Text and photographs are © by Ellen Spector Platt & Ellen Zachos, all rights reserved.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

THE BACK FORTY AT THE TIP OF MANHATTAN

(photo courtesy Paul Zorovich)
Spoiled gardeners with actual land for planting often restrict themselves in their deployment of containers: a few glazed beauties on the terrace, two rose standards flanking the front door, some pots of colorful annuals by the garage. We who garden in New York City with only hardscape, know that you can grow everything in containers.
I first met Karen Dixon after her husband Paul Zorovich bought me at a charity auction to benefit the New York Oratorio Society. I had offered my services as a Garden Coach. Karen was at that time growing an eclectic
mix of annuals and perennials, a few herbs, a tomato or two and knew at least as much as I did. I was deeply impressed by the composter on their 9th floor terrace in Inwood, the Northern tip of Manhattan. This smallish plastic tumbler was the first I had ever seen in New York City. Since that time Karen’s evolved into a big time vegetable grower with TEN self-watering EarthBoxes and assorted other containers. Karen & Paul's terrace faces northeast, where they’re completely exposed
to daylong sun and “hurricane” force drying winds.

Karen says “this year on the back forty I tried sugar snap peas, planting them by the end of March and eating them the first couple of weeks in June. Quite delicious, although most of them never made it off the terrace as Paul and I kind of harvested and ate them at the same time. Next year I will do the peas a little differently, as I didn’t really pay attention to the fact that a six and a half foot plant is going to overwhelm a four-foot trellis. Spatial relations are useful.
We are also growing hot peppers for the first time, along with our collection of sweet peppers. I have both lettuce
and spinach, and
have already eaten
my first heads of
each. Finally, I
have a tomatillo
plant; it kind of
came along free
with an order of
seedlings. (photo on
right courtesy Paul Zorovich)

I only have one, so
it won't be cross-
pollinated, unless
someone nearby is
also growing
one and a pollina-
tor visits both, I
don't think it will set fruit.
I am trying to grow plants for our friends the bees, so I’ve put in bee balm, hyssop, butterfly bush, borage, and several varieties of lilac. We have a few resident bumblebees that we call Eric and we like to keep them happy. Last year our terrace hosted a preying mantis all summer, which was fun, but I haven't seen any this year.
The downside
this year is
that after four
years garden
pests have
finally found
us. I knew
they would
eventually,
and this year
I am doing
battle with
aphids and leafhoppers. I garden organically, so I am using all the non-synthetic chemical tricks at my disposal to control them. All I need now is for the DAMN SUN to shine a bit.”

The EarthBox insures that tomatoes and other thirsty plants get a constant supply of water to their roots where they like it. There’s a three-gallon reservoir of water at the bottom, then a rigid aeration screen, soil, and a fill pipe at the top so the gardener can add water as needed. A fitted black shower cap covers the soil and plants are inserted through slits in the plastic.
I was sent two EarthBoxes to trial by the company but hadn’t gotten around to planting in them when my desire for homemade compost overwhelmed me. Layering garden waste and kitchen waste on top of the aeration screen in one, I covered it all with the plastic cap. Tada! In six weeks I had gorgeous mulch for my roses, while starting to fill the second box with more waste.

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