Monday, 27 April 2009

April Summary

As we approach the end of April, now seems a good time to summarise exactly where we’re at with the London Vegetable Garden.

It’s been little under a month since I decided to start making use of my balcony and trying to see how many vegetables I could grow. Since then, the idea has really ‘sprung into life’ and I’ve started looking at issues surrounding self-sufficiency, growing vegetables as an answer to financial hardship and also at allotments in London.

As you can see from the picture above, we’re well and truly under way in terms of actual London balcony vegetable growing! This blog has started picking up a regular readership and more people are starting to leave comments. I’d like to thank everyone who reads this blog for their continued support, but we’re far from over yet!

Over the next few months, I’ll be charting the progression of my produce, naturally, and am also set to explore some more areas around gardening, growing your own vegetables and the implications it has on today’s society. If any readers feel they have an interesting area to discuss or would like to see me write about a certain topic, then please don’t hesitate to email me at
callumsaunders@yahoo.co.uk

I’m hoping, that in May, the London Vegetable Garden will continue bearing flora and fauna and we’ll hopefully have something edible appearing! April’s been a very interesting month and really seen this project take off, in ways I didn’t ever imagine when I started – let’s hope May is full of more agricultural adventures as I attempt to bring horticultural hope to the people of London!

Lots and lots of pots!

Only yesterday I was enjoying a London marathon basked in glorious sunshine; today I have been out on the balcony getting cold, wet and dirty. The British weather truly is an unpredictable beast, but the London Vegetable Garden marches proudly on whatever Mother Nature throws our way!

I’ve been working in the London Vegetable Garden this morning, as I have this week off work and am escaping to the countryside for a few days. With this in mind, I wanted to make sure that the tomato plants were re-potted before I went. The weather has been very sunny over the previous week, and sat on the balcony windowsill, the tomato plants have been faring extremely well indeed.

Regular readers of the London Vegetable Garden blog will know that I recently re-potted one of my three tomato seed trays into a few pots, choosing to do just one to see how they fared. Well, all plants are doing well, so today I decided to re-pot a second seed tray – this time one seedling to a pot.

Well, with the wind howling against me (and giving the runner beans quite a pounding in the process), I’ve potted these latest tomato seedlings. I now have a mixture of tomato plant ‘options’ going on – those still in seed tray one, the initial re-potted batch (three / four seeds to a pot) and now a crop of one seed per pot plants. With three different options, I’m hoping that at least a few will grow into hardy tomato plants that I can start planting in a grow bag and focusing on. If they all take off, then perhaps the neighbours will be receiving a few plants to start a balcony vegetable-growing project of their own!

Incidentally, I have re-potted some of the rocket today. One of the seed trays looked very packed indeed, so I’ve re-planted the rocket seedlings into a window box that hangs on the balcony. The roots looked very short, so I’m hoping that they haven’t been damaged in the move – we’ll just have to wait and see how well they take!

Friday, 24 April 2009

Updates - Day 18...





A quick update – I’m hoping to do some more work in the garden (on the balcony) this weekend. Plenty of you have been emailing in, sharing your tips, so thanks for these – they really are appreciated and most helpful! Plus, a week after planting, the radishes have sprouted already – no doubt spurred on by this mild April weather we’re enjoying in London!

As you know, last weekend I transplanted some of my tomato seedlings into pots so that they would have a bit more room. I was reluctant to move all of them, in case it turned out to be a disaster and I lost the whole crop! Whilst the seedlings that remain in the seed trays admittedly look the strongest, the transplanted seedlings look pretty healthy too.

One piece of advice I received from a post left on the Royal Horticultural Society website explained that when the seedlings are big enough, I should plant in bottomless pots that sit on top of an open grow bag, thus giving the roots plenty of room to spread out in a confined space. Well, I’m going to attempt this with the runner bean plants (that are looking extremely strong at the moment) this weekend.

