Rooftop Garden Part Deux

July 24, 2007

The same day that BBaron harvested her first tomato was the day that I returned from a long research trip to discover my neighbors had been calling the police on my rooftop garden. Someone had reported seeing children playing on the roof, which though untrue lead to an all-out ban on roof access. And wouldn’t I be so kind to remove everything from the roof before they had me arrested? That day would be best, naturally.

This spelled the end of any enjoyment of sunshine and summer breezes in my chaise, but there wasn’t a whole lot I could do about my vegetables. I pulled in all my flowers — most of them never made it to blooming anyway, and the rest cooked to death in our overheated stairwell — but the veggies called for more space and sunshine that the roof still offered. So I fit everything on a 1m by .5 m rectangle of fake grass in front of the window and have yet to receive another “cease and desist, you tomato fiend” letter. Keep your fingers crossed, though, since you never know when the neighbors might go green with bean envy.

And while my harvest can in no way compare to that of gardeners with ample space, healthy dirt and early summer sun, I have been able to harvest to-date one healthy-sized cucumber, a green pepper and a handful of beans. My little golden tomato — the first one which had moved to a stage of ripeness — fell off the vine while I was fussing with the boxes, so I included it in the picture as well. I fully expect more beans, cukes, and maybe three dozen tomatoes before the growing season is over. Here are a couple photos of the goodies.

My first cukeSecond harvest

Gardening Time Again – The First Tomato

July 5, 2007

I harvested the first tomato from my garden last Saturday, July 1. It came in 60 days after I planted its mother-plant, under the waxing moon early in May. (Here is the sliced version, just before we ate it.)


Here it is on the mother-plant, just before I picked it:


All of my tomato plants are “heirloom”varieties. The First Tomato variety is called “Gary O’Sena,” and it is an open pollinated cross between a Brandywine and a Cherokee Purple. This is the first year I’ve grown it and I must say I’m really impressed. Not only does it produce early, but its fruits are dark and rich with a sweet-acidic flavor. 

What is an “heirloom” variety? First and foremost, all heirloom tomatoes are open pollinated. This means that seed saved from this year’s fruit will produce the same variety next year, unless natural or intended cross-pollination occurs. A hybrid tomato variety, such as the “Better Boy,” will NOT plant true in the next generation. 

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Rooftop Garden

June 17, 2007

Way back at the end of March, I posted an entry about my fantasy “summer sunshine paradise” out my kitchen window and on the neighboring rooftop. What began as a modest project of starting seeds on a secondhand shelving unit

Secondhand Shelf has turned into this: Full Garden View

My tomatoes are getting taller, the one cucumber that didn’t die after sprouting has baby cukes already, the freesia and iris are blooming. The replacement cukes and summer flowers I couldn’t plant till May have already made a good start as well.

What follows is a mini-version of Make (which I know you geeks read religiously) — I’m going to tell you how I constructed my tomato boats, for anyone who might be considering planting in a small space like mine.

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Garden Weekend

May 28, 2007

When I lived in Iowa, Memorial Day weekend was the time when everyone planted their vegetable gardens. In those days (before global warming), the early June nights might still be cool but we were pretty well assured that the danger of frost was past and the growing season could begin. I had no gardening experience except what I’d learned from my grandfather, so I planted everything in my Iowa garden that he used to plant in his garden in the north Georgia mountains. And so I can attest that, for a limited time only, okra will grow rampant in Iowa (and since there is virtually no one there who knows what okra is, there’s no one to eat all the excess). Purple hull and lady peas (really not peas but we call them that) also are excellent cultivars in Iowa. (Again, limited acceptance.) Melons are dicey – I think I managed to get one watermelon harvested before frost in three seasons. 

So now I’m gardening in a more southern clime, and this is actually a report on how things are doing. The cucumber vines are blooming and beginning to climb their trelllis. The fig tree has recovered from the Great Easter Freeze, although we may be short of figs this year. Ditto the blueberry bushes. Strawberry season was pretty good for all concerned – the birds, mice, rabbits and me. And for the first time, my pomegranite bush is blooming! Could it be that there will be home-grown poms this year? 

The featured attraction of course is the tomato garden. All of the plants are in the ground now and doing well, including the Hillbillies which, as my faithful readers will remember, were planted separately under the unfortunate waning moon. Most of the tomato plants have bloomed, and several have set fruit already. This weekend, I sprinkled a small pinch of slow release organic fertilizer around all the blooming plants, in an effort to boost production. This is a new thing for me this year so I will let you know if I think it makes a difference. 

The big job for the tomato garden this weekend was STAKING. I do not believe in the “sprawl” method of growing tomatoes. Not here in the south, where sprawl invites pests and fusarium wilt. So, thanks to the help of Goshawk (who made the stakes and cages in return for tomato futures), the plants are staked and caged for the summer campaign. 

img_2232a.jpg                 img_2233a.jpg            

Whew. Now I can relax. And think about next year’s garden. Okra? Perhaps a row or two of Silver Queen corn? 

Heirloom Tomatoes: Centerfold

May 2, 2007

Here are some pictures of last year’s crop of heirloom tomatoes from B Barron, taken in goshawk’s kitchen. (We all live in the same neighborhood.) They were delicious as well as beautiful.

