Growing a garden with food to eat is an experience that is humbling and joyful. Growing an entirely container garden on a 22 ft * 22 ft concrete patch in Brooklyn, cultivates patience and gratitude right alongside your produce. I started this blog during the early stages of the COVID 19 pandemic in 2020. My experience in 2021 compared to 2020 can be described by the financial market caveat that “past performance is no guarantee of future results.”
PARTIAL AERIAL VIEW
As I go back through the photos from this year I have an increasing sense of gratitude and plenitude. Nonetheless there were some disappointments and hard lessons learned about pest management and the general capriciousness of nature. Growing a container garden is hard work but oh so rewarding! You learn to see the beauty in produce that would be rejected from supermarket shelves. You cultivate acceptance, fortitude, determination and resilience.
But to be honest, it can be an expensive past time where the economic return on investment is questionable, especially when they yield does not meet expectations. I recommend saving seeds as much as possible to avoid having to buy seedlings every year. Mesclun greens, arugula, lettuce, ochro, bora, Jamaican callaloo all do well planted from saved seeds.
WHAT I PLANTED IN 2021
This year I planted a variety of greens, herbs and vegetables. I was really in the mood to take chances and see what would happen. This is the fun part of gardening for me. I consider myself a very casual gardener so I’m pretty laissez faire when it comes to my choices. The one rule that I have (and broke) is to only grow what I would use. I was faithful to this rule until I saw a gorgeous pair of ochro plants at a nursery and that I could not leave behind.
- Eggplant varieties
- Hot peppers
- Celery leaf
- Heirloom tomatoes
A SAMPLE FROM THE 2021 GARDEN
MY BIGGEST WINS!
This is the first year that I have grown onions. It was a VERY rewarding process. Huge yield, delicious onions. I have been able to use them in my signature Herb Blends as well as in meals. It is such a satisfying feeling to cook with my own onions. This was a super fun and super easy bulb to grow.
Gosh! This is such a uniquely delicious bean. I learned from my experience last year and tripled the number of plants I grew, I also saved 2020 seeds which I used to grow these from scratch. I have a great recipe for bora which you can find here.
I grew these from seeds. They were tender and delicious. Being able to make a salad from the greens up is a very satisfying experience.
My teenage son, Madiba really wanted to grow hot peppers this year. He said that he wanted to test his tolerance for heat. Madiba taught me about the “Scoville Scale” that is used to measure the spiciness of hot peppers.
This year I grew Guyanese “wiri wiri” peppers, habaneros, jalapeños and cherry red peppers. The most successful were the wiri wiris (the tiny ones) and the cherry reds (the big ones that look like tomatoes). Following the advice of friends on Facebook I have been using the wiri wiri peppers in my Herb Blends and in soups and curries.
I also got a gift of a Black Hungarian Pepper plant from my friend Diana. This pepper turns bright red when ripe! Look for it in the black stage and the bright red stage in the photos below. It is from the chili pepper family.
SWISS CHARD, JAMAICAN CALLALOO, FENNEL
I planted quite a lot of rainbow swiss chard with mixed results. Although they never grew as large as they would in the ground, I was able to get sufficient tender, juicy yields to enhance my grains (see my post titled “Never a Dull Rice“) and to dress up chickpeas. Fennel is so gorgeous to grow. I ended up missing the peak time to harvest for the bulb but I still enjoyed growing it. Jamaican callaloo I planted from last year’s seeds. I struggled with pests early on which I will discuss separately.
I prevaricated on whether to add tomatoes as a “win“. I really struggled with tomatoes this season compared to last year. I had at least 6 plants totally destroyed by aphids. Only the presence of fruit hanging on persuaded me too keep watering them and they came back only to be devastated again.
I also learned why heirloom tomatoes are so expensive. Each heirloom that bore fruit only produced 1-2 fruit. The plants took a long time to mature and the fruit took a long time to ripen.
Why I decided to count this as a win:
- Through perseverance I did get a nice cumulative harvest.
- I got a fun variety and a few surprises that grew up from my homemade compost
- All of the tomatoes were EXTREMELY delicious
- The cherry tomatoes are bountiful and beautiful
- Every heirloom is like gold!