Unfortunately, a battle with compost bags and public transport beckons, along with the fact that I’m going to have to saw the bottoms off the pots without losing all the soil in the process - I guess that’s simply a price I’ll have to pay in order to yield a magnificent harvest…

As for the rocket, I think I’m going to have to sort this out this weekend. It seems to have slowed down a bit and looks crowded. I’m hoping that by thinning the plants out, they’ll start to grow a bit more again, if the transfer doesn’t affect them badly.

Make sure that you check back to see the developments over the weekend!

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Vegetables on Twitter!

Unless you've been hiding under a very large rock at the end of your vegetable garden, you'll no doubt be aware of the latest social network craze sweeping the Internet, Twitter! Well, the London Vegetable Garden likes to think that although it's only a balcony, it's up to speed with all the modern gardens, hence it now has its own Twitter account! Simply click on @londonveggarden to start following us on Twitter!

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Preparing for a global food shortage?

A friend of mine passed me a copy of the Sunday Times magazine supplement this weekend, pointing out an interesting article by John-Paul Flintoff, who happened to be writing about several issues that are extremely relevant to the London Vegetable Garden. Whereas I’ve previously examined the concept of growing your own produce as a money-saving ‘credit crunch’ alternative, Flintoff argues that global food shortages could mean we’re all going to have to get proactive with our plots – and soon.

Whilst this feature isn’t meant to paint an apocalyptic picture of doom and gloom, it does raise some extremely interesting points. For example, did you know that 40% of the food we eat is imported, including 95% of our fruit and the wheat in our bread? This is an unbelievably shocking statistic, especially when you consider that in 1900, agricultural employment was at 40% - paltry compared to Britain’s 2% today.

If I were an economist (those that know me will note I usually am after a few pints), I’d start arguing the case that during a recession and rising UK unemployment, surely the Government should start decreasing the amount of produce it imports and start creating more agricultural jobs? Financial politics aside, it’s seems extremely clear, that modern governments just aren’t concerned about self-sufficiency.

This belief is shared with Professor Tim Lang of City University, London, who draws upon a recent report from the Cabinet Office, stating that “existing patterns of food production are not fit for a low-carbon, more resource-constrained future” – a damning indictment indeed. So if our ‘elected representatives’ are failing to deal with this, apparently very real, issue, perhaps we as communities and individuals should be tackling this situation at a much more ‘grassroots’ (forgive the intentional pun) level?

Flintoff talks about ‘Transition Towns’ as a collective answer to a shared problem. Several towns are now planning ahead and striving to become more self-sufficient. Initiatives such as shared-space growing, sourcing local produce and fruit tree mapping are all schemes that are being met with considerable success. But where does that leave us in terms of our individual responsibilities?

Faced by the very real possibility of future food shortages, more and more of us are re-learning to do something that most of us have forgotten, despite the fact that we’ve been farming for 600 generations. What is this? Simply, how to grow our own food. The London Vegetable Garden may not produce enough radishes to sell to local shops, and it may not keep hunger at bay should a global food shortage kick in, but I’m getting back to my agricultural roots and trying to highlight just how much can be achieved if all of us chip in and do our bit.

(The original article can be viewed on the Times Online website by clicking here.)

Monday, 20 April 2009

New arrivals!

So, two weeks down the line and things on the balcony are well underway, highlighted by the impressive size of the newly re-potted runner beans! Now that there is once again a little bit of space back on the balcony windowsill, I’ve made a few new additions to the London Vegetable Garden.

Many of you have emailed in to say that herbs are an easy and space-efficient plant to grow on a balcony or on a sunny kitchen windowsill. I’ve taken this on board and am looking to start a varied herb garden over the next few weeks. The first of these, planted yesterday, is Coriander (Coriandrum Sativum). The packet instructions say that it is enough to grow this in pots on a windowsill, so this is a great way for city gardeners to maximise the variety of produce they can grow whilst economising space.

The second batch of new additions to the London Vegetable Garden this week is French Breakfast Radishes (Raphanus Sativus). The packet states that these are high-yielding crops, ideal for use as a ‘catch-crop’ between slower growing vegetables, so we’ll see if they arrive before the carrots! I’ve planted these in deep pots – as a shallow vegetable, hopefully they’ll have plenty of room to grow.

