Growing Groceries in Pots: Lessons from workshop at Brooklyn Botanic Garden

I had a great time with some eco-conscious, healthy eating pals with whom I attended a lecture/workshop at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens.  Gardener and foodie Marie Viljoen talked “Edibles on the Eduge,” about growing edibles in small urban spaces, such as your fire-escape balcony or rooftop and in pots and containers.

Every dazzling photo of a harvest and a cocktail she presented had derived its culinary raison d’etre from Ms. Viljoen’s garden-in-pots on a borrowed rooftop-ledge.  The roof gets the best sun, beloved by fruits and veggies, needed to yield a good harvest.  As it turns out, mixed lighting will also deliver you some edibles, parsley and mint, for instance.

Viljoen grows a vast range of roots, fruits, herbs and vegetables in over 60 pots or containers:  Fig trees, blueberries, strawberries, potatoes, thyme and sage of all sorts, basil mint and dill, currants and carrots and beets, chives in the spring, heirloom tomatoes and basil over summer, parsnips over winter, garlic anytime, lettuces and hearty greens, squashes, melons and gourds and more!

Ahh, to pick a pepper for pickling from a pot on my picturesque patio… Well, that day, we all walked away with some seeds in seedling containers to keep moist and germinate starter edibles for our wishful fire escape windows.

Here’s five important pointers I took away for any form of small-space gardening:

  1. To avoid GMO and big-pharma seeds, look for seed-saver groups in your area.  For instance, contact Hudson Valley Seed Library to connect with other gardening enthusiasts interested in protecting plant biodiversity and organic agriculture.  Also look for organic or “homemade” compost soil where possible. 
  2. When starting seedlings, remember that some plants don’t like to be transplanted.  They may need to be handled extremely gently.  For instance, lettuce and taproot vegetables like carrots are best sewn there they will be grown.  For other vegetables, transplant when the first few mature leaves are growing out—these true leaves are more uniquely shaped then the very first, cute, baby leaves, termed cotyledon leaves.
  3. For a big, deep, reusable container, try milk crates lined with a cotton fabric.  (One could use plastic, but eh… I’d much rather use an old white tee or the like.).  14” x 14” pots and larger are necessary for many deep or water-thirsty vegetables and small trees.
  4. Blueberries!  I love them!  It’s nice to know I could grow them on a roof somewhere.  Apparently all I’d need is a deep pot and some acidic soil I can derive by mixing ¼ cup of raw coffee grinds into each gallon of soil. It’s like an earth recipe for Vitamin B, and you know, how I love those feel good Vitamin Bs….
  5. Avoid using glazed clay pots for edibles, because glaze often contains lead.

About C. Sala Hewitt

C. Sala Hewitt
This entry was posted in Food Justice, Good Food & Recipes, Keepers of the Seed, Practice Makes Perfect and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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