Children in primary school always ask each other about their pets. I remember telling a few people who asked me that I had pet bees. At the time I mustn’t have realised that there’s a difference between keeping pets and animal husbandry. Beehives are for honey, and you don’t get any affection from the bees (actually you occasionally get stung by them). They don’t really count as pets, which explains the puzzled expressions I got when I described them that way. Later on in my childhood I did have some proper pets. The guinea pigs were so boring they were given back to their previous owner, but our tame cockatiel was a delightful little fellow. He liked to share salty biscuits with you, and have his neck scratched.
The animals I keep now are back in the category of useful animals, although I like to think of them as pets. You’ve already heard about my worm farm, and I must admit that worms are not really pets. They’re efficient, but they aren’t affectionate. On the up side, they provide me with a great way of getting rid of all my veggie scraps, and they’re producing a wonderful liquid fertiliser for my balcony garden. They help put my food waste back into my food production cycle. My other pets are more tenuously connected to this food chain. They’re a pair of goldfish.
Now what have goldfish got to do with growing vegetables? I hear you ask. They’re actually another source of liquid fertiliser. Fish produce nitrogen which they release into the water, and the algae in their little pond is another source of nutrients. If I scoop pond water onto my plants, this is richer food for them than tap water. The fish are serving another purpose too. They eat mosquito larvae. I have to admit that I didn’t buy the fish solely as a clever way to produce fertiliser. The main reason I have the fish pond is so that I can grow a water lily.
Even in the tight confines of my balcony I can’t bring myself to grow only edible plants. I need to feed my soul as well as my body, and that’s why a few flowers sneak into my pots. The flowers are rationed though. At the moment I have the water lily and I’m about to plant some bluebells that Alloronan gave to me. Like the bluebells, lots of the plants I grow have come from friends. You get the same warm feeling when you share your garden as you do when you bake a cake for a friend. You don’t have to stop at sharing produce either, you can share the plants themselves.
Lots of herbs will grow from cutting. Oregano is a wonderfully tough one. My cousin ripped some oregano up from between his pavers for me, and it’s now potted on my balcony. It’s great in pasta sauces, when you want something stronger than basil. Mint is another tough herb. My mint is a cutting from Alloronan, and it makes good tea and adds freshness to salads. It is sharing a pot with the flat leafed parsley I sprouted from her seeds and some baby onions (offspring of her grown up onions).
Herbs are great for balconies, because you can pick and eat them whenever you like. There’s no waiting for the harvest. This actually goes for the onion family too, because you can use the leaves just like shallots or garlic chives. A friendly vegetable stall holder at Eveleigh told me last week to do that with her last-of-the-season garlic. I’m looking forward to the garlic tops when I run out of cloves, since I don’t want to buy bleached imported garlic if I can avoid it.
I try to grow vegetables as well as herbs, even in the small space. I’ll save what I’m planting now for another post, but in the meantime I’m just starting to eat my cos lettuce and silverbeet. Home grown veggies definitely taste better, although maybe they’re just flavoured with pride.