On a non-vegetable note, my other half is beginning to get concerned at the amount of compost-ridden pots taking over the balcony, so I’ve invested in some more flowers to ensure the balcony retains its aesthetic qualities and keeps her happy – White Foxgloves (Digitalis Purpurea). Progress will be reported here first!

Sunday, 19 April 2009

All change on the bean front...

Exactly two weeks to the day and already it’s time to transplant the runner beans! Regular follows of the London Vegetable Garden will know that these beans have been shooting up around two inches per day since they sprouted, so I wanted to get them bedded into pots as soon as possible.

The pictures here show how quickly and densely the roots grow too. Several of you have been emailing in with tips and advice (much appreciated – keep them coming) and suggesting that I should cut a hole in the bottom of the pots and sit them on top of a grow bag, so that the roots can really spread out and dig in.

I’ve put some canes up for the leaves to establish themselves on. Hopefully the plants won’t be too distressed from the move and will now settle down and start winding around the canes.




Carrots are go!

Two weeks to the day and the London Vegetable Garden has its first glimpse of carrot! As you can see from the attached picture it really is just a glimpse, but 14 days down the line and all of the seeds have now sprouted. That’s the easy bit out of the way…

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Vegetable Economics?











Whilst I started the London Vegetable Garden project as a horticultural hobby, there are several social issues that not only surround urban gardening and growing your own organic produce, but wider economic factors as well as gardening in general.

‘Growing your own’ has been well documented in recent years thanks to your friend and mine, the ‘celebrity chef’, as well as programmes such as ‘River Cottage’ and a nostalgic longing for a simpler, rustic lifestyle. But recent events of the last twelve months (I refer, of course, to the dreaded ‘credit crunch’) have left many British residents turning to their gardens as a way of saving money rather than an enjoyable pastime.

An abundance of ‘grow your own’ websites have shot up on the web (an apt analogy!) and as long as a year ago (April 2008), papers such as the Independent were publishing articles highlighting the fact that growing your own vegetables would allow you to harvest significant savings on your supermarket shopping bill.

This insightful article (available to view here) suggests that by growing our own vegetables, we could save up to £1,400 a year – a significant amount whatever your income. It’s important to note here that this figure is guessed based on the running of a successful, productive allotment or vegetable garden – so where does this leave the London Vegetable Garden?

Whilst excited about the thought of eating home-grown, natural vegetables, I’m under no pretensions that this project is going to impact my supermarket bill in any radical fashion – corporate behemoths such as Tesco need not worry about losing any of my custom just yet. But it is interesting to see just how realistic figures such as those quoted by the Independent actually are.

I have the price of my seeds and compost all written down. As soon as I can accurately measure how much produce I’m actually producing per seed packet etc, when things really start growing and yielding vegetables, I’ll be writing an entry detailing exactly how much I’m saving – or not.

Watch this space…

(Top-left photo courtesy of Drunken Monkey)

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Eats, Shoots and Leaves...

OK, so perhaps ‘eats’ can only refer to the plethora of pigeons that now frequent the London Vegetable Garden balcony, consuming the seed that I try (in vain) to leave for the robins and finches, but shoots and leaves are very much the order of the day – Day 12.

As regular visitors to this blog will be aware, the progress I’ve made on my urban gardening quest has been quite remarkable considering the short timeframe. Aside from the runner beans (whose meteoric growth has been rather astonishing), today has been the first day that simple seedlings have really taken on their own personality and looked like individual plants.

It’s the shape of these leaves that are really starting to stand out now, and despite the small size of my produce playground, the diversity of the leaf shapes on display ensure that visually, the balcony is starting to look an interesting place indeed!

As you can see from the latest pictures (the neighbours surely must think I’m mad by now, crouched over taking pictures of seed trays), the rocket is developing a very rounded leaf shape, which I expect will taper into the usual rocket shape once it’s big enough. The leaves on the runner bean plants are developing at a phenomenal pace as well, growing visibly larger by the day.

