Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Weekly Update 9 - Sad Sunflower Succession Planning Edition

Hey y'all,
So this week, was full of ups and downs on the rooftop. On the upside, I have been very happy with the rate of production for just about every plant and have been amazed at how little I have had to deal with pests and disease. On the downside, since this was my first year growing sunflowers (which are my favorite kind of flower), I did not plan well for succession planning. I was imagining that the sunflowers would come in and then I would spend the rest of the growing season basking in their glory.

Dead? Hardening off?

Sadly, my sunflowers look a little sad. The reason could be that they are hardening off. I really hope that is the reason. When the sunflowers first blooms, pollinators come and do their magic, then the sunflowers look ugly for a little bit as the plant hardens off and produces seed. I really think that in my eagerness to fulfill my sunflower needs, that I planted too many flowers in too little of a space preventing the sunflowers to get big enough to enter the hardening off stage. As such, I should have cut them when they were at their prime.

I am going out of town (again, I know) for a little less than a week starting next Wednesday for a family reunion. There, I will review the flower seeds that I have and see if I can develop a succession plan to always have a sunflower blooming indoors under my growlight. When I return, if my sunflowers on the roof haven't developed their seeds, then I am going to have to pull them up and give some room to some of the other smaller flowers in the containers to grow.

To end on a high note, I have been able to get about 10 strawberries and 2 tomatoes a week from the current plants on the roof and it looks like they are all starting to produce way more, so that leaves me fat and happy. Please see more detailed updates of each container after the jump.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Weekly Update 8 - Words Have Meaning Edition

Hey y'all,

So, after missing week 6 with a well-deserved week away from farming to attend weddings, lounge on the beach, entertain friends, and generally lounge around doing a lot of nothing, I am back! I think that I needed the break to a) remember how good it feels to do absolutely nothing and fret about even less and b) gain some perspective on life. Since, I have returned, I have been spending less time grinding out the 1884879782 projects on my plate and focusing a little more on enjoying life, spending time with friends and family, and doing absolutely nothing. Hence me missing out on the Week 7 update, though those pictures will be included after the jump.

My break reminded me that with a little downtime built into my schedule I am actually more productive than grinding out 100 hour weeks and sacrificing my friends and sanity. Balance is important. I hope this lesson stays in my mind. The other benefit, is that what we put out to the universe tends to come back to us, but only if we have our eyes open to see them. While attending a fundraiser for a friend, I was able to make a contact with a woman who was looking for someone to manage her 3 acres of land upstate and create a farm to feed people in her community. EXACTLY, what I have been hoping to do for the next two years. I have my fingers crossed that there will be many updates on this venture in the future, but I'm forcing myself to only be cautiously optimist that this will work out in the end.

While I was away, I had two friends set to do some intense watering. One friend was able to do so and one friend had life intervene. As such, some of the tomatoes, all of the corn, and the squash was struggling a little upon my return. After some pruning, I'm hoping that I was not set back too far. Time will time, but I tend to be amazed by how resilient and forgiving my plants have been.

On a completely unrelated note, before my trip, I co-led a workshop on Sub-Irrigated Planters. A subject I know quite well. As I did research to create the worksheet, I was faced with a lot of evidence that the term "Self-Watering Container" is misleading. While it would be easy to be proud and continue using the "Self-Watering Container," I think that words have meanings and as such, I will use "Sub-Irrigated Planter" in the future and edit some of my DIY instructions to reflect this change.

Another area where I have re-learned that words have meaning is calling my updates "Wednesday Weekly Update" as there are times when I'm very busy on Wednesday and end up not posting later in the week. By just calling the post "Weekly Update," I can post any time in the week without feeling like a failure.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to see the pictorial update of the awesome things happening on the roof over the last three weeks.

Monti :)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Wednesday Weekly Update 5 - Heat Wave Edition

Hey y'all,
So here is a long and overdo update. As many of y'all know, I am apprenticing with EcostationNY's Bushwick Campus Farm. One of Ecostation's really cool projects is our Farm in the Sky where we use a local rooftop to expand our mission and growing footprint. I have been asked to head up this project and I'm so excited to help take it to the next level. Unfortunately, it has been taking up more time than I imagined, so while I have been able to maintain my rooftop, but have not had as much time to update this blog. Slowly, and surely, I am ironing out a schedule which will allow me to continue to maintain all my commitments.
As I am three weeks behind on doing updates, so I wanted to do one big update. Im too lazy to do a full update on each container, so I wanted to note that I ended up doing a work day during "Week 4."

After a run to a local big box store, I had some extra soil to plant out some of my seedlings. Hoo ray. One more run and I should have all of the plants in the right container. I repotted one of the tomatoes and the Purple Mizunas. They are all growing right along schedule now. The only other major news is that in my French Herb Mix there was a mystery plant which was revealed to me to be a native grass, which was sucking up all the phosphorus in the soil. That was pulled and allowed to burn on the roof before going into my compost pile.

