Saturday 15 October 2011

Making a strawberry tower

One of the first steps to help my garden recover after its last disaster was to start propagating the strawberries. I lost my main crop completely, but I was very fortunate that all of the back up strawberries survived, with them I can very easily replace all the lost plants.


I need all the strawberry runners I can get

I'm in luck, because most of them are giving out plenty of nice runners. I only have to guide them and then separate into the big strawberry planters.


Lucky me they are a lot of healthy ones growing

Now I only had one plant of each variety and there is a risk to lose some if anything happens. Also, I need some time to make sure there are no more grubs and to renew the soil from the big strawberry planters, so the first thing I am doing is filling all the gaps in the strawberry tower. It has been quite easy as all the runners seem to be just the perfect length to reach all the other levels. I am sure the tower will be full very soon.


The tower is already filling up

My only worry is that there will be enough runners to fill everything before the cold comes and the strawberries go into their dormant state. I need at least 24 plants to fill every gap available and so far I only have 6. I will add a bit of fertilizer to help them keep spreading, but other than that I can only wait and cross my fingers.

Monday 10 October 2011

My little garden in japan September 2011

In September I went back to Mexico for a couple weeks, and while I did leave the garden in good hands, a lot of things happened and the garden really suffered. We had two typhoons a bunch of heat waves, a small cold wave, caterpillars munching on several plants and just to top it all, beetles. Over all it was much than the little balcony could handle, even if I would have been here.


The garden got a lot of damage

  • Most of the plants on the flowerboxes died or got too damaged. The very strong winds from the typhoon even split open a couple of them.

  • All of the annual crops went full dry or sick, they were on their way out anyways so no point trying to rescue them.


This marigold got split open by the wind

  • The grape got a bit hurt by the wind, it lost a bunch of leaves and its trellis got slightly damaged.

  • The calla lilies were almost all eaten by caterpillars, they also suffered from the wind and got all bended, so I must repot them.

The pumpkin and most summer crops died

  • Most of the herbs died from the drought, so my herb patch is gone. I will have to start getting them again too.

  • The main strawberry crop died completely. It was all munched from the inside by grubs. It is my fault for not using proper mulch, but at least this time I got a back up to start them again.


June beetles love the strawberry, the soil is perfect for their grubs

  • For the rest of the plants, most are a bit hurt or got damaged soil, so I will be repotting most of them.


I already started getting ready for the new garden

So, now I have to work hard and bring the garden back to life. It will be a big project that will take me a long time, money and effort. But it is all good. This is a great opportunity to start over and also to share a lot of techniques about starting a garden from scratch. Keep posted to see how it works

Thursday 29 September 2011

A perfect container for growing strawberries in the balcony

As you know, I have lost my strawberry twice patch so far, once to some unknown disease and other time to beetles. So, to avoid having to buy everything from scratch again, I decided I must have some sort of back up strawberry patch. The only problem is that my little garden hardly can fit more plants and having duplicates for six varieties of berries takes a lot of space. Fortunately I found a perfect container to fit all of my berries in a very compact way.


A great container for growing strawberries

While I was browsing around the 100yen store (dollar store) I found this amazing planter. It is a stackable three way pot. It is great, just the perfect size and depth. I can set my strawberries the same way as in a traditional strawberry jar pot, but because this one can be taken apart it is much easier to maintain. Also, I can shuffle around the levels to assure each plant gets lots of sun when they need it.


I can stack them and keep all my strawberries in a little corner

It is always good having a back up for valuable plants and this is just the planter I needed. Some of the strawberry varieties are hard to get or a bit expensive. I will save a lot of troubles and costs in case something bad happens (it already did, but more about that later).


Now I only need to make some tags

The next step is to keep organized, I need to make some good labels and tag which strawberry is which one.

Friday 16 September 2011

Tomato harvest

This season my best crop came from the tomatoes. I had tree plants and they just kept giving more and more. I had some setbacks of course, but over all the plants performed splendidly. Last year's season I only got eight tomatoes total, but this time I already got more than that out of the big tomato on the first harvest, I was very pleased. I really never expected to have so much out of them, it was great seeing that much difference. I can't wait for next year to try again.