What really interests me however, is the very marked, pointed shape of the tomato plants – something I’ve never attempted to grow before. As you know, this is the plant that I’m perhaps most passionate about, since I believe that these will be the most difficult to grow on a London balcony with no greenhouse – the nemesis plant! But even in these early days here on the London Vegetable Garden, they seem to have already taken on their own unique personality.



Tuesday, 14 April 2009

What a difference a day makes...

Whilst I’m keen to stress that this blog won’t be a daily photo gallery recording pots of soil and minute growth spurts, I wanted to add a brief entry for today remarking on the incredible progress of the runner beans in just 24 hours. Still no signs of life on the ol’ carrot front…

Monday, 13 April 2009

The Origin of the Species...

Whilst this recent horticultural hobby has indeed made me go ‘a bit Darwinian’, the latest species originating on the London Vegetable Garden is the sturdy runner bean. We’re now on Day 9 of the project and overnight the runner beans became the latest plants to break through the soil and show themselves to the world.

We’re only waiting for the carrots to get started now and then we’ll be fully underway. As an update, the rocket is going great guns at the moment. As many of you will be aware, this Easter Bank Holiday weekend hasn’t had the sunniest of weather, although the temperature has remained quite mild, which seems to have suited the plants very well. The rocket shoots are outside and all are leaning towards the sun (whenever it does periodically appear), so I may move these around to a sunnier spot in the next few days.

The tomato seedlings are also now well on the way. I’m keeping these inside the flat, on the balcony windowsill, to make up for the lack of a greenhouse. Hopefully, by the time they’re big enough to be transplanted into grow bags, the weather will be a lot hotter. Investing in a small cloche (or making one myself) may be an option later on down the line.



Saturday, 11 April 2009

Frequented by Feathered Friends...

Going off on a slight ornithological tangent here, I’d like to comment upon the variety and frequency of the feathered friends that have been visiting my balcony in recent weeks.

When my girlfriend and I moved into this flat a year ago, I put up a bird feeder with peanuts in, however we didn’t see any birdlife on our balcony for an entire 12 months. What’s truly remarkable in recent weeks however, is the amount of birds that now flock to the balcony several times a day.

It all started around three weeks ago with a solitary robin, which started pecking away at the bird feeder one morning whilst I was watching BBC breakfast news before setting off to work. Amazed, I continued to watch out for this robin and sure enough, he visited the bird feeder every single morning.

Well-known for my passionate impulses, I rushed out at the weekend and purchased a bird food fat ball (contained within a plastic mesh netting) and hung this up next to the bird feeder, whilst also sprinkling wild birdseed mix onto the balcony.
Well, since then, the birdlife that has visited us has been astonishing.

The robin (who incidentally, we’ve named ‘Vic’) still comes every day, pigeons are practically resident and a varied range of tits and finches now frequent the balcony at intervals too.
Readers mustn’t forget that I’m situated literally 10 metres from an extremely busy railway line, including freight trains – which led me to believe that I wouldn’t really see any wild birdlife, save for the odd London pigeon.

So far I’ve recorded at least 7 different species of birds, however I’m still attempting to classify some of these.
I’m not an avid birdwatcher, however the addition of this unexpected surge of wildlife to the London Vegetable Garden project is an extremely welcome and enjoyable distraction.

Tomatoes off the mark...

A whole 7 days have still yet to elapse since I started out on the organic odyssey that is the London Vegetable Garden project, however we have more signs of life in addition to yesterday’s rocket arrival!

That’s right, more shoots have started showing already and today it’s the turn of the tomato. Now if I’m being honest, I really do believe that my tomatoes will be the most difficult things to grow on my balcony, due to the lack of a greenhouse. I debated about including them in the project for this very reason, however their early appearance has given me renewed vigour and encouragement.

This Bank Holiday Easter weekend has seen some gloomy weather over here in east London, however the temperature has remained relatively mild. I’m hoping that this is good for the plants that are outside on the balcony, namely the carrots. The rocket has shot up considerably since yesterday and I really am interested to see just how quickly I can harvest this variety. Rocket and tomatoes are off the blocks, runner beans and carrots await!

