When we were looking for our new home in Luxembourg two and a half years ago, we had a few important criteria. We wanted to be walking distance from the city centre (where Rasmus works and where I work-in-cafes), and we wanted outside space.
Our previous flat in Brussels was awesome (no, really. it was) but it had no outside space, and the windows, although massive, looked out into a tiny courtyard on the second floor of a seven floor building. If you looked up you could see a patch of sky to try and guess the weather by, but that was about it.
The flat we found here is wonderful – so different from our Brussels flat but we love it. It’s twenty minutes walk from the centre, in a nice part of the city (there are no not-nice parts honestly) and just a kilometres walk from open fields and forests.
And we have a balcony! TWO in fact! One is north facing on the road side of the building. We have our BBQ out there, and it does get the evening sun in the summer, but we haven’t done much else with it. Oh but the south facing balcony??
It’s long and narrow, on the third floor. We get the sun all year round (I mean – when there is sun in Luxembourg that is). In the winter is rises behind the copse of trees on the little hill by the Music Conservatory, and sets over the forest on the western horizon. And in summer it’s a complete sun trap.
So I am finally able to realise some of my green finger dreams…
My parents are happy gardeners. They spend lots of their relaxing time out in their lovely little garden. When I was a little girl, my sister and I were each assigned a flower bed to do what we wanted with. I planted rows of bright blue lobelia and pink busy lizzies. There was something very wonderful about seeing your own garden come alive with a little water and sunshine.
But I’m no gardening expert. I frequently call my mum from the middle of garden centres with my questions. And it’s been a little trial and error the last few years. But this is our third season planting out on this balcony and I am officially hooked.
The first year we planted just cherry tomatoes and chillies. The tomatoes because I heard they were an easy crop to start with. The chillies coz Rasmus loves spicy food. We had a bumper crop of both. And can I tell you, there’s nothing quite comparable to eating a sweet cherry tomato, still warm from the sun, straight off the plant.
We got a little more ambitious last year – adding green beans and radishes and herbs. We got a great first crop of green beans and then went on holiday for two weeks and they didn’t survive the lack of watering (surprise surprise). The radishes did really well the first time (so spicy delicious!) but the second batch was decimated by caterpillars. I went to war with them, throwing them off the balcony with the fury of a mother whose children have been harmed. I’m only exaggerating a little…
Also last year, what I thought were cherry tomatoes turned out to be regular tomatoes (the danger of buying your seeds in a foreign language) but we ended up with kilos of them and made enough tomato sauce to last us through until February this year. From four plants on the balcony. Every time I took a jar out the cupboard I had this incredible feeling of satisfaction.
This year, we’re repeating our pattern from last year. Tomatoes, green beans (no holiday for us so hopefully they’ll survive!), chillies of course, radishes (the first one is nearly ready!) and a whole bunch of herbs – mint, basil, sage and lavender.
The thing is, I know some of you are going to be thinking, that is amazing, I could never do that, I don’t have green fingers. But neither do we.
We’re not natural gardeners. There’s been lots of mistakes – planting the tomatoes too close together so they were fighting for space, not staggering the radish planting so we had dozens at once and then none – but we figure it out with some urgent calls to my mum and a little googling.
And we do it all with an eight metre square third floor urban balcony.
Really. If we can do it, so can you. There’s nothing quite like knowing you have produced the food you are eating – zero food miles! all organic! no packaging! And there’s also nothing quite like getting your hands dirty in some soil and then watering every day and watching those little plants grow up big and strong. It’s a spiritual practise if ever there was one.
Have I convinced you yet? It’s not too late to sow something – especially if you’re in a northern climate where things are just warming up. Buy a tomato plant and a big pot and water it every day. And then come back and tell me how right I was about how good it feels…!