Growing peas on the balcony

Ever since I was a little child I’ve loved peas. Fresh peas. As with so many tender vegetables (fennel, kohlrabi, capsicum) they taste magnitudes better fresh. I urge you to forget about frozen or worse canned or jarred peas! Try the fresh stuff – and grow it yourself. Because by the time it arrives in the supermarkets and grocers it tends to be sad and limp.

The good news is growing peas is easy. I learned it as a child. My mum prepared the bed and with a stick made a light furrow. And I carefully laid the peas, about a centimeter deep. I was eager to get as many peas as possible so my mum had to constantly remind me not to place them too close to each other. Covered up with soil the first shoots emerged and grew quickly.

And the same is happening again as I am growing (too many too close) peas!

Two weeks ago I prepared the bed. In this case, a plastic planting pot for my balcony. I mixed a general potting mix (from Bunnings) with some wood ash that I collected from a wood fired oven. Garden or Dolomite lime will work as well. Everywhere I looked it said “add some lime” – which is not a very precise (satisfactory) instruction. I added about two cups of ash into 15 litres of soil. Let’s see how the peas go with that – so far so good 😉 Look at these shoots!

2weekold peas
An army forest of two week old pea shoots

They are lean and lanky, probably because they grow in a more shaded spot stretching for light. I hope a strong wind or cold snap won’t force them down.

I sowed two different varieties. On the left, shot up 15 cm in only two weeks are Snow Peas from Mr. Fothergill’s Little Gardeners line. On the right, only just emerged have the shoots of “Greenfeast” another one of Mr. Fothergill’s  seeds packets (from last year actually, so I’m glad they were still viable).

Given the speed of growth – one can see the difference a day makes without time-lapse! –  I realised it was high time to put up a support for the tendrils to grab onto. The balcony railing is  only another 15 cm away, and I was too lazy to get any other materials than those I could find in the house & garage already. So I simply tied some household (cotton) string  around a nearby shoe rack which functions as a stool for other pots, the container’s edges, and the railing.


This should build a sufficient bridge to guide the peas to the railing where they can go wild. Oh sweet peas of mine 🙂 I can’t wait for them to flower!


Thoughts worth sharing – Peter Cundall

Since coming to Australia four years ago I have watched a few Gardening Australia episodes and even spotted some of the presenters in the Sydney Botanic Garden. Unfortunately, I missed Peter Cundall presenting the iconic program and have only read about him instead of seeing him in action on TV.

This comment of his was posted by 702 ABC Sydney today on Facebook and brought a big smile to my face:

Peter Cundall - a thought worth sharing

A thought worth sharing me thinks 🙂  I hope you enjoy it.


Attempts of DIY gardening

It has been a few months now that I’ve tried myself at DIY gardening. In a very controlled manner of a 1 x 2 meter plot at the local community garden. Despite the small size there has been a lot of room for learning, some successes and many failures. What I lack in general knowledge of gardening I make up with spurts of activity (often at the wrong time with the wrong intentions it seems) and experimental aka freestyle gardening.

Some examples…

Trusting that the tomatoes that self-seed in our plot will be tasty ones
To the right of this (rather wild) plot are our equally wild tomatoes. They outgrew anything else in no time, promisingly showed off various green tomatoes. Each plant seemed to have a different shape: from mini cocktail tomatoes to big fleshy Roma-like tomatoes we had the whole lot united by one feature: that of no taste! Really, honestly, openly, they were organic and they were wild, but they tasted like nothing. Worse, some of them just rotted away, hosted wormies (maggots of some sort I guess?), in brief could not be eaten. End of our tomato harvest dreams.

Next year: no tomatoes

Wild tomatoes
Tomatoes gone wild


Throwing out chilli seeds at the wrong time
Really, I should have known better. Encourages by tales of lucky gardeners and the easy to grow stigma of chillies I set out to grow some myself in summer – possibly not the right time of year either. The result? Only few seedlings, all of them struggling…and the few that did emerge at all were then attacked by some chilli-leaf loving bug!

My sad chillies
My sad chillies


Mint really (over)grows in all conditions
There is a rule in the garden that you’re not allowed to grow mint in beds as it tends to overgrow everything else. Naughtily I thought I could just have a few twigs of fresh mint in my plot. I was given a mint (unspecified) for free, so how could I resist? The experiment worked, the mint has successfully outgrown the Nasturtium (!) and is spreading happily. Unfortunately, the mint I have doesn’t have the greatest flavour and the leaves are a bit hairy.

What I believe my (free) mint really is
What I believe my (free) mint really is

Time to demint at the next occasion, i.e. once I have decided what to plant instead.


Time for a plan!
No doubt this is my biggest learning. There is only so much harvest one lucky person can have from wild tomatoes, free mints, and sad chillies without leaves. So coming to the gardening game at the height of summer and without a clue (very much like the first settlers), as a first-year gardener I feel greener & keener than ever to make that plot work for me fulfilling all the promises of fresh herbs, lush lettuces and sweet berries. For this to happen I am preparing myself with a battery of books and sought advice from fellow (and successful) gardeners. May the seeds of carefully selected &  timely sown plants carry the sweet fruits of my ambition! In other words: wish me luck, I need it.

No black thumb after all?

As much as I love pretty much everything plant-related, there has been one big, no huge area that has managed to escape my comprehension and capability: growing plants. Yep, when it comes to gardening, I suck. I can weed, plough, rake, harvest, but grow? No, no!

Dubbdd the black thumb it’s been a frustrating experience, every attempt resulting in (mostly) sooner than later death; even with so-called idiot-proof herbs.

What’s even more annoying is that my parents have the most beautiful, bountiful garden where everything just magically seems to thrive. Orchids on the edge of suicide under my care revive in my mom’s hands producing one mocking flower after the other. Rare wildflowers become self-seeded regulars and veggies turn into weeds.

Green thumb genes obviously skipped a generation. But apparently there is hope: Liza from Good to Grow (wonderful blog!) seems confident that it is only about the right care.

I remain suspicious as to supernatural powers playing a role, but that gives me something tangible to work with. Sure for most plants there has to be a recipe, an instruction on how to grow it best under certain conditions.

Craving success and being limited to what I can grow on my balcony garden surely herbs (idiot-proof, remember?) are an easy beginners’ choice.

So I start my homework. First up: know your growing conditions. Here are my essentials:

  1. Exposure to sunlight
    For a balcony garden, soil is provided by high quality potting mix (five red ticks!), so knowing how much sun your precious few square meters are getting is essential.
    For mine it’s afternoon sun, 4 hours maximum during daylight savings.
  2. To water or not to water, that’s the question here.
    Even the most robust cactus will need the occasional drop, but knowing whether the plants you’re growing like wet feet or good drainage seems important.
  3. Temperature
    Frost is not a problem in Sydney, so I’d consider it less important.

Ok. Now to the plants I want to grow. As much as I’d love to have glowing tomatoes and shiny chillies, I think my westernly aspect balcony won’t be the right setting.

Set on herbs, I am trialling basil, thyme and peppermint. From the seed packet alone it seems it should be a fairly easy task. Marketing trick I suppose.

But growing herbs might not that easy after all as this excellent blog post featuring tips and tricks by Renee Wierzbicki points out.

So I shall wait and look after my pots and see.

To my great delight, I see already:



and basil

peppermint pending.

Watch this space for further news.

And if everything fails, my heart is set on growing a completely different type of plant: a Wollemi Pine – sounds easy enough, doesn’t it?