Friday, 10 April 2009

We have lift-off!

We do indeed, and we’ve got well and truly underway courtesy of the humble rocket seeds! It’s only Day 6 of the London Vegetable Garden Project, yet already we have signs of life in the soil.

Planted in seed trays, the rocket has started breaking through the shallow compost less than 120 hours since it was planted! I’m hoping that there is enough soil for the rocket to grow nicely. Once I’ve established how long the timeframe is to grow edible rocket leaves from planting, I may see if implementing a ‘crop rotation’ for my salad produce is an effective means of ensuring a regular supply of peppery salad leaves!

New Arrivals at the London Vegetable Garden!

The London vegetable Garden has had quite a few visitors in recent days! Considering my flat is in such close proximity to a busy railway line, the frequency and variety of birds that have made an appearance on this inner-city balcony is quite remarkable.

The little robin has been a regular visitor for a few weeks now, along with the pigeons, but I’ve started to see more and more varieties of small birds, including Great Tits, Grey Tits and finches.



Tomatoes, Runner Beans & plenty of Cling Film!

Now we come to the last two vegetables I’m trying to grow. Well, I should say vegetables and a fruits, because the humble tomato is technically a member of the fruit family, owing to its seed rather than root-based nature. These plants have to be started off under cover or in a greenhouse, but as this is the London Vegetable Garden / Balcony Project, I’m using cling film covers and keeping them inside the flat in front of the warm window to start off with.

That seasonal favourite of British greenhouses, I’m attempting to grow my ‘Tomato Maskotka’ (Lycoperiscon Iycoperiscum) on a sunny (English weather permitting!) balcony. I really do believe that tomatoes are a quintessential part of any British garden – I can still vividly recollect childhood memories of going into a warm greenhouse and being hit by that (always warm) sweet, tomato-like smell.

I’ve started off by sowing the seeds thinly in three seed trays, covered with cling film. The packet instructions dictate that these seedlings should stay in their trays until they are around 4 inches tall, before being transplanted into a grow bag, which incidentally, I struggled home with on the train last week!

The final variety I planted last week is the hardy Runner Bean. I’m using the ‘Stringless Armstrong’ variety (Phaseolus Coccineus), which is the same variety I managed to grow with (some) success on this very same balcony last year.

The plants shot up to impressive proportions, however the crop didn’t yield a great deal of beans. I’ve been told by friends that this is probably due to planting in compost and the beans not receiving much nourishment, as well as the polluting factor of the train line that runs adjacent to the flat. This year I have planted the seeds in small pots and will transport them to large pots when ready, this time prepared with a mix of grow bag compost and a regular feed.

So now we’ve established all of the vegetables so far. I’ll be referring to the days as numbers going forward, and these all date from the day I planted everything. Therefore, Sunday 5th April is ‘Day 1’ and so forth. The London Vegetable Garden is well and truly underway!

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Wartime Spirit - Social Implications of Credit Cruch Gardening...

Whilst the whole London Vegetable Garden project is simply an interesting hobby to see if I can actually grow a few vegetables on my London balcony, there are many more people doing exactly the same, meaning important social conclusions can be drawn from this trend.

Sales of vegetable seeds / plants in Britain now outnumber those of flowers, whilst waiting lists for London allotments have reached truly unprecedented levels, indicating a very marked shift in the UK’s horticultural habits. Whilst I’ve nodded towards what I refer to as the ‘River Cottage Effect’ in a recent blog post, this cannot be the sole reason behind the increased interest in gardening and ‘growing your own’ produce.


Some commentators speculate that the ‘credit crunch’ has had a significant effect upon people who are looking to save a bit of money by growing their own cheap vegetables. With supermarket vegetable prices fluctuating almost daily, it’s not hard to believe that many people are turning to their own back gardens for fresh produce rather than paying over the odds for imported, poor quality veg.


It’s a well-known fact that in Britain, we throw away a shocking amount of food each week; not only a sad indication of our excessive consumerist natures, but also a dreadful waste of money that could be better spent elsewhere. One of the greatest monetary advantages of growing your own is that the back garden is, in effect, one big fridge. Whilst supermarket produce goes off within a week, green-fingered horticulturalists can harvest the freshest produce by simply pulling it out of the earth, saving money by using only what they need, only when they need it.


