Tuesday, May 31, 2011


East coast weather quickly went from wet and wild to hot and steamy! And our garden is heating up too. We spent Memorial Day weekend planting the tomatoes and basil and firing up the watering system. The blueberry bushes we bought a month ago are already bursting with nearly ripe berries. Can't wait to try them! The rest of the veggie plants are prospering in the heat too. The eggplants and peppers are growing tall and leafy, the cucumber seedlings I bought at the Union Square Green Market are already flowering and the ones I planted from seed are coming along nicely.
It should be a productive summer (if the ants and aphids don't spoil the fun - stay tuned)!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Salad days

The East Coast has been under a rain cloud for more than 2 weeks! Not pleasant for anyone who wants to get out and do some gardening...
But the greens are groovin' on this weather! My lettuce is growing strong and crisp. It's tender and tasty and really beats store bought. The arugula, oregano, parsley and rosemary are also loving the cool,  cloudy, wet weather. So, I am making lemons from lemonade - or rather - I'm eating plenty of salad, and throwing in handfuls of fresh herbs.
Of course, some veggies are not happy about the lack of sun. The cucumbers plants, grown from seed are still puny, the eggplants, recently purchased as seedlings from the green market, have yet to take off, and the strawberries are not ripening. For their sake, I can only hope the sun will come out tomorrow...though the forecast calls for rain...

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Will this rain kill my seedlings??

I planted my sweet new pepper and eggplant seedlings last week and the little buggers were looking good. Then all this rain started coming down...and it hasn't stopped...for days. It's raining hard, right now. Every morning I go out and check the plants and they seem to be okay. But I'm getting worried.

We also planted two beautiful blueberry bushes and six window boxes with Impatiens and Petunias. Oh, and we put two new rose bush starters we bought at Home Depot into their pots.

Will this epic deluge destroy my seedlings? What's a gardener to do??

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Time to shop for supplies!

Yes, it's been raining in New York for days and it feels like the sun may never shine again. But I know eventually, the skies will clear and I'll be able to get outside to do some more gardening. And right about now is when we go shopping for all the supplies we'll need for the season.
Over several years of gardening in New York City, my husband and I have discovered several local shops that offer a great selection of pots, soil, plants and other essentials at relatively good prices. Of course, New Yorkers will never have the breadth of choice that our suburban cohorts have, but we can find everything we need just fine.

Having a Home Depot across town is a big help. Every spring we make the trek to the 23rd St. store to pick up the basics like Miracle Grow potting soil. This year we got new window boxes (at about $10 a piece). I also learned that six packs of impatiens were going for a very reasonable 99 cents each last week!

Try Saiffee Hardware, in the East Village at 114 First Avenue and 7th St. to find cedar planters at decent prices. It also carries a variety of fertilizers, soil and tools.

In the flower district, Jamali Garden Supplies at 149 W. 28th St,which is jam packed with everything from the hard to find but essential Hoffman Tomato Food to decorative items for entertaining outdoors, has even better prices. 
A wholesaler directly across the street sells cedar planters and other containers at deep discounts.

Whole Foods carries organic seeds for a variety of herbs and veggies. Most are $2 or under.
For seedlings, the Union Square Green Market cannot be beat. The selection runs the gamut from basic basil to a wealth of heirloom tomato varieties, eggplant, lettuce and well, almost anything that you could think of growing. 

While hitting the pavement has its benefits, some items are just easier to find online. In early spring, we log onto Tomatofest.com to buy our organic heirloom tomato seeds. The variety is endless and the seeds always produce strong plants.

Miller Nurseries, http://www.millernurseries.com, will ship fruit trees and bushes. We ordered our blueberry bushes from Miller last season, along with special fertilizer and a digital PH meter. (Full disclosure: the plants flamed out during a heat wave. This year we bought more mature plants at a nursery in Morristown, New Jersey.)

