Tag Archives: Urban Gardening

To Market…

26 Jun

Grocery stores have become a big controversy in my neighborhood.

Marathoners & Pharmacy

Rents in the city are high and seem to inevitably climb higher. This makes it hard to run small businesses and shops, especially when landlords get greedy. Essential services like grocers, cobblers, bakers and florists are, not so slowly, being replaced by banks and pharmacies.

Bay Ridge Summer Night

The chain of events goes like this: You realize you need your shoe fixed. You start looking around and out of nowhere you realize that, every day for the past five years, you’ve walked past a cobbler on your way to the subway. You bring your shoes to the cobbler and fall in love with the delightful, ancient, Russian man who’s hands are dyed by his trade and move on their own while he sits and gossips and tells tales. He fixes your shoes and you leave, vowing to return as soon as possible. And then you forget.

And then, by the next time you need a pair of shoes fixed, he’s gone; replaced by another CVS or Walgreen’s or Chase or Capital One.


This is happening endlessly all over the city, not just in Manhattan but also in the outer boroughs. The necessities of life are being replaced by things that no one needs or wants in their neighborhoods, to the detriment of people’s health.

This situation is currently burning through Bay Ridge slowly and deliberately. There’s been huge controversy because one of the last, larger grocery stores is being closed, to be replaced by, yep, another pharmacy. My neighbors are, to say the least, up in arms about this. But, I do not agree with them.

Verrazano Bridge

One of the reasons I wanted to move to Bay Ridge is because it is such a great food neighborhood; and one of the things that makes it so great is its amazing proliferation of small, independent, family-owned ethnic grocery stores. I can think of at least three dozen places to shop for wonderful, fresh, delicious food within a 20 block radius of my apartment.

But this doesn’t seem to be the mindset of my neighbors. “Oh no! Where will we shop now?” None of them seem to be stopping and asking why the grocery stores are fleeing. I mean, there has to be a reason, right? Chain groceries don’t just up and leave for no good reason, do they? No, they do not. And I think I know why.


Bay Ridge is a car neighborhood. People drive here as if they’re living in suburban Denver or Los Angeles. If you’ve got a car, why on earth would you shop at the cramped, expensive Key Food in Bay Ridge when you can hop in your SUV and drive to Costco or Fairway or the enormous Price Chopper out in Sheepshead Bay?

Cars are also to blame for Bay Ridge not having a greenmarket. The city tried to give us one, but no. “We” told the city “no thanks” because it would take away parking. At a church. On Saturday. Because, so many Catholics go to church on Saturdays, right?


But one gentleman in the neighborhood has a plan. He has proposed a co-op. Where everyone pools their money and shopping lists and… Drives to big grocery stores and buys Triscuits and beer. Here’s the perfect chance to do something exciting for the neighborhood. We could start a CSA! Or go back to the city and say, “Hey, you know what? We really do want that greenmarket!” But no.

God Sky

It seems shocking to me that between gas at $4.45, the neighborhood’s eye-popping obesity problem and our brush with global warming (tornado in Brooklyn anyone?) my neighbors are sill so reluctant to embrace steps that can improve their health and the health of the neighborhood; like using public transport, walking and supporting small, local, independent grocers.

I’ve never lived in another neighborhood that has two quality fishmongers, two amazing butchers (one of whom is also a sausage maker!) and purveyors of decent, reasonably priced fresh fruits and vegetables every couple of blocks.

Bay Ridge Cabbages

And, as if that’s not enough, the city’s marquee greenmarket sits at the other end of the subway line that runs right through our neighborhood. Four days a week, the region’s very best produce, cheese and meats are available for everyone.

14th Street, Union Square

And then, there’s the yards. So many people have both front and backyards in this neighborhood, but what do they use them for? Parking, of course. What could they use them for? Even though I think this guy went a little overboard, there’s lots to learn from him. With a little knowledge, a little exertion and a little patience, it is possible to grow your own fresh, safe, healthy and delicious greens, beans and tomatoes in your own backyard.

Fire Escape Tomato, 100% Safe

But, I fear I have run overlong on a topic that I find endlessly interesting, but which has, at this point, possibly bored you to tears! So, in return for listening to my rant, I offer you a delicious recipe for a seasonal, healthy, tasty pasta dinner.

