Monday, May 6, 2013

1st Floor Patio, Not Too Shabby

Due to some health issues, I took a few weeks off from blogging.  But no worries here thankfully, only false alarms.  If there's anything I'm as (if not more thankful for), though, it's health insurance.  
Count your lucky stars.  Each and every day.

The spring weather's been absolutely beautiful the past week.  I just realized that it has been nearly one year since I moved into my townhouse, and I must say that I am super pleased with how my patio's shaped up.  It's finally starting to look like a real patio :).   Here are a few recent pictures:

If you notice, I saved space by hanging plants on the fence and from the ceiling.  I also used cheap plant stands that I procured from Craigslist, Marshall's Home Goods and garage sales. 

My husband built me this little cold frame contraption to protect my more "vulnerable" plants from mice.  My herbs, seedlings and greens have been safe in here.  


 Inside the cold frame.

I've had the aloe vera pictured above for around four years now.  I bought him when he was less than six inches tall.  One day, he'll take up the entire patio!

Hanging baskets: tumbler tomatoes, green beans, bell peppers and petunias.  I'm planning on hanging more baskets with basil and green bean seedlings I planted a few weeks ago.

Tomatoes, newly-planted morning glories and squash.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day

My apologies, blog, for being MIA last week.  AT&T U-verse was down all over our neighborhood :/.  It's good to be back at blogging again, especially considering spring is upon us!  Birds are gathering up nesting materials; everything is in bloom; and our plants are showing signs of new growth.  Here in Houston, our summers are a sweltering, humid mess, so spring and fall are the most exciting (and bearable) seasons of the year to be in the garden.  

In celebration Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, here are some pictures of pretty flowers from my garden:

 Proven Winners Angel Earrings Cascading in fuchsia.  Full disclosure, I have crazy plant lady tendencies.  Whether I'm at the grocery store picking up a carton of milk, or at Home Depot buying light bulbs, I'm going to find an excuse to take an unplanned stroll by the garden center.  When I first started gardening, I'd come home with a new plant more often than not.  There have been times in my gardening life where I've felt like I might need to be on the TV show, Intervention, for plant hoarding tendencies.  When you have so many plants, that taking care of them all begins to feel like more of a chore than a hobby, it's time to pull in the reigns!  

I've owned up to my crazy plant lady tendencies, so I now only buy new plants when I'm replacing annuals or I'm totally floored by a plant.  This fuchsia plant met my criteria; my jaw literally hit the floor when I saw this baby at my local nursery.  It's a sight to behold.  It looks like all the neon crayons from a Crayola box in plant form.  Fuchsias have a reputation for melting in our Texas heat, but this hybrid variety has been developed to withstand our heat and humidity.  I've had it for almost three months now, and it still looks great.

Purple Violets

 Old Fashioned Bleeding Heart--really charming and unusual dangling flowers.  

Australian Violets--very stately, dignified flowers.  They are great for containers/hanging baskets; their rounded leaves look lovely spilling over the sides.  One of my neighbors uses them as a ground cover, which I think looks really fun.

 This is my first year growing Bacopas, and I am a BELIEVER.  These plants are blooming rockstars.  I started off with two plants, and was so impressed by their blooming prowess, that I went back to my nursery and bought three more plants in two other colors.  They have a vigorous, trailing growth habit, making them great for hanging baskets/containers.  After a few months, mine are filling out nicely.  The one pictured above is a Boutique Tie-Die White.  

 This is a Proven Winners Giant Snowflake.  The blooms are considerably larger than the Tie-Die.  I also have another magenta-colored Bacopa that is not pictured.  FYI, a dude working at the nursery fed me some misinformation on this plant.  He told me to let the soil dry out between waterings.  Turns out, that guy was an idiot.  I followed his advice, and to my horror, my Bacopas stopped blooming!  After a quick internet search, Bacopas actually prefer consistently moist soil.  I watered them consistently, and in two to three weeks, they started blooming again.  

'Easy Wave' Petunias in red and purple.  Petunias are a garden mainstay for me.  They are so reliable and easy to care for.  These 'Easy Wave' petunias are the best petunias I've ever had in terms of blooming staying power, although I think I prefer a trailing petunia for hanging baskets.  Maybe next year I'll mix one of these mounding petunias with a trailing petunia for a perfect petunia basket.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Review: The Tomato Ring

My 'Sweet 100' tomato plant, supported by the Tomato Ring

I know I've been talking a lot lately about compact fruit/vegetable plants that are good for small spaces, but I just couldn't help myself--I've been growing a tomato plant that typically isn't recommended for container gardening due to its vigorous nature: the 'Sweet 100' cherry tomato plant.