Big ripe tomatoes ready for eating

The first plant I set up was a big red tomato which I put on the corner to give it the best sun . It grew really fast and thick and started giving flowers right away. Then, when it got a bit heavy with fruit, it slowed down a little, but after every harvest it started growing fast again.


The mini yellow tomatoes were my best success

The second one was a very rich yellow mini tomato. It was in the middle of them all and it very soon took over the spotlight. It grew very fast and so tall, that at the end, I had to tie it to the roof of the balcony. I got around 150 tomatoes from it alone which meant it was the most productive of the three plants.


This plant gave the most delicious tomatoes of all three

The last plant was a very tasty red mini tomato. It did well to, but I had a couple troubles at the beginning because the main stalk broke. The time it got to the tomato to recover delayed its crops a little and I got a bit less from it than from the orange one. It also was the one that got the most damaged from that week of drought I talked about before. Still, I had a nice crop out of it.


Ready to be picked

Because they where doing that well I wanted to measure the production so I counted and weighted every one and did the math. Taking reference from store bought tomatoes of the same kind my total crop was worth around 6000 yen (78 dollars), a very healthy sum for tree plants in a small balcony. And the best of it was that being home grown I had them all very fresh and they tasted amazing


Tomatoes are a must have for any garden

Now their season has ended and it is time to take them out. I liked how the combination of one big and two mini tomatoes worked, I might try something similar again. However I will start checking new varieties and planning what to do next year.

Any recommendations?

Thursday 8 September 2011

New gardening books

Ever since I started to grow my little garden in Japan I have been wanting to get some gardening books from here. I always kept from buying them by making excuses like not having money or not knowing the language, but I finally let myself be and got two. I bought one about container vegetables and one about fruits.


My new gardening books

I figured I really needed to get some reference books because I was struggling a little with the vegetables seasons and dates to sow. I am used to live in a very warm weather where things grow year round, but here I have to take into account a very marked winter and the cold days. Having some reference dates from the books really makes my life much easier. I also wanted to have the books because there are many vegetables here (bekkana, komatsuna, etc.) for which the information in English is a bit hard to come by.


I must try some of these special watermelon for containers

It took me a lot of time and comparing to pick them, but I am very happy with the ones I got. They are very detailed and clear, they also have a lot of drawings explaining everything, which is crucial to me because I am still learning Japanese.

I think it is interesting to see how here in Japan they have a lot of gardening books specialized on container gardening. I guess they are many people like me, who lives in the city and doesn't have space for big gardens, just a small balcony to grow. It is also nice seeing how gardening is a very common hobby, they are many different authors and publishers, and I see new gardening books coming out every year.


Japanese strawberry types, very useful

I really like these gardening books, they have nice drawings and a different approach to what I am used, so they feel fresh and special. They also have a lot of regional tips which I can use, and some ideas I haven't seen in western books; I think I will learn a lot from them. With those new insights and the western knowledge I got I think I will be able to expand my gardening skills and grow a very successful balcony garden.


I like that they have a lot of tips on container gardening

Keep posted, I will write about the new things I learn and how they turned out.

Monday 29 August 2011

Growing a grape in a pot

A couple weeks ago I went to a small trip and I was very happy to see they had a couple grapes fruiting in small pots. It vas fun to see them in real life because so far I had only seen them like that in photos. It gives me even more hope for mine.


My goal, fruiting a grape in a container

Hopefully next year mine will be big enough to fruit like this, I will keep posted on how it does.

If you want to know more about growing a grapevine in a container, check my guide here

Saturday 27 August 2011

Summer crops

This summer was an amazing season for the edibles in my garden. All of the crops grew like crazy and even thought I got a couple setbacks there were still a lot of vegetables and fruits with every harvest. Not bad at all for a small balcony garden.


Every harvest gave me a full platter of food

I had four big harvest out the plants, and every time I got to fill a big plate with all the produce. I also got a lot of minor harvests because every time I needed herbs or more fruits all I needed to do is pick them from the balcony.


I got many fresh beans from the garden

This year there were many plants in the garden. The tomato plants were definitely my main crop, I had tree big plants, they grew a lot and gave a many fruits. I also have basil and some more herbs that took very well the summer and grew many new leaves.


