. But then, I discovered the back-side of the seed rack – the vegetable side.

Of course, being late May already, I’d pretty much missed the ideal time to plant most of the vegetables I was interested in growing. But then I discovered a packet of baby carrot seeds. Baby’s, hey? Perhaps they would grow to fruition faster than normal-sized carrots? Luckily, my initial assumption was correct. These “Little Finger” carrots would produce little orange stubs within 55-60 days!

I have to admit that it has taken a little bit longer than 60 days for these babies to mature, but it’s been worth it all the same. Our balcony is partially shaded by the balcony directly above us, so our plants are always a teeny bit starved for light. But I’m a firm believer that if you put seeds in the ground, something is going to happen. It’s just a matter of what.

I’ve now harvested two delicious crops of these baby balcony carrots, and I have to say that I’m very pleased with the results! Although they’re a little twisted, gnarly and oddly shaped, they pack a rich carroty flavour that I never taste in store-bought carrots, and their sweetness is balanced perfectly by their crunchy texture.

I will definitely try planting carrots again next year, and I’ve learned a few things to help me improve my crop. Mostly, next year I’ll start my seeds earlier, and stick more steadfastly to the planting instructions!

I did end up buying some flower seeds as well, but none of them were nearly as successful, or fun-to-grow, as the Little Finger carrots.