I saw a 'Sweet 100' seedling at my local gardening center, and did a quick search about the plant on my iPhone.  The interwebs told me that container gardeners had been successful with these massive tomato plants; they had grown them to over six feet tall, yielding loads of tiny tomatoes!  I considered the plant a challenge.  I guess I'm a glutton for punishment.  I planted my 'Sweet 100' in a 14" pot, and he took off like a weed.  He was 6" tall when I first bought him.  After being showered with a generous amount of water each day, along with fertilizer and compost, he is over 3' tall now in just five to six weeks!

Lucky for me then, the kind people over at Veggie Cage sent me a three-pack of their Tomato Ring. I'm super pleased with the Tomato Ring.  I've had problems with cheap tomato cages I've bought in the past, and the Tomato Ring is a quality product for a good price.  In sum, I am a fan of the Tomato Ring!

Pluses

  • Inexpensive: A pack of six Tomato Rings costs $18.  The Veggie Cage folks estimate you'll need three rings for most tomato plants, (but you can use them to support other plants, like peppers or eggplants).  You'll have to buy stakes from a hardware store, which run around $1 each, so you're looking at spending $10 total to support each tomato plant.  Considering the next plus (sturdiness), that's a great deal, given the fact that you can easily spend $40 on a tomato cage.
  • Sturdiness: There are cheaper cages out there, but you may have to deal with them collapsing under the weight of the plant.  Another issue you might have is the cage toppling over.  The last cage I had was under $10.  I used it to support a 'Big Boy' tomato plant that I grew on my balcony at my old apartment.  It fell over pretty frequently :/   I haven't had either of these problems with the Tomato Cage.
  • Easy Installation: All you need to do is drive a 1-2' stake into a pot and clamp the Tomato Ring onto the stake.
  • No Staking: You don't have to worry about tying your tomato plant every so often to a stake; you simply unclamp the Tomato Ring and slide it upwards as your tomato plant grows.   
  • Easy to Store: Unlike a traditional cage, the Tomato Ring doesn't take up a lot of space when tomato season is over.

Here are the basic components of the Tomato Ring.

Slide the ring over the stake, and clamp it on.  Since I took the picture above of my plant a couple weeks ago, it's grown another foot.  I simply loosened the screw to the clamp, and slid the ring upwards to support the new branches.  Super easy.

Left: Tomato blossoms two weekends ago.  Right: Baby tomatoes forming as of last weekend.

My 'Sweet 100' has been doing great.  So far, I have four clusters of buds/blossoms.  I had some problems with my tomato blossoms falling off without producing tomatoes last year, so I did some research on the problem.  One possible issue might have been that the flowers hadn't been pollinated.  This season, I've been encouraging self-pollination of the blossoms by lightly tapping on the stems they're attached to, and all my blossoms (six in total now) have become tomatoes!  I'll write a post on self-pollinating methods in another entry.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Inspiration Wednesdays: Growing Vegetables in Hanging Baskets

When you think of hanging baskets, you typically think flowers, right?  But what about fruits and veggies?  I recently planted hanging coco-fiber baskets with bush beans, 'Tumbling Tom' tomatoes (a determinate variety), and pepper plants.  It's space saving, and it gets these fruit-producing plants the sunlight they need on my patio.  I hung them up using ceiling hooks that my husband purchased for me at Home Depot.  More on that in another post.

Here are a few more ideas I found on the Web:

Hanging lettuce basket. [Source: My Hanging Baskets]

Cherry tomato basket.  I did a little research and chose 'Tumbling Tom' for my hanging basket.  It's a compact plant that I read does great in baskets.  Don't let the size of the tomato fool you--many cherry tomato plants can get HUGE, so do a little reading before planting one in a basket.  To give you an idea, I am growing a 'Sweet 100' cherry tomato plant in a 14" pot.  He can grow 6+ feet tall!  [Source: Vertical Veg]

'Bright Lights' swiss chard basket.  [Source: Black Gold]

Strawberry & herb baskets [Source: House to Home]

Monday, March 18, 2013

Attracting Monarch Butterflies to Your Garden

Left: 3rd or 4th instar Monarch caterpillar.  Right: "J"-ing up prior to forming a chrysalis.