Next week, Ill be on vacation for (hopefully) the entire week unless NYC has another heat wave. Full update after the jump.

- Monti

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Checking In

Hey all,
I just wanted to apologize for going so long without an update. I will hopefully be back on track with at least a weekly update starting tomorrow. My absence has been because of some really awesome things happening in my life (more tomorrow). As tomorrow's post will be chock full of three weeks of pictures and progress notes of my plants, I wanted to do a smaller post today with some other updates. So here goes: 

  • First, I wanted to thank my friend, MilĂ©na (y'all should follow her on twitter here, for doing a little design refresh for my blog. My design sense is very utilitarian, so it is nice to have someone who knows what she is doing to freshen things up here.   
  • Second, the Bushwick Campus Farm where I am an apprentice is in the midst of a campaign to raise money to expand our Summer Youth Internship into the school year. If you can, you should contribute. Any amount makes a difference. You can find more information and a beautiful video here.   
Thats all for now, but check back tomorrow for a massive update.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Wednesday Weekly Update 2


Last post, I mentioned that I had put together a container with Green Onions, Cinnamon Basil, and Sweet Basil for some friends. I was down in DC for birthdays this weekend and the gift went over well. In my personal life, I have been striving to be more "present" in my life meaning to ignore my phone/text/emails/etc when Im with my friends. To focus intensely on whatever Im dealing with at that most. Ironically, by giving up the quest to do five things at once, I have found that Im happier and more productive. This weekend was a big test for me. I watered my plants on Friday and had a friend coming to water to water them on Sunday. In my head, I thought this would be enough, but in my heart, I was a little concerned. Monday night, when I should have been sleeping in DC getting ready to head back on NYC on Tuesday, I looked at the weather report and just about had a nervous breakdown looking at how incredibly hot The City was while I was away. And remember, it is always hotter on the rooftop than the surrounding area.
When I arrived home on Tuesday night, I ran up the stairs to the roof and saw a complex picture (sadly, I was too frantic to think about taking pictures). Oddly, my plants all seemed to have had a growth spurt and to be look super wilted. I broke one of my cardinal rules of only watering in the morning because I was honestly concerned that some plants in the smaller containers would not have made it until the morning. I was able to go to sleep happily listening to a gentle light rain overhead, too. So how did the plants look in the morning, lets see below. (I had the flash off this morning, so the pictures look like I have a lame instagram filter on them, but I dont. Sorry about that.)

Blue Corn, Alaska Peas, and Sugar Snap Peas in DIY Container B

Container last week

3 Stalks are baby Blue Corn all others are either Alaska Peas and Sugar Snap Peas. This week.
So, the corn stalks literally doubled in height and thickness. I am still having the issue of the peas growing faster than the corn, so I cant really train the peas up the corn. This weekend, I will stand up two bamboo stakes on the side and train the peas up them. The giant leaves with rounded edges do not look like peas to me, but I already had enough comedy of errors in the container so they will remain for now. I really hope that they are not squashes. As for the freakish growth spurt, I am not sure if it is the excessive heat, their natural growth cycle, or the fact that the soil was able to dry out completely before watering. I plan to do some experiments in the future.

Sweet Potatoes in DIY Container

2 Beauregard Sweet Potatoes and 4 "Purple Passon" Sweet Potatoes

Something is eating my Sweet Potato leaves!
And there is a weird rust coloring around the bites.

This morning, I planted out four of the "Purple Passions" in this container. The two Beauregards that were already there seem to be doing well. Some pest seems to be munching on some of the leaves. I have checked underneath the leaves of all the plants on the roof and havent found the culprit, which means that it is probably a transient pest. I think that means that I shouldnt panic or use a garlic spray for now, but will ask the farm director (who knows just about everything farming) tomorrow at the Bushwick Campus Farm.

Empty DIY Container C - will be used to plant out Purple Passions

5 "Purple Passions" awaiting planting
 On Saturday, Im going to be doing a work day and will be planting out these plants then. I wanted to wait a couple days to see if there was any issue with the ones that were planted out today. If there is, then I will be recruiting one of my expert gardener friends for help. I refuse to lose another group of sweet potatoes!

Sunburst Sunflowers and Butterfly/Hummingbird Mix - DIY Container D

5 Sunburst Sunflowers and hummingbird/butterfly mix

The sunflower plants have also had a huge growth spurt. The leaves have an interesting texture. It is kinda softly prickly versus the hard prickles of Borage. Never noticed this on a sunflower plant before. Everything else in here seems to be growing well in here. As opposed to the container below.

Sunburst and Beneficial Bug Attractors in DIY Self-Watering Container 1

Three Sunburst Sunflowers surrounded by a Beneficial Bug mix.

