Welcome to the BigAppleSchool podcast. My name is Nina.
And today we’re gonna speak is it really possible to grow greens, tomatoes and different vegetables on your balcony. So firstly, some words about us – I’m still Nina and I’m still working with kids here in BigAppleSchool. John, can you tell us some words about you?
Well I also work at BigAppleSchool and I help Nina sometimes teach little kids, but more often than not I help teach the older pupils and the adults.
Do you like this experience teaching both ages – little kids and adults?
Yes, I do, as they say, variety is the spice of life and it certainly is.
Sounds great. Talking about different spices – tell me please, John, have you ever grown some spices on your balcony?
I’ve never grown anything on a balcony before, because I never had a balcony before. I’ve never grown spices, I’ve never tried ginger or anything like that, but a few herbs – definitely. But balconies for me are a new experience and balconies aren’t that different to a greenhouse really. Or I think so anyway.
Yes, actually. But me, actually, I experienced it. And I have a balcony, I think it’s a typical stuff here in Russia – that every room, actually every flat has got it, and you need to use the space in it. And my balcony is really small, kinda tiny, but I have some systems to help me to grow vegetables even.
I grow tomatoes. And it’s marvelous. I use different containers, even bags, different planters, different pots. And I grow different herbs, even flowers, and I like this experience. And my favorite herb for now is basil, because I really like how it grows.
And the color of it. And I think kind of rosemary, parsley, dill – they are must-have if we speak about herbs to grow. So, tell me please, John, do you remember your first crop you planted?
Oh, dear. That’s hard. I think a first thing I ever grew was parsnips actually, which I must say, I’ve seen once since I’ve been in Russia, parsnip. I think that was in Galleria 1, but that’s a vegetable you see a lot in Britain anyway.
Okay. In our recipes we can actually do here in Russia using this item from Gallery 1.
Parsnip! Best thing with parsnips – you treat them like potatoes, roast them, boil them. No, roast them is best.
Okay. Speaking about roasting – what are the crops do you recommend to roast? Something about maybe tomatoes or maybe cucumbers, onions?
Butternut squash, potatoes, onions definitely. Oh, aubergines. I have tried carrots, it doesn’t seem to work that well. But butternut squash is my favorite.
I think I’m in your camp here. So actually speaking about aubergines and squashes. What can do you prefer two perfect squashes or aubergines? Because here in Russia we prefer to eat to eat squashed in different ways. Aubergine was more like a restaurant food. Or for someone who know how to cook it.
I think I prefer aubergines, or, sorry, not aubergines, I prefer butternut squash above all else to be honest. It’s my favorite vegetable.
Can you cook them yourself?
That’s great! Can you actually share your favorite recipe? Maybe the simplest one?
The simplest thing to do with butternut squash is peel it, cube it, roast it with a tiny bit of oil and some cumin.
Spice that is used in Indian cooking. Not very much, but…
It’s kinda yellow, right?
It’s sort of yellowy-brown color, I know you’re thinking of turmeric, yellow one.
Okay. Do you add any garlic there?
I don’t, but that’s a good idea, why not.
It’s a typical Russian recipe how to cook squashes or aubergines. Aubergines goes really well with garlic. And me personally I love very much garlic, and maybe I will grow it next on my balcony and it would be splendid. So, do you know how to re-grow a different stuff, speaking about vegetables and herbs.
Yes, I mean I’ve grown, in England I’ve grown all sorts of things actually, I’ve got quite a big yard and I tried to be self-sufficient in food in the past. Even raising sheep and pigs to eat, and chickens. But fruit and vegetables – yes, I’ve grown most things.
The only thing… I did grow once turnips and I don’t really like them. I didn’t really grow them for myself, I grew them for the pigs. They didn’t eat them either.
That’s such a sad story about turnips. But why was it so? Was there any, I don’t know, like problems with the crops? Or it was maybe bitter in taste?
