The cucumbers I grew from seed had a lot of flowers. Unfortunately, there were no vegetables. Shu thinks maybe all my plants were male. Is that possible? At least they look good.
When cucumbers first form, the flower remains attached to the baby vegetable.
Cucumbers grow quickly, and they are easy to attach to the green curtain.
There’s no contradiction between edible and decorative garden plants, especially on a small balcony. I love these purple and yellow eggplant flowers. Also in the frame are strawberries, cucumber, blueberries, rosemary, and parsley. This year I’m also growing okra, which I don’t like to eat. It’s a beautiful plant, and my husband will eat them.
I took this photo a month ago, and our balcony garden is now even more lush. It’s amazing how much incredible heat and daily watering can increase bio-mass!
It’s amazing what you can fit in a sunny narrow space. I have six mini-watermelons ripening on the railing and green net, three Saipan lemons, two types of morning glory, the 5bai midori satoyama boxes bushing out, cucumbers still flowering and creating fast food, and some random flowers including mini-sunflowers, abutilon, and Suntory hybrids ミリオンベル (million bell) and アズーロコンパクト. Plus there’s basil, parsley, and thyme, all of which I put into my bolognese pasta lunch today.
The floor area is full with just enough room to walk through for watering. The vertical space is about half full with the net and some additional twine. I like how the old washing machine is nearly hidden by plants.
Some failures included corn, with tiny ears that formed and then turned brown. The rose which was so outrageously pumped up when purchased has hardly bloomed since. The incredible heat this month killed my first bonsai, a Japanese maple (もみじ) in a tiny pot.
Some surprises included the late growing bitter melon (ゴーヤー) now shooting up. I planted last year’s seed in April, and it hardly grew until about three weeks ago. Now it’s two meters tall, and perhaps will produce a few vegetables before typhoon season. Bitter melon tastes great with ground pork!
My friend Matthew, who now works at Sinajina, pruned my pine bonsai. Apparently now is the time to start thinking about shaping it and preparing it to look its most beautiful for the new year. I wonder how to keep my tiny garden green during winter.
These are two views of my balcony green curtain. I purposely trained the Okinawa morning glory to create a grid pattern on top of the string net. Last year it flowered into late September. My green curtain is not as lush as this amazing house’s green curtain with nine species. Below you can see a side view with the Shinjuku skyscrapers in the distance. In addition to the morning glory, there’s cucumber and watermelon growing on the railing and net.
I have experimented with all sorts of summer vegetables and fruit this year. The cucumbers grow incredibly fast (maybe 2 weeks from tiny shape to full size salad material). And like the watermelon, the vines grow easily up the railing and onto the green curtain net, providing a lot of shade. More slow growing, I harvest three eggplants.
In San Francisco, my garden is shaded and the cold summer makes growing vegetables very difficult. It’s been fun this summer to grow a variety of vegetables in our sunny high-rise balcony in Tokyo. This weekend I harvested and ate my first home-grown watermelon.
It looks big in the photo above, no? Actually, the two fruit that formed were not much bigger than oranges. I kept hoping that they would get a bit bigger, but finally I decided to harvest them.
Here’s what it looked like cut open. It was very sweet and just right for one person.
To get a sense of the scale, you can see the two watermelons paired with a single cucumber below. The cucumber seems to go from tiny baby to full-size in just one week. It’s been a great summer vegetable, probably the most successful plant in the balcony farm. (There’s also eggplant, some very stunted corn, and 4 lemons).
Photo taken on May 20.
At a celebratory dinner recently, we were served a tiny cucumber about this size with its flower still fresh. This lovely and seasonal bite was as delicious and memorable as more expensive luxuries like sea urchin. But I think I’ll wait for mine to grow a little larger.
I recently started a blog category called “Flowers and Buildings,” which focuses on the pleasure of experiencing plants in urban settings. I think that both the plants and the buildings are more beautiful when juxtaposed together. This post focuses on my balcony vegetable’s flowers, set against the parking lot below and the cityscape beyond.
The vegetables are from top to bottom: cucumber, eggplant, and watermelon. I will soon start tying the climbers to the balcony railing so that they become part of my summer green curtain. The single bonsai watermelon I saw last year in Ginza makes me hope that maybe I can eat one home-grown one this summer.
This year I am experimenting with many types of vegetables and fruit in my balcony garden: kiwi, eggplant, watermelon, cucumber, bitter melon, corn, and lemon. Plus I have two types of thyme, parsley, rosemary, and basil.
These photos are from May when I planted the starter plants in these soft fabric pots and coconut husk soil. I added marigolds for color and possible bug and pest repellant. I am not sure what will happen with some of these vegetables: will they produce food? help shape the summer green curtain?
I like to think of these vegetables as experiments, as fun, and equal parts food and decoration. Almost all vegetables and fruit provide greenery, flowers, and, in the case of lemons, fragrance.
Edible walls are a new idea alongside green roofs and green walls: maximizing urban space for plants and food. A New York Times article discuss how a collaborations between garden designers and a metal fabricator to create relatively simple soil and drip water systems that support lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, spinach, leeks, and even baby watermelon. The article mentions an antecedent in espaliered fruit trees in European cities during the Middle Ages. Recently, edible walls are being used in a Los Angeles homeless shelter to feed the residents and generate a small income.
On a side street in Ginza, I noticed a rice farm and met Ginza Farm‘s CEO Iimura Kazuki (飯村一樹) and his assistant who were tending the rice and two cute ducklings. Shop clerks and construction clerks stopped by to admire the rice in its mid-summer glory.
The rice farm occupies an empty lot. At the end of the afternoon Iimura-san was draining the rice paddy, and his assistant was collecting the ducklings to take back to the office for the evening. On the left is a beautiful table and benches, on the back and right side a huge photo mural of rural Japanese rice farms, and in front a bamboo fence, some live bamboo, vines, a black pine, and a few cucumber plants.
The banner reads “100 rice farms make Japan healthy.” The project is apparently funded by this group of Japanese rice farmers, with support from a lumber association. The following day was going to feature an “onigiri” (rice ball) party at 5 pm, and there’s something planned for this Sunday, July 19.
Iimura-san was very friendly, and even pointed out a frog that had somehow discovered the rice paddy.
Innovative government projects include Tokyo’s Suginami ward office building. In 2008 the municipal government in 2008 planted the world’s tallest “green curtain” to reduce carbon dioxide, lower energy costs, and demonstrate new green technology.
The green curtain covers the south wall of the main city offices, with support from a net nearly 29 meters in height, and a wall of vegetation consisting of fast-growing vines such as loofah, cucumber, gourd and morning glory. The vines are growing in small containers, with a moisture sensor that makes watering very efficient. During summer and fall, the offices are cooler by 4 degrees celsius.
This Tokyo ward-level project is an amazing demonstration of vertical urban gardening, but unfortunately little information is available online in English about this project.
UPDATE: There’s a fantastic 2010 blog about a Suginami resident creating a small green curtain. Wonderful photos document the progress, lots of information about plant types, and participation of 4 year old child. Very cool!