The Balcony Food Zone

Posted on 10 August 2008 in Food and Drink (No comments)

Regular readers will know that I like my food, and I'm keen on quality. I've baked my own bread for around two years now (and indeed, as I type, there's a malthouse loaf proving in the kitchen), and I like to eat good quality food.

Pain de Campagne

Most of the veg we buy is organic, ready meals almost never appear, I don't use pre-made sauces (although I do buy pesto and curry paste) and I always make my own salad dressings and mayonnaise with good quality organic eggs (where does this notion that mayo should be white come from? Mine is always a lovely shade of yellow!) Living with a vegetarian means meat doesn't play a huge role in my home diet, but I have a policy of not buying chicken when out unless it's at least free range.

This year I've added to the mix by growing some food of my own.

There's been a lot on TV recently about growing your own food, including Jamie at Home and River Cottage Spring but the idea actually came to me some time ago whilst watching another Jamie Oliver programme - Jamie's Great Italian Escape.

In that programme was a bit of a throwaway comment about how Italians living in flats often grow beans on their balcony, and let the beans wind their way round the railings.

The Runner Bean plant

Hmm, I thought. I have a balcony. I have some railings. Hmm...

Now I have grown herbs on the balcony since we moved in in 2004, so the idea of going for some veg was inciting and whilst in Sainsburys earlier in the year, I picked up some runner bean seeds. And some lettuce leaf seeds and some rocket seeds for good measure.

The Tomato Hanging Basket

Later on when it came to hanging basket time, I decided to go one further. Instead of having two baskets of flowers, I decided to do one of flowers and one of tomatoes.

The rocket has been a bit of a disaster, barely doing anything at all until recently when a few leaves started spurting up (this is in sharp contrast to my drive at the front where rocket can be clearly seen growing in some of the cracks!) But apart from that, the signs have been promising and now with August here, we're finally beginning to reap the harvest.

The Harvest: Runner Beans

The effort involved has been pretty minimal - the runner beans just needed a little training to go round the rails, and the lettuce just needed the odd tidy to help it on its way. Other than that, all I've had to do is the inevitable watering, and scare the odd pigeon away which was sat on the tomatoes.

Of course the yields are so far not huge - we've had about six runner beans and three tomatoes, plus some lettuce leaves - but there's much more growing on the plants themselves and I'm expecting that we'll get to September and have a few meals out of them.

The Harvest: Picking the first tomato

It's been a great exercise and one I'll repeat again next year hopefully - Catherine has requested sweet peas! With the tiny space we have, I'll never be able to grow enough to keep us away from the organic box scheme, but it's nice to know that what you're eating includes something you've seen go from seed to your plate, and without a tonne of food miles. Who wants tomatoes from Kenya when you can quickly pick your own?

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