Monday, May 31, 2010

The Gen. X/Y Urban Garden

What is it about growing your own garden that is so enjoyable? Is it being able to see the end result of your hard work? Is it the contrast between a garden's beauty and the harst environment of city life? Is it the genes of my NH farm-raised grandmoster that's showing and making me itchy to get my hands dirty? I think it's a mixture of all the above.

This year marks the first summer I have a space to my own where I can plant a garden. University housing wasn't ever too keen on me installing a window box outside my 4th story apartment in a brand new building. For better or worse, I now live in a city apartment where the only green space to my name is a 3 sq ft patch of compacted dirt below a city-planted maple tree. So I decided with my limited space to try one of the few options city dwellers have - container gardening.

My fiance and I are fortunate enough to have a nicely sized fire escape that has become a "backyard". There were many sources of inspiration: Marty, one of our building mates, who has created his own garden out his bedroom window, the Philadelphians I work with every day who are constatnly looking for new ways to get plants into the hands of their neighbors, and the success of the vegetable garden my parents grew last year. So last week I stopped by a local garden center to pick up some essentials: a sizeable container to get the peppers and tomatoes started, smaller bins for the herbs, seeds, plant tags (I went for the au-naturale look of wooden stakes), organic soil, and an empty tonic bottle I used as a watering can.

I decided to grow green onions, green peppers, non-heirloom tomatoes, radishes (essential for tuna sandwiches!), cilantro, and sweet basil. I also have a Kentucky Wonder bean plant and spearmint (essential for mojitos). I kept away from the heirloom tomato route as the varieties can be finicky to work with, and I didn't want to go overboard in the first year here.
Throughout the planting I had an absolute blast! I felt like a kid again, as if I was working on a Girl Scout merit badge or something for the Skaneateles Junior Garden Club. Wat was even more gratifying was that within three days the radishes started to sprout. Got to love instant gratification!

Here are some helpful tips I've picked up along the way:
1. Make sure you purchase enough soil. I bought one small bag thinking I'd be ste, but there's a good 4" of space between the edge of the pot and the soil line.
2. Purchase containers with holes in the bottom, or drill your own! The tin bins are cute but don't drain well.
3. Read the directions on the seed packets. There is helpful info about how deep to plant the seeds, and the spacing requirements after the plants are established.
4. Over seeding is great. It eliminates any worry you might have about the success of your efforts.
5. Check out your garden daily. Make sure it's got enough water, admire your work, and talk to your plants. Research (and Myth Busters my fiance notes) has suggested that human speech has a positive effect on the health of a plant. Plus you'll get some nice oxygen in return.

I'll keep everyone posted throughout the summer with the progress of the Gen. X/Y Urban Garden.

Plant on and rock on,

Song for the Garden: Miss Broadway - Glass Candy