No, I wouldn’t say so. I just don’t like turnips, and the pigs were very young. And when pigs are young, they like to eat certain things, while an adult pig would just happily eat, well, anything. Including you, if you give them a chance.
Oh, that’s great. Now I know a bit more about pigs and their actually gastronomical habits.
So as for balcony yarding. I wouldn’t recommend trying to keep a pig on a balcony, cause it’s not big enough, is it?
Yeah. But I’ve got a French bulldog and if you know this breed, they kinda shrink, they make these sounds, and my little dog is kind of like a little pig. So I do keep one in my balcony. She likes sleeping there and actually she’s fond of pulling out my greens and eat it. And she likes it a lot.
So how big is your balcony Nina? If you’ve got a dog and all these vegetables in there? It must be bigger than my balcony.
I think my balcony is about a meter and a half in long, and maybe about a meter to enough, I don’t know, to turning or to feel myself comfortable seating or whatever. Not really big, but I think it’s just like typical balcony, typical Russian balcony, simplest. I don’t know, the queerest.
And I used to… I use this space, putting different boxes on top of each other. So it’s kinda, I don’t know, like stillages or whatever. And then there’s a box, and a box, like you’re playing with childish cubes. And it’s good, it works actually.
And every crop, every green get enough light, sunlight on my balcony. And I think it’s the best actually idea to use it because here we have a lot of sun, and we have windows which can, I don’t know, like make more sun using some physics or whatever, so everything is okay here.
I don’t grow anything inside my flat. Only outside on the balcony, with open windows and whatever. And my dog she can run whatever she can. So it’s okay to run over my sofa, it’s okay to run over my balcony, it’s okay running over my head, so. She’s kinda queen in our house, so she can do whatever she wants.
Okay. We have a meter to a meter and a half balcony, the fundamental problem one has is – it’s two things really. What can you grow on a balcony? And what should grow on a balcony? So what can you grow on a balcony do you think? Now you grow lettuce and tomatoes, what else?
Yes, lettuce, tomatoes, and herbs. And I think that everyone can grow herbs, even on their kitchen counters, because it’s simple. You just need kind of pot. You can even cut a bottle in half, a plastic bottle, and fill it with soil.
And then try to seed something, babysit it, and then see best of your achievement and whatever. And it’s simple, so you can start it anywhere. And there is no special preparation for this. So you just like feeling like this, the call of the land, and you go, buy some seeds, and do whatever you want.
You said your favorite was basil. Where did you get your basil seeds? I bought some and I thought it would be okay, but the stuff would not germinate, I’ve given up, I couldn’t find anymore.
Oh, I have some special gardening shops around my house. And I just go there to different old ladies, and old gentlemen, and ask them for advice. Just like ‘I’d like to grow herbs, I’d like to grow rosemary, basil, parsley, what can you tell me?’
And they actually gave me the advice, and they recommended me some sorts of it, and it was good. And it was just like… It feels good. You know. Yes, we encourage you to do this! It’s really good at your age to start gardening.
It would be for your good, you will be stronger with it, you will be better with it. And yes, I’m a superhero who is actually very for farming. Maybe in future I’m really interested to grow some berries because there are different berries, you know, in internet which can actually go not just like in a horizontal surface, just like in a vertical one.
Like vines, they can curl or whatever. And it’s really interesting and they could be like decorative plant.
I suspect you could try growing a vine on your balcony! But it might be too cold in the winter, I’d think about that.
When you actually Russian, it’s kinda problematic to grow whatever you want because we have the problematic weather. We have winter, Russian winters, I guess no one can survive it, even Russians. And it’s really sad. For now actually I look at my perfect and I understand that to survive I need to keep them inside my flat.
Yes, you’ll need to bring your rosemary, cause it’s a bush. Little tree, you have to bring it inside in the winter. And it will keep continue to grow, but you’ll need to keep it under control, otherwise it will full your balcony if you don’t care. Eventually. Keep getting bigger and bigger pots for it.
