Tag Archives: urban farming

Growing spinach in the containers

I grew up watching Popeye eating spinach as it was a favourite cartoon of my brother and my dad. I wasn’t into muscles and silly humour, but I watched it with them anyway. I loved hanging out with my brother when I was little. Well, I still do now, just it’s more difficult when we live in two different countries.

For my whole my childhood I thought spinach was a made-up vegetable as it was translated as “duck feet vegetable” (rau chân vịt) in Vietnamese. Come on, no real sensible vegetable could be called that.

Then I grew up, learned to speak English, watched the original show and found out that spinach is the real thing.

When I came to live in England, I tried the veg. Guess what, its taste is similar to one of my most-loved greens in Vietnam. I don’t think they are the same, but perhaps they are related. Popeye was much closer to home than I thought.

Last year, when I decided to expand my garden capacity, going beyond herbs, fruits and moving into vegetables, spinach seemed like an obvious choice.

I started the first crop in late summer. The harvest wasn’t amazing, but I had some leaves to use in a Vietnamese dish as a replacement of the green I mentioned early: “mùng tơi”. The dish was delicious, and I fell like Popeye for the first time.

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Sowing time

Spinach seeds can be sown as early as February. In fact, I just started my first container for this year last weekend. If you leave the pots outside, you might need to cover them up during some freezingly cold February days. (It is -4 Celcius degrees where I am right now).

You can keep sowing spinach seeds for the summer harvest until the end of May.

For a winter crop, scatter the seeds in August and September.

Seeds should be about 2.5 cm deep, and the seedlings can be thin out to 7.5 cm apart. Choose the size of your container accordingly!

Care for & harvest spinach

I find spinach rather easy going. You just need to make sure the soil doesn’t dry out. Water it well during the dry period in the summer. During the winter’s coldest months, protect the plants with straw mulch and cover any container with fleece.

You can harvest the leaves of each plant layer by layer. Do it alternatively among your plants, and you can have spinach almost all year round.

Cooking Ideas

Spinach is very healthy. It’s an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin A, manganese, folate, magnesium, iron, copper, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, vitamin E, calcium, potassium and vitamin C. A long list, right?

The vegetable is versatile, too. You can eat the leaves raw in salads, or use a large quantity in vegetarian stews, Indian curries, quiches, crepes, lasagna and green smoothies. Basically, a lot of food. I use my home-grown spinach to make “canh” – a broth with dried prawn, which I eat alongside sticky rice. And it’s the best.

 

 

 

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How to be happy with gardening in the winter

I admit that I had complained quite a bit about the weather here in North Holland. It’s cold and windy, a lot more intensely than in my home country Vietnam. I often talk with my dad about his roof-top garden. He can grow a lot more things during the winter months than I can.

In all fairness, though, I can still have living plants through the winter here as it rarely goes below zero Celcius Degree, and the sun does come out now and then. Besides, snow and frost aren’t that common. I have the much better weather for gardening compared to places like the Scandinavian countries or further in-land territories in Germany, Poland or Russia. I heard on the news recently that Moscow had only 6 minutes of sunlight last December. It’s not difficult to imagine how the plants there suffered.

In the new light, I decided to stay upbeat and happy about my garden. I also look into indoor growing, which doesn’t involve me going outside every day on the often slippy surface being pregnant and all.

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A wild flower in January 

What to do these January days outdoors

Pruning

January is a no-go if you want to sow the seeds outdoors, but I still get out on the balcony on odd sunny days if some plants desperately need pruning.

Covering up

The other day, I went out before a storm came to town. I wanted to make sure that all the plants were away from the direct wind. Luckily, the autumn crops of tatsoi and coriander were both small and tucked away in safe corners since the beginning of winter. Protection against wind, frost and snow is the key for any autumn crops for survive through the winter and jump up in spring or early summer.

Having fun

When I had to fill pots with soil and seeds for indoor growing, I did it outdoors unless it was raining. Being from a sunny country like Vietnam, apparently, it was more difficult for me to absorb vitamin D from winter sun in Europe. As vitamin D is crucial for my pregnancy, I had to get as much outdoor time as possible. So last Saturday, I stayed on the balcony for an hour, filled pots first with compost and then with coriander and basil seeds. Then I brought them all inside to make sure they won’t be frozen to death.