- Broad Leaf Thyme
- Parsley (poor yield)
- Celery Leaf
- Fine Leaf Thyme
Herbs are essential to my summer garden. I searched high and low for cilantro and dill but to no avail. My main use of herbs is in my signature Herb Blends which you can learn more about here. The basil grew into towering TREES! Celery leaf was an end of summer planting. I strongly encourage you to plant herbs if nothing else. They can have a huge impact on the flavor profile of your food. Herbs are generally pretty resilient and some are perennial.
I love flowers and I love colors so I always make sure that there are flowers around for me to enjoy. The lillies came back from last year. The roses are from a bush my mom planted over 20 years ago. It is a bit of a struggle with hydrangeas in pots but I guess gardening is somewhat about the struggle.
THE STRUGGLE IS REAL!
First I am so happy and grateful for every single little thing that my urban container garden produces. But sometimes despite your best efforts, mother nature has a mind of her own. That was the case with a few of my plantings this year. The gorgeous photos don’t tell the whole story and I would be remiss if I did not share my struggles as well.
- Bell Peppers: Planted early, watered and fertilized and nurtured. Each plant produced no more that 1-2 fruit just now, in October.
- Zucchini: My zucchini plants only produced male flowers and no fruit. They were also beleaguered by a fungus that attacked the leaves and spread fast.
- Beets: I actually enjoyed growing beets, although my harvest was low. I cooked the beet greens in a medley with swiss chard and other backyard greens. They are delicious.
- Spinach: No luck with spinach. They all bolted before maturing.
- Lettuce: A mixed bag but mostly not good. I harvested some early outer leaves but they bolted too soon.. even my end of summer plantings which started out with great promise bolted and did not produce hearts. The romain was beset by aphids.
- Broccoli: The jury’s out as of this publishing. Early planted broccoli is pretty small even though they are in deep pots. Lots of leaf damage and some late aphids. The late summer plants look AMAZING so I’m hopeful. I am covering with mesh as soon as a flower appears.
- Cauliflower: Not too much luck with the purple variety. One seems to be trying in the cooler weather. I have a few small plants that I am hopeful for.
- Cucumber: I got one full sized cucumber and I am grateful! There are a few more that are promising, but compared to the number of blossoms, the yield is pretty low.
- Garlic: No luck. I will try at the end of Fall and overwinter them as suggested by my friends Deb Sherr and Saleem Baksh
- Eggplant (Aubergine/Boulanger): Last year I planted Ichiban Japanese variety and got great yields. This year I planted a few different kinds and got poor yields all round. However a few have come to life over the past few weeks with lots of blossoms so I might have something different to report soon.
- Strawberries: Nothing much from an old bush that comes back from year to year but I am hopeful about the strawberry plants I got from my friend Diana.
Gosh! The battle against garden pests was epic this year. My friend Keith Bunnell was a great help to me because of his gardening experience and expertise. Lesson learned: Be aggressive with pest control early on. Educate yourself about pests. Use netting if possible.
I faced an early onslaught against my leafy greens especially swiss chard, beet greens, jamaican callaloo. I lost a lot of produce to leaf miners. At first I thought that the leaves were wilting because of too much sun but Keith taught me otherwise. What worked: I learned that the way to fight them is to remove the infected leaves and fully destroy them then make sure they end up far from the garden.
Can I just say “UGH”? One morning I woke up to find 3 of my beautiful tomato plants COMPLETELY DESTROYED by aphids. I tried homemade methods to get rid of them like spraying with soapy water but they were relentless. I had at least 6 tomato plants completely destroyed by aphids at least twice. But luckily the presence of one or two fruit on those plants encouraged me to keep watering and they came back to life… this happened at least twice. What worked: I ended up purchasing over-the-counter organic pest control chemicals to fight these horrid pests. Neem oil and insecticidal soap help to control these pests. I wish I was more aggressive with them early on.
So that cute ivory colored “butterfly” fluttering around in your garden is a pernicious pest for brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage). It is called a “cabbage moth”. I planted 5 beautiful little purple cauliflower seedlings. I woke one morning to find three of them completely destroyed. What worked: At the first sign of leaf damage (little holes in the leaves) examine the undersides of the leaves carefully for well disguised green caterpillars.