Thursday, June 13, 2013

Reflections After One Month

1 - Planning is important. Plans are worthless.

Dreams made during the winter turned into plans drawn out on whiteboards which turned into what I thought was my idealized plan. HA! Just about everything other than the general place each container on the roof was put has been dramatically altered. The upside is that by creating my ideal garden, I was able to make notes about which plants like which soils and what plants make the best and worst neighbors for other plants. Also, it was important to quantify how much compost was needed (I actually overestimated how much was needed) and how many containers, soil, etc was needed (I dramatically underestimated). Thankfully, the skills that I have learned allowed me to quickly adapt my plans and things seem to be back on track. Will I again fantasize and plan this winter for next year? Without a doubt, but hopefully, I will be more informed about the materials needed. Also, I should have far more of the materials (composted soil, seeds, containers, etc) already on hand cutting down on the frustration of purchasing way more items that I originally thought that I needed.

2 - This is a situation where size does matter.

A month ago, I was able to find a plot in a nearby community garden and was over the moon. I was thinking that I would be able to use that plot to grow larger items that I didnt have room for on the roof (full-blown corn and mammoth sunflowers) and plants being grown just for canning (tomatoes for chutneys and pasta sauce). In the interim, I became an apprentice at the Bushwick Campus Farm which requires me do classes/work at the farm for one day a week. Through that program, I excitedly joined the team working on a nearby rooftop to expand our farm operations. Soon after, I found another nearby community garden where there were not any plots available for me to use, but I have been helping out some of the plot farmers (Hi, Danielle!) there and am developing a neat worm composting system for their garden.
Alright, so when I sit down and think about my commitments, it is at least one day a week at the Bushwick Campus Farm. Probably, half a day a week at the other rooftop project. One day every other week at the local community garden. On top of about an hour a day on my rooftop. When I circled back to my community garden plot and stared at the dreadful condition of the plot, I just couldnt get the motivation to double-dig and rush to germinate the seeds to plant there. So, my other option would have been to just slightly till the land and invest even more money in buying plants. After some reflection, I decided to let this plot go. Now, other than my own rooftop garden, all of the other current projects are ones which I do with other people.
Before this growing season, gardening was pretty much a solo hobby for me. Having now gotten involved with other people, Im realizing that having a community brings me more enjoyment than I thought that it would, so Im going to focus my time and energy developing deeper relationships there. An added benefit being that others who garden on their roofs have volunteered their excess space so I will hopefully be able to grow extra tomatoes and cucumbers on their roofs.

3 - Shortcuts have consequences

A - Through some fluke in the universe, I had commitments which had me away from Brooklyn for the month of April (college reunion, coachella, wedding in Thailand), which turned out to be an awesome time but with consequences for my garden. A good friend of mine was able to come over about twice a week to water my plants under my growlight. Those survived well, but the seeds that I was starting did not.
B - I was enticed by an offer by a company (which will go un-named) to get $25 off an order of $50. I asked the telephone operator if their plants/seeds were organic, and she answered "of course." Later, once I was able to think clearly, it became clear that she must have been confused. I have never heard of an organic company which did not tout this. They cant just call themselves organic, there are different groups that verify every aspect of their operation for them to use this designation. So, yeah those plants are not organic, but will be grown an organic way. Next, the order was shipped weeks later and of course came while I was away. A new screwup with the postal service had the mailperson missing the note to leave the package with my neighbor. So, the post office held the package for a week and then shipped it back. So, I get back home and wasnt even able to receive my non-organic seeds and plants. Frustrated, I call the company and explain the situation. The telephone operator understood that neither party did nothing wrong, but she shipped the order again for free. YAY. Somehow that order got messed up and I got one item of 8. Four calls later, they realized the mistake and finally was able to reship the order...minus the strawberry plants as they were out of them. I was honestly seeing red at this point. I am a big believer in buying from local family-owned businesses when possible and here I went for the flashy sale price and paid the price for it. At the same time, I found another online seed company which I believe in and have had much much better interactions with - botanicalinterests.com (affiliate alert - I get a small kickback from the company if you buy from them, but I honestly believe in the product. Do note that not all of their offerings are organic if that is important to you). Also, I have had good results focusing on specialist for certain plants like www.tatorman.com for sweet potatoes (not an affiliate, but nice Southern folk with a really good product).
C - So after those two failures, it is May. Im back in Brooklyn. I thought that I would be planting out a ton of plants, but NONE were ready. I spent a little money buying some plants so that I could have SOMETHING to look at on the roof and started a ton of other plants from seed. The problem this time, I was out of seed starting soil, so I used vermicompost to start the soil. The logic being many many people swear by the magic of adding a little vermicompost into the hole that you put your seed in, so obviously germinating the seed in the vermicompost will speed the process up, right?! Wrong! Two weeks later, seeing no germination I touched the containers and realized that the worm poop is way way way too heavy for the seeds. Good seed starting mix is super light keeping the seed moist without being saturated. Lesson learned.

Now, with a clearer head and an acceptance that most of the plants will still have time to make it to harvest but some will not. Things finally seem to be on track.

4 - Work with your environment

I knew that the three main issues I was going to have to deal with on the roof were: the heat, the wind, and issues with watering. This is one area where planning was very helpful. Heat - only grow plants that thrive in the heat and use areas with a lot of shade for plants that dont like a lot of sun/heat like lettuce. Wind - use containers with heavy filler weigh them down. Water - use self-watering containers where possible to cut down on watering. The only issues here have been the torrential rains that we have been having actually forces me to dump out the water in the container water reservoirs since most plants like to dry out between watering. I wish that I realized potential for the plants flooding in their containers before I lost a tabasco pepper plant, but hey lesson learned. The wind turned out to be more powerful than I thought, so I had to remove the trays in the TOWER since a tray once flipped over.

5 - No man is an island

Another benefit of getting more involved with the larger gardening community, I have been able to find a ton of new resources. One guy in the area raises chickens, and so I have been able to get free manure from him. I have gotten over my aversion of buying plants/seedlings which I could have grown myself to jumpstart my rooftop garden. Also, others have shared many tips/tricks for rooftop gardening which I will be trying out.

Thats all for now. I hope yall enjoyed reading. Feel free to share what lessons you have learned so far in this growing season.

- Monti