Ok, Texas, is it spring or summer?  The high yesterday was 82 degrees!--what gives?  I checked on my plants yesterday afternoon and noticed that one of my kale seedling's cotyledons had wilted.  The other cotyledon was still green and perky, so I knew it couldn't be damping off.  Then I noticed some shriveling of a "true" leaf, corresponding to the direct sunlight it was receiving.  It became clear that these cool weather plants had gotten their first taste of the Texas heat, and were not very happy about it.  I promptly moved the kale indoors.  The weather yesterday was too much for even me to handle.  My husband and I have been training for our first-ever 5k, and going from running three miles in 60-degree weather to 80-degree weather overnight proved to be too much for me during our Sunday run.  I felt parched and lightheaded 2.5 miles in; I felt like my cotyledons were wilting!  The weather will go back down to the 70s starting tomorrow, but since it's getting warmer, I thought it was the right time to talk butterflies. 

I decided last summer that I wanted to start attracting butterflies to my garden.  So one weekend, I moseyed on over to Buchanan’s Native Plants for some ideas.  I’ve found their staff to be super knowledgeable about all things plants, and one employee told me that milkweed is the best plant to start with.  Milkweed, he said, is both a larval host and nectar plant for the Monarch butterfly.  In fact, milkweed is the only thing Monarchs will lay their eggs on and eat—the presence of poisonous substances in the milkweed plant make Monarchs distasteful to predators.  I left Buchanan’s with two milkweed plants, figuring it would take months for a butterfly to turn up.
Literally that night, while inspecting my new plant friends, I discovered tiny caterpillars chowing down on leaves.  And more caterpillars kept hatching…and hatching.  And then eating…and eating.  Did you know that Monarch caterpillars eat 200 times their body weight?  Yeah, neither did I.  But I am a believer now; if a Monarch caterpillar challenges you to a pie eating contest, think twice because homeboy can eat!
Monarch Chrysalis

 It was a nothing short of a magical experience watching these guys go from 1st instar to a fully-formed butterfly.  My husband and I were lucky enough to see before our very eyes a chunky monkey caterpillar spin himself into a chrysalis, and then a couple of weeks later, a beautiful, graceful creature emerge from the same chrysalis. Super cool.  Nothing’s cooler than nature.
Anyways, I took all of the photos pictured whilst observing these little fatties prior to their flight to Mexico in the fall.  
 Left: Fully-formed monarch, set to emerge in 24 hours.  Right: Newly-emerged Monarch butterfly

If you’d like beautiful Monarch house guests this spring, it’s really as easy as growing or buying yourself a couple of milkweed plants.  But having milkweed in your garden really is more important than for the purposes of attracting butterflies.  I live in Texas, which is a “funnel” state that Monarchs must pass through to and from their migration to Mexico.  So it’s especially important for you Texas folk to listen up!  Monarch Watch estimates that nearly 2.2 million acres of potential milkweed habitat are lost each year due to development, genetically modified/herbicide tolerant crops, and pesticide use.  
It’s stats like these that make my heart hurt.  I think I’ve made it apparent how important the milkweed plant is to the survival of the Monarch butterfly: no milkweed, no Monarch.  Do your part, and grow/plant a couple of milkweed for the spring!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Renee's Garden on "The Splendid Table"

Every Saturday, my husband and I sleep in; wake up at some point in the early afternoon; mosey on down to the kitchen; switch on NPR; and cook brunch.  Invariably, we are greeted by the friendly voice of Lynne Rossetto Kasper, the host of NPR's "The Splendid Table."  If there's anything I love as much as gardening, it's food. 

Two weekends ago, while cooking up a batch of blueberry-ricotta pancakes, the worlds of gardening and food collided on NPR; Renee Shepherd of Renee's Garden was invited as a guest on "The Splendid Table."  Imagine my delight; I nearly dropped my blueberries!  Shepherd dished about what's new in seeds, along with movements on the rise in the world of gardening, namely...vertical, small space, and container gardening! 

Talk of arugula that supposedly tastes like wasabi piqued my interest.  I think I'll have to order a packet of those seeds at some point to satisfy my curiosity.  I'm going out for sushi happy hour tonight with some girlfriends, where I'm sure I'll get some inspiration for a sushi-inspired salad using wasabi arugula--maybe a salad tossed in a soy-miso dressing, with sliced cucumber and chucks of grilled salmon? 

