Vejjies in Vailsburg
Toward the end of the 35 years that I lived in Manhattan (June 1965-June 2000), I hungered for garden space in which to grow my own veggies, even more than flowers. I have had greater success with flowers since I moved to Newark. Still, I try to grow veggies, and have space for them, if not always ideal liting.
I learned from experience not to try to grow vegetables from seed, because you have to start them much before spring begins. Remembering to do that and actually setting the seed to sprout is distracting from one's ordinary activities. This is something you really want to do, but does it have to be done now? Yes, it really does have to be done now, that is, within a two- or three-week span. If it is not done now, you won't get any food from the plants. So I decided to buy plantlets rather than seeds. Food Stamps might actually pay for seeds and/or plantlets that could produce food, at much lower cost than the produce department of a supermarket would charge IF you buy them at a supermarket. Early in the growing season, ShopRite offers vejjie plantlets outside the store before you enter. Home-grown vejjies are essentially free after purchase of the plant or seeds, except for a tiny expenditure for water.
There is also the issue of how much lite a given "crop" species requires. If the food proceeds from flowers — for instance, tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, watermelons, cantaloupes, and strawberries — you will need a lot of lite, in some cases full sun for as long as 8 or 10 hours a day.
If, however, what you are growing does not require flowering, such as lettuce, celery, and other vegetative items, you do not need as much lite. But you will still require some direct sunlite, neither blocked by nor filtered thru the shade cast by overarching broadleaf trees.
This year, I planted tomatoes, zucchini, green peppers, broccoli, turnips (white/purplish, not yellow turnips/rutabagas), watermelon, cantaloupe, strawberries, and lettuce. I could have planted pumpkins, but I'm not really sure what to do with pumpkin as a food. I do not aspire to be a baker of pies, tho I love pumpkin pie. And I'm not sure how you would make pumpkin soup. I could as well have tried celery, but didn't plant it. Maybe I just didn't see seeds at the supermarket (the Ferry Street Pathmark in the Ironbound, which I generally go to only when my friend Jerry from Manhattan comes to Newark for an art show. For whatever (dopy) reason, the Bergen Street Pathmark did not offer seeds this year. I actually spoke to a manager, who told me they had not received a seed display. Why NOT?!). I had poor results from both white and purple eggplant in previous years, so didn't try again this year, esp. since I'm not entirely clear as to what to do with eggplant, tho I like it as cooked by other people.
The one tomato plant in my small but well-lit front yard has produced many more tomatoes than I could or am inclined to use, and some of them went bad before I could, or would, use them. I have had seven good-sized tomatoes from the one bush/vine, and there may be others there that I have not yet looked for. It turns out that I like tomatoes more in theory than practice. I planted a green pepper plant in the same big planter, and see one small pepper growing. I have seen other pepper flowers, but not yet other peppers. I am unclear as to whether red peppers are a different variety, that grows from a different plant, or just green peppers that stay on the vine longer. I don't think they taste different.
My zucchini plantlet looked to be a winner soon after I planted it. Two big, yellow flowers came up. But then white spots appeared on the leaves, as indicated some fungal blite. The plant continued to grow, however. Then squirrel/s dug into the pot in which I had planted the zucchini, exposing the plant's roots as threatened to kill it. I saw what the squirrels had done, put the plant back into the soil, and watered it in. It started to recover. But then the dratted squirrels dug it up again and completely killed it. Next year I shall have to sift thru the soil of the pots into which I put plantlets to make sure there are no acorns that would incite squirrels to dig deep and destructive holes.
Some animal, be it squirrel, possum, or raccoon (or even mouse or rat), has eaten every single strawberry that my four different plants have produced. A group of four strawberry plantlets cost only about $5, and they grew beautifully — until raided by squirrels, who first dug up the soil near-in to them and then ate the fruit before it was remotely ripe enuf for me to harvest.
The watermelon and cantaloupe vines have seemed to grow, but I see no sign of a melon from either vine. Maybe they take longer to mature than I thought, and than the information on the packaging indicated, so if I plant them next year, I'll have to do so much earlier.
I have one each of two large red and black raspberry plants (perennials) that I did not trim back in the spring as instructed. They have produced minimal fruit. I'll try cutting them back to 2 feet above the ground next year to see if that fixes things. This next foto shows a mere four berries on one of those large plants. Better four berries than none, I suppose.
My one fair-sized pot containing turnips has produced a roaringly good crop. They are white/somewhat purple turnips rather than yellow (rutabagas), so I don't know if I'll like the taste as much as I anticipated. The leaves are large, so I can have turnip greens too. In this foto, a squirrel or something has dug a hole, exposing a small turnip. But that turnip has roots deep in the surrounding soil, so has not been damaged by the exposure.
Apart from my own yard, there are other vegetable gardens in my neighborhood. When I took pictures of sunflowers in a front yard on 18th Avenue, I took as well a picture of what the (Hispanic) homeowner said were kidney-bean plants. I don't know if he got edible beans from them, nor whether the plants matured at the same time or over several weeks, as provided a steady supply of beans in easily usable quantity.
Elsewhere in my neighborhood, east of 18th Avenue, there was a fairly large yard with various nonflowering, low bushes that I assumed to be vejjie crops. The flowers in the foreground are hostas, which do not produce food for people. But I wish to direct your attention to the plants behind the flowering hostas.
North of my house, on the other side of Sandford Avenue at the corner of Cliff Street, is a community garden with a number of raised beds formed by heavy timbers. I don't know who organized this garden, but it seems to have been a great success. In a prior year, I saw an attribution to the Lincoln (elementary) School not far from there, but the maintenance and watering of the garden would have had to be done while school was out for the summer. On the Sandford Avenue frontage appears this decorative group of plants.
Inside, there are a number of other plants, not all of which I recognized.
Here, however, you can plainly see a head of cauliflower within its very large, encircling leaves. I don't care for cauliflower, so would never plant it. But someone clearly likes it. I did plant some seeds for broccoli, a related plant but quite different in that the edible crown is a mass of flower buds, but some of the seedlings were killed by animals digging in the vicinity of their roots, or by momentary drought even in this year's generally wet summer.
I thought that the lite in that plot was not brite during much of the day, but it seemed perfectly adequate to what the people who worked that garden planted. Did they have the advice of a county agent?
And did they use commercial fertilizer or plant food? I feel that that is cheating, and that gardeners should instead load the soil with compost or other rich, organic matter before planting. That may be a prejudice that other people do not share. Still, people who are concerned about pesticides and GMO's (Genetically Modified Organisms) can be sure of the things they raise in their own yard, in Newark. Manhattanites are pretty much dependent upon what food vendors SAY is in their food. When I take a tomato, pepper, or turnip from my yard, I have no questions whatsoever about its safety. GreeNewark.
This is a view of what a pedestrian passing the Cliff Street plot would see, as might in effect disguise a vegetable garden as a floral garden.
In the foto below, you can see plainly that there is a single large head of cauliflower in a plant that extends far out on all sides.
In any case, I am very glad I have the option to grow some of my own food on my own property, without needing to ask permission of a landlord. Next year, I think I'll add carrots and celery to the list of things I try to grow. Maybe even white or purple eggplant. Seeds are cheap, and plantlets aren't very expensive. If the plants at issue produce food, my Food Stamps allowance may cover the cost of purchase. I'm not saying that being old and poor — and poor only because I'm old, and Social Security doesn't work as it was intended, but gives money to the RICH that should instead go to people of modest means — is a good thing. But sometimes social programs align with commonsense. As here. And we should express our appreciation. As here.