The strawberries were few but good


Pumpkin flowers taste great with cheese

The chilies also gave a big crop although a bit skinny. I had my first batch of blueberries ever and a bit of strawberries. And the pumpkin, even thought it didn't fruit I got many flowers to eat.


Not bad for a very small balcony garden

It was amazing having so much fruits and vegetables, I had never grown so much food. I deeply recommend to anybody with a garden to grow at least a little corner of edibles. It is very rewarding, it saves a bit of money and it gives you very tasty fresh food to eat.

Tuesday 23 August 2011

So, what happened to the butterflies?

Some of the messages I got after my hiatus have been about the butterflies. I got a lot of questions about how to raise them and also some of you were concerned if they made it. So ,here is the rest of their story.


Butterflies on my little garden in japan

After making a reinforcement for the butterflies house they had more support and a better space to keep turning into chrysalis. Then, after a couple of weeks finally the first ones started to hatch. They were beautiful Indian Fritillary (Argynnis hyperbius) butterflies.


They hatched one by one

On that initial batch the first one was a male, the next two were females and then a male again. I feed them some old watermelon and orange slices and they seem to enjoy them a lot. They were happy flying around the room and resting on the window enjoying the sun.


It is important to let them stretch out and harden their wings

Over the next two weeks the rest of the chrysalis continue to open and the butterflies came out. I let each one go after their wings had harden enough. In the end, all but two of the rest of the butterflies came out. I wish all would have survived, but It was still a good success rate. I think the two missing were hurt that time the wind knock the cage over.


They like eating fruit

It was really cool to see them grow like that and pop out from their cocoon. I hope I have another chance of raising more butterflies next spring.

Sunday 21 August 2011

One year of my little garden in Japan

Lately there is a lot of things going on, and because of that I have been neglecting the blog a lot. It is almost the end of the month and I only have done one post. Also, and I have to apologize for this, I haven't been replying the comments that you leave. And, even thought many things are happening in the garden, I have lost the motivation to write about it a bit. So, when I got the notice for the renewal of the blog domain, I was starting to think if it was best to stop.

But then, just when I was about to decide on stopping, something really cool happened; I started to get a lot of emails, tweets and messages about the blog from people wondering how come I have not written in so long and asking for more advice on gardening. Then, without me noticing, the blog turned one year old and I got even more emails and messages with congratulations and nice comments. I was so amazed, I had no idea my little garden in japan had such an impact.

I have always thought of the blog as a little personal journal that I write just to keep as a reminder of how my balcony garden did through the seasons, a small keepsake to learn from experience. I never thought people rely on it for advice, look forward to seeing the posts to find something new to try on their own garden or that it would really be missed if I stopped.

But, I was not right. I didn't noticed but the blog grew and become about much more than just my little balcony. Many people come looking for the stories searching for some advice or trying to get some inspiration. All this time I thought it was maybe only an amusing story to read, it never occurred to me that I was a main source of information. It is amazing to me, I had no idea.

Now I really understand, it is definitely how they say: A blog is also built by the readers. It is fantastic knowing that there is such a great audience and that my advice is being useful. Now I feel very motivated to continue and I will keep going with the blog, hopefully for a long time.

In the end there is just one simple thing I can say to all of you who read my little garden in japan

Thank you very much! You are great.

My little garden in japan

Sunday 31 July 2011

My little garden in Japan July 2011

Sunny July was a good month for the plants, most of them grew a lot. Here is how my little garden in Japan made it through the month.


My little balcony garden has done well this summer

Summer flowers are in full bloom, the petunias, geraniums, marigolds, amaranth globe and others are doing amazing. Even the calla lily and the osteospermum give out a couple of unexpected flowers.


Summer flowers are in full bloom

The tomatoes gave a great harvest all month long, but sadly a heat wave got to them at the end of the month and almost kill them all. Now they are recovering slowly. Hopefully I will be able to get a couple more crops out of them before the season ends.

The grape has grown very well. It really has loved the sunny days. It already formed a whole circle around the poles like it was intended. Everything is going according to the plan. I am expecting a lot of great fruit bearings for next year.


