28 October 2008

(Mis)Adventures in Urban Gardening

As the rain pours down and the gusts of wind cause leaves to dance about my roof, I reflect on my first attempt at urban gardening this past summer. Now nearly October, all that remains are three clay pots -- lemon thyme, silver dust, daisies -- and a lovely painted blue pot (a gift) with lavender. I may eventually move the herbs inside. The wooden wine crates I had converted into planters now stand stacked at one end of the roof. My buckets are filled with rain water and leaves and a watering can lies wedged inside the buckets so as not to fly away.
I wish I could boast of an abundant harvest: juicy tomatoes from late July through the end of September! Pepper after pepper combined with my delicate zebra eggplant. Sadly, that would be a gross exaggeration. In mid-May, after having settled into my new apartment with its incredible roof space right outside of my bedroom window (which doubles as a door), I went to Greensgrow in Northeastern Philadelphia (which was featured that same week in the New York Times) to stock up on seeds, seedlings, organic soil and some extra pots. I came home with irish moss, silver dust, dahlias and daisies for my non-edible planter, with thyme, basil, rosemary and lavender for the herb planter, with three tomato seedlings (one patio tomato and two heirloom varieties), cucumber, eggplant, watermelon and pepper seedlings and with two varieties of lettuce seeds. I drilled holes into my four wine crates, planted seedlings, sewed seeds and gently slipped my tomatoes into their clay pots. Let the growing season begin!!
Here are the wine crates before they were turned into planters:
The watermelon and cucumber were the first victims of unknown vermin. I bought marigolds from the farmer's market to ward off pests. Promising. July crept in, my patio tomato showed the promise of two green tomatoes. I eagerly watched as one turned orange and then a deep red, while the other began to blush, as well. Imagine my horror to discover one morning that the red tomato was gone. Something had come and eaten it, as well as half of its blushing sibling! This, of course, was not enough. The unknown culprit had decided to nap on a soft green bed of lettuce after its tomato feast, smothering a lettuce crop which had already been on the verge of bolting. Goodbye, lettuce. Rest in peace, ripe tomatoes.
Tomato cages seemed the most obvious solution. I also caged in the eggplant and pepper. The pepper was blooming and the first eggplant began to show it's striped little head, and I was not about to risk losing them. Meanwhile, the two heirlooms had not yet done anything but look tall, green, healthy and flowerless. Oh, I had also managed to over water and kill the heartiest of herbs -- my dear rosemary.
Long story short. The heirlooms never bore fruit. Muddy footprints revealed that a raccoon had been feasting on my tomatoes (managing to steal two more through the cage). I harvested one tiny pepper, two small tomatoes and a modest eggplant. In fact my entire harvest could fit into the palm of my hand (the second tomato came later in the season).
The herbs (rosemary aside) were a success. I will definitely continue planting herbs each summer. I am not certain if I would return to my other failed crops. The farmer's market is right down the street and I do love supporting the local economy (and preserving my own personal economy by not throwing money into unfruitful plants). Perhaps I will do more research next year and wisely choose one or two items to grow on my roof. I will check first, however, with the raccoon to establish what it does _not_ like to eat.


  1. oh my! i could add tales of woe. after 3 months of daily tending 2 small cucumber hills, i arrived one day to find one whole hill in full wilt. By the next day: she was a goner. horrid. i have decided, cucumber and my Spring Garden plot must part due to irreconcilable differences.
    thanks for sending me a link to your beautiful blog! your roof looks adorable.

  2. sorry, should have clarified, the comment above is from Bethany.

  3. those are some adorable tiny vegetables you hold in your hand.