100MEDIA_IMAG0311It was a great year!

By com­par­i­son to last year and before our urban gar­den did very well. I cred­it a lot of our suc­cess to trial&error over the last sev­er­al years, learn­ing as we go, read­ing and research­ing why this or that hap­pened etc.

Before going into details some back­ground is need­ed:

We live on Long Island, NY about 40 miles East of Man­hat­tan. In times past such a loca­tion would have been con­sid­ered “sub­ur­ban” but not any­more. While not the row hous­es of Brook­lyn or Queens it isn’t the wide open spaces either. Most homes are on less than a quar­ter acre includ­ing yard. So find­ing room to grow veg­eta­bles or any mean­ing­ful quan­ti­ty is a chal­lenge. Espe­cial­ly with­out dig­ging up the entire back­yard leav­ing no place for the kids to play, have a BBQ etc. And of course I have to deal with the lit­tle lady who isn’t at all onboard with my prep­ping unfor­tu­nate­ly (but s‑l-o-w-l‑y accept­ing a lit­tle of it).

A few years ago we start­ed veg­etable gar­den­ing  in a cou­ple of small planter box­es and a few con­tain­ers. Did good with most herbs and OK with some pre-sprout­ed veg­gies like toma­toes and pep­pers. Over the years we added more con­tain­ers and a greater vari­ety. Some did bet­ter than oth­ers.

This year I final­ly got the Miss’s to agree to putting in large plant­i­ng bed. We researched sev­er­al designs but in the end the sim­plest (and cheap­est) way was just to sec­tion off a part of the yard we don’t use with a wall of dou­ble rowed cin­der blocks. Not ele­gant but very func­tion­al. Then filled in the box with some grav­el (for drainage) and a mix of top soil and mulch. I also had the auto­mat­ic sprin­klers mod­i­fied to cov­er the bed when they come on (in addi­tion to my own water­ing when need­ed). This, com­bined with over a dozen more plas­tic plant­i­ng pots gave an incred­i­ble amount of farmable area.

P7030001We took full advan­tage of the space and plant­ed a HUGE vari­ety of things.

  • Sev­er­al vari­eties of toma­toes – Roma, Plum, Cher­ry, even yel­low.
  • Green beans
  • Green pep­pers
  • Cucum­bers
  • Squash
  • Pat­ty Pans (a type of squash my wife likes)
  • Radish­es*
  • Car­rots*
  • Scal­lions
  • Chives
  • Red onions*
  • Leeks
  • Gar­lic
  • Let­tuce – Bibb and Sal­ad Bowl
  • Jalapeno pep­pers
  • Egg plant
  • Cel­ery
  • Sun flow­ers (my wife want­ed to dry the seeds)
  • A vari­ety of herbs includ­ing basil, sage, oregano, rose­mary, dill and pars­ley
  • (* the greens from these are very edi­ble too!)

We also tried some berry bush­es and even a Mey­er lemon tree, though these will take at least anoth­er sea­son to pro­duce fruit.

Some of these for real use and a few just as a test to see if it would grow and pro­duce a yield.

The fol­low­ing is a sum­ma­ry review of how things went.

The Good

Most of our veg­eta­bles did well so I’m only going to high­light those I think were of spe­cial inter­est or note­wor­thy:

My wife – G‑d Bless Her! Even though she is far from onboard with my prep­ping she embraced this gar­den total­ly. She set up a sys­tem of num­ber­ing the pots, con­tain­ers and bed rows. She kept both a writ­ten log and a spread­sheet log list­ing what we plant­ed, when it was plant­ed, when we first saw sprouts, and weighs and records how much we har­vest from each veg­etable.  This will help a LOT next year to fig­ure out what we did well and what we need to try again or improve on.

P6100006Toma­toes – We had an incred­i­ble (in our opin­ion at least) toma­to har­vest! The plum and cher­ry toma­toes pro­duced huge yields! And sweet as can be! The yel­low toma­toes were also good while the Roma just didn’t get as big as we hoped but still did OK.

Last year we had a big prob­lem with “end rot”. Lost a lot of good toma­toes to it. Research­ing it we found it’s caused by lack of min­er­als in the soil, espe­cial­ly cal­ci­um, and over water­ing (I’m guilty of that). So over win­ter we saved our egg shells (use a well sealed con­tain­er – they can stink even when washed!) and when we plant­ed the toma­toes we added a few crushed to the soil (we also read that adding some crushed Tums tables has the same ben­e­fit – Tums is most­ly sea shell cal­ci­um).

The egg shells helped a lot! Along with not water­ing as heav­i­ly. We did get some loss from end rot but not near­ly as bad as last year.

Radish­es – Our first crop was in just a plas­tic planter tray. Did very well. The rest were in the plant­i­ng bed and did even bet­ter.

