February 5, 2010

#1 Growing your own food

After one of my first dates with R. (fittingly to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden) I found myself standing in his Fort Greene backyard. On that fall evening, I was introduced to hobby #1 – gardening and his army of houseplants. He owned a surprising dozen or more plants, more than any other 26 year-old male I knew. But they weren’t your typical lush, bloom-filled kind; they were straggly spider plants, gigantic Christmas cactuses, and hybrid plants like pony tail palms (a funny combination of an onion with a pony tail).

Oh lovely NYC, as we stood in the trash-strewn backyard from the previous tenants R. unabashedly told me he had pictured a garden here. True enough after months of planning, my meticulous R. had every spreadsheet imaginable cataloging the degree of sunlight, the optimal soil depths, and the prime seed spacings for his veggie patch. Meet the rationale, careful scientist vs. the rash, spontaneous designer.

I finally became impatient and grabbed his sketchbook. A row of beans here, some leafy greens there, and together we mapped his garden for a Brooklyn salad. The ingredients: lettuce: (mustard greens, spinach, collard greens), tomatoes, squash, zucchini, cucumber, beets, carrots, jalapenos, peas, beans, watermelon, herbs: (cilantro, chives, and parsley).

The hobby became an all-consuming labor of love for more than a year. In the beginning not only did we clear the debris but we battled Japanese knotweed, a hardy weed that even grew through concrete. Determined to give his garden an edible chance R. convinced his landlord to drop off new top soil and a few 2x4's. We got started in March ‘07, planting seeds in egg cartons then made friends with a local greenhouse going out of business and picked up free planters. The true push came when he built bamboo trellises for the peas, tall masts for our morning glories, and hammered together raised planter beds where we watched our miniature greens grow. From this one successful hobby we fueled a hobby monster!

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