And they could actually get lack of light or, I don’t know, like, wind, or whatever and they can die, and no! My little green babies, no! Don’t do it to me! But now it’s summer, so I enjoy every moment I spend with them.
And rosemary though you said. How big is your rosemary bush? Cause it’s a shrub, you realize it, don’t you?
Yeah, but my actually rosemary is about five centimeters tall for now. It’s like a baby rosemary. Really really baby. And I like it. Maybe then in the future it would grow bigger, of course. It’ll grow bigger, or longer, and I don’t know. But I will cut it and I will put it in my tea and enjoy.
I actually never thought that pot is important – I know that, in my experience, because I’m actually the beginner of it. The pot is important when you actually, with the start, when it sprouts, and you need to put them in a pot. And then actually I should change it again?
Yes, not for things like basil which is an annual crop, but for your rosemary bush, as it gets bigger, it’s gonna get root-bound. So if you lift the plant out of the pot, you’ll see that the roots are all tangled up and are pushing at the edge of the pot. So at that point you need to put it into a bigger pot with more soil.
But you’re alright at the moment, you said yours is only 5 centimeters tall, so it’ll be fine.
Next year. You’ll be fine. So you also grow tomatoes which of course are the natural partner with basil. Delicious, and olive oil.
Yes, I know about this information, so it was my decision to start growing them. I pay attention to cherry, because I’ve read that it would be not more than 40 cm long, and I think it’s perfect condition for balcony, just like, I don’t know, a kalanchoe flower or whatever.
Just like the little plant you can keep inside the flat. But for now, yes, we have about 45 cm long, no flowers.
Yes, tall. No flowers, but leaves are really green, juicy or whatever. They’re strong. And I’m proud of them, just yes! Grow stronger!
Well, tomato plants, they say, you can grow them up to 40 cm, they will keep growing actually, they will keep growing upwards, but what you do is you stop it. You pinch out the growing tip, that’s the top part and it will stop it growing anymore.
And when it reached the height you want it to, but the thing you must do to all tomato plants is this snip out or pull out the side shoots. So what will happen is you’ve got a straight stem, then you’ve got leaves that come outside, and then you get another thing come from the stem, upon which the little flowers will grow.
And then the tomatoes. Now, between the stem and this shoot with the little tomatoes growing up, or another stem will begin to grow. If you leave that, that’s the start for another tomato plant. Right? And that’ll start growing all over the place.
And what you’ll end up is massive green plant with loads of tiny little green things the size of a pea which will never ripen. So you get a big plant and no tomatoes. So you must pull out all the side shoots.
And quite possibly as a plant begins to grow, you start to pull off the bottom leaves as well. They’ll start to go a little bit yellow – pull them off, and you wanna keep… Once you’ve got your tomatoes green, they’re beginning to ripen, start snipping off all the green stuff, because you want the sun to get to the tomatoes, not the plant, so they actually ripen and go red.
That’s actually good. I know more now, thank you for your advice. Speaking about actually yellow leaves – some of my basils, some of my parsley – they got some yellow leaves. Why actually is that so?
With parsley – see, parsley is another plant you can keep perennially. It’s got little tampering root, cause it’s related to a parsley. You keep that one on a winter. You have to be careful with what sort of fertilizer. So you put them presumably in a potting compost. You bought a bag of compost?
Well you must remember that in that compost it isn’t that much nutrients, it just gets things germinated. You then have to feed them.
I think if you go to any of the supermarket you’ll find small bags of just fertilizer, granules. Put a few bits of that, not very much. Or you can buy small bottles of plant food for plants inside. You can put that in it, which you usually have to dilute.
And the other thing is you can buy bottles of liquid feed for tomatoes, which you’ll probably need later. Don’t start using that until the tomatoes begin to form. But you do need to add fertilizer, cause your potted compost has got very little in it. Very little food in value.
What do you think about feeding plants with your home food? For example my mom, she does like this – she boils potatoes and later, when she put out the potatoes on the pan, she add this water after potatoes to the plants and she thinks that it’s okay. Have you got such…?