The grape has grown a lot and it's getting ready for next season

The pumpkin finally started to give out some female flowers, unfortunately none of them has kept yet. I guess the plant is still not strong enough. Maybe in august we will have some, but the time is running out.


Hopefully some of the pumpkin flowers will set before the season ends

The blueberries started to become plump. I picked a couple, but they were not ready, so I will let them be another week
or so.

A lot of growth in the strawberries. I think next year will definitely be much better than this.


Summer at the balcony

So far most of the balcony garden is doing well. Summer has made most of the plants grow very well but the heat has taken a bit of its toll too, still not enough to worry. I am wishing august will be as good.

Monday 18 July 2011

Slugs in my garden

A very weird thing happened, just the other day, while I was watering the tomatoes, I discovered one of the flowerboxes has slugs. They were just a few small ones, but there they are.


Small slugs in my garden

The slugs are really tiny, and even a bit cute, I can't help to feel guilty for wanting to get rid of them. They spend most of the time strolling around the planter and not doing much.


They haven't done any damage yet

They are eating the alyssum's old dead branches, but other than that they don't seem to be doing much damage. For now I will toss away the ones I get to catch, but no heavy arms just yet. Although, I will keep an eye on them, because I would hate if they become a plague and they ruin the crops.


No idea how they got there

I really wonder how do they manage to get there, I haven't gotten any new plants for that pot or anything. Maybe one managed to climb all the way there on one of the rainy days last month, but I am not sure. I guess nature always find a way.

Friday 8 July 2011

How to Harvest dill seeds

The dill in my garden is all gone. In late spring it started to flower a lot and it lost all of its leaves, then it dried and now is just a long stalk in the balcony. To not let it go in vain I picked up all the dead flower heads and tried to harvest the seeds. I got a bunch, enough to plant a new batch and a bit more.


The dill ready to be harvested

The way I learned to harvest the seeds is very simple.

  • First, you need to wait until the flower heads get a bit dry while they are still on the plant. Just enough to see them mostly brown, but not as much that the seeds will start to fall.

  • When they are ready snip off the complete flower branch and get them inside a paper bag heads first.


Just get it inside a paper bag to let it dry

  • Let them be there a week or two until they finish drying and the seeds detach and fall into the paper bag. In case there are still some stubborn ones just give the bag a good shake.

  • Afterwards just take away the spent flower heads from the paper bag and all you have left is the seeds

And that is all, enjoy your dill seeds.


Dill seeds ready for next season

I am not sure if I should grow dill again because, to be honest, I underused it a lot. In all the months that I had it growing in my garden, I think I only used it three or four times. The space on my balcony is very limited, and a the full grown dill was very big, almost my height. So, maybe I should put something different in that pot. But then, growing again might be a good encouragement to start using it more.

I don't know, I guess I will put a couple seeds in a starting pot and let mother nature, if they grow or not.

Wednesday 6 July 2011

The butterflies transformed into chrysalis

Well, the butterflies keep on growing and eating like crazy. I had to change them to a bigger house because now they are so many of them. Also, they completely finished the pansies from my garden, all the way to the main trunk, so, now I have resorted to other sources. I usually just ride around to a park and cut a bit of pansies for them, but I have to be doing it often, because they eat a lot.


The caterpillars eating the last of the pansies

A bunch of them already turned chrysalis. It is a very nice looking cocoon. It has small golden spots that shine very bright with the sun. It is so much fun to see how they change. They do two molts before making the next transformation and then they start walking around to find a cozy space. Once there, they tie their feet with some silk and hang upside down like bats. Then in a day or two they shed their skin again and turn into chrysalis. They are so fast and secretive that I didn't had a chance to see them do it, but I have seen others before so it's ok.


This is their new house

They seem to be Indian Fritillary (Argynnis hyperbius), the caterpillars and the pupa match, but still have to wait until they hatch. I could be in for a big surprise.

The only thing that worries me now is that many of them fell down because of the wind. I guess the netting that houses them is not the best material for them to latch their silk. I hope the bump to the floor doesn't hurt them and they still develop well. I will build a support structure and hang them again so they have space once they come out.


