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Urban food gardening

by Colman Tue Oct 23rd, 2007 at 01:42:40 PM EST

Since I'm sitting down to a semi-virtuous snack - two wraps with a fresh mixed leaf salad from the garden, the last of our tomatoes and some good tinned sardines - it's probably a good time to start a little series on growing food at home in urban environments in the hope of encouraging people who could grow their own but don't to give it a try.

I'm no expert, but it seems to me that one of the small things we can do to decrease our environmental footprint is to grow what we can where we are - though I'm more convinced by being able to wander out the back door and cut some chives, cress, land-cress and chard to make a tasty, crunchy salad.

I'm interested in learning what to grow, where and how to grow it and how to use it. I'm noticeable fanatical and have a reasonably large garden, but I'd link to cover all the reasonable options for growing food in limited space, from a few containers on the balcony or windowsill to people with more space than our 20 foot by 40 foot patch.

The first question: what's worth growing? I prefer to prioritise high-value items that are poorly provided by the shops:

  • Herbs, obviously: these are expensive fresh, generally come in bigger batches than you can easily use (though many freeze adequately) and are very often of awful quality.
  • Salads: again expensive, wasteful and suffer badly from storage and shipping.
  • Tomatoes: there are varieties suitable for most reasonable environments and their flavour when really fresh is much better than bought - even when growing the same varieties. Other similar fruit can be worth growing, though there are less options.

After that we start getting into issues of space and style: growing fruit trees, root crops, brassicas (cabbages and the like) depends very  much on how much space you have and how you want to use it.

How would you rank things?

Responses of "oh, we have a lovely market outside our door that has everything locally grown in perfect condition" will not be considered helpful ...
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Oct 23rd, 2007 at 01:43:42 PM EST
*Caugh,  second thought:  from this morning Salon:


And living in London gave me asthma.


Air pollution is so bad in Cairo that living in the sprawling city of 18 million residents is said to be akin to smoking 20 cigarettes a day.

I always wondered what kind of stuff vegetables would accumulate during their 'urban life'.

The struggle of man against tyranny is the struggle of memory against forgetting.(Kundera)

by Elco B (elcob at scarlet dot be) on Tue Oct 23rd, 2007 at 02:36:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I tried growing basil on my balcony here about two years ago.  It worked for a while, but also got really caked with grime and needed a lot of washing.  And then, because it's basically a desert and never rains, it promptly died when I left town for two weeks and couldn't water it.  End of urban gardening experiment.  :-(

Produce here scares me in general because I know a little too much about the quality of the water supply in rural areas.  But we apparently do have some good locally grown organic vegetables available.  I was skeptical when they started appearing in the grocery store (how organic could they possibly be? given all the crap that's in the water and soil already?) but then it turns out that, as things go in Egypt, a friend-of-a-friend is married to the owner of the company that grows them, so I was able to learn a little more about them.

It seems that the local organics are desert-grown.  Pure virgin land, no pesticides or fertilizers or chemicals of any sort ever used there.  The water, I'm told, comes from aquifers deep below the desert, and is also very clean.

I'm still kind of skeptical, somewhat about whether they're telling the truth about the water, but more about the sustainability of desert agriculture in general.  This is a country that really ought to act a lot more water-poor than it generally does.

But, in the short term, I am a little more confident that I can eat vegetables now without poisoning myself.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Tue Oct 23rd, 2007 at 04:04:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, definitely things you eat very fresh, probably raw, first of all. In other words, not much sense in doing potatoes (or just a bit for summer new potato pleasure).

You can probably grow different salads all year round. I had an article on this somewhere, I remember trying it for a year and it worked (ie no need to buy salads at all for a year). The drawback was having to have a bunch of different seeds, and the right ones at the right time. Roughly, you can grow different types of lettuce in spring, summer, autumn, then endives (or chicory, I can never get these names right between British, French, and American usage), including the red Italian kinds that heart in January.

