Summer Gardening in the City

For the last two summers,

we have been using any available space we have in our 12th floor apartment in Staten Island, NY to grow our own food.  Now is the time, April in the northern hemisphere, to get your garden ready for the season!

Train up a child in the way he should go,
And when he is old he will not depart from it.

Proverbs 22:6 (NKJV)

Some of my fondest childhood memories growing up in Brooklyn were of our summer gardens.  I remember how my mom and dad used to go to the garden shop on Foster Avenue in April to get the little baby plants and lovingly plant them in our backyard, our mini Eden.  Even on those tiny plots of land (the small plot behind our home on Hubbard

IMG_0850
Summer memories!

Place, and the even smaller spot of backyard when we moved to our one family house on East 43rd) mom and dad grew enough food for us to have lots of fresh salads and homegrown veggies all summer long and into the fall some years, depending on how the cold weather started.

One summer, we grew so many tomatoes, my mom piled the surplus up in one of those big DuaneReade shopping bags and took them to work to share with her friends.  I have never departed from his spirit of growing my own food, putting my hands in dirt, and sharing some of what we produce at home.  It was important training indeed.  As soon as I had children flourishing under my care, my maternal spirit lead me to create the terrace garden.

This year, I’m excited to be moving to the Trinidadian countryside, where my father-in-law blessed my family with some land that we can build, live and cultivate on, but my heart is still with my fellow urban gardeners. As cities sprawled wider and wider over the last century or so, urbanites became more and more detached from the source of the very food that sustains them, so much so that many wouldn’t recognize the vine that a cucumber grows on.  Just think about that.  If you don’t know food or where it comes from, how can you take proper care of your body?

Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.

Hippocrates of Kos

Also, if you have no idea how food grows and where it comes from, doesn’t that put you at a big disadvantage to whomever provides the food?  That is indeed the case.  What is even more cause for great concern is that we are learning that we can’t trust those who provide the food, specifically the corporations that are on the warpath to gain control of all the farms and all the minds and hearts of consumes nor the governments, whom we entrust with the task of ensuring that our food is safe to eat but instead put profit over people by allowing lobbying and campaign finance determine how they legislate the industry.

Here are some ways you can take back control of your food at home.  Combine these ideas with participation with the creation or the maintenance of gardens in your community and you can greatly increase your own control over your food and reduce your dependence on Big Food and, by default, Big Pharma.

EPSON MFP image
Summers in Brooklyn: My childhood urban backyard garden Circa 1990-sumpin.
  • Just get started
    1. Plant SOMETHING.  ANYTHING!  Watch it grow.  It will expand your consciousness.  Next year, you will want to plant more!
  • Any dirt patch is fair game
    1. Postage stamp-sized yard in the back and/or front of your house? Small sliver of dirt along the side? As long as there is soil, you can bring forth life and food!  Plant smaller plants like thyme and basil or bulbs like spring onion and garlic in these small spots.
  • Pots of many sizes and shapes, plus fences, railings and other resources
    1. Pots: It’s good to get a sense for how big the plant is going to be as you select pots.  Conversely, if you already have some pots, buy plants that would work well in the pot sizes you have and think about adding pots if you want to expand your repertoire.  I used my taller, deeper pots for bell pepper plants and tomato vines and my more shallow, rectangle shaped pots for herbs and leafy greens that didn’t need as much space for root growth.

      Urban Herbs
      Two varieties of Thyme and Greek Oregano in the NYC Summer Terrace Garden.
    2. Fences and Railings: For vine plants, plan those around the edges of your garden if possible so they can climb on existing structures.  Not only will it look great, but your plants will be happy as they reach for the sun and bear you good fruit all season long!
    3. Other Resources: Observe your plants as they grow.  One day last summer, my children and I went to the park to collect sticks.  We brought the sticks home and used them to stablize our tall, lanky tomato and pepper plants as they grew.  We stuck them into the soil next to the “trunks” of the plants, and loosely tied the plants to the sticks so when the wind blew them on our well exposed 12th floor terrace, they would remain standing.  They thanked us later with delicious produce.
    4. Soil: The term dirt cheap has real meaning, because bags of soil in the home good store are pretty cheap indeed!  The good news is that although organic soil is more expensive than stuff that is not labeled organic, it is still cheap so might as well go all the way with it!
  • Kitchen counter herbs
    1. You can keep some herbs on your kitchen counter.  Your kitchen light (yes the ceiling one) can substitute for the
      IMG_0932
      Genesis 1:29-30 Status! #SoDelicious #TheReallyNourishMovement

      sunlight if you don’t have a window in there – your potted thyme and oregano can still photosynthesize from that.  Just keep them watered and don’t be shy about pruning them often for use in your food.

  • Regenerate bulbs
    1. Ever notice that the bottoms of some of your veggies have little scraggly beards?  Like scallions (some call these spring onions or green onions ) for example. Some have had them chopped off, like celery, fennel and garlic. These are bulbs.  You can cut the tops off to eat, but don’t toss the bottoms!  Set them in some water and allow them to regenerate.  Then you can plant them out and keep repeating the process as many times as you like.  Here’s a link with a detailed list of these wonderfully nourishing gifts from God.  Now that’s what I call the gift that keeps on giving!
  • Seedling plants at farmers markets
    1. OK, this is my FAVORITE DETAIL: Check your local farmer’s markets right now img_3082because many of them will be selling seedlings.  But here’s the exciting part: You can buy them with your EBT card!  No excuse now, family!  The other great thing about buying these at the farmer’s market is that you can ask the farmers advice about how to plant.  Last summer, I even brought pics of my grown plants back for my local market guys to see.  Like “Look, the kids have grown so fast!”
  • Dwarf trees
    1. This is a great solution for city dwellers, one that you can eat from all year round.  Dwarf citrus trees can live in relatively large pots in your living room and bear delicious fruit that would cost you a small fortune in supermarkets with no chemicals necessary.  Choose a spot near a window that gets lots of sunlight – eastern facing works well, so the tree can get strong rising sun exposure all morning.
  • Savor and Share the experience! 
    1. The best part is harvest!  I enjoyed going onto my terrace to pick from my plants to enhance my meals with what I grew.  My children
      IMG_0931
      Ché is a happy garden princess!

      enjoyed picking with me.  We all learned together how to grow our own food, and when we had visitors, we were proud to show them what we were doing and give them a taste of the the bounty whenever we could.

 

 

Plants on sale at Whitehall Terminal Farmer’s Market

 

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