Pasta with Beet Greens & Peas

All the ingredients can be purchased at the greenmarket, or, if you’re lucky, pulled from your own backyard.

Head below the jump for the recipe for Pasta with Beet Greens & Peas.

Continue reading

The Kids

22 May

I’m a country mouse living in the big city.

Fire Escape Garden '08, Day 1

Each spring, as the blossoms bloom and the most tender vegetables make their appearances at the greenmarket, I curse my decision 10 years ago to move to the asphalt jungle; my fingers begin to itch, they yearn to dig into dark, rich earth, to coax wee seedlings into becoming strong, happy food-giving plants.

Fire Escape Garden '08, We Add the Raddichio

So last year, when we decided to move to Bay Ridge (which in a lot of ways is a bit of the country, or at least the suburbs, in the city), I was determined to have a garden apartment, whether it was actually on the garden level or not. I bought some plants and containers and turned our fire escape into a teeny, tiny, plant-laden patio. One of my neighbors even got into the spirit and gave me some extra pots.

Fire Escape Garden '08, The First Tomato

Things went alright. Even despite being hit by a tornado, and ravaged by winter-fearing squirrels, I got a few peppers, but that’s all. My herbs failed completely, and I only discovered that I had produced one itty bitty tomato as I was pulling the plants out of the ground in October. But you know what? I learned a lot.

Fire Escape Garden '08, Future 'Mater

This year, I’ve gone all organic. I bought my plants at the greenmarket and got some organic soil. I’ve got my liquefied worm poop fertilizer, a kind gift from Abby at Good ‘n Planty. Each pot has a thick layer of broken up styrofoam in its base, recycled from my stand mixer‘s packaging, to promote drainage and to decrease the weight of the pots. I’ve mixed sand and gravel into the soil since things can get a little damp out there on the ole fire escape. I’ve planted only in high containers in an attempt to foil those stupid friggin’ squirrels.

Fire Escape Garden '08, The Second Tomato

And, just because I’m completely obsessive, I’m taking pictures of “the kids” every day so I can monitor their progress. Man, I’d be one scary mother to another if my “kids” were actually real.

Fire Escape Garden '08, Many Future 'Maters

So far, things are going okay. I’m worried about my thyme. It has a fungus. Oddly enough though, the lemon thyme is thriving. I’ve got some beautiful, incredibly happy radicchios from Silver Heights Farms in a pot with lettuces bred for containers that I started from seed. I might split some of them out into bigger containers this weekend. I’ve also just added three heirloom peppers and two kinds of basil from the same farm, and my sage, though growing slowly, seems content.

Fire Escape Garden '08, The Third Tomato

But “the kids” I’m most excited about are my tomatoes. I don’t care what those parenting guides say, I pick favorites.

Fire Escape Garden '08, Clearly I'm Obsessed

They’re just generic patio tomatoes, but they are so happy (they even came with a few worms in the pots). They’re blossoming their patookis’ off and, to my continuing astonishment, have already produced three fruit! The minuscule ‘maters are green, but getting bigger every day. I’m gobsmacked.

Fire Escape Garden '08, Three Kinds Of Peppers, Two Kinds Of Basil

Every morning I wake up, pour a glass of iced tea and head into the dining room to see how “the kids” are doing. Opening the window and leaning over the sash into the crisp morning is one of the most singular joys I’ve experienced in my years of living in New York. I can hear the birds and the neighbors’ dogs and oftentimes, a morning greeting from Fred, but then there’s also the roar of the express bus passing by, or a plane overhead to remind me that I’m still in the city.

Fire Escape Garden '08, Have I Mentioned That the Raddichio Like It Here?

So no cooking this week, just ramblings on future food.

Any other urban/container gardeners out there that would like to share their tips, tricks and stories? Please feel free to leave a comment.

Fire Escape Garden '08, Day 18

P.S. It’s the Brooklyn Bridge’s 125th birthday this weekend! If you’re in town, there’s festivities galore. If you’re out of town, raise a toast to the world’s most iconic bridge on her momentous milestone.