‘Celebrity’ chefs / gardeners (delete as applicable) are all urging us to go organic and grow our own produce. Current affairs programmes and TV presenters are all saying that we should ‘make do and mend’. It seems that we’ve recently gone back to bygone days of wartime Blitz spirit and ‘digging for victory’ to quote the famous poster. One thing’s for sure – the ‘credit crunch’ has resulted in a lot more British people crunching into home-grown vegetables once more, and that can only be a good thing.

Fly me to the moon...


Whilst this rocket won’t ‘fly me to the moon’ (I couldn’t resist!) I am hoping that it will provide me with some salads that are ‘out of this world’. OK, OK, I’ll stop the awful puns, but I would like to introduce the second crop I’m attempting to nurture on my metropolitan mezzanine.

Earlier this week, I planted ‘Rocket Runaway’ (Eruca Sativa), the name hopefully indicating its fast-growing nature. I’ve sowed the rocket seeds in seed trays and I’m hoping that these will yield some nice baby leaves pretty quickly – the instructions on the packet certainly seem to suggest that frequent yields are possible.

As I’m gardening on a balcony rather than in the earth, I’m presuming that I’ll only be able to grow one batch per seed tray, so I’m keen to see how I get on with this first round. I’m hoping to harvest the leaves midway between baby and mature stage, but as the soil isn’t tremendously deep, I’m guessing that I’ll have to harvest these at baby leaf stage.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

24 Carrot Gold...

As it’ll inevitably be a week or so before I can provide you with anything other than pictures of pots filled with compost, I’ll spend the next few days introducing the various vegetables that I’ve planted. Some have been started outside, whilst other more delicate varieties are staring off inside the flat in seed trays covered with cling film.

The first vegetable to introduce is the humble carrot. I purchased a variety of vegetables from Johnsons’ ‘Compact Gardens’ seed range ‘for small spaces’. Whether my balcony can get away with being classified as a ‘small space’ as opposed to an ‘absolutely minute space’ remains to be seen, but I thought this would start me off well on my quest for vegetable self-sufficiency.

These carrots are ‘Amsterdam Forcing 3-Sprint’ (Daucus Carota) and the packet they arrived in claims that they can even be grown in large pots. With no need to grow and transplant seedlings, I have sown these seeds straight into the aforementioned ‘large pots’ as recommended by the packet instructions.

I must admit, I remain sceptical as to whether my pots are deep enough; but these claim to be baby / finger carrots, so we’ll see how we get on and what starts to happen!

The Plot Thickens - 2

video

A more cinematic view of London's most ambitious vegetable plot... The noise in the background IS indeed a freight train whistling past, serving to highlight my plot's near proximity to a railway line.

The Plot Thickens...



…well, I wish it would, but I'm actually left with a small city balcony next to a busy railway line!

My balcony measures approximately 2 feet by 8 feet and is currently home to a picturesque selection of assorted winter flowers, plants and ivy.

This is the setting for my city balcony vegetable growing project, in which I’ll battle space constraints, pollution, strong wind and pigeons. Can I beat the three runner beans I managed to produce last year? Find out here on my blog!

Welcome to the London Vegetable Garden...

…or balcony to be precise!

For the past few years now, Britain has rediscovered its love of gardening, organic produce and healthy eating. Waiting-lists for allotments have reached unprecedented levels and programmes such as ‘River Cottage’ dominate Sunday afternoon TV.

Couple all of this with tough financial times and you’re presented with the spectacular renaissance of ‘growing your own’. But whilst many of us are donning old denim and digging for victory in our gardens, thousands of urban city dwellers are left with the same gardening bug but lacking the necessary green space.

As one such Londoner, I’m determined not to let space stop me pursuing my hopes of horticultural heaven. I’m attempting to add vegetables to the list of flowers and plants growing on my modest city balcony and this blog is a record of how I get on…

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