I’ve never done that, let me think.
I mean, I suppose yeah, why wouldn’t you. You let this go cold, not boiling water, then that wouldn’t work. So you’ve got… You’ve got potato matter in the water which has been boiled which sounds a bit broken down. Yeah, you won’t do it any harm, put it that way.
There’s probably some food value in that for the actual boiling process has started the breakdown of the cellular matter, which is what plants live on – dead other plants. So yes, why not.
That’s cool. So, I think actually y mom does it because she’s kinda lazy, but yeah, she’s an expert on greens and plants.
Well, I think you just dig it into the compost, just leave it in there, cause it breaks down, it’s boiled dead leaves, isn’t it? So…
So I can have a couple drink and then later just put this inside a paper bag, just like inside the soil?
Yeah, tear the bag open, you don’t want the paper in there. I wouldn’t put too much, cause tea’s got a lot of acid and tannins in it. If you were growing plants like azaleas or rhododendrons which you wouldn’t try to do on your balcony because you won’t be able to get on your balcony.
But they like an acid soil – you put a lot in there. Or camelias. But these are all flowers, shrubs, so you wouldn’t want to try that on your balcony.
I’ve got a little cactus on my balcony.
Cactus might like it though.
Yeah. But don’t water your cactus whatever you do, cause it’ll rot.
So speaking about different moist, watering et cetera – here actually, in Russia, we use, I don’t know, all the citizens I guess who work and et cetera who doesn’t have enough time on farming – for me because it’s kind of a hobby.
I water it just like every time I see my plants, I water it. In the morning – it’s okay. In the evening – it’s okay. If it’s hot – okay, you want to drink. I water it. Is it good actually approach on watering plants?
Right then, so some plants don’t like being overwatered. They are things that have, say, for instance, onions, if you do that it might rot. But a balcony in my experience, limited as is, can get very hot and it will get hot today and tomorrow. And tomatoes and lettuces and basil will need a fair amount of water.
Herbs, most of them, come from Mediterranean countries, therefore they will survive a bit of drought. Tomatoes if you are not careful with them, if you water them irregularly, what you’ll get is your tomatoes will split or get brown rot,
which is the base of the tomato when you pick it off will be brown patch and that will gradually spread and the thing will be basically you won’t be able to use it. So the thing about the tomatoes is that you wanna keep the compost around them moist, but not soaking.
And of course within a pot it’s not a very big space, not a very big good container, it can dry out very quickly. So if you water it, say, first thing in the morning and it’s a hot day like this, and you forget to do it in the evening, and you forget to do it the following morning, you…
That’s when you’ve got a problem. I saw in, oh, what’s that shop called, shop sells all sorts of things.
Is it green? Like fix price?
Fix price, that’s the one! Fix price sell these plastic trays that you put inside your back door or your door to put your boots in winter when you’re coming from the snow, when there’s snow running all over the floor. So I bought about four of those and I put my pots into them, and then I filled those up with water so the water soaks up into pot during the day.
So you just keep those topped up, so you don’t really have to water them, just keep the trays topped up. And of course this time of the year and the one you’re using in winter to collect the snow of your boots, you’re gonna have somewhere to put it cause you’re not using out, put them on your balcony, put your pot in it.
It’s actually good. I’ve got some of these brown trees in my home, so I will come home today and actually do this, it’s great. Actually what water to soak actually above, vertically? Should I need some kind of drainage here?
No no no, it’ll naturally, the compost naturally soaks it up in the roots. After the water, they’ll find out where the water is. If you were to lift your pot up later, the roots will be at the bottom of the pot.
That’s great actually. I’ve never watched it in any Youtube videos actually. Exclusive info from BigAppleSchool! Sounds great.
Do you love butternut squash?
