How My Garden Goes – Part 3

Posted: May 18th, 2011 | Author:
Dwarf Sugar Peas

Dwarf Sugar Peas

When I last posted, I’d just finished making my sub-irrigated planters and filling them with potting mix. By now, these planters are home to thriving little plants, some of them ready to be harvested pretty soon! How did all the pieces come together?

I started back in March with the Making Brooklyn Bloom event at Brooklyn Botanical Garden, which gave me a much-needed kick in the butt to get my garden going. The event was full of people who took gardening seriously — professionally or recreationally,privately or in community gardens — and had been doing so for some time.  The average age was well above 40, which was striking to me, coming from my urban farming circles which are often dominated by hip 20-somethings.

At the Botanical Garden, most attendees had a lifelong connection to gardening and to their Brooklyn neighborhoods.  All seemed passionate about the goal of the conference: to beautify Brooklyn through plants. It got me thinking about the continuities and discontinuities between the current urban farming movement with older and/or parallel movements and how many of these movements aren’t movements at all, but just interests or hobbies. It reminded me that, while there can be some radical aspects of urban farming, it’s in many ways a reinventing or a popularizing of the wheel (except for the ancient agrarian cultures that lacked the wheel, like the Aztecs).

The event gave me the spiritual nudge to make my garden happen. I was sitting in a few of the talks scribbling notes and drawing diagrams for my garden, inspired by speakers talking about what they’d accomplished. I also got a goody bag with some seeds and some fish emulsion.

In the gift shop, I found what would become my main guide for creating my garden: Edward C. Smith’s Incredible Vegetables from Self-Watering Containers (Google Books has a 20+ page preview!). I totally judged this book by its cover, determining that gardener Ed of the straw bucket hat and Joel Salatin’s glasses was someone I could trust with my veggies. Only an expert can speak to the accuracy and efficacy of the facts and advice in Smith’s book.  Yet, I found it very useful as a reference, offering a single voice among the cacophony of gardening websites and forums.

One weakness of the book, however, is its instructions for actually making the self-watering planter. One of the ingredients in Smith’s — a “ready-made insert” — seemed to defeat the whole purpose of making the planter yourself. So instead, I turned to the electronic cacophony, and based my design mainly on one on the site of the cutely named but apparently defunct Plant Parenthood. For each of my 7 planters, I used 2 (unfortunately Home Depot-branded — who knew the chain had a mascot named Homer?) 5-gallon buckets, about 1.5 feet of tubing, and one quart-sized plastic container. Making the planter buckets involved a whole lot of drilling, as well as inappropriately using the drill as a jigsaw.

For my potting mix, I used some store-bought sphagnum peat and perlite, mixed with a nice amount of compost from the Lower East Side Ecology Center, which I’d actually won in a raffle at a Bushwick Food Co-op movie screening.

Finally, it was time for seeds. I decided to go heirloom, to support the preservation of these traditional varieties that help maintain the genetic diversity, and therefore disease resistance of our food supply. Many gardeners/farmers I’ve met has talked glowingly of seed catalogs, which have a wealth of information and advice for planting, as well as pretty pictures. I had no time to wait for a paper catalog to come in the mail, so I shopped digitally, at Seed Savers Exchange, a member-based non-profit which sells seeds and also runs a heritage farm in Iowa.

As I mentioned in my last post, I had some pretty specific limitations on what I could grow. I wound up settling on Philadelphia White Box radishes, Tom Thumb peas, Dwarf Gray sugar peas, Bloomsdale spinach, Crisp Mint lettuce, forellenschluss (“speckled trout”) Lettuce, and tat soi. These were all things I could plant in early April, before the last frost, and which I should be able to harvest before I leave in early June. I plan to post once more before I head to California, hopefully with some pics of actual veggies!

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