A nice catch crop is corn salad, there are autumn varieties and frost-resisting varieties for later in the year. Rocket should be easy to grow in your climate, spring and autumn. Sorrel is a bit acid, but can go into mixed leaf salads (and also be cooked like spinach, accompanies fish well). Red cabbage is good raw, sliced thin, and easy to grow.

Spinach would be good, too, and chards which you've already mentioned. Beetroot you could have over a fairly long season. Spring carrots and onions would be nice, even if you chose to buy in for the rest of the year rather than take up too much space.

It might not be done where you are, but I'd want to sow peas and broad beans late in the year to get them out of the way a bit earlier the following summer. Cabbages, Brussels (Euro)sprouts -- I don't know, they take up space and the growing season is long.

Tomatoes -- we grow "heirloom" varieties and have done some testing of these with our nurserypeople neighbours. Here we get a long season, so we've tended to select and keep (seed from year to year) of long-season varieties. But there are Siberian (!) short-season varieties we've tried, and they're good. I'll have a word with the neighbours and see what they suggest.

One variety I'd definitely recommend is Bloody Butcher -- the fruit is small to medium sized and bright red, very tasty, and it starts early and will go on till the season is over.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Oct 23rd, 2007 at 03:40:37 PM EST
My intention this year is to cheat by keeping the greenhouse frost-free and growing winter lettuce and corn salad in there. My chicory got devoured by something, strangely enough - the strong tasting stuff normally gets left alone.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Oct 24th, 2007 at 05:00:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I joined the Irish Seed Savers Association recently, who do a job preserving and propagating the heirloom varieties of vegetables, which should be better adapted to local conditions than the commercially sold ones - and should certainly be more interesting!
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Oct 24th, 2007 at 05:08:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Looking at the Seed Savers' tomato list, they have mostly Eastern short-season varieties (Siberian, Latvian, etc), so it looks like a good place to shop.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Oct 24th, 2007 at 09:07:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Now, now, you can't shop there: that would be illegal - not EU approved varieties, all of them. Members are allowed some seeds.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Oct 24th, 2007 at 09:29:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The EU is a fucking dictatorship. Er, liberate the seeds!
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Oct 24th, 2007 at 03:41:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We are quite successful with our Jerusalem Artichoke harvest this year. Successful means, we did not have to do squat, while our Tomatoes died, and we have not been very successful with anything else either...
by PeWi on Tue Oct 23rd, 2007 at 03:59:22 PM EST
What variety of tomatoes? You're up pretty far north now, aren't you? There are Scottish varieties that might work a bit better up there - short season ones like afew was describing, I assume.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Oct 23rd, 2007 at 06:12:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Tomatoes (var.) need specific amounts of hours of sunlight before they flower and fruit; the different varieties vary ;-) so you need to match your particular micro-climate.  

Other veggies have their own requirements and there are varieties that will certainly do well no matter where one lives.  The easiest way to discover which one(s) do best is to toddle on off to the local gardening club and start asking.  In my experience this not only assures you of more information than you care to know finding the right seeds but also a source for the right seeds.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Tue Oct 23rd, 2007 at 10:11:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks ATinNM (and Coleman)
I was not involved in the Tomatoes, my gardening is of the slash and burn, rip and fell variety.

We had the plants indoors in a southfacing room on the windowsill, so they certainly had enough light, but as I was not really tending them, I cannot really comment on them either. I just know, they died (we had put them outside, after they had flowered, but we were also on holidays before we put them out, so that might have contributet (they looked rather sad on our return...)
Next year will be different...

by PeWi on Wed Oct 24th, 2007 at 06:15:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I grew cress seeds once.  I usually forget to water house plants.

I have a not large apartment with a balcony.  Rules of the leasehold prevent me from putting much on the balcony though so in practical terms I only have a very small amount of space in/outside to grow anything.  That doesn't mean I wouldn't like to have a go but I can't see myself doing very well.