A bunch of them turned into chrysalis

The swallowtails I used to have lasted around four weeks as caterpillars and another four weeks as chrysalis. This ones only took 3 weeks as caterpillars, so I think that their next stage will be short as well. But still, I have no idea what to expect. Let's see what happens

Monday 4 July 2011

First harvest of the summer

I just cut my first batch beans from the garden. They were the first plants to give fruit and mature this season. I only have tree stalks growing along with the pumpkins, but I must say, they have performed admirably. Since the start, they grew like crazy, and they only stopped after the plants were loaded with bean pods.


First harvest of summer, beans

I was a bit worried for them at the beginning because I wasn't sure if they will give any fruit. I got the seeds from a batch of beans I bought to cook and I didn't know if they were viable to be planted. Also, last year when I tried to grow them I ended up with a planter with three very dry stalks of beans and no crops at all, they didn’t even put out any flowers. Lucky me, this year I was able to keep them alive and they succeeded giving a lot of flowers and a lot of bean pods.

I like growing beans because they remind me of back when I was a kid when I used to grow them in Mexico city with my dad. They are very easy to take care, give a nice harvest very soon and help many plants they grow along with. Beans are just a great plant to have in a balcony garden.


There is still plenty more beans to harvest

The fresh cut harvest already passed by the frying pan and into my plate, and I must say, they tasted amazing. I really recommend to everybody to grow their own vegetables, the flavor of homegrown food is much better than most of the store bought vegetables.

I think the next crops to be ready for picking will be the tomatoes and the strawberries. I will keep posted.

Sunday 3 July 2011

Lavender season in my balcony

Here in Japan is very common to have people traveling north to Hokkaido for the summer holidays, and one of the popular things to do there is visit the lavender farms in the area. I was lucky and had a chance to visit on my first year in Japan. Growing lavender is a big deal in Hokkaido. From what saw they treat the season in a similar way to how they treat sakura season. They have festivals, special lavender food, lavender designs and many products related. It is very fun place to be. Before my visit, I had never seen any lavender farms, so it was a great surprise to see all the never ending fields of purple and walk among the trails. It was an amazing experience.


my lavender

So, after my visit to the lavender farms that year, of course I had to have some lavender growing in the garden. I got a plant last autumn and took care of it hoping for some summer blooms. It grew a bit during the winter and even more in spring. Finally it started blooming in May, a bit earlier that I expected, but no complains, It was probably just another effect of the vacation drought of spring.

Now after blooming nicely all June, it seems to be starting to stop, so I decided to cut away the flowers that are left and let it grow for the next year.


See you next year

It was very fun to grow lavender, I had never had a chance to do it before. Even though is a very small plant the scent it produced was very strong, specially in the mornings when I the light wind made it come into the room from the balcony. Hopefully it will give a great display again next season, but for now I say good bye, is time to rest.

Thursday 30 June 2011

My little garden in Japan June 2011

I can't believe it is the end of June already, this month went by so fast I couldn't really notice. Here is how my little garden in Japan is doing lately. Summer has really kick in at the garden, and pretty much everything is doing great right now. The balcony is completely green and grown, I can hardly walk among the plants, even though I do pruning regularly they are still overcoming me with so many new leafs.


Hope for more flowers and soon some pumpkins

  • The veggie planters are doing all great! The beans are so full of pods and the pumpkin is ready to give many flowers.

  • The flowerboxes are in a small period of growth with not many flowers because I just got the pansies out and new plants in, but I am expecting a lot of new blooms soon.

  • Finally I have some strawberries in the garden. This year because of April's vacation drought my strawberries lost their strength and most of them probably won't give any fruit for the season, however a couple of them did manage to put some flowers and now they are getting ready to be eaten.


Finally, delicious strawberries

  • The blueberries are growing more and more, I can't wait to august for them to be ready.

  • The tomatoes are completely covered with fruit, and If I count both the mini tomatoes and the big tomatoes I have more than 100 fruits getting more and more ripe every day. It is going to be an amazing summer for them.


The tomatoes keep growing and growing

  • The calla lilies keep on flowering. I discovered five different kinds among them, It is going to be so great next year when they bloom more properly.

  • The rest of the plants, with very few exceptions are doing well.


My little garden in japan is all full of green this summer

And last, the butterflies are all grown, but more about that later.
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