Here's a link to the original episode if you're interested in listening.  Below is a re-post of the interview transcript from the NPR website. 

As the ground begins to warm up, the wonderful and distinctive smell of the wet earth is beginning to come up. This may be the year for you to start a small patch of your own, be it on a windowsill or in a shared garden plot. Renee Shepherd, creator of Renee’s Garden and a pioneer in finding the choicest produce from around the world, shares her picks for spring seeds.

Lynne Rossetto Kasper: At this point in your career, you have probably seen it all. With that in mind, what’s new this year?
Portugese Kale
Portugese kale
Renee Shepherd: There’s always something new in the world of seeds because there’s so much to choose from. I think a couple highlights that I’m looking forward to eating again this spring are: beautiful new edible landscaping lettuces -- lettuces that are picked for their beauty as well as their flavor and color; something new in the mustard family is arugula that tastes exactly like wasabi that you’d get at a Japanese restaurant; tiny Padron peppers, which you basically grow, throw in a frying pan and eat whole; Portuguese kale is a new old vegetable from Portugal that tastes like something between collards and kale and is sweeter and easier to grow; all kinds of new tomatoes -- there are always lots of heirlooms that are being rediscovered; baby Persian cucumbers that only grow about five inches long; and many, many new vegetables suitable for growing in containers.
LRK: If we were really in a hurry, what would you have us grow for instant gratification?
RS: I think if you’re a relatively new gardener or someone without a lot of space or time, I would definitely encourage you to grow some baby leaf mesclun, which means a mix of fresh greens. There are mesclun mixes that are all lettuces and others that would have things like arugula or Japanese greens mixed in for some spiciness. Or, if you wanted to, you could have a container of mixed, sweet lettuces of all colors and forms and one of sharper flavored greens like arugula and mizuna and other spicier, peppery flavors. Then you would harvest them basically based on how spicy you wanted your salad: more lettuce, less spicy greens or vice versa.
LRK: Then you could pick them, and as you pick them, they keep growing so you could keep them going for quite a while? 
RS: It’s called the “cut and come again” method. You prepare the soil and you sprinkle the seed fairly thickly, like grass seed, cover it lightly and in about 35 to 40 days you can make a cutting of the leaves that are by now 4 to 5 inches tall. You leave 1-inch crowns; in other words, leave the bases in the soil, water and fertilize them, and you’ll get another harvest out of them. It’s a very traditional and very intensive way of growing your own salad, and you get a lot of leaves from a small space.
LRK: What’s new in herbs?
Nasturtium Cup of Sun
"Cup of Sun" nasturtium
RS: There are always wonderful herbs that are coming down the pike. Last year, for example, we started selling the hibiscus that you can grow for their calyces, which is what flavors Red Zinger Tea, for example. I am now growing some Zaatar oregano, which is a wonderful spice that you use in Mediterranean cooking -- we’ll have that soon. This year we introduced an Italian oregano which has purple flowers and is slightly sweeter than its Greek cousin. So there are many distinctive kinds of herbs to enjoy.

I’m also much more interested in things like chervil and Amsterdam cutting celery. There’s a celery that you can grow that looks like big tall parsley, but it tastes like celery. You really don’t eat it like you do stalk celery. What you do is pick a big bunch and hang it upside down so it dries in about a week, and then you can use it all winter for soups and stews when celery is really expensive. It has a real deep, clean, rich celery flavor. That’s something that you hadn’t seen much before.
LRK: Are you seeing any new trends in seeds?
RS: Yes, I would say that there are a lot of new gardeners coming into gardening who want to grow their own food. There’s a real interest in growing food in containers of all kinds and in small spaces, of integrating food gardening with ornamental gardening -- the concept of ornamental edibles or edible landscaping, and of rooftop and vertical gardens. People are trying to figure out how to grow food and get the benefits of having a garden, which are much more than just growing food, because a garden anywhere makes life better.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Nasturtium Seedlings

Houston's been a busy city over the last few weeks.  We hosted the NBA All Star Game in February, and March is Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo month.  Why does this matter at all in terms of this gardening blog?--because there's been TRAFFIC every weekend on the way to the plant store.  Ugh!  C'mon!  Being grumpy at traffic standing in between me and the plant store is probably a sign that I'm getting old (at the ripe old age of 30, no less).  But I digress from the point of this blog post: nasturtiums.