I definitely don't have the time (or inclination if I am honest) to get an allotment - the nearest ones I know of are at least 10/15 minutes drive away. I like the idea of growing my own food though.

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Tue Oct 23rd, 2007 at 04:18:13 PM EST
Check with your local garden club.  In my experience there is always someone who would like help in their garden and would be willing to trade labor (labour? :-) for a 'cut' of the produce.

If you're lucky that person also keeps bees and you can get some honey out of the deal as well.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Tue Oct 23rd, 2007 at 10:33:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My former boss had an allotment share, and she was quite successful with her crop in that!
by PeWi on Wed Oct 24th, 2007 at 06:16:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, there is a very nice local producers' market on the square close to my appartment. They have everything I need, including delicious varieties of tomatoes, goat cheese and , well, everything...

<ducks and runs...>

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

by Melanchthon on Tue Oct 23rd, 2007 at 04:33:21 PM EST
Don't "local" in Lyon mean 15 km from city center at least ?

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Tue Oct 23rd, 2007 at 05:05:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It depends on where you are in Lyon, but it means more or less 10 km.

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Tue Oct 23rd, 2007 at 05:37:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Herbs for sure, because they can be grown in containers or among the flowers. Basil is the only tricky one; the rest take care of themselves. There may be a hardy basil variety, but I haven't found it. MUST have sufficient, but not too much, water; MUST not get too cold; MUST have decent amount of sunshine. Beyond that, many bugs love basil as much as you and I. Funny thing is that, once the basil gets established, it flourishes - barring the aforementioned water issues.

All herbs can be frozen - just rinse them off a little and air-dry for an hour or two, throw them in a freezer bag, press the air out of the bag, seal it up, and throw it in the freezer. Another way is to make basil, parsley, olive oil pesto - pine nuts, if you want - in the old Bassomatic 500 (Dan Ackroyd skit), then bag, press, and freeze.

Best bang for the buck - green beans, climbing variety. Stake 'em or build a tripod, occasionally convince them to stick to their climbing pole. Plant in mid-Spring (past frosts), then again in July. Soil does not have to be high-quality, but some humus never hurts. Harvest frequently to keep them going.

Second best is lettuce, because you can eat the thinnings. Trick - get small glass storage bottles and label them with, say, three varieties - I like Romaine and Butter Crunch for two of them. Add about half a jar of sand, throw the seeds in them, cap 'em, and shake to mix the seeds into the sand. When you plant, grab some of the sand and let it run out of your hand into the row or broadcast it into a small area. Plant regularly through the growing season, but they will bolt to seed quickly, when the weather gets hot.

Tomatoes, no doubt. I concentrate on cherry-types for quickest production and Romas for eating and freezing. Romas resist all kinds of diseases, plus splitting from heavy rains. They are the best storage tomatoes, and, if you like your sauce meaty (not runny), then Romas are for you. These can also be run through the Bassomatic, bagged, and frozen - no prep other than light rinse, unless you don't like tomato skin in your sauce.

If you have the room, build an arbor and grow, say, two grape vines - same variety. Two years to get a decent crop, then only pruning annually to maintain the relationship of the vines to the arbor. Under an arbor, you can sit in the shade, or you could grow some of that lettuce that doesn't like hot sunshine.

Carrots and spinach can be overwintered with a little protection from some light mulch. Plant edible-pod peas in late July for peas in September-October, because they don't like hot weather either. Best to have climbing devices for the peas, too.

Brussels Sprouts are the best payback on the cabbage family - again, because they grow vertically. After that, it's all about space and growing season.

paul spencer

by paul spencer (paulgspencer@gmail.com) on Tue Oct 23rd, 2007 at 05:22:56 PM EST
We've learned this the hard way with basil. A few weeks ago we planted some in our window container. I overwatered them and most of the plant died - but today I noticed a few new leaves and the two remaining stems looked very good and healthy. So now it's a matter of finding the right amount of water to give to them.