Or other squashes or pumpkins. I wouldn’t try growing pumpkins on your balcony, cause they’re just too big. I grew it once for my pigs and I didn’t mean to let it get this big, and it was so large I actually needed help lifting it.
Do you remember how many kilos were there?
I didn’t have anything to weigh on big enough. But the pigs – they ate it within an hour.
But there are other squashes you could grow. You mentioned you like zucchini. Courgette – you could try a climbing courgette, not ones that spread. You need some sort of framework for them to climb up. You could buy some, I don’t know, bamboo things and tie them together.
If you let them climb up your wall, and again, you pick off excess leaves and excess foliage. You know, you should keep picking them, pick them when they’re small and they’ll keep coming. And there is one of the tips while I think of it – all your fruit crops, or, sorry, your vegetable crops produce flowers. And the flowers need to be fertilized. What floor do you live on?
12. Now, think, I might be wrong – I think the higher up you go, the less small pollinating insects there be. So what you need to do is to get a children’s paintbrush and just stick into each flower.
And you’ll be doing the job of all little insects and fertilize it to get fruit. Just to make sure – you probably have enough insects flying around anyway. There were plenty in my flat last night.
Yeah, welcome to Russia. But just in case – with things like courgettes as we call them or even melons, but they can be too big. Yeah, that’s something else you could try.
Should I use just like the simplest toothbrush or not paintbrush?
Yeah, children’s paintbrush, a tiny one. The thing is when you use painting.
Apply beauty to the face.
Yeah, one of those things will do, when you finish, the small.
That’s great. And should I actually paint them with the stuff randomly? Or like from one flower to another one?
Just tap from one flower to another. Tap-tap. Just spreading the pollen, and it takes a tiny rain of pollen to do it. So what… You said flowers?
Yeah, I’ve got daisies. My mom brought me them. And she said – this are the flowers. For now they have no flowers, they’re just like tiny, about maybe 3 cm tall, plants. And I can’t even say what they are going to be, how they will look like. But mom says they are daisies – okay, they are daisies.
I think it’s possible to grow different flowers on your balcony, for example my mom, she plants roses from time to time. Just like rosebushes, not really big, but about maybe 30cm tall. And she’s got them inside her balcony. She’s got a big balcony.
Just kind of … or whatever. It’s full of the windows. And she keeps it open, so the fresh air for her plants and roses are amazing. And when you stop in on her balcony, it’s jut like inside a garden.
Yeah, that’s great. And I think for her it’s kind of hobby, because she really likes to do different stuff with these roses – she likes watering, she likes maybe adding a different fertilizer, different plant food.
Yeah, compost. And then she actually adores it, gardening. As far as I remember she’s always gardened, she was a gardener all her life. And for now actually she is also. And for me – I discovered this trait when I turned a lot of age, I turned 30 not far away and yes, I felt the call of the land, I must, I need it really hard.
I need to plant, I need to seed, I need soil. Put it inside, water it hard. Do you remember your age when you understood that you really need it? The call of the land inside you?
There was never a time that I wasn’t, cause my father was an extremely keen gardener. And from, as soon as I could walk, I was dragooning to help him pull things up, weeding, planting. Apparently there was one occasion when I was about 3,
when I’d taken some initiative and done some gardening on my own while he was at work. And my mother was horrified to see that I had pulled up all the bedding plants he’d previously put in the night before thinking they were weeds of course.
And he had to quickly put them back in when he came home. But yeah, I always had my fingers in the soil as it were. And yes, that’ the way. You’re saying flowers – one thing I’m trying is sweet peas. Because they climb. So if you’ve got something…
When you grow tomatoes, you put sticks into to support them. If you get sweet pea to climb around it, little flowers and you get the fragrance from them. So in a small space like your balcony it might work.
Great! So very informative! So speaking about you and flowers John actually – are you interested in them? Some decorative, not useful crops, some decorative ones.
Oh yes, yes, back in my garden home we have a lot of flowers, yes. Dahlias particularly, some big dahlia beds. Annual bedding plants, a lot of them, marigolds and petunias and geraniums. I have a couple of rose gardens.