Red Heirloom Tomatoes

Green Heirloom Tomatoes

And now, a song:

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Heirloom Tomatoes – Planting by the Signs

May 1, 2007

So, ok, tonight’s the night.

For several years now, I’ve mounted a big heirloom tomato effort in my back yard. I am not sure how I started down the heirloom path, but I’m glad I did. I am fortunate that I have, in my neighborhood, an excellent heirloom mentor, Craig LeHoullier, who is a member of the Seed Savers Exchange. 

My mother reminded me this weekend that my grandfather in the mountains planted his garden by the signs published in the Greer’s Almanac. I can recall as a child reading Greer’s in my grandfather’s den, and what I read then seemed somewhat mysterious and scandalous, with numerous strange pictographs and signs. Alas, I believe Greer’s is history, but the “planting by the signs” method lives on on the internet, and I guess in the mountains too.   

Today, May 1, the moon is waxing in Scorpio where I live. This is a good sign for planting tomatoes. So I did. I planted 21 tomato plants after work today. All of them heirloom varieties and in a totally organic environment. Not that you ask, but here are the varieities:  Cherokee Purple, Cherokee Green and Cherokee Chocolate (all from Craig and great producers here in NC); Eva Purple Ball; Black Krim, Kellogg’s Breakfast; Green Giant; Akers West Virginia; Yellow Pear; Stump of the World; and Nepal. Coming soon from CA are the Hillbilly plants (Craig does not like them so I have to out-source that variety). I will have to plant the Hillbilly plants against the signs, since they are scheduled to arrive in the waning moon. I hope they are up to it.

I will post from time to time as to how things are going. Those who live in the neighborhood will be most interested, as they could be the recipients of the fruits of my labors. 

Stay tuned. 

Azalea Belles

April 15, 2007

This weekend, I found myself swept up into a trip to the North Carolina Azalea Festival in Wilmington, NC. Despite having grown up in NC, I’d never been to the Azalea Festival before, and I didn’t really know anything about it.

One of the main events, perhaps the main event, is the tour of chosen gardens throughout the city. Unfortunately for them, there was a sudden freeze earlier in the week, and many of the azaleas had wilted or died. However, that didn’t detract from the rest of the flowers and garden designs. Nor did it detract from the belles.

Belles? Yes, belles. Young women dressed in antebellum period costume, in all the gardens. The story is that the tradition started when five daughters of garden club members dressed in costume to sit in some of the gardens. People loved it so much, the tradition has now grown to the point that 100 high school girls are enlisted. There are multiple belles assigned to each of the gardens, and their entire job is to sit and look pretty.

Azalea Belle 1 Azalea Belle 2 Azalea Belle 3

This is actually harder than it looks, of course. Wearing hoop skirts, petticoats, lace gloves, holding a parasol, and having one’s hair all up in a ringletted bun could get old after a while of sitting there with nothing to do but smile and be charming. One begins to feel sorry for real belles, if this was historically part of the role. (At least corsets were not a requirement for the current belles.) Luckily, the Azalea Festival organizers are aware of the boredom aspect, so each belle only has to be in one place for a two hour shift, and then they are moved either to a new position at the same house, or to a different house.

Azalea Belle 4 Azalea Belle 5 Azalea Belle 6

Unsurprisingly, if you know me, the belle in purple is my favorite. She was also in a very pretty garden, with lots of candles and white lights strung up, so I imagine when it was lit at night, it would have been gorgeous. If you look at the larger picture, you might be able to see that there’s a candelabra hanging from the tree over her head. I also think the girl in yellow had the “look picturesque” thing down pat.

What’s sprouting?

March 30, 2007

Unseasonably warm temperatures (it *is* still March, isn’t it?) have me in a definite springtime mood. Some friends speak of a new kind of SAD: not Seasonal Affective Disorder, the diagnosis of wintertime blues; rather Spring Affective Disorder, where the combination of nice weather and long daylight hours fill one’s mind with fun-filled nights and outdoor activities (this despite the early spring being one of the busiest times of the year work-wise).

I have to admit that the time change, which finally hit Europe this week, is a huge boon to post-workday activity, and my evening eating schedule has gone all wonky. Living on the top floor of a building with roof access, I spent many winter nights imagining how I would create there a summer sunshine paradise with my many plants and a reclining chair, where I would while away the hours of thesis research reading, lemonade in hand. The IKEA catalog arrived at just the right moments to keep the fantasy alive. You can see how that got me through the neverending madness that was January, right?

This week I took my first step towards building said oasis when a free shelving unit appeared on my university’s exchange bulletin board. And my plants are doing their part by sprouting from seeds I planted a couple weeks ago.

BBaron posted earlier this month about how far our food travels to land on our plates. Having grown up in a family with a passion for gardening and having survived three winters and springs in Russia, I have been socialized to spend part of one’s summer tending one’s own crop. Anyone who does it knows that you can’t beat the taste of a home-grown tomato. There is no better way to know where your food is coming from than planting, tending and picking it yourself. However, considering I only have planters at my disposal and that I have to carry all dirt used up five flights of stairs, my enterprise is limited. My dad starts his tomatoes in January to ensure an early harvest and already has tall plants. But then, when it’s just me, how many tomatoes do I really need?

I’m interested to know what everyone else is growing this year. My list is after the jump.

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