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Farm on a balcony has moved to Switzerland!

Farm on a balcony has moved to Switzerland!

Time for a long overdue post: yes, it has been rather busy! Let alone the current global situation, we have been extra busy with moving from Germany to Switzerland and settling there. This meant of course leaving our beloved balcony in the black forest behind and starting from scratch on a balcony on the banks of Lac Neuchâtel.

It wasn’t an easy time to move, right in the middle of the corona virus peak…we weren’t even sure whether we’d make it across the border – but we succeeded, based on the fact that we were moving for work purposes and could provide all required documentation to the migration office and border control…that was a pretty intense time, culminating with us getting to our new place on the 8th of April – with a lot of anticipation for this new chapter of our personal and professional lives! The week before this great move was one of the most intensely stressful times we have had (since our work depended on the move to Switzerland) and you can not believe the relief we felt to get across the border…of course in a sensible way, as much as possible without coming into contact with people. We would have preferred to do this move at a different time but we managed. From the rolling vine hills of the black forest to the banks of the Lac Neuchâtel.

We managed to unpack all our things within 5 days, right in time for Easter Sunday. After that, a whole load of things followed to register in our new home town and start settling in – not just the usual admin things but also getting used to a whole new language. This is the French speaking part of Switzerland after all. Just as Alex became pretty fluent in German, we had to move and now both have to learn a new language – not from complete scratch, as we both did learn French at school – but still a whole new adventure! Particularly as this time neither of us speak the language (yet) – before at least I could speak German relatively fluently.

Now it has been nearly two months since we moved and it feels like home 🙂 Not just the inside of the house feels like home, but also the balcony is now set up and we are starting to experiment with plants in this new setting. Different location, different challenges but also some the same. One difference: Being right by the lake means we get the wind coming in from the lake, directly onto our balcony. The growing tomato and chilli plants got the brunt of it initially but now the tomato plants are toughening up to withstand the wind. Some things also do not change unfortunately: we still have to fight with these greenflies! I actually came from a stint of greenfly squashing. Total nutters they are, covering the new shoots of our Mizuna and Swiss Chard leaf plants…and the ants farm them…naughty things! 😉 A great plus on our new balcony is that we get the sun on it all day long – bodes well for growing sun loving plants (amongst other things we have planted aubergines, tomatoes, courgettes, pumpkins, malabar spinach). However, the first time I put the plants out in the sun, they got a little sun burnt! And this after a week of rain and extreme wind before that during which they got drenched and rattled. Poor things are being pampered now to ensure they overcome the tough first weeks of their outdoor lives 😉

I will gradually over the next weeks use the blog to create a virtual overview of the area we live in now. It is sad that we can not welcome our family and friends into our new home yet, but we can make the most of the time we have on our own to explore and find the nicest corners of our new home environment – the more we do this now, the better we will be able to show people around when they can hopefully finally venture over the borders whenever the situation may allow this. And be sure, this is an excellent area to come to for some opportunities for socially distant activities – as for sure when the restrictions are lifted we will still have to continue to be careful and sensible when it comes to our activities – what better thing to do than being outdoors on the bikes or on foot.

Sausage Rolls and Broccoli & Chickpea Falafel

Sausage Rolls and Broccoli & Chickpea Falafel

Only a short post today so as not to sit at the computer for too long. However, I thought I would share these two super easy recipes for some excellent snacks while you are spending more time at home 🙂 Both were a hit with Alex and myself 🙂

Hearty, warming sausage rolls!

The recipe is pretty self-explanatory from the photos. So I have just written some notes next to each photo. You can see the notes if you click on the info button under a photo. Best eaten with some chutney. You can use shop bought puff pastry. But then now there is a lot more time on my hands it seems…therefore I used the opportunity to make my own puff pastry. I made sourdough puff pastry as per this recipe here. For these sausage roll pastry however I only used 1 tsp sugar in the pastry, instead of 60 g.

Lightly spicy broccoli falafel

Again I won’t write much here. I made them pretty much according to the recipe under this link but added about 2 times the amount of cumin and more lemon juice as well. In the end I also rolled them in maise flour prior to roasting. They turn out quite soft and fragile but therefore super light and tasty. We had them simply with some salmon, spicy sauce and a poached egg on top. Very easy and healthy.