Radish­es are very under­val­ued in gar­den­ing in my opin­ion. They aren’t a “sexy” veg­etable to brag about but they do grow fast (about 30 days), even indoors, and you can have mul­ti­ple har­vests in a sea­son. Plus the greens are tasty too.

Pat­ty Pans – They look like fly­ing saucer or a kid’s toy top but are very tasty and grew well. My wife enjoyed those. They grew like any oth­er squash. Will def­i­nite­ly do them again next year.

Cucum­bers – A ban­ner year for them! We had over 10 pounds of them. Very tasty. They didn’t have the hard rind skin like from the super­mar­ket. Would also be great for mak­ing pick­le slices.

Sun Flow­ers– After a slow start they just took off like a rock­et! Big yel­low heads and lots of seeds. We tried dry­ing some in the food dehy­dra­tor. Did bet­ter slow dry­ing in the oven. It was fun to grow them and will do it again next year.

Herbs – We always do well with most herbs espe­cial­ly the basil, sage and chives. Eas­i­ly dried for win­ter use. We didn’t do any lemon ver­be­na this year. Couldn’t find seeds for them, only sprouts so we passed. But those do well too when we have grown it. I’ve read that mak­ing tea out of the leaves is good to sooth an upset stom­ach.

The Bad (and lessons learned)

Plant­i­ng – We tried start­ing sprouts in the house before the plant­i­ng sea­son. It was a real pain! We learned we need to be ready to put the sprouts into the ground quick­ly. And since weath­er in our area ear­ly sea­son can be uncer­tain we lost many batch­es before we could plant them. Don’t know if we’ll try sprouts again next year instead of just going straight to ground plant­i­ng.

Pot­ting – We plant­ed 3 seeds in each pot (in a row so we can bet­ter tell if it’s a sprout or a weed). We thought we’d be lucky if 1 or 2 sprout­ed. Instead in almost every pot all 3 sprout­ed! Took a lot of time and extra pots to sep­a­rate the plants. And some we didn’t both­er sep­a­rat­ing. Next year we’ll only do 2 seeds per pot.

Weed­ing – It’s a lot of work! But well worth it I think. After an ini­tial wave of weeds ear­ly in the sea­son the plant­i­ng bed we pret­ty weed free. We don’t use her­bi­cides so any I saw had to be plucked by hand. Not easy reach­ing to the cen­ter of the bed either!

Cel­ery – It just wouldn’t grow! Tried sev­er­al times before I final­ly got sprouts in the bed and by then the sea­son was wind­ing down (cel­ery need 90–110 days to ful­ly grow). It was very hard deter­min­ing a cel­ery sprout from a weed. May have plucked some by acci­dent. Don’t know if we’ll try again next year.

Leeks — Like the cel­ery they didn’t do so well. We got sprouts but most didn’t grow so big. Not sure why. May use the space next year for some­thing else.

Gar­lic – We tried plant­i­ng cloves in the cin­der block cells. Most sprout­ed pret­ty quick­ly but didn’t last and by the end of the sea­son had all fad­ed. Not sure why. It would have been fun to get gar­lic. Not sure if we’ll try again next year.

Squash and let­tuce plant­i­ng – We put the let­tuce between two rows of the squash­es in the plant­i­ng bed. Big mis­take.

First, as the front row of squash grew it became hard­er and hard­er to reach over to get to the let­tuce.

Sec­ond, even­tu­al­ly the squash­es over grew the let­tuce and it (the let­tuce) was a lost crop.

Next year we’ll bet­ter orga­nize that part.

Also, squash being a climb­ing plant, needs a bet­ter trel­lis sys­tem. We tried a mesh “net” style strung between some dow­els. Wasn’t strong enough. Next year I’ll put in a few pieces of cheap plas­tic trel­lis.

Next year’s plan

My wife’s logs will help a lot! Oth­er than the cel­ery and leeks just about every­thing did good if not excel­lent.

In addi­tion to replant­i­ng out “core” veg­eta­bles I’d like to add a pear tree. My wife isn’t keen on it since it will need to go in the ground and she doesn’t want it to over grow the yard in time. But I think it’s worth a try.

I hope the berry plants and lemon tree do well. I’m also think­ing of try­ing a lime tree.

I’d also like to try grow­ing a few tobac­co plants. I don’t smoke but a few in some pots would be an inter­est­ing exper­i­ment. I know tobac­co is grown suc­cess­ful­ly in Penn­syl­va­nia so on Long Island should be good too. I pre­sume the leaves can be dried out eas­i­ly. Have to research it. The seeds can be pur­chased online, though not cheap. If this works out it could be a barter item in a post-dis­as­ter sce­nario.

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