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30 Sept 2016

Allotment Update: September 2016

The pumpkin patch has taken over! It's my first time growing these so hadn't realised how much space they take up. Celery and beetroot are being swamped under these beasts. Slight panic about how big they are going to get, yet very proud!! comment!

One of six of these on the same plant. Think it is a muscat pumpkin that stays green

I have loved being able to pick multiple bunches of flowers each time we visit the garden.

These Tromba d'Albegna are prolific and grow HUGE.

Loads of carrots, wish I had planted more!

This is the best time of the year for me! Not too hot, so green and loads to keep the children interested.

Stolen apples!

Cucamelons! Millions of them.
Happy gardener.

5 Sept 2016

Balcony Gardening With Toddlers

Only the lucky few have the pleasure of a garden in Zurich city but thankfully many apartments here have balconies and it doesn't take much effort to grow a few vegetables to get your children interested in growing their own food. Here are a few of my recommendations to get you started!


Seeing my children eat carrots straight from the ground has been one of the most satisfying things in life! Carrots like full sun and plenty of water. I have only tried chantenay carrots and the short, stubby length is perfect for growing in a container. These 'Parisier Market' carrots from Franchi seeds also look good for container gardening. My boys have enjoyed eating the carrot thinnings every couple of days in summer. If you have space, plant a second row a few weeks after the first so that you can eat them in succession. Not only great to eat, the thinnings also make great accessories for Duplo figures!

Easy to grow, low maintenance and fascinating to watch grow from seed to full grown plant. Cherry tomatoes work well. They need lots of sun. My toddlers love watching them ripen and turn red. They are allowed to pick them off individually and every day lately have been asking 'Ready? Ready?'. We started them off in eggshells and then moved them to a bigger pot when the seedlings were established.

A good friend of the tomato, if you have a pot large enough you could even plant it in the same container. Basil takes a while to germinate and needs lots of sun but  is a good one to start off inside on a sunny windowsill before putting on your balcony. Just keep removing the white flowers that appear and it will last beyond the end of summer. The photo below is Greek basil. It has quite a strong flavour and is very delicious! Surprisingly, my twins love eating this straight from the pot. They also love pesto which is amazing to make from homegrown basil!

Salad Leaves
Ok, I don't know a two year old that likes lettuce but mine definitely enjoy yanking leaves from the plant! Lettuce is very easy and quick to germinate. There are many different types you can grow. The leaves can be picked as 'cut and come again' and they last for ages.This year I enjoyed Romaine lettuce which is really crisp and slow to bolt. Spinach is also a favourite. 

So these are a few easy vegetables and herbs to start with. What have you been growing on your balcony this year? Any suggestions for next year?

25 Jul 2016

Allotment Update: July 2016

So...we have been away for a week and the allotment is blooming. The weather has been close to 30 degrees in Zurich all week with very little rain so I was a bit worried about things drying up and dying in our absence. However, the sun has been much needed and despite a really bad start to the season (rain, more rain, slugs) I am feeling pretty optimistic about having vegetables and fruit to harvest from now until the Autumn.

We picked our first cucumber. This didn't even make it home... I am so grateful that my children are starting their lives with access to food that we have grown ourselves.

The flowers are at their best! An abundance of calendula, nigella, blue cornflowers and a single surviving malope trifida 'vulcan' plant. I picked enough for about three bunches to take home and the garden is still full of them.

Despite thinking I wouldn't get any courgettes this year since eleven courgette plants were massacred by slugs, two plants survived and one is producing fruit. Yippee!! There are three tiny yellow courgettes growing which I should be able to harvest in about a week from now. This time last year we were right in the middle of a courgette glut with more than we were able to consume ourselves.

The cucamelons are growing really well and the first ones are appearing. I hadn't heard of these until I saw them online at C. & R. Zollinger, a Swiss seed supplier. They are tiny little round fruits, originating from Mexico, that look like miniature watermelons and apparently taste like a cucumbers with a hint of lime. I can't wait to try these. The are growing alongside our cucumbers and there are about 40 visible fruits growing so far. I guess they will be ready to start picking in a few weeks.

The plums should be ready to pick in about a week. Not sure what the variety are called but they are golden in colour. We have been on holiday the last two years when they have been ripe and ready to pick so I am looking forward to harvesting them all. The tree has literally hundreds growing on it so I think we'll have a load to give away to friends and neighbours.

The cavolo nero looks like it will survive and there are about 8 small plants growing. There are some beetroot and carrot plants almost ready to dig  up. Tomatoes, Swiss chard, pumpkins and turnips are looking good. I am planting brassicas for the first time with mixed results so far. The romanesco plants are still there but the cauliflower has totally bombed. The picture below is an example of how NOT to grow a cauliflower. My allotment neighbour, Ulrike, gave us a beautiful one two years ago. It was really a thing of beauty which i appreciate even more now that I have tried to grow them myself. Sadly she has given her allotment up at the age of 94. Her husband is ill and she doesn't want to leave him alone to tend to the garden. It is just incredible seeing how well maintained and productive the gardens here are, that belong to people of that generation.