September on the balcony

September on the balcony

After quite a silence, it is time to post a balcony status update:

This year has been a little challenging in the balcony garden. The heat early on got to the plants a bit and they didn’t grow as well. However, we still managed to grow rather a lot and are happy with the outcome:

Plenty of tomatoes, lots and lots of cucumbers, climbing spinach, green beans and different varieties of chillies. Not as many fruits on each plant as other years but still a decent crop! And the balcony is green and colourful – we are happy 🙂

Balcony excitement in July

Balcony excitement in July

Our balcony is full of plants now, but some plants are doing particularly well. I already know what to recommend to other people to grow next season 😉 I will write more at the end of the growing season, in particular about the experimental plants we are growing this year. However, here is an overview with some photos too:

The best things so far have been:

Cucumber Louisa F1: Once again, these plants are producing many large, juicy cucumbers. They are so easy to get a good crop from because they are self pollinating!

Tomato Red Berry:  Also a repeat inhabitant of our balcony 🙂 never fails to produce hundreds and hundreds of tomatoes. I already counted 500 tomatoes between two plants….more to come!

Tomato Gigantomo: We were interested to grow some larger tomatoes this year….or rather ‘giant’ tomatoes 😉  we have a couple of plants and we are getting quite some large tomatoes…although I don’t think we will beat the current world record of 3.5kg for a single tomato! Maybe someone else with a proper garden would like to try their luck with this? We think they just need more space and more nutrients in the soil than we are able to provide on our balcony.

Giant Basil: Talking about giant plants, here is one which has been a true success on our balcony. Giant Basil is providing us with great big leaves the size of our hands! This also seems to be rather a hardy plant, surviving the heat of our summer. We have already harvested Basil several times for making pesto…it just keeps growing.

West Indian Gherkin (Cucumis Anguria): One of our experimental plants. The plant grows as a vine…it can either sprawl or climb. We have rigged up a climbing frame and string for it to grow up…by golly it is climbing fast and producing loads of fruits a little similar in appearance to the young Bitter Gourd fruits we grew last year… the key difference between the West Indian Gherkin and the Bitter Gourd is that the West Indian Gherkin is actually edible…and really really delicious (well, both are edible but the Bitter Gourd is just so so bitter!!!!). Unlike the Bitter gourd, the West Indian Gherkins are sweet tasting. More like the Cucamelons we grew last year, although a little bigger.  You can eat the West Indian Gherkin whole, despite its thorny appearance…don’t worry, it’s not going to damage your tongue with its spikes! They are actually rather soft. Anyway, judging from how the plant is doing right now, this is a great plant to grow.

Tomatillo (a variety of Physalis):  Also known as the Mexican Husk Tomato, this is a very pretty plant to grow. A little more tricky to get it to form fruits though…apparently it can self pollinate but is much more effectively cross pollinated between different plants. I think I need to read a little more into this to see whether we can optimize fruit formation. At the moment we do have some fruits on the plants. They are encased in a soft green shell and I am curious to taste them and use them in tomato salsa.

Okra: Another experimental plant on our balcony this year…It isn’t growing as well as I thought it would, but it is interesting anyway. We have four plants and all are producing some Okra. We will have enough Okra to make a curry from soon. Not the biggest harvest, but enough for us. Interesting for anyone who fancies growing something more exotic.

Leaves leaves and leaves: Rocket, beetroot leaves, chard, lettuce, herbs (parsley, chives). We haven’t had to buy a single lettuce head… nor salad leaves… nor herbs. All just ready to pick on our balcony. It is a delight to be able to just go out and harvest an entire mixed salad from the balcony or doorstep.



The ‘Straussenwirtschaft’

The ‘Straussenwirtschaft’

It is about time to introduce something very popular for locals and tourists in our area of Germany.

The so called ‘Straussenwirtschaften’ (Strauße, Straußior you may also hear people calling them ‘Besenwirstchaften’ are pop up restaurants (often in a barn, a living room or any other make-shift restaurant area) in Spring as well as in Autumn, serving their own wine and local food. The word ‘Strauße’ comes from the fact that in old times people would tidy up their living room and then hang out a bouquet or a wreath to signal to people the opening of the pop up restaurant.