We live in an apartment without a balcony, so we have a difficult time growing our own food, though we very much want to do so.

And the world will live as one

by Montereyan (robert at calitics dot com) on Tue Oct 23rd, 2007 at 11:49:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
than underwatering. killing with kindness, we have to keep my dad away from both yard and houseplants, for fear of drowing them, poor little plants.

it seems counterintuitive, but there it is.

by wu ming on Wed Oct 24th, 2007 at 04:34:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
here are some suggestions for small space gardening i've tried and you may enjoy...

sunflower and buckwheat greens.

take a shallow flat box, line with plastic if you want, then fill up with peat moss, compost and or soil, it doesn't need fertiliser.

dampen medium, then sprinkle in unhulled sunflower seeds, cover with a sheet of damp paper and keep watering till the hulls crack and the sprout emerges, a few days. remove paper and continue light daily watering.

harvest with scissors when about 8 cm tall.

buckwheat works in the same way... this is an easy, cheap way of  providing fresh greens during the winter, on a sunny balcony or indoors in a sunny spot.
when a tray is finished, compost the peatmoss and root mat.

the first few days till the sprout emerges you can leave the trays in the dark, then move to a light place to enable photosynthesis.

that way you can have some sprouting in a cellar or dark zone, while harvesting the ready ones.

i cannot emphasize enough how tasty and nutritious these greens are, and how even a child can follow through on such a simple process and experience the satisfaction that comes from growing your own food.

wicked in sarnies too...

the buckwheat ones are high in rutin, which is good for you.

of course there are alfalfa and other seed sprouts that can be grown in glass jars, tilted upside down to drain.

the soaking and rinsing water is much appreciated by houseplants.

there is a drink that used to be popular in pre-industrial times in america called rejuvelac, that is super nutritious. it is made by soaking wheat berries in water, then pouring off the milky, slightly fizzy liquid to drink.

quite refreshing...

then when the berries sprout, you can grind them, make small loaves, and cook them in the sun, or a solar oven.

very chewy and delicious...

getting OT here, but while we're at it, i should add how to make seed cheese.

grind almonds, sesame, sunflower seeds, or cashews till a flour, the add water from rinsing sprouts, and let paste ferment to taste.

the enzymes in the sprout water change the seed meal into something spicy and spreadable, that can be enhanced with a few chopped herbs, such as green onion, basil or parsley.

a healthful winter to you all!

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Oct 24th, 2007 at 12:22:05 AM EST
I never heard of any of these before, except for the alfalfa sprouts. And I love wheat berries and buckwheat and various other sprouts. Thanks for these ideas.

paul spencer
by paul spencer (paulgspencer@gmail.com) on Wed Oct 24th, 2007 at 01:39:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
you're welcome, paul.
i've really enjoyed your presence here at ET.

i was experimenting with these recipes mostly out in hawaii, and learning from ann wigmore and the hippocrates institute in boston, who promote raw foods, especially wheatgrass juice as the best detox aids.

after 2 years of raw food, it was such a pleasure to discover macrobiotics!

but if you're going to live on raw food, hawaii is perfect...

you get to feeling pretty transparent after a while, and much more receptive to light, and contact with the elements as a form of nourishment.

i was never overweight since, lol!

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Oct 24th, 2007 at 10:09:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I tried macro for awhile in the late 60s - George Ohsawa, was it?  San pa ku - or something like that - was his description of the result of the normal Western lifestyle. I had a similar reaction to yours in the sense of the "transparency" feeling, but I decided that it was primarily a kind of macro-cultural psychosomatic thing, combined with the biological/physical reaction to the diet change of avoiding meat-based protein - how Western of me.

Having said that, it was still an important stage for me in terms of modifying my meat-and-potatoes appetite and controlling my meal portions. And I still love short-grain brown rice. We don't use a wok nowadays, but we still saute our veggies in a rinsed-not-scrubbed cast-iron pan - but in olive oil.