A closeup in the container. Many of the Beneficial Bug plants are dying out since the sunflowers are taking over.

In this container, the sunflowers have pretty much taken over. The leaves are so big that they are blocking the smaller plants below. As I have a mild obsession with sunflowers, I am going to allow this to continue and just plant two other containers with the plant mix. Hopefully, the beneficial bugs come soon as something is attacking my sweet potatoes.

Strawberries and German Chamomile

A strawberry!
As I was cutting off the flowers and runners to promote root growth on my two strawberry plants, I expected that this year I would go strawberry-less. It looks like I have a total of five so far, tho. Woohoo! The leaves on one of the plants is a little yellow, but this will hopefully be taken care of with a nice dose of chicken poop tea on Saturday. I will include the how-to then. The German Chamomile still has two plants struggling to come through, but again, I do not care much at this point.

Individual Herb Containers

Lavender A
Lavender B


Everything looks good here! Hoo ray for Mediterranean herbs that love the heat and actually do better when they are allowed to dry out before watering.

Mixed French Culinary Herbs

Mild discoloration on leaf.

French herb mixture

Things seem to be going well here. Again, it is a group of herbs that love drying out before watering. One of the leaves is a little discolored, which probably means a little Potassium deficiency. On my Saturday workday, I will be using a little chicken poop tea on the plants. This should handle the situation. If not, Ill feed them with a little bone meal.

A Pepper Plant and Marigolds in DIY Self-Watering Container 2

Pepper Plant and Marigolds
 So the pepper plant seems to be doing really well and the Marigolds are starting to bloom. Ill be planting out some Tomatoes this weekend, and I will be digging up two of the Marigolds here and transfer them over to the new container. Given how little space the actual pepper plant is taken up in the container, I think that I might be able to fit two in one container next year. If only it would hurry up and fruit so I can figure out what kind of pepper plant that it is!

Paul Robeson and Brandywine Tomatoes in DIY Self-Watering Container 3 and 4

Paul Robeson Tomato on left and Brandywine on right
The Paul Robeson plant really thrived in the past week, too. Last night, I went through and picked off the flowers and the fruit. I will prune both of these plants on Saturday to allow for better air circulation and hopefully force the plant to get a little bit taller before allowing it to fruit.

Solo Purple Mizuna Plants (3) and Mint Plants (2)

Purple Mizuna plants in the center. Mint top and bottom.
So, Im still figuring out how to get the angles right on the photographs for the blog as you can see. These plants seriously looked completely dead last night. They have been incredibly revived over night. I have the mint nearby to ward off pests as they are still a little weakened.

Kale and Purple Mizuna in DIY Self-Watering Container 3

Jagged edges = Purple Mizuna and Bumpy leaves = Kale
 As you can see here. The Purple Mizuna just grows unbelievably well in the self-watering container. Ill be planting out the other three Purple Mizunas in a container this weekend. I made a salad with the Purple Mizuna on Friday and by Wednesday this is how it looks. What a prolific grower.

Various Plants Awaiting Planters 

Squashes, German Chamomile, Cinnamon Basils, Sunflowers, and more
Basil with some droopy leaves. Just about all the leaves on the roof looked like that last night.
Brandywine awaiting a container this weekend.
Paul Robeson struggling under the heat started shooting out flowers.
Flowers before picking.
All of these bad boys will be planted out this weekend.
Things look like they are going slowly but surely here. Most of these will be planted out during the Saturday workday.

Thats all for this week. Thanks for reading!
- Monti

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Wednesday Weekly Update 1

Since a major reason Im doing this blog is to keep a garden journal, I am going to try and keep myself on a schedule of doing a weekly update. Here goes the first one.

2 Sweet potato plants thriving

Sweet Potatoes in DIY Container A

One of the hard lessons of gardening/urban farming is knowing when to cut your losses. I originally ordered 10 sweet potato plants and after it taking a week to get to me and using too much worm compost in the soil, all but two were struggling. The old me would have spent a lot of time trying to bring the failing plants back to life. While possible, the effort isnt worth it since pests have a freakish ability of going directly for your weakest plants and attacking. Following my new thesis of ordering specialty plants from specialty providers, I ordered 15 "purple passion" sweet potato plants from and all but 1 seem to be doing well in sterile potting soil with a layer of rocks on the bottom to ensure that they get enough drainage this time. I plan on planting out 8 of these and giving the rest to some of my friends from the Bushwick Campus Farm. Gardening is all about sharing the love.

14 "purple passion" sweet potato plants hardening off in the tray.
Behind them are from left to right - 2 tatsoi plants and 2 mint plants.