The trouble with roses where I live is the deer. They are very interested in roses. In fact they eat them. We have a lot of wild deer in Southern England and they will just eat your rose bushes. And I planted 500 once, and they looked wonderful the first couple of years, but we couldn’t understand, what’s wrong with them?
And we were pruning them correctly, we were feeding them, and then one day I saw a couple of deer in the back garden, they were just happily eating all my rose bushes. So I stopped planting rose bushes unless it’s really close to the house. And I replaced them all with dahlias. Deer do not eat dahlias fortunately.
That’s great! I think wild deer it’s cool. Here we have only wild doves on my balcony sometimes. And they try to get inside my balcony.
Yes. It was a couple of times but still. And for me it was like oh, boys, go away! It’s not your territory and like this.
Well maybe after you plant your sweet peas…
Yeah, maybe, I will have a chance to be a princess and know every bird or mouse who come to my balcony. And we will hang up together or whatever. So do you remember your first harvest? When you were a child?
I remember a schoolfriend of mine, we must have been around 7. And he was fascinated by my father’s back garden. And he was surprised you can get all that stuff from the ground, and he started pulling out little carrots which were maybe half a cm, no, less than that, a couple of millimeters in diameter.
You can go and you can grab some for our dinner, and I went. And I grabbed the green parts. And then I tasted it and cried, because it wasn’t actually what I expected for them to be. And actually she explained me, she showed how to actually pull them out, that the orange part is edible.
They were quite delicious! They were quite nice! My father wasn’t very impressed. He was waiting for his carrots to get somewhat bigger before he was gonna harvest them. So yeah I suppose it was the first time that I harvested things which again, was not approved of.
And I felt much more glad with that, much more relieved that carrot is sweet and nice and it’s not a problem with me or with carrots.
That’s actually cool. I also have a funny story with carrots. When I was a little girl I thought that the edible part is green because it was above. And I knew what was actually the carrot from the shop, but I’ve never saw it in like in flesh here. And my grandmother said that the carrots are ready to eat.
I’ve heard that carrot has as much sugar as an apple does.
And did you also know that carrots weren’t naturally orange, carrots originated in Afghanistan, they were actually purple. But the Dutch got hold of carrots, and this is the 16-17th century. They started selectively breeding them,
and they developed orange carrots because the Dutch royal family is the House of Orange. William of Orange was a king of England for a while. So that’s why a Dutch football team plays in orange. 00:34:36 J: So they changed carrots to being orange. But you can, I’ve seen them by seeds for purple, and I’ve grown them actually, purple and yellow carrots. The taste’s the same.
But the color is different. So actually interesting. And every word you pronounced actually I feel like I would like to try it, I would like to farm yellow, I would like to farm purple.
I wouldn’t try growing carrots on your balcony, it won’t work.
Oh, yeah, thank you. Maybe one day.
They need the deepest soil really, and it can get too hot too quickly. Too extreme a temperature. Again I wouldn’t try potatoes. I’m growing a few spring onions, but I wouldn’t… It’s not worth growing full size onions.
One of the things you would really think about is you’ve only got so much space. So the thing is to grow one that you like, but also what’s expensive. So fruit – yes, tomatoes – yes. Lettuce – yes. But potatoes, onions? They’re not expensive, they take up a lot of room and all that.
It’s just like typical I think plants. They’re not really interesting.
If you’ve got space outside – yes, of course.
If you’ve got some practical reasons to keep them on your balcony, why not? So, I think for today it would be more than informative I think podcast. I’m really interested in growing them and I have become more interested now.
So thank you very much John for sharing all your stories. And I dream about that you will create some kind of articles about maybe vegetable vocabulary for our students or even teachers.
It would be nice because I’m really interested and keen on know about it more. So thank you very much.
So that’s a goodbye to our listeners. So, bye-bye guys!
See you soon in our BigAppleSchool.