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!

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