Monday, April 26, 2010

Urban gardening 2010

Last summer we tried our hand at urban gardening- we planted zucchini, a few kinds of tomatoes (cherries, heirlooms, vining), herbs, and an assortment of flowers... These photos are at the height of the summer before the pansies got all raggedy and the zucchinis got mildewy... It was still quite an impressive bounty, especially since we're amateur gardeners!

This year, we got a bit more serious... We read up on our books, studied the Hudson Valley Seed Catalog selections, and ordered early to start as much as possible from seed! We're really excited with our anticipated harvest: Apple Green eggplants, Red Pear cherry tomatoes, Fox cherry tomatoes, New Yorker tomatoes, matchbox peppers, leaf lettuce, Early Wonder beets, Danver's carrots, sugar snap peas, plus lavender, mint, oregano, rosemary, basil, and sage.

For transplantable seedlings, we started inside in early March, and they basically took over our kitchen table and windowsills for over a month! We planted in old egg cartons, newspaper pots, and any containers we could get our hands on.

I made "newspaper pots" for the tomatoes so that when they are eventually planted outdoors, the newspaper will naturally biodegrade in the soil.
Peppers and eggplants are fairly tricky to grow since they need constant warmth and humidity and cannot be planted outside until the temperatures stay above 65-68 degrees. In the meantime, they have taken over our living room windowsill, right above the radiator, covered in saran wrap to keep the humidity levels high.

In mid/late March, P and I spent a few afternoons measuring up and designing the planters to rest on the parapet. It was a bit challenging to go to a big hardware store like Lowes without a car, but we did it! It was a nice 30-minute walk down there (drivers curiously peered at us in their cars as we strolled through the immense parking lot), stacked piles of pressure treated lumber on our cart, heaved a couple massive bags of dirt on top, threw a bunch of coconut fibers on top of all that, picked out several boxes of fasteners, a 4-foot level, arranged for next day delivery, and picked up some Italian sandwiches on Court Street on the walk back home.

I guess it was symbolic that we started building the planters on the first day of spring! We borrowed a circular saw from Paul's coworker, had two drills going at once, and spent two long afternoons assembling the planters together on our cramped patio. We removed the casters from the long wooden railroad tie I got from Katy in my old LES apartment and turned it on its side so it would be the front edge of the long trough-like planter. As my friend Vel proclaimed: "Celebrate the wood!" Two dividers inside would make three substantially deep containers for beets & carrots, eggplants, and lettuce.
The squash & zucchini would go in a large square planter, and the peas would go in the smallest planter by the brick wall, where they would be partially shaded until the mid/late afternoon. We were working around existing conditions such as an askew downspout, railings, and miscellaneous projections out of the wall, so none of our cuts were straight. And, we're also amateurs...

Unfortunately it got too cold or rained on and off for the next couple weeks so we couldn't seal the wood until early April. Notice in the before and after pics that there are leaves on all the trees! The weather has been bouncing unpredictably back and forth from being in the 40s to the 70s to 50s and back up to 60s, rainy to sunny to foggy!

Finally, we finished sealing the planters, stapled several layers of plastic inside each container, placed the coconut fiber around the bottom and sides (to help retain water), and poured the dirt in. It was amazing how much dirt those containers sucked up though! We had to go out and buy more bags of dirt- are we really going to recoup the costs of all the wood and dirt and everything else in just a few months of growing our own vegetables?!? Well, I know we will be thrilled to be surrounded by all the greenery and I'm sure the first tomato we sink our teeth into will make it worth it. Until then, we just hope to stop hemorrhaging money at the hardware store!
At last, the direct seeds were able to be sown outside! April 5th was our magic day. Sugar snap peas went in the smallest planter, where it gets the most shade. We didn't buy any pea inoculant, so we are crossing our fingers that they will produce some yield. Paul tied fishing line guides for the little tiny tendrils to grow...

Peas after 1 week...
...peas on 4/15...
...peas on 4/25...
The summer squash and cocozelle zucchini in the big square planter... I've been putting the old egg cartons and newspapers in the dirt as mulch for now.
The beets and carrots went into one of the long troughs. It's so great to see the tiny little red tipped leaves of the beet greens and the feathery fronds of the carrots! Patience though.... it will be a few more months before we can harvest them!

...beets & carrots on 4/15...
...beets & carrots on 4/25...
We transplanted the lettuce this weekend... They went into the second trough container. (The third will be for eggplant, but they probably won't go in until mid/late May). I hope the lettuce makes it, they look really raggedy!
We also planted the tomato seedlings outside, surrounded by tiny little basil seedlings. This pairing is an example of "companion planting "- so they assist in the growth of others, be it attracting beneficial insects, repelling harmful insects, providing nutrients or in some cases simply shade / support.

I've been collecting coffee grounds and empty eggshells for weeks now, in anticipation of tomato planting! The coffee provides nitrogen while the crushed eggshells are calcium-rich. As the summer goes on, I'll continue feeding them and hope that we get more tomatoes than we did last year. (Although we were picking them up until mid/late October!) I just hope it doesn't get any colder... why is it in the low 40's?!? It's the end of April!!
The small gray pot has the oregano and basil from last year... we'll see how well they do this year.

