Urban gardeners get creative
In the city, vegetables and fruit grow in sidewalk beds, balconies, and window boxes.
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She has 30 boxes, containers and growing bags, and the list of edible goodies is formidable, from tomatoes to banana peppers to potatoes. In the spring, she grew peas, lettuces, and kale. She recently harvested garlic set into pots last fall and now has 30 bulbs braided in the kitchen for months of use.Skip to next paragraph
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The potted blueberry produces two cups of berries, perfect for sprinkling on breakfast cereal, and the nine strawberry plants in three window boxes provide an earlier season of berries.
In her tomato pots, Ms. Brunk is growing carrots and has started lettuce and beets for a fall crop. This year, for the first time, she has rigged a drip irrigation watering system to the containers, connected to an programmable timer.
By growing varieties in containers, she has avoided the need for crop rotation, and because the plants are easier to see and reach, "I can do a better job of picking off insects and harvesting," she said. "And it allows me to grow larger plants in a more contained way," given the dwarfing effect of container cultivation.
Brunk, a manager for a trade association, makes her own soil mix with compost, coco fiber, perlite, and topsoil. She doesn't like ready-made mixes (they can be expensive) because they contain synthetic fertilizers that would thwart her desire to grow organically.
With food either from the garden or bought at farmers' markets, "we haven't had to buy fruit or vegetables" at the supermarket, she said. "We are trying to do things locally and organic, and we really enjoy it."
Urban gardening may not be large-scale, but the efforts can be significant. For Dennis, converting the vacant tree box was a major physical and logistical undertaking. She rented a pickax for a day in March to remove the remnants of the toppled tree stump and then excavate a "soil" that consisted of clay, gravel, and rubble.
She had to push a cart loaded with bags of topsoil for seven blocks. But gardening is in her blood. Growing up in northern California, she started gardening when she was 5.
Her Capitol Hill effort, she concedes, "is a very public form of gardening." It has captured the imagination of her neighbors in a wholly unanticipated way. A woman walks by with her dog and exclaims with delight, "I remember when it was just seeds!"
The risk of people helping themselves to the produce "is a valid concern," Dennis said. "That's why I planted cherry tomatoes, okra, peppers" – veggies that produce a lot, but successively. A lone beefsteak tomato might be too hard a thing to lose. "But really it hasn't been a problem, and, similarly, people have been very good about keeping their dogs away," said Dennis, a researcher for an international nonprofit organization.
She expects the city to plant a tree in the box in November, when it might be time to try to find a community garden spot.
In several cities in the United States, gardeners have claimed parcels of unused public land for vegetable gardens as a social protest against official neglect or land-use policies.
Not so here.
"For me," said Dennis, "I was a gardener without a garden."