Speaking of olive oil, your information says that you're from Italy. My wife was born in the Istria section of Croatia, and her family were refugees near Milano in the 50s. Her father was a Tito partisan in WWII, but, after the war, the party wanted him to go to Russia for training. He refused, so they were ostracized somewhat and left Yugoslavia.

paul spencer

by paul spencer (paulgspencer@gmail.com) on Wed Oct 24th, 2007 at 11:21:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
macrobiotics helped me a lot, especially when i learned to take the principle and use it locally, rather than try to imitate a japanese monk's diet, lol...

it has its share of truly nutty adherents, which can of course be off-putting, including its founder, georges ohsawa!

but as he himself said: 'never trust any advice till you see how well it works for you in your life'.

their diet jives perfectly with the concepts of protein combination laid out by frances moore lappe in 'diet for a small planet', another great influence on my choice to try a different dietary approach to reclaiming my health.

it worked much better than i ever dreamed.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Oct 24th, 2007 at 11:49:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
so i tent to stick to fresh veggies that i enjoy eating - tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and basil in the summer, beets, carrrots, peas, green onions and cilantro/parsley in the winter. most of the mediterranean herbs (oregano, thyme, tarragon, lavendar, rosemary) have gone native, and act more like weeds than crops. i'm playing with the idea of planting potatoes this winter (we have relatively mild winters, only occasional frosts and very rarely snow) just to see how it goes, and to get a leg up on the rest of the suburbanites if kunstler's doomer peak oil scenario ever pans out.

i'm very lucky in that the previous owners of the house i rent planted several fruit trees, so i get to eat lots of citrus, peaches and what are apparently called "pineapple guava."

by wu ming on Wed Oct 24th, 2007 at 04:44:34 AM EST
very tasty sauteed with olive oil and garlic, and shrugged off a hard freeze (-9 celcius) last year.

beet greens are also quite nice.

by wu ming on Wed Oct 24th, 2007 at 04:47:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Or eaten as a salad ...

I planted two boxes outside the back door for winter: rocket, and land (American) cress, which is a great little plant: hardy enough to produce through the winter here, perennial (according to my sources, anyway - maybe it just self-seeds freely, which is effectively the same thing) and happy in part shade. I have some planted under trees as edible ground cover, but the these boxes are to be treated as annuals for winter crops.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Oct 24th, 2007 at 04:58:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That sounds like a mild climate by even my standards, and Dublin is pretty mild. Citrus just don't work here, and even peaches are borderline - find  a nice warm wall and keep them out of the rain. I have a peach tree I just planted in a container with the intention of bringing it into the greenhouse for spring.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Oct 24th, 2007 at 04:50:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
it does get below freezing here (central valley, northern california) periodically between december and february, but long deep freezes are rare, and snow almost unheard of.

so we get to garden year round without cold frames.

we have more problems with the scorching 40+ degree summers. i lose a batch of tomatoes and bell pappers each summer because they get sunburnt in the heat (some people use shadecloth to prevent that, but i'm too lazy to bother, since the evening breezes would blow them around).

by wu ming on Thu Oct 25th, 2007 at 03:05:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
i used to love pineapple guavas in hawaii, they're good!

did you ever have chocolate guavas?

when hiking into kalalau valley on kauai guavas were the most common wild food around, along with fern tips and the occasional mango.

we used to juice them with mosquito netting and make nectar.