I planted some nasturtiums about a month and a half ago.  I initially planted them up on my shady second floor balcony, before realizing that the mice couldn't get to them in hanging baskets on my patio.  Since nasturtiums do not like to have their roots disturbed, I planted them in peat pods so I could easily transfer the seedlings into their final homes, roots unscathed.  Sadly, they grew leggy and scraggly up on the balcony, desperately stretching out for sunlight.  But they're much happier on my patio, where they get full sun.  They're working on their tan apparently. 

I've always been intrigued by nasturtiums; there is something so whimsical about them: those shield-shaped leaves, winding stems and cheerful flowers.  I had never owned any until now.  Back in January, I asked my local nursery if they carried nasturtiums.  One of the employees directed me to hanging baskets that cost $19.99.  My response was to nearly choke and let the words "Oh, HELL no!" tumble clumsily out of my mouth.  I am not one to spend more than $10 on a plant usually, and paying $19.99 for a basket of annuals that are easily grown from seed seemed downright silly to me.  I left the store with a $3.00 packet of seeds instead.  So far so good.  I'm super stoked about seeing these guys in bloom.  Not only that, but I'll also be able to add both their leaves and flowers to my salads.  :)

With any luck, my nasturtiums will look half as pretty as these do.  My husband and I took our pug on a long walk last weekend, and noticed a yard teeming with mounds of nasturtiums.  Some of the leaves on these plants were nearly as big as my hand!  I'm not quite sure what our neighbor is feeding them--steroids, testosterone, HGH?  Whatever it is, my nasturtiums need in on some of that!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Carnivorous Plants: Nepenthes!

Carnivorous plants!  Pictured above and below are Nepenthes, tropical pitcher plants.  My friend Crystal is a fan of carnivorous plants.  It was her birthday a couple of weeks ago, so when I saw these babies at Buchanan's, I knew I had found the perfect birthday gift for her.  I bought her the one pictured above.  Frankly, carnivorous plants gross me out, but to each his own, right?  I held the pitcher plant literally at an arm's length away from me all the way to the checkout counter, for fear it would inadvertently dissolve one of my fingers.

It was well worth it.  Crystal went bananas over the plant.  She texted me a few days later to tell me that she named her plant Herbert.  Apparently Herbert had successfully drowned several flies, and was growing many new baby pitchers.  Lovely.  In other words, he was a happy camper at his newfound home.  I wish you well, Herbert.

About a week after Crystal's birthday, Buchanan's got a new shipment of Nepenthes in.  These guys had pitchers that were nearly a foot long!  Nepenthes produce a liquid, housed in its pitchers, which is used to drown prey.  The lips of the pitchers are coated in a slippery, waxy substance to make escape from the pitcher difficult.  The lids of the pitchers serve two purposes: to prevent rain from diluting the plant's fluids, and to produce nectar that attracts prey.  When an unfortunate victim becomes trapped in a pitcher, the plant produces enzymes that dissolves the prey, and the lower portions of the pitchers contain glands that sop the plant's liquid breakfast right up.  I don't know about you, but the trapping and digestive processes of the pitcher plant sounds absolutely appetizing to me!  Not.

Pitcher plants generally eat insects, but have been known to trap animals as large as mice or small birds.  My husband even joked that I should buy one for my patio to keep my mouse problem at bay.    I'll have to think long and hard about that one.

Close-ups of the Nepenthes pitchers.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Seedling Update

The bean babies are up!  I planted these a few weeks ago.  How adorable are they?  These are "Bean Bush French Filet" seedlings by Botanical Interests.  They are ginormous babies if you ask me.  I guess big seed = big seedling.  The nasturtium seedlings I planted were similarly huge when they finally germinated.  I'm going to plant these beans in hanging baskets on my patio once they're ready.  As I mentioned in my previous post, bush/determinate-type vegetable plants are great for container gardening due to their more compact size.

 In case you're wondering what the brown powder is on the surface of the soil in these pictures, it's cinnamon.  I've been having some problems with damping-off disease with some of my other seedlings, and I read that cinnamon has preventative anti-fungal properties.  I've also been watering them from the bottom, using their water-catch trays.  *keeping my fingers crossed*

What had happened was...  Remember how I moved most of my seedlings up to my second floor balcony due to the mouse problem I've been having?  Well, Houston experienced a bout of torrential rain for several days while my husband and I were in San Antonio.  About a week after we returned, my swiss chard, romaine, and spinach seedlings started falling over at the soil level, where their stems appeared to be pinched.  Being a newbie to the whole seed starting business, I consulted Google.  

