So, maybe this isn't such a frivolity at all. Now that lean times could be coming, urban dwellers looking to stretch the domestic dollar may want to consider a balcony vegetable garden, provided they have some sort of balcony or terrace. I've decided that I enjoy enough mixed salad greens, basil, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, and other things generally grown in the earth to try to start raising produce myself. Now that the best restaurants here base their menus on locally grown fresh food, I've embraced that concept also by growing food three feet away from my kitchen. I like growing flowers, too.
My problem is that I'm fairly new to New York gardening, having spent most of my life plowing through southern soil, so I don't know what I'm doing. In places I've lived before, I could grow pretty much anything, and the number of growing days were so many that I could fit in two whole seasons of planting. I also owned a house with a yard and a car that I used to go fetch things. Obviously, my life in lower Manhattan is different than that. Considering the current economic situation, however, I'm pretty happy to not worry about a house and a car anymore, and besides, the time I once spent mowing the lawn and picking weeds I now use to stroll through some gallery and figure out someone's conceptual art installation. Still, I like having my own fresh tomatoes, homemade pesto, and all the fresh ingredients that go into an insalata caprese.
I started my experiments in New York balcony gardening this past summer, and I've successfully grown tomatoes, cucumbers, basil and all sorts of herbs, although not very many of them. I like walking home and looking up at our balcony and seeing cucumbers on the vine dangling over the railing. Now that autumn is upon us, I felt the need to freshen up the container garden with some new herbs and seasonal greens, so this morning I walked down to the Union Square Greenmarket and chatted with my favorite upstate farming woman from Silver Heights Farm. She sells all sorts of certified organic seasonal plants and can explain how to take care of them. I've been there twice this week, bringing home two types of kale, Siberian and Nero Toscano, Viroflay Spinach, all matter of lettuce, and Cuban oregano. She told me I could fry up some of the Cuban oregano in tempura batter to serve as an appetizer, an idea that hadn't occurred to me. Some of my plants will droop and look dead after the first frost, she explained, but they'll pop back up after a couple of days.
The first average frost in New York City occurs at the end of October, so those in the viewing area who would like to try balcony vegetable gardening for themselves should get on the proverbial stick. Be sure to buy good soil and pots that won't dry out too fast. I find that walking home back from the Greenmarket with a bunch of plants is good exercise.
I wouldn't be doing this if I lived on a higher floor of the building, because I am too scared of heights.
Images from my balcony, September 27, 2008. I bought that terracotta owl in the picture on top many years ago at a market in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Many of the flower plants here, such as the crimson-colored chrysanthemum, have also come from the Union Square Greenmarket.