Our Balcony: an Appetizer

As I predicted at the start of the growing season, our balcony garden was going to come in a distant second as far as love and attention, this year. It saddens me, of course, to neglect one child while attending to the needs of a needier one.

Before acquiring our garden plot, I had to exercise my gardening muscles on our small balcony… a balcony that overlooks a dumpster. A wee Sage cutting that I'm hoping will take root.In spite of its less-than-ideal locale, the balcony proved to be just the little outdoor retreat our apartment needed. It’s an excellent space for a relaxing breakfast or dinner — so long as the neighbors don’t happen to be smoking it up… or “smoking up”, for that matter.

IMG_0357Container gardening comes with its own set of special challenges — especially since our balcony only gets full sun in a select few areas. So, a lot of research goes into selecting plants and varieties that will succeed not only in containers but in partial-to-full sun. Keeping those limitations in mind, in past seasons we’ve managed to grow roma tomatoes, bell peppers, mesclun greens, baby carrots, and lots of herbs all with varying degrees of success.

This year, to ease the strain of having such divided attention, I decided to make the balcony more an aesthetic garden rather than edible garden. This meant taking out veggies to allow space for flowers and a few basic kitchen herbs that are nice to have within arm’s length.

IMG_0359Part of the new plan was to invest in some easy-going pansies to fill in some holes in the balcony scheme. With all of the seeds we were propagating for the Big Garden Project, buying some annuals from a local nursury and saving indoor growing space was a big help. For about a month, the pansies produced beautiful blooms and didn’t ask a lot of me other than water and some dead-heading, occasionally.

However, all of that changed, recently, when I noticed that our balcony had become (seemingly overnight) the International House of Aphids! Nooo!

About half of the pansy containers were overrun with aphids and our faithful planting box full of mesclun greens was chock full of them too! (We’d not yet had a chance to eat any of these greens, by the way!)

There’s nowhere to run… nowhere to hide. Aphids are virtually all over the world and there are a multitude of varieties and variations. There’s almost no plant that isn’t susceptible to some kind of aphid (if not more than one kind). To add to the creep-out factor, they’re also known as “plant lice”. It’s an accurate nickname, too, since they don’t really eat the plant so much as suck the life out of it — ruining blooms, warping leaves, wilting stems, stunting growth, spreading disease, decreasing yield, etc.

Aphids are like the WEEDS of the insect realm; boasting amazing amounts of versatility and vigor. They can reproduce sexually or asexually, many species can decide to change their color on whim, many species can overwinter in very harsh conditions, and they can even decide to make babies with or without wings depending on the needs of the group!

IMG_0355

Those superpowers aside, they’re pretty vulnerable to just about any organic pest control methods you could come up with. Even squirting them off with a strong stream of water is eventually effective because — even though they’re practically SUPER insects — they are apparently fickle and give up easily. Admittedly, this idea seemed beyond flaky to me — akin to walking up to the swamp monster with a feather and tickling him until he retreats.

Not unlike the swamp monster, the aphids who’d set up camp on our balcony were not so quick to retreat. I’ve been working on them for several days, now. Though I’m clearly winning the war, they have won a few battles. I’ve had to let a few plants go because they were just too infested to be rescued and were simply playing host to the invaders. All of our beautiful mesclun greens had to be sacrificed, for example.

Gardening in containers, in my opinion, makes fighting aphids a bit tougher. When you wash or blast the aphids off, they’ve typically not gone very far since the container acts as a fence; keeping them near your plants. I guess that’s where your own persistence and wrath must take over.

After a long weekend of battling them, however, I managed to stem the tide with a squirt bottle of water and a squirt bottle of insecticidal soap (one in each hand, yes). The trouble with insecticidal soap is that it tends to damage blooms and even burn some tender leaves. So, I had to try my best to blast the aphids away from blooms and tender areas with the water and then zap them with the soap (and I did make zapping sounds to indulge myself).

Cute little wheelbarrow planter that James' sister, Georgia, gave us, last year.Hopefully the worst of the aphid infestation is over. I’m now realizing that I’ll have to go over the plants every couple days to keep things in check. For now, the balcony is back to being the peaceful and beautiful place it was meant to be — just in time for the sweet peas, marigolds, calendula, and lobelia to start getting buds on them.

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~ by Jason on June 5, 2010.

7 Responses to “Our Balcony: an Appetizer”

  1. I totally love that lil’ wheelbarrow planter! It’s my favorite on your balcony!

  2. Love always seeing what you have planted, always a treat for me to visit your garden.

  3. I hate aphids! Aarghhh! And mealybugs!! *$^#%^^%&^*

    • They are real pests, aren’t they? For me, getting rid of them isn’t so much a challenge as staying VIGILANT to keep them gone. Just when you think you’ve gotten rid of them, they can sometimes come roaring back. They’re particularly problematic in container gardening, I’m finding, since we tend to keep most of the soil from year-to-year.

      • You need to read this, dude 😦
        http://munzee72.wordpress.com/2010/11/14/misadventures-of-a-diy-gardener-part-2/

      • Wow, that was depressing! I’ve only had a few small encounters with mealybugs — usually when I take a few plants indoors for overwintering. Fortunately, in those circumstances, it’s easier to treat them. I can’t imagine trying to keep them off such a giant trellising system… must have been a nightmare. Hopefully you’ve managed to find something to grow on your trellis that mealybugs wouldn’t be interested in.

        For our balcony garden, I’ve managed to grow TONS of things that the aphids aren’t interested in at all. So, it made it all the easier to fight them when they were forced to congregate around just a few plants.

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