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!