you had to watch out for the fruit flies, though.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Oct 24th, 2007 at 10:14:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Here in Florida we grow a lot of mustard and collard greens. For those who don't know collards, they're sort of a loose leaf cabbage. Very tasty and nutritious.
Mustards are really quick to grow and when they bolt you can use the seed too. Oh, and I always like to plant turnips too, they grow like weeds around here.
Here in the northern part of Florida (St. Augustine) we still get a few frosts in January and February, but lettuces, all types of greens and perennial herbs, potatoes, peas still grow vigorously. And here you have to grow your own, because there is no local agriculture.
by bil on Wed Oct 24th, 2007 at 12:14:53 PM EST
i get them every now and then from ther CSA veggie box, and am baffled.
by wu ming on Thu Oct 25th, 2007 at 03:20:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I've been wanting to green my fingers again - especially now spring is hitting South Africa. Most of the things I aimed for have been mentioned - in no particular order I've my eyes set on herbs (the usual suspects of basil, rosemary, thyme, sage and hopefully lemongrass), salads, spring onions, carrots, possibly beans. I'd love to extent with larger plants, like courgettes (I love my courgette!), tomatoes, cauliflower - all vegetables with a large diversity for in the kitchen and expensive in the supermarket. The mentioned three also neatly cover three seasons. But lack of space will currently prevent me from embracing bigger plants. My next dream: to grow a pineapple.

The problem of course is that I can't even start with the small plants because the equipment I will need to start will rob me from my funds to buy me proper quality food. Before I've grown anything, I'll be starved unless I will be able survive on chips and sausages for two months. Which I won't.

by Nomad (Bjinse) on Wed Oct 24th, 2007 at 01:00:34 PM EST
it's probably a good time to start a little series on growing food at home in urban environments in the hope of encouraging people who could grow their own but don't to give it a try.

I hate gardening.  Does that make me a bad environmentalist?

I totally support urban gardens and people growing their own food.  Good for the pocketbook, the environment, the soul ... good skill set for the coming end of the world as we know it.  Yes, yes, yes...

I was a successful co-gardener: picking things out and then noticing when they weren't being properly tended to.  I especially like picking off the crispy dead bits.

But left on my own...  I kill things.  I don't mean to.  Don't tell me I need to practice.  It's not practice.  It's that plants are so needy and I am so selfish.  I have enough stress caring for a cat & making sure it doesn't die.  A whole garden of living things depending solely on me for their survival?  I don't get that zenny feeling so many gardeners describe.  I feel more like the hospital resident on whom someone's grandmother's life depends.  I come to resent them.  You'd think by now plants would learn how to feed and water and prune themselves.  

I also do not sew my own clothes or cut my own hair or do my own yearly exams or drill my own teeth.  I'm sure the environment would benefit from me never leaving my home because I am so self-sufficient.  There are people who are very good at these things and who enjoy doing them, and so I gladly pay the local or organic farmer, my stylist, doctor, dentist ... probable sweatshop workers employed by H&M.  

I see all the benefits of the DIY lifestyle.  I've dabbled.  But the fact is no one is good at everything.  I'm no good at gardening.  And I hate it not because I hate plants, but because I hate killing them, letting them down.  I know neglect is a form of abuse.  I hate abusing these poor fragile leafy beings I've agreed to watch over.  And then rejecting them when I refuse to eat them.  I just think it's better karma to have some farmer who actually likes what he does, gets some satisfaction from this noble job, and does it well, grow my food for me.  

And I have no guilt about it because I walk to the grocery store and farmers' markets.  Which is probably even better than getting in a car and driving to the nursery where I'd buy my urban garden plants.

I do have one living plant.  Indestructible.  Also inedible.  Though my cat eats it.  And it still looks amazing.  This plant has learned to live without me.  We have an understanding.  

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Wed Oct 24th, 2007 at 03:01:51 PM EST
I've made two attempts to grow stuff, with surprising success.  Should I ever have a larger space to grow things, I shall try again.

The first time, I was ambitious.  I had never had a garden before.  My parents could hardly maintain a lawn, let alone a garden.  I didn't know anybody who had one.  I was a graduate student, and my friends were equally clueless.  I was on my own.  But I wanted to do it.

So, I started by spending a good part of two weeks turning over the soil in my 10 by 15 foot patch with a shovel, and pulling out ever vestige of root and weed by hand.  It seemed like a good idea.  Before that, I'd had to cut away a huge growth of feral, thorny rosebush.  I think this plant had a serious grudge against some previous owners, as it did nothing but send long, LONG branches covered with thorns in all directions.