The local squirrels have become a nuisance though- they've been coming by in the early morning, digging up the dirt and seeds, and gnawing their way through some of the new seedlings! Ugh, so hurtful to this plant mommy when I see my babies dug up!! So we've taken some precautions to protect the little seedlings from these bushy tailed rats and covered all the veggies with mesh until they get stronger. We were fairly lucky last year, and hope that sprinkling the "dried blood" (organic nitrogen fertilizer) around the flowers and veggies continues to deter them. We also tried sprinkling cayenne pepper on some of the other exposed plants- will see if that works too.

For the non-edibles, I picked up a flat of petunias, sweet allysums, and marigolds from the local Farmer's Market. They really brighten up the patio with their colors!
The wisteria from our next door neighbor's garden is creeping up to our building... it's all over our downstairs neighbor's railings and now climbing all over our fire escape. The purple flowers are soooo pretty! Not to worry, P has been trimming them back to make a safe passage, just in case. Safety first!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Red Hook and pizza

Karen is staying with us this weekend, but she met up with her friends, so P and I headed out with our bikes and explored nearby Red Hook...

It's still a bit gritty, but Van Brunt Street shows signs of an emerging little community- young trees line the sidewalk, and cafes, shops, and bars cater to the diverse group of locals. The scale of the free standing homes is much smaller and "lighter" than other parts of Brooklyn- mostly 2 story wood frame and brick buildings, which contrasted with the towering brick projects several blocks away. Beautiful historic concrete and brick warehouses and giant steel cranes sit along the industrial waterfront, which used to be a major shipyard.

IKEA plaza was clean and shiny, its bright blue and yellow facade and massive parking lot a symbol of the changing neighborhood. We rode our bikes along the pristine, landscaped waterfront bike path, lined with streamlined galvanized benches and nautical remnants of its shipping history.

Maritime features (oooh! shipshape!) are everywhere in the neighbor- hood, from the names of shops and bars, to architec- tural and decorative elements of buildings, to the salvaged nautical features (bollards, ropes, winches, etc.) incorporated into the design of the brand new waterfront esplanade.

We poked around the shops on Van Brunt Street, drooled over all the plants at Chelsea Garden Center, filled up my bike basket with produce from Fairway Market, stopped at the Red Hook Lobster Pound for some lobster and shrimp rolls, and finally made it back home in time to do a little bit of plant tending and take a quick nap.

A few hours later, we were a bit peckish, and Paul suggested that we go down to Lucali's for pizza. I have never attempted to go on a Saturday night, but it was still *early* so we walked down there to find out the wait was like an hour. We walked around Cobble Hill/Carroll Gardens for awhile, admiring the spring blossoms and beautiful brownstones, picked up some cookies to try to prevent my low-blood-sugar-irritability (didn't work), and sat impatiently on their outdoor benches.

The wait ended up being about 2 hours (argh!!) and we got shuffled around a bit when we were inside, but finally we were able to give our order and waited patiently for our perfectly-baked-pie-of-heaven to emerge. Mark, the owner, rolls out the dough for each pizza as the orders come in, on his candlelit marble countertop. Turns out the wait was exceptionally long that night because there were some unexpected special guests that threw everyone off- Gwyneth, Chris, Beyonce, and Jay-Z walked in about 10 minutes after we were seated and sat right next to us!

Just another day in the life...

Tuesday, April 06, 2010


It's the first week of April and Brooklyn Heights is gorgeous...
Blossoms and greenery everywhere!

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Brooklyn Botanical Garden- Spring 2010

Giuliana and Damien got us one of the best wedding presents ever- a membership to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden! We absolutely love the vibe there, love the conservatories (desert, tropical, & temperate), the Terrace Cafe, love the perks, love the sustainable gardening recommendations, so much that we just renewed our membership for another year.

P and I rode our bikes out to the park on what seemed to be the perfect spring day... The pictures cannot even begin to capture the beauty and our exhilaration!
The walk down to the Lilly Pool Terrace and conservatories took us right through the magnificently blossoming Magnolia Plaza.
Seeing all the bulbs popping out of the ground and colorful blossoms in the trees were especially invigorating after being cooped up inside for so many months. Bright yellow daffodils were everywhere...
...and the cherry blossoms on the esplanade were just beginning to open up.

Two of the really old, large cherry trees at the top of the esplanade were in their full pink regalia, surrounded by photo-snapping visitors that rivaled Japanese levels!

Saturday, April 03, 2010


Another year, another birthday.... but what a wonderful birthday it was!

Paul got me a beautiful new Linus bike, and I feel like I'm riding around in a French film, with baguettes and flowers in my basket! The bike helmet doesn't complete the look, but I have to get over that... safety first!
Linus bikes are inspired by French bicycle designs of the 50's and 60's, but completely modernized and streamlined. I love sitting upright in its elegant frame, I love the leather handlebars, and ringing the little bell- and I have gotten so many compliments on it by passing bikers!

It definitely is the best birthday present ever- I feel like I'm like 12 years old!!
...and my sister pitched in for the adorable basket in front!

Although I got over my fear of re-learning how to ride a bike when I was in Japan, I was a bit apprehensive about riding stateside. Fortunately Paul was super patient with me and we rode on (mostly) bike lanes to Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Botanical Garden for my inaugural ride!
We organized a picnic in Prospect Park, on a day that was forecast to be about 70 degrees. Unfortunately it never got above about 50 degrees so all of us shivered uncomfortably for as long as we could stand. Thanks to everyone who came out and celebrated!