Serious gardeners looking to create an automated watering system can head to The Drip Store at http://dripirrigation.com/. The site carries a comprehensive selection of timers, tubing, valves, filters and more. It takes a mechanical mind to assemble such a system, but it’s worth it. No more early morning watering before work or calling in the neighbors when you’re on vacation!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Urban Gardening Made Easy

With the summer season heating up, now is the perfect time to start your urban garden. Even if your outdoor space seems too small, if you get good sunlight, pull up those petunias and plant some tomatoes. No outdoor space? No problem. Plant an indoor herb garden. Every day, people are getting more serious about eating well and growing their own. Here are some tips that can help you put your green thumbs to work.

Sure, it would be great to grow your own seedlings and plant numerous crops. But start small and learn along the way. Trying to do too much at once could result in disappointment.

As a first step, stop by Home Depot or your local hardware store to pick up a few large pots (18 to 20 inches wide for tomatoes or peppers, window boxes for your herbs) and some soil. Miracle Grow works just fine, but if you want to go organic, you can find organic potting soil there too.

You’ll see plenty of seeds for sale, but for the first season, let some experienced farmers get you started. Go to the Union Square Green Market and buy seedlings. You will find a great variety of veggies that can be grown in pots waiting for adoption. The organically grown seedlings are more likely to come with pests like aphids and tomato hornworms, but this is the price we pay for a skipping toxins. And organic pest killers are available at gardening supply shops.

Pick two or three crops, say tomatoes, peppers and basil. If you are a beginner, patio tomatoes are easiest to manage and they taste great. The plants don’t get too tall or bushy and they can withstand windy conditions. If you’re more experienced, try Brandywine or Cherokee Purple heirloom varieties. These are big beefsteak tomatoes that require more fertilizing and take up more room. They need to be staked because they get quite tall, but they are delicious. Speaking of fertilizer, I swear by Hoffman Tomato Food, which can be found at Jamali Floral & Garden Suppliers on W. 28th St. for about $5. Used as directed, it can help your plants grow strong and healthy and avoid diseases like blossom-end rot.

Bell peppers are another good choice for beginners. They're easy to grow and are quite productive. One or two plants will yield dozens of peppers through the season.

At the market, you will find plenty of herbs, including basil, parsley and thyme. They can co-exist in a long window box. A flat of basil plants - about four to six - can be planted about 6 inches apart in a box and each one will provide enough leaves when fully grown to make a delicious pesto. Or pick a few leaves off all season long to toss into salads or pasta sauce.

Tomatoes need lots of sun so place them in the brightest spot. Peppers like the sun too. The herbs will do well in sun or partly shady conditions.

Be sure to keep your crops hydrated. Plants in pots tend to need more water than those in the ground. The best times to water is early morning and late afternoon. Avoid watering in the midday sun. If you're planning on taking weekend getaways, get a neighbor to stop by.

Buy a dozen tomato poles and Velcro plant ties to support the vines as the fruit grows.

One of the great benefits of growing your own is a new found focus on fresh food and healthy vegetables. And each year, your garden can become more sophisticated and productive. This will be my seventh season of planting with my husband Mitch and we've certainly expanded our horizons. We've installed an automated watering system and have extended our crop list well beyond tomatoes and peppers to include lettuce, cucumbers, eggplants, strawberries, blueberries and all manner of herbs.

So, go ahead. Treat yourself and your family to an urban garden this summer. Why wait!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Tomato debut - 2011

I'm happy to report that our 2011 tomato seedlings are growing strong. Planted just two weeks ago, they are already a few inches high and looking healthy. We decided to use the same heirloom seeds we purchased last year at Tomatofest.com and we had no problems. Aunt Ruby's German Green, Cherokee Purple, Brandywine, Chocolate Stripe and Black Cherry all rose to the occasion. They'll soon be ready for the great outdoors!
This is always an exciting time - though of course not quite as exciting as when we get to pick ripe tomatoes off the vine and taste their deliciousness. Ah, we'll have to wait till summer for that mouthwatering treat...