Gardening is probably in my blood. After all, my father was born and raised on a farm and when I was growing up in suburban San Francisco, he tended to an extensive backyard garden. But in the nearly twenty years since I moved out of that home, I’ve had only two summers when I was able to garden: 2004, when Tawn and I were living in San Jose and I had five tomato plants growing from 5-gallon buckets, and 2005, when I was living in Kansas City before moving here to Thailand.
Finally, I am going back to the land, getting the dirt under my fingernails, and fulfilling my birthright: to grow my own food!
In the more than three years we’ve lived in this particular condo, we have wanted to hang plants from our balcony but the wire planters they sell locally are really wimpy – good only for petunias and shrinking violets. We finally found a gardener who said he could make some heavy-duty planters for us. It took a year to actually get them made, but finally he delivered.
But they look pretty flimsy, don’t they. Sure enough, just hanging on the edge it looked like they would hold maybe 10 pounds at best before collapsing four stories onto the backs of cars parked below. So the gardener went back to his workshop and returned a few hours later with three metal brackets to put below the planters, providing better support.
I’m still petrified that the planters will crash to the ground below, seeing as how they are actually attached to the balcony railing with wire! I’ve purchased some plastic cable straps to provide greater security and am inspecting the planters frequently to look for signs of distress.
We have two balconies, one in each unit. For the balcony outside the bedroom, Tawn wanted a hedgerow so we don’t have to look at the abandoned building next door. These trees provide a nice sense of greenery outside and with the bamboo blinds, one can wake up almost imagining being in a tropical resort.
While in the US in March and June I did some seed shopping. Faced with limited space, I whittled down my selection of seeds to these five: mini bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, beets, carrots, and heirloom tomatoes.
Didn’t get a picture of me actually mixing the soil, which was a bit of a mess given the small work space. However, we now have five 37-cm pots hanging over the edge of the balcony. I mixed chopped coconut husks into the bottom two-thirds of the soil to ensure it drains well and to reduce the weight of the pots.
Some Starbucks stir sticks were purloined to make for row markers. In addition to vegetables, I did one pot with mixed herbs. I think I’ll have to purchase a few more pots and place them on the floor of the balcony.
One challenge we face is that our units face southwest and during the summer months the sun is actually to the north of us (since we are so close to the equator). During the cooler months, though, we get direct sun. I’m worried this might throw the plants off a bit, especially the tomatoes which I think will do best if they have hot days but, as the fruit sets, relatively cool nights. We’ll see.
I planted the seeds on July 4. Three days later, the first sprouts were pushing their way through the soil. Here, a cherry tomato seedling. It occurs to me now that I should have planted first in some small containers, then transplanted into the bigger ones. I’m going to have to thin out all of the larger pots since I can’t grow multiple tomato plants in a single pot.
Sweet Italian basil “micro-greens” – ha ha! Of the four herbs – basil, rosemary, parsley, and cilantro – the basil is the only one that has so far made an appearance.
Well, stay tuned over the coming weeks and months to see how this experiment at gardening goes. To be sure, my maid is fascinated by my interest in this. You have to reach a certain level of the bourgeoisie, I guess, to see growing your own food as a hobby rather than a necessity.