Straußen‘ do not count as a proper gastronomic businesses, meaning they do not need a licence nor pay extra tax. However, they are subject to some regulation. One has to say though that different regions in Germany have slightly different laws regarding the Straußen. The most common laws are:

  • They are only allowed to open 4 months per year
  • They are only allowed to have a maximum of 40 sitting places. This is somewhat interesting though because there is no law to say how many people are allowed to squeeze on one bench or stand around on the premises 😉 therefore feel free to loiter around on the premises of a Strauße, without sitting down ;).
  • The third main rule is that the Straußen have to sell mostly their own produce (wine and food). One owner of a Strauße told us 50% of what they sell has to be their own produce (this is mostly the wine and the also vegetables, cheese and sausage).

We really got into visiting a lot of these restaurants this Spring.  It is a way to enjoy local wine and food in a relaxed atmosphere.  The food served is simple (for example Flammkuchen, asparagus, cheese and meat platters, sausages) but most often very well prepared. Often there are sitting places outside, set amid vines. Could not be a better way to enjoy the warm Spring evenings!

We have found three Straußen in our area which we have been going to many times now and would recommend to people:

Berner’s Strausse, Mauchen

Weingut Wiesler, Staufen

Probst’s Strausse, Staufen (however, it must be said, this is the oldest Strausse in the Markgräflerland which has by now turned into an actual restaurant)

Therefore, if you ever come to the black forest area of Germany in Spring or Autumn, enjoy the countryside, wine and food by doing a tour of these pop up restaurants 🙂


The unpredictable nature of plants

The unpredictable nature of plants

It’s time for a balcony update:

Things are growing well, but we have also had some challenges so far: mostly due to aphids! We find that seedlings, particularly while they grow indoors, get affected by aphids a lot. Aphids have a very fast reproduction cycle and can therefore get out of control very rapidly. They particularly settle on new shoots and leaves, to feed on the plant sap, which causes new plant shoots to wither and die.

Many of our little seedlings were affected by them this year, particularly the Okra plants (first year trying to grow these!). Luckily we had sown many seeds and also had spare ones to sow as a second batch. I have had to check the underside of all plant leaves every single day for aphids.

Additionally, there is a very simple household trick for aphid control: add a few drops of dish washing liquid to about 250ml water and spray it daily on the leaves of the affected plants, particularly covering the underside of the leaves. Aphids really dislike alkaline conditions. If you spray the plants every day for a week, the aphids will most likely be gone. Thereafter you can keep an eye on the plants and re-apply the water/soap solution as and when needed.

Challenges aside, our balcony is now almost set for the growing season. We have planted seedling plants in their final spots and are not waiting patiently (or impatiently). Doing well on our balcony at the moment are:

Cucumber F1 Louisa – chosen for higher resistance to powdery mildew compared to other cucumber varieties.

Okra Pure Luck – from a little research, it sounds like it should be quite easy to get a large crop of Okra without too much effort.

Tomato Gigantomo – the largest Tomato Gigantomo grown was 3.5kg!!! People around the world are trying to beat this world record. This could be rather exciting on our balcony! 😉

Tomato Red Berry – this is the tomato variety we have grown every single year since starting our balcony garden. It produces wonderful, juicy, sweet tomatoes.

Tomatillo – this is also known as the Mexican Husk Tomato. We hope to get a large crop to make salsa from!

Chillies – various different varieties (we bought little plants from


We also have some experimental plants on our balcony. They are still rather small, but let’s see how they do when it gets warmer:


West Indian Gherkin (Cucumis anguria) – West Indian Gherkin with an interesting, thorny appearance.


Ivy Gourd (Coccinia grandis) – a tropical vine with edible young shoots and fruits.


Finally, Alex sowed a lot of different types of salad leaf seeds and planted rocket and lettuce plants. All of these are making our balcony lovely and green. Additionally, we also decided to put hanging geranium plants in our hanging baskets. These are already making the balcony colourful and will hopefully attract pollinators later on in the growing season.

For now that’s it. Enjoy the attached photos: