It’s been about 8 weeks since I last posted about my garden, and a lot has gone down since then. Unfortunately, most of it has been bad.
If you’ve been following me on Instagram, you probably know that, since that last post, we’ve moved the tomatoes and peppers outside. We had several weeks of absolutely beautiful weather, highs in the low 80s F (low 20s C), sunny, with the occasional afternoon shower to keep away drought. The plants flourished, and we were able to harvest a few handfuls of sugar peas, several tomatoes, and even one fullsized cucumber (about 10 inches, or 25 cm, long).
But then the rains came. And with them, cold temperatures. Then days of heavy winds. This inclement weather paired with an influx of orders on the Etsy site, as well as Darling Daughter hitting a developmental growth spurt and needing more one-on-one time, kept us from making our daily rounds on the balcony. When we finally went back outside, I wished we had made more of an effort.
The peas were torn from their trellis, uprooting a plant. Those which survived started to turn yellow and shrivel up. The pea pods that had been left on the vines were dry and brittle, even the small ones that hadn’t grown completely. Thankfully the cucumber was tucked into a corner, but the tomatoes faced some casualties as well, and the survivors began to wilt, half of them with leaves turning yellow, and the other half with leaves turning, of all things, purple.
Two things you should know about me are that I am stubborn to a fault, and I make it a habit to take on more than I can chew. So while I was crushed that this had happened, I had decided I was going to have a balcony garden this summer, and therefore, even though my days are surprisingly full for someone who doesn’t have a conventional job, I took to researching what was happening, and how to fix it.
Apparently there are a few things that can cause purple leaves on plant foliage. Nitrogen deficiency seems to be the most common, though phosphorus and magnesium deficiencies can also exhibit as purple coloring. There’s also something called Tomato Purple Leaf Disorder, or TPLD, though I can’t find out much about it outside of Florida, so I’m sticking to a nutrient deficiency being the issue.
Fertilizing plants is still relatively new to me. Except for the odd layer of coffee grounds, I never used fertilizer of any sort on my plants (probably why I’ve had such a hard time keeping things alive…) This year we reused potting soil, so we treated the soil with homemade coffee/banana/eggshell fertilizer as well as a bag of store-bought worm castings. Newbie gardener as I am, I thought this would be enough for the season, but I’m starting to think that regular fertilizing may be necessary…
As far as the yellow, wilting leaves are concerned, though, we seem to have already found a solution. Contradictorily, tomato leaf wilt is a symptom both of too much water, and too little. Dear Hubby thought it was too little, since they were pushed in a bit from the edge of the balcony, and thus protected somewhat from the rain, so he’d been watering them as usual, but they weren’t getting any better.
Finally, after hearing about the “2 Inch Rule” from several resources (water plants only when the soil is dry to the touch up to 2 inches, or 5 cm, down from the surface; this is often used in context with tomatoes, but is also valid for several other types of plants), I told Hubby about this, and we’ve been following this strictly.
And there is some happy news. The peas are sending out new growth, and has started blooming again. The tomatoes are looking less wilt-y, if still oddly colored. The peppers are looking amazing, even with the cool weather. The mints are thriving in the coolness. And, on top of everything else, it is the season for foraging!
As a former NYC resident, I’ve always turned a suspicious eye at urban foraging, convinced that in order to forage, one must live deep in the woods, or in the country. How else could there be any public land that isn’t either sprayed with chemicals, or too close to a road?
However, things are different here in Sweden. There are very strict laws governing how and where the use of “plant protectants” (read: pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, etc.) can be used, and they pretty much guarantee that all public green lands (forests, fields, etc.) are free from chemical exposure. As a result, or perhaps, as a cause, Sweden has a flourishing foraging culture. Berries, mushrooms, leafy greens, there seems to always be something to forage in the warmer months. Road pollution is still a problem, of course, so it is not recommended to eat anything taken from too close to the road, but that does not seem to limit the adventurous Swedes.
Last summer, when we were deep in the throes of new parenthood, we were outside when we noticed a neighbor, shoulders deep in the bushes alongside our apartment building. When we asked, she told us that there were röda vinbär and svarta vinbär (red and black currants, literally “wine berries”), and krusbär (gooseberries, something my southern bones had only read about in the form of gooseberry pies, but is apparently of the same family as currants) growing in the bushes.
Darling Daughter kept us too occupied last season to enjoy more than a passing berry plucked here and there, but I tucked that knowledge away, and this year we’ve been watching the bushes with a hawk eye. Hubby enjoys gooseberries underripe, as they are more tart, less sweet, so he’s been grazing on them for weeks. But now the currants have reddened (or darkened, in the case of black currants), and the gooseberries have sweetened, so it’s time to harvest with gusto!
Also growing in our buildings yard is an apple tree. Last year it didn’t bear any fruit, or at least not enough that my exhausted eyes noticed. But a little research showed that this is not unusual, and, for a variety of reason, fruit trees often display biennial crops. If this is the case, the apple tree should produce a bumper crop this year, so we will be keeping an eye out. We’ve already noticed some baby apples forming! (Sidenote: we moved to this town in February 2019, so this is only the second summer we’ve spent here, which is why so much of this is new discovery.)
This has been a humbling month in terms of the garden, but it’s also been a constructive one. We often learn more from our mistakes than our successes. Thankfully for us, as a friend and gardening mentor likes to say, “All plants want to grow. Our job is just to make it easier.”