Google informed me that my seedlings had "damped-off."  In other words, the unrelenting rain caused the surface of the soil to be wet on a constant basis, creating the perfect conditions for nasty fungus to thrive and infect my little seedlings.  Now many of them are dead :(.  Only a handful of swiss chard and romaine survived the mice invasion, so I am swiss chard and romaine-less.  A few of the spinach seem to have survived, but they are not in great shape.  Ah well.  I am filing this experience under "garden mishaps" for sure.  I planted more of each of these seeds, so maybe I'll have more success this time around.  I'm going to write a post about what I've learned from my research on damping-off disease prevention, in case any of you are interested.  

In other news, the kale and arugula are loving life on the patio.  Their protective cloches are doing the job.  Can't wait to harvest them.

For now, here's a close-up of the largest of my bean seedlings.  He's a handsome chap, isn't he?

Also, I was delighted to discover recently that my carrot seedlings are starting to grow their first set of "true" leaves.  So light and feathery.  

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Trellis Ideas for Balcony or Patio Vegetable Gardens

Get a load of my new plantlings!  Spring is officially upon us here in the Gulf Coast.  My local garden centers are stocked full with new fruit and veggie plants just waiting to go into the ground, or in my case, containers.  On the left are Ashley cucumbers, and on the right are yellow crookneck squash.  I'm going to plant these seedlings in large pots.  The idea is to train them up trellises that I'm going to install inside each pot, (so that I don't have several feet of squash/cucumber sprawl all over my patio).  Up, not out, is the idea.  

Other fruit or veggie plants you could grow vertically up a trellis in your container garden?
  • Tomatoes
  • Peas
  • Beans
  • Melons
    • Note: bush and determinate types of the above plants are better suited for small spaces, as they were bred to grow to a predetermined size.  Vining and indeterminate types will grow to infinity!  When choosing plants (or seeds) at your local nursery, the label on the plant should tell you what type it is.  Although compact, however, bush and determinate types will still benefit from trellising or caging.  To give you an idea, bush cucumber vines can still reach 4-5 feet in length, so they'd appreciate any support you provide. Most importantly, providing support will save you precious gardening space.

Here are some balcony/patio trellis ideas I found to get some inspiration for my vegetable garden.  I thought I'd share them with you to use in growing your own urban vegetable garden this spring:

Sugar snap peas growing up a homemade bamboo trellis.  [Source: Toronto Balcony Gardening]

A watermelon supported by nylon netting! Who knew you could grow melons on your balcony?  I'm as stunned as you are.  The plant itself is supported by a makeshift bamboo trellis, held together with twine and masking tape.  [Source: My Balcony Jungle]

Beans running up a teepee trellis made out of sticks and jute.  [Source: Urban Veggie Garden Blog]

Tomatoes on a patio supported by a metal tomato cage.  [Source: Garden of Steph]

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

DIY: Garden Cloches Using Recycled Materials



I feel like this blog has turned into a whine fest about my mice woes.  To be fair, the mouse situation in my garden has been bumming me out.  I thought the presence of those furry little bastards would limit what I could do in garden: What about those tomatoes I wanted to grow?  Or the cucumbers?  Or the squash?  Or the beans?  I certainly didn't want my garden to turn into a free salad bar for mice at my expense.  
 So I put on my thinking cap, and garden cloches came to mind.  A garden cloche, traditionally made of glass, is used to protect plants from harsh weather conditions and to extend the growing season.  I've seen cloches on garden product websites, but did not think I had any use for them--that is, until mice threw a wrench in my grand gardening plans.  Also, I mentioned in a previous entry that I had to move most of my edibles up to my second floor balcony to escape the mice.  Garden cloches would also protect my plants from the acorn, wind and torrential rain problems I had been having on the balcony as well.

Problem was, garden cloches ain't cheap.  I decided to make my own out of plastic items in my recycling bin.  I used old water bottles and snack containers.  I simply lopped off the bottoms of the water bottles, and removed the caps to allow for air circulation inside the cloche.  As for the snack containers, I simply turned them upside down and covered my little plants.  I moved many of my edibles back down to the first floor around two weeks ago and topped them off with a cloche.  So far, so good.  Take that, mice (and acorns, and wind, and rain)!

Peekaboo, little kale seedling.

Carrots hiding under plastic snack containers.