Experiment #16: Urban Gardening

That's more than a single tomato... 
I love gardening and really always have. I know a lot of people say they 'love to garden' and then they have one basil plant, but I really love it, especially herbs. I started an herb garden when I was 9 in Buffalo in the empty lot next door and would have 'play dinners' with my imaginary friends (OK, remember I was 9... 9 year olds do this) and we'd sample lemongrass and chocolate mint and talk about the 'flavor of the combinations'. In fact, I loved gardening so much in middle school, I won a scholarship from the local Garden Club to go to a hippie camp in upstate NY where some interesting indoctrination occurred (another story...). Throughout college, I always had at least a few herbs growing, despite multiple moves and turmoil. In graduate school, I fell off it a bit - the apartment I lived in had little natural light and I was, you know, homeless for a while (tough to grow non-marijuana herbs out of a car).

So... now! Now I live in an apartment in Seattle facing inward towards a courtyard. There is no planter or place to let my veggies reach their tentacles into the Earth, so it was up to me to figure out a way to figure out how to grow things. And I did...

The urban garden
It started with a peppermint plant (easy peasy) and a small tomato plant in a tiny pot in May. I had little to no expectations - I just wanted to try and see if I could get a single tomato. Little did I know, this little tomato plant would shoot up almost immediately, growing to about 2 feet tall and harboring a dozen tomatoes within a month!!  My 4 year old next door neighbor was fascinated; I didn't often chat with him before gardening, but he'd come over and ask me about the tomato plant every other day and we'd talk about how it grew and things like photosynthesis. One day I asked him what I should name the plant, and he said "Ketchup". So Ketchup was born!

The joy of seeing this tomato plant grow from a little stalk to a full fledged bush was so great that I decided to expand my efforts in late June. I took two of my clear plastic moving bins, filled them with dirt, and bought two hanging baskets. In one bin, I planted another small cherry tomato plant and two soy bean plants. In the other bin, two broccolis, one pepper, and one black tomato plant. In the hanging baskets, I put strawberries.

Battle Royale for the sun (Box #2)
Box #1: Soybeans and Ketchup 2

























Hanging basket strawberries was a great idea :D 
And they grew! They flourished and fought each other fo light. I can't even begin to describe how much I looked forward to coming home every day and checking their progress as I watered them. I had a pretty chaotic summer, but no matter what happened, I came home and found joy with my plants every single day. Like if you're depressed and you need a project, start a garden.


I learned a great deal too. I learned to use fertilizer when Ketchup 1 had leeched all his available resources out of his tiny pot. I learned Tomatoes can be ferocious when it comes to getting their share of light. Ketchup 2 (the other cherry tomato plant) grew to about 3.5 feet high and needed multiple stakes to stay up right. The soybeans, planted behind Ketchup 2, had to grow almost parallel to the ground to get any light.

Yum Yum!!
In the other box, the broccoli had to stretch out vertically to beat the black tomato plant (Ketchup 3), and the red pepper plant was pretty pathetic in the back of the box. The black tomatoes did not get along with the broccoli, and I think it stunted their growth a bit to be with such jerks.

After multiple mini droughts (aka I took a weekend trip) and a summer of sunlight, it was time to harvest. Ketchup (#1) was the great winner of the summer - I pulled about 30 delicious tomatoes off that tiny plant. Well, my mom was about 15 of those. She definitely stripped my tomato plants on her visit :) The broccoli was too long and thin to be tasty... I did make a stir fry with it, but it wasn't fabulous (damn broccoli!). The soybeans made for the best edamame I've ever eaten. The strawberries provided a few tasty surprises over the summer. The pepper was totally pathetic and produced one seriously mishapened pepper. Ketchup 2 produced probably over 100 tomatoes, most of which didn't ripen till late September. Ketchup 3 provided a few tasty tomatoes -- they're still outside ripening now!!

The end of ketchup 1 - I put him back upright
 but then he blew over again and that
shattered his pot :'( 
Overall, it was a great project. I miss my plants and having them to look forward to everyday. Ketchup #1 unfortunately died in a wind storm. Ketchup 2 and 3 are still going now. The strawberries are pretty much ornamental at this point, and the broccoli and soybeans have been harvested and razed. I loved having them this summer, and I fully plan on doing this again next year, with another plastic bin added.

Don't let living in an apartment stop you from growing things. It's always an option if you want it to be. Next experiment: growing indoor plants during the winter.

Cheers!









Oh and because everyone wants to know what black tomatoes look like:

Lo

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hello Lois,

I regularly follow your blog. I am writing to request if you can write step-by-step guide on how to become a data scientist for people working in scientific research -- for example , physics. Or how one can transition to data science from academia. It will be interesting to read the blog on transition and how -- in your opinion -- one can make it.

Thanks.

Best,

Lois Keller said...

Hi Anonymous,

This is great feedback - I will write a "check list" of sorts out this week and post. Thank you for requesting!

Lois

Anonymous said...

Please do so. I am patiently waiting. Thanks.

Charles McEachern said...

These look great!

Strawberries don't fruit much in their first few years -- ours peaked at year 3 or 4. But tomatoes are perfect for an urban garden.

I also recently learned that peppers are perennials! I brought mine inside for the winter. (Hopefully) they'll lose their leaves and go dormant, but come back even bigger next year.

Lois Keller said...

Charles,

This is super useful information!!! Thank you for sharing - I'll give my little pepper a chance next year!

Anonymous said...

At the risk of requesting it repeatedly, I will like to request again the check-list -sort-of for data scientist preparation.

Thanks. And have a nice weekend.

Lois Keller said...

Yeah, the blog has been neglected a bit lately, sorry! I am not going to be able to do in the next two weeks but will try to get to it December. Just a lot going on here!

Instagram