What to do these January days indoors

Well, you can do all of these fun things throughout the year, but as you might find yourself having more time in January, you will enjoy these preparations even more.

Germination

I germinate seeds for my spring crop. My very first ones were bird’s eye chillis and jalapeño peppers. If you want to know more about this process, check out my success and failure of growing chillis up north

Propagation

It could take weeks to propagate some plants, so what could be a better time than idle January?

I am propagating lemongrass and a few succulents right now. Last year, I had a couple of lemongrass pots, but they either died in one holiday or another when we were away for a few weeks. This year, I need it to be different, and I am starting with two organic stalks. The succulents are for a new exciting project.

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Succulents and lemongrass in during propagating 

Terrarium

We had seen terrariums here and there, and once came close to get a one from a shop on our street. Ian got a better idea, though. For my birthday, which is in January, he bought me a book on miniature gardens and the kit to make my very first terrarium.

So I am propagating two succulents that we got from an Italian wedding so that I can start my first cactus terrarium. I love it when marrying couples give their guests gift of plants and seeds, so I think the two succulents, providing I manage to regrow them, will make the perfect residents in my beautiful glass container.

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Greek Basil Sprouts in January 

All the expectations and the sights of new life coming from sprouting basil and coriander, I find myself happy as Larry despite it’s being January.

Gardening in January: Who’s up for some fresh air?

If there’s something about bad timing, it’s gardening in January for those who live in Northern Europe as I do.

The weather varies from being cold to being frosty. It rains a lot, at least in this part of Holland. The wind is ferocious. In fact, my flight back to the Netherlands from England just last week was delayed because of the strong wind. If a mighty plane has a problem landing, what are the chances the slender spring onions have?

Regardless of the harsh conditions, it’s time I tended to my garden. I have more energy now, being in the second trimester, so my balcony garden deserves some care and love.

And indeed, there are things you can do in January:

Clean pots for the spring

As we went away for a month, a lot of my plants died. It’s sad but nothing else I could do but to muster the courage and stayed out on the balcony for an hour to tidy up the loose ends.

Here’s the result:

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Only then had I realised how many pots I have been hoarding.

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Prune back

As I didn’t cut back all my perennial plants in late autumn, it became a job for January.

Here are my chilli plants with the few green leaves:

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Fill your nut holder with nuts for hungry birds

You are feeling blue in January as the holiday has finished over but the dark days haven’t. I got it, but do you know that the birds have it worse? It’s a tough time for them to find food so be kind and put out some nuts. Their visits to your balcony could well be the highlight of your winter.

Seeds auditing and a sowing plan

I have a Trello board for gardening. It has lists of things to buy, seeds to sow next, seeds in germination, plants to keep indoor and outdoor, etc. I might be a hobby gardener but I surely am a pro-planner 😛

Here are all the seeds I have in my precious box, plenty to get 2018 started.

  • Flowers
    • Bee Mix:
    • Lavatera
    • Marigold
    • Lavender
    • Sunflowers
    • Cornflower
    • Poppy
    • Dropplant
    • More butterfly and bee mix
    • Pansy
  • Herbs
    • Dill
    • Red Basil & Basil
    • Perilla
    • Sage
    • Coriander
  • Vegetables
    • Spinach
    • Thyme
    • Parsley
    • Tatsoi
    • Chards
  • Fruits
    • Cherry Tomato: to sow from Mar to May

    • Jalapeño

None of these seeds can be sold outdoor in January, but I can start with basil and dill, and keep them inside, away from the rain and frost. Besides, my autumn crops of tatsoi, chard and garlic seem to hold themselves well despite my absence, so I am hopeful.

Happy Gardening in 2018, everyone!<<<<
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Growing Potatoes Not in the Ground

I started growing potatoes mostly for fun. It’s not the same fun as waiting for lily or narcissus. It’s the excitement of experimenting.

When I searched for new things for my balcony garden, I found a YouTube video showing how to grow potatoes in containers. I’ve heard about growing potatoes in rice sacks before, but containers? It was the first. So, to satisfy my curiosity, I set out to make my own potatoes in both pots and big bags.

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For both options, you can use with any potatoes you buy from a supermarket. Leave a few to sprout and then you can start.

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