I was reading a bunch of stuff about asian peasants at the time, so at first, I wanted to grow rice.  Sure, it was Michigan, and I was in a suburb next to other houses and stuff, but I thought it would be really cool to have a rice paddy.  I would feel solidarity with the peasantry!  My peasant studies teacher said he'd give me an automatic A for growing rice!  However, I found that it was next to impossible to find proper cultivation tips for growing rice.  I had no clue what to do.  I also sort of worried about the whole fetid swamp effect.

Then I went to the store, and bought a bunch of seedlings.  I mostly got pepeprs, bell and jalapeno and habanero and bananna peppers.  I love cooking with peppers, so I figured I'd use them.  I also planted some swiss chard, because I had some left over space, it was there in the market, I didn't know what it was and was tempted by its exotic lure, and couldn't think of anything else to do.  I grew up in a household where we ate virtually no vegetables or fish, and had only recently come to a basic understanding with green vegetables.

So, I planted things.  I soon realized that I'd planted everythign way too close together, but whatever.  The plants grew straight up, instead of out, so to keep them from falling over, I tied them to stakes.  They got used to this after a while.  Bugs attacked, so I spent time picking bugs off my plants, and treated them with some organic home remedies I read about online.  One of them involved tabasco sauce and urine, if I recall correctly.  It worked, and all my plants survived.  Peppers are pretty hardy, I guess.

The plants grew, and then they started producing tasty peppers.  I was happy!  I ate them.  Then I realized how many peppers I was to have, and started giving them away.  There were too many peppers!  Arg!  I had no idea what to do with them, so I either ate them fresh, gave them away (most memorably, I gave away a few pounds once in a big basket as a housewarming present), or let them rot.

Then winter came and everything died.  The circle of life and all.  The next year I was lazy, and after the spring planting season had passed, I put down a few flowers, just so I wasn't stuck with a big empty patch of dirt.

My first year in Japan, I again decided to try growing stuff.  I got some window boxes, and again wanted to grow peppers.  They are hard to find here, and I missed them.  I also wanted to grow cilantro, which is impossible to find here.  I planted some habaneros (lord knows why I could find them - far too hot for most Japanese people to touch, let alone eat), togarashi (domestic red chilis, very mild), a couple bell peppers, and a box of cilantro from seed.

The cilantro died, as I didn't know how to sprout it right.  Also, it was getting too much sun, I think.  The togarashi and habaneros did quite well.  For a while, they were being attacked rather mercilessly by some sort of insect, until one day a bunch of ants showed up.  From that day forward, the ants took care of my insect-killing work, and my plants were bug free.  Yay, ants!  Sadly, the bell peppers never grew properly - I think the boxes were too small.

Since then, I've been lazy.  Random stuff sprouts in my boxes.  I let it do what it likes, and it dies eventually.

by Zwackus on Wed Oct 24th, 2007 at 10:20:27 PM EST
Zwackus, I enjoyed very much reading about your adventures in urban farming.

It would be helpful if the posters say where they live. The information would then be more meaningful.

Amsterdam, garden: coriander, parsley, garden sorrel (zuring?), chives, peppermint, basil all did very well. I've had some luck with basil in a glass terrarium on a sunny windowsill. The tomatoes were a disaster: there is too little sun and too much moisture here. The peppers failed too. The neighbor two buildings down the street has an old apple tree with large, bright green apples which make the most delicious apple sauce I've ever tasted.

by Quentin on Thu Oct 25th, 2007 at 08:51:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In terms of bang per buck, they[re probably not worth it, but grow some cucumbers. The difference between home-grown and shop bought is ridiculous.

Also the difference between Bulgarian and English is ridiculous tooo. I loved salad out there, but it just aint the same here.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Oct 25th, 2007 at 11:51:49 AM EST

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