24 Jun 2016

Starting Seedlings in Eggshells


I tried getting my seedlings started in eggshells for the first time this year and I'd say it has been a great success. It's a really simple process and one that I hope to do with my twins next year. Also a great way to teach your children about    planting, composting and recycling. Nothing goes to waste and you don't need to buy any wasteful plastic modules or pots to gets your seeds going.

Start off by saving up eggshells and their cartons for a few weeks before you intend to start planting. Try to be mindful of how you crack the eggs - I tried to crack just the top third off then discard that bit in the compost bin so I had a fairly large remaining shell.

Take a small pin and poke a few drainage holes in the bottom of each shell, from inside the shell to out. It doesn't matter if you break a few, just chuck them in the compost or save them up to put around your plants in the garden to stop the slugs eating your young plants!

Next fill the eggshell with compost then plant a couple of seeds as per the packet instructions. I experimented with lots of different herbs, tomatoes, varieties of flowers, cucumbers etc.

You can keep the eggshells contained neatly in an egg carton. Just be careful when you water them as the carton can get waterlogged/ disintegrate very easily. These fit neatly on a windowsill and can be moved around easily!

Once the seeds start growing, pull out the weaker of the two and give the strong seedling space to grow. When large enough either transplant into your garden or a larger pot. Just crack the shell slightly and remove a a bit at the bottom so that the roots have space to escape. The shell will decompose over time and add calcium to the soil.

Cherry Tomatoes
I think this was a sunflower

Tomato seedling a few weeks after the seed was planted

21 Jun 2016

Allotment Update: June 2016

It has been raining relentlessly for what feels like about six weeks now. Despite the odd day of glorious sunshine, we are still waiting for the summer to arrive. My allotment definitely feels it and is crying out for some sun!

Despite the rain, I am happy to report that the slugs haven't eaten my two pumpkin plants and that the latest 4 zucchini plants (after 12 others being eaten) have survived. I think it is because I changed tactics and planted them right next to the border of the garden where my neighbour put down slug pellets on the other side.

The romanesco have also not been touched and the cucumbers and cucamelons are coming along nicely.  The redcurrants are close to turning ripe and the plums are growing in size. I am feeling a lot more optimistic that we'll have some homegrown veg, just a little bit later this year. Also planted some swedes, phacelia and Swiss chard in the space where the tulips were.


Nigella in bloom, self-seeded from last year

Productive plum tree

I think this is a cornflower bud

Cornflowers almost ready to bloom. I had planted a whole row but the rest were eaten by slugs

Cucamelon looking good!

Cucumber growing well but needs some sun

More rhubarb

Tomato plants looking good. Just need to figure a way to keep the cats out...

Rhubarb patch needs weeding

Pumpkin has survived! Put some woodchip round as extra slug protection.

Found these things that the previous owner left and they are helping my cucumbers to survive!

Lonely looking Eschscholzia that survived the slugs

Cut the hedge that was growing wild

27 May 2016

Allotment Update: May 2016

It is amazing what you can do in the two hours that your children nap. To try and keep on top of the garden (and get some exercise) my husband and I have been taking it in turns to go up to the allotment during our twins' afternoon nap time. I am so thankful that they are now predictable sleepers (and that my husband regularly works from home).
He runs and I cycle. It's only about 3 miles but it's uphill all the way and a decent workout. Once there, it is an hour of digging, weeding, planting, watering then we meet up at a park half the way between the allotment and our home. We manage about 3 visits a week in total which is really helping to keep on top of things.
So far on our balcony I have loads of seedlings growing that are almost ready to plant out: celery, romanesco, cauliflower, butternut squash, tomatoes, cucamelons, cucumbers, Swiss chard, fennel, aubergines.
For the first time ever, something keeps eating the courgette plants in the allotment. I have now planted them for the third time. I'm not sure if it's birds, slugs, caterpillars, mice... Any advice on what to do?
Our plot looks pretty bare at the moment. Our neighbours have potatoes, beans and onions growing at great speed and filling the place up. I really need to get organised next year and plant some things to fill the gap between November and March.

These are cucamelons in the first picture - who knew these even existed?!

My courgette seedlings keep getting eaten. This is the 3rd time I have planted them out :(
Romanesco busting out of their shell. Planted them out...let's hope they survive.
My balcony is FULL!
My neighbour's garden, definitely a pro.
My patch. Lots of small flower and plant seedling making an appearance but overall a bit bare.

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