The summer solstice brings blinding sun and sizzling temperatures to the city garden. Days like today require a watering in the morning and again in the evening. The scarlet runner beans were attacked by some invisible enemy, but they may recover. Cabbage worms and aphids are jerks, but a little garlic and pepper spray seems to keep them at bay. Nearly all the spring greens have been harvested, as have the first beets, fennel, peas, and some garbanzo beans. Every morning, we bring in a handful or two of ground cherries.
Heirloom tomatoes: green zebra and Omar’s Lebanese
Tall telephone peas and the first blossoms of eggplant
The melon feels a bit behind schedule. Since we’re on the seventh floor, the cucumbers require hand pollination. (It’s not as dirty as it sounds.)
View through the garbanzo beans, and view toward the young willow tree.
June brings surprising growth, rain, hot sun, and pests. I used to think those yellowish moths were pretty little things. I’ve now learned that they like to drop off their eggs on plants like kale and broccoli. Jerks.
The bok choy and mustard greens have been completely harvested. Some chicory and lettuce remain. So far, a handful of ground cherries in their delicate paper husks. A few strawberries. Endless herbs and chives.
Bottom three shelves: purple broccoli, beets, chard, broccoli, garbanzo beans, fennel, ground cherry, parsnip, oregano, rosemary, artichoke, broccoli, zucchini, purple broccoli, mint, tarragon, and cucumber.
I’m in love with this artichoke plant.
Scarlet runner beans aim to block the view of those unpalatable storefront roofs across Broadway.
View looking north and east. Tomatoes are doing well. Pepper not so much. I think the carrots will be ready in a couple weeks.
I marvel at this ground cherry plant. When the fruit is ready, it simply drops to the ground. As in, ground cherry.
Oh hey there moth. I’m on to your deceitful ways.
Margaret Atwood once said, “Gardening is not a rational act.” She’s right. No rational person pulls all of their tomato plants into their kitchen during a treacherous thunderstorm. No rational person tiptoes up to a broccoli plant in the dark of the night to catch the mysterious Hole-Chewing Creature.
Irrational, yes, but then there’s an uncanny moment when you see—nearly in real time—a scarlet runner bean break soil. In a perplexing world of New York minutes, there is a welcome relief in those simple, majestic moments.
Eggplant, broccoli, herbs, ground cherry, bok choy.
Cucumber, zucchini, garbanzo beans, fennel, Waltham broccoli, early purple sprouting broccoli, eggplant, ground cherry, early beets, golden beets, parsnip, swiss chard, strawberry, rutabaga, artichoke, cabbage, butternut squash, arugula, kale, lettuce, golden cal wonder peppers, green zebra tomato, old Italian tomato, Omar’s Lebanese tomato, chocolate stripe tomato, scarlet runner beans, Parisienne carrot, cosmic purple carrot, tall telephone peas, Charentais melon, English Ivy, morning glory and moonflower, wildflowers
Bok choy, basil, chicory, chives, mint, oregano, rosemary, ruby streak mustard greens, sage, tarragon, thyme
Saturday was like Christmas morning. I woke much earlier than normal, trying not to stir my husband. Sipped coffee. Inspected the stacks of planters outside the window. Paced a little. Caught up on the pile of New York Times. Back to the planters. Finally, the sun seeped through the seams of highrises across Broadway.
Let the planting begin.
In some ways, the dream of a city garden began late last summer. In one of those “right place at the right time” scenarios, Ryan and I scored an affordable apartment in the Hudson Heights neighborhood of Manhattan with a sizable terrace.
After months of reading countless library books, blogs, and articles, I came up with a plan to suit the space. The heirloom seeds came in January and I started some indoor seedlings, like the fennel and leeks pictured above. Over the last couple weeks, I’ve spent the early mornings bringing trays of seedlings outside to grow accustomed to the wind and temperature, and police sirens.
Ryan selected an assortment of 12-inch pots and box planters that we filled part-way with gravel. The soil is 1/3 organic compost, 1/3 peat moss, and 1/3 organic perlite. I hauled 80 pounds of compost on the subway from Union Square Greenmarket. Never again.
My dad helped me design three self-supporting ladder shelves to give the garden some height. Trellises are wired to each planter to protect them from wind gusts. In a week or so, tomatoes and peppers will line the 14-inch pots along the railing.
In the ground:
Early purple sprouting broccoli
Eggplant (probably too soon)
Cosmic purple carrot
Tall telephone peas
Morning glory and moonflower
Herbs, tomatoes, peppers, squash and more to come. If the suspense is killing you, click here to get updates via email.
My quest to build a Manhattan city garden continues. And today, it seems like it could actually happen. The tomatoes, broccoli, artichoke, and ground cherry are crazy-tall (maybe too tall?). Just a few weeks behind them is a new batch of new tomatoes, eggplant, and pepper. Per the seed packet instructions, I moved the leeks outside (maybe too soon?), and they seem okay.
Here’s the rundown:
4 ground cherry
4 green zebra tomatoes
4 chocolate stripe tomatoes
3 Waltham broccoli
2 golden peppers
The seeds are actually growing. Well, not all of them… A couple of leeks didn’t make it. Same goes for the eggplant and peppers. However, the tomatoes, ground cherries, and artichoke are off to a good start. I’ve moved the seedlings from the sweaty egg carton into a 4-inch pot. The pots now rest in a large pan, receiving water from below to encourage root growth. From what I’ve read, the plants should also get 15 hours of light to prevent “legginess.” I don’t have space for the recommended florescent bulbs, but I’ve gone with a smaller grow light that claims to do the same thing.
For good measure, I’ve also planted another set of peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, artichoke, and leeks using smelly peat pellets. I hear this is what all of the gardeners are using.
In addition to a trillion blog posts and YouTube videos, I’ve found these books helpful:
The Vegetable Gardener’s Container Bible by Edward C. Smith
Continuous Container Gardens by Sara Begg Townsend and Roanne Robbins
Your Farm in the City by Lisa Taylor
Growing a Farmer by Kurt Timmermeister
Any tips? Recommendations?
I have this big idea to turn my Manhattan terrace into a vertical garden. I’ve spent a crazy amount of time flipping through urban gardening articles and watching D.I.Y. YouTube videos, and still I have no idea what I’m doing.
Here’s what I do know:
I’m following the square foot method, since it seems like the most straightforward technique for container gardening.
I sowed leek, pepper, eggplant, and artichoke seeds about one week ago in an egg carton on my windowsill. Most of the seeds have germinated. Simple magic.
Read what you’d like, but nothing beats some sound advice from actual people, like Toni at Boulder Locavore and my friend Danny.
It’s best to grow in a southern facing location with 8-10 hours of direct sunlight. I have an eastern facing terrace that gets 6-7 hours of smoggy sunlight.
I’ve read it’s best to start with just a few plants your first year of gardening. I’ve ordered 40 seed packets…