I live in an old, eight apartment, building in Brooklyn, owned by an elderly woman from Southern Italy. Each year since I have lived here she has always grown tomatoes outside in the backyard. The yard was never a communal area but instead just two plots of land on each side where she grew her vegetables with a walkway in between. Over the years the two plots of tomatoes had become one plot, so last year we asked if we could plant some grass and add a couple chairs and a table on the side that was not being used which is below a big fig tree and grapevines. To our happy surprise she said yes and we finally had an outside area to enjoy. My landlady has also been developing arthritis in her knees so last year after she planted her tomatoes, zucchini and string beans she found it hard to return again, so when her tomato plants started falling over and the beans started growing sideways into each other I would call and ask if I could help in any way by staking the tomatoes or installing poles for the beans. I felt an obligation to help and keep the garden looking and growing beautifully since I have the pleasure of the backyard being directly outside my studio window, along with all the birds, Wisteria, cherry blossoms and a Magnolia tree.
This year when I asked if she would be planting her tomatoes again and if not perhaps we could start a vegetable garden, she told us to go for it! So here we are the three of us, Team Urbanites, our upstairs neighbor Jill, from Rhode Island, my husband Ivan from the Bronx and myself born and raised in Brooklyn starting our own vegetable garden, an experiment for sure! Will we be able to grow vegetables and actually eat them? What about the squirrels and raccoons?
All images © Valery Rizzo
Last weekend we prepared the garden by cleaning, breaking up and turning over the existing soil. Then we dumped 10 large bags of organic fertilized soil on top of that and turned and mixed the existing soil with the new soil. This week we will be planting tomatoes, string beans, zucchini, cucumbers, eggplant, broccoli and an herb garden. I would also like to add some plants that attract good insects, which also serve as a natural pesticide. Cosmos, chives, marigolds and maybe a butterfly bush.
We shall see what happens. None of us are very experienced but whether we fail or succeed it is still fun to learn how food grows and it also keeps you tranquil and connected to the Earth. If all goes well, it is my hope that I will be able to use some of the vegetables that we’ve grown for some recipes here on Eating Brooklyn and maybe next year we could even add a compost bin. Wish us luck and stay tuned...any comments or advice are very welcomed and appreciated, we are just learning and having fun .