How (and what) my garden grows

As I mentioned in the previous post, I’m growing vegetables in a garden plot at Eldert Street Garden, a community garden located about 10 or so blocks from where I live in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn. I discovered the garden one summer Saturday last year when I was out scouting community gardens in the area on my bike, having just started this blog and wanting to see what was going on locally with urban gardening. No one was working in the garden that day, but to me it was the most inviting of the gardens I visited. In a narrow, shaded lot sandwiched between apartment buildings and veiled by an ivy-covered chain link fence, the garden was a cool, lush oasis of green. It was bursting with life, but a bit wild and unkempt. No one was present, but a hand-painted sign welcomed onlookers and made a friendly pitch for volunteers. The overall vibe was open-source. I made a mental note to return.

I finally connected with the caretakers of Eldert Street Garden in mid-April this year, dropping in while I was out running. A handful of people were working that day, including Kim, a founder and unofficial garden mama, who was happy to answer my questions. Were they looking for volunteers? Duh, it’s a community garden. Could I grow my own plot? Absolutely, for a mere $25 annual fee I could enjoy all the rights and privileges of a garden keyholder. If it seems like I was asking the obvious, it’s only because I didn’t expect the path to garden membership to be so astonishingly easy. I’d heard that in more genteel Brooklyn neighborhoods like Park Slope, it can be nearly impossible to get a garden plot. But this was Bushwick, which, while rapidly gentrifying, is no Park Slope.

Sundays are the usual workdays at Eldert Street Garden, when the most garden members and volunteers will be out working on their plots or other projects. Garden keyholders are also required to attend at least a couple of more formal organized workdays that occur periodically during the growing season, the first of which is this Sunday. I put in a couple of informal Sunday workdays before planting my plot, sewing grass seed in bald spots on the garden’s lawn, shoring up a part of the landscaping bed that runs along the garden’s cobblestone path with a rock border, and tilling and mixing fresh compost and peat moss into the raised bed where I would have my garden plot.

On May 12th, I planted my garden. First, I made a trip to a garden store in Williamsburg that carries Rooftop Ready Seeds, a brand started by Riverpark’s head farmer, Zach Pickens, who I interviewed last fall for this blog. Rooftop Ready Seeds (the name is an ironic play on Roundup Ready, agribusiness giant Monsanto’s brand of genetically modified crops that are manipulated to withstand Roundup, its herbicide product) are saved from plants that have thrived in rooftop locations in the city, often through several generations. The company has a partnership with Brooklyn Grange to save seeds from its rooftop soil farms in Brooklyn and Queens, which are the largest such farms in the city and the world. It’s an excellent pedigree for urban gardening, so I was curious to see how they would grow in my own garden plot.  My seed-buying criteria was, “would I want to eat it?” To my dismay, the store was out of Rooftop Ready’s roquette arugula seeds (I guess there’s a reason why “arugula” is used as shorthand for “urban foodie”), but I was happy to come away with seeds for royal burgundy bush beans and two vareties of lettuce, buttercrunch bibb and deer tongue. That day, Kim also brought to the garden a bunch of donated seedlings that were free for adoption. Many nurseries and garden stores will donate unsold plants to community gardens such as ours, since we have limited funds to work with. I planted two kale seedlings and one swiss chard.

My garden plot in late May: sprouts are coming up!

My garden about ten days after planting. Clockwise from upper left: royal burgundy bush beans, swiss chard, kale, deer tongue lettuce, and buttercrunch bibb lettuce.

After planting, Kim instructed me to water the plot “way more than you think it needs.” Then, in the immortal words of Eric Clapton, the main thing to do is just “let it grow“. We’ve been having a lot of rain this spring, so grow it did.

Garden, June 9th

My garden on June 9th. I planted four new eggplant seedlings that day, two of which are easy to spot in the bottom right corner.

About a month later, the garden is thriving. Last Sunday, I planted four new eggplant seedlings that were grown at Bushwick Campus Farm & Greenhouse (I’ve mentioned this project in previous posts), which is located at a public high school that I pass on my way to the garden from my apartment. I’m quite eager to taste my first Bushwick eggplant (fingers crossed).

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