Planned Leafy Greens Area/Purple Passions

The 2 tatsoi plants and mints that I bought from the Bushwick Campus Farm are doing really well. The leafy green plants that I had started from seed...not so much. I thought that they were big enough to be unappealing to birds who have eagle eye's when it comes to seedlings for some reason. I was wrong. The easy fix is to cut the bottom off of a 1-liter bottle and and using the top to cover the plant. Ill have a picture to show this idea next week when I have my new seedlings on the roof. As for the tatsoi and mint, I have tried a couple different parts of the roof and they seem to do well in each environment, so I will keep them here with the other planned leafy greens for aesthetic reasons. The "purple passions" will be planted out or given away on Thursday/Friday and are just hardening off for the time being.

3 Stalks are baby Blue Corn all others are either Alaska Peas and Sugar Snap Peas.

Blue Corn, Alaska Peas, and Sugar Snap Peas in DIY Container B

This container has been a comedy of errors. The first plan was to do the "three sisters" in the container. While possible, I thought it a bit too ambitious and settled on 2 kinds of peas surrounding the corn and hoping that all the peas would achieve the same effect of the squash by crowding out the weeds. All good there. Then, the errors begin. First, I wanted to slightly hill the corn a little bit, so I planted those first and the plan was to let them get up to a foot and then hill to 6 inches then plant the peas. For the first couple of weeks, the original five corn starts were doing well but growing far more slowly than I originally planned so I tried to hill them an inch and plant the peas. During that time, I made a new gardening friend who was interested in the blue corn and I gave her my last five seeds thinking that my plants were good so I didnt need them. Somehow during the hilling process 2 of the corn plants just stopped growing. Now, one is struggling and one is dead. As everything I read says that corn needs at least 4 nearby corn plants to germinate, Im nervous that Im going to have to hand-pollinate to be able to get corn if that is even possible. Here, Im leaving the struggling plant in the hope that it will pull through. As for the peas, I planted them and some sunflowers directly in their respective pots at the same time. Both started to germinate at the same time and look EXACTLY alike. As I didnt have that many sunflower seeds, I look in their containers and all the seeds I planted have sprouted so Im confused how they have also sprouted in the blue corn container, too. Thinking the pea sprouts to be weeds or magic sunflower seeds which have jumped over to this container, I pull them up and plant more peas as they have not sprouted, yet. This cycle happened one more time before I realized that I was being silly and the "weeds" I had been pulling up were actually the peas. Sigh. In the future, I will ensure to use logic and plant signs. Lesson learned.

Empty DIY Container C - will be used to plant out Purple Passions

5 Sunburst Sunflowers in the center and hummingbird/butterfly mixed plants surrounding them.

Sunburst Sunflowers and Butterfly/Hummingbird Mix - DIY Container D

The sunburst sunflowers (if everything goes right) should be able 2 feet tall with a 10" head. As I am obsessed with sunflowers, these are the flowers that Im most excited about. I have five plants here and should probably thin them down to three, but it is my first time growing them and I want to test the limits of what is possible. I have heard urban legends of people spotting hummingbirds in Brooklyn, so I have used a mix of flowers here which are supposed to attract them and butterflies. Everything seems to be thriving here and I am already fantasizing about relaxing on the roof, reading a book, and being surrounded by hummingbirds and butterflies.

Green Onions in center. Cinnamon Basil on the bottom and three Sweet Basil plants at various stages.

Green Onions, Basil, and Cinnamon Basil for friend

These are some of one of my best friends favorite herbs and as he has no green thumb, I grew them for his birthday present and will be giving them to him this weekend in DC. They have done really well on the roof and so I hope they do as well on his balcony. The Sweet Basil plants (3) were started from seed and the Cinnamon Basil was bought from the Bushwick Campus Farm. The advise that I always give friends without a green thumb for a planter this size is to stick his index finger in the soil down to his knuckle, if is feels dry, then put 4 ice cubes on the soil and let them melt slowly. This seems to work well.

Strawberries on either side and Chamomile in center. Purple Mizuna growing separately below.

Strawberries and German Chamomile

In my last post, I wrote about my insane experience trying to order strawberry plants from a certain company. A month ago, I was able to find a total of 2 strawberry plants at Home Depot so I snagged them. Originally, I wanted to grow lavender and chamomile in this container, hence all the gravel mixed into the soil, but I decided that the container didnt drain fast enough for the lavender and gave them their individual containers. As this is the first of (hopefully) five years with these strawberry plants, I had been cutting off the flowers and runners until the jiffy pots the strawberry no longer were able to be pulled out easily. I wanted the roots to set as much as possible and we are finally at that milestone, which means I might get a total of 2 strawberries this year, but hopefully many more in the future. As for the chamomile. Either, it is the slowest growing plant or something is wrong. I dont care strongly either way, so Im just going to leave it alone for now.

2 Lavender Plants


Individual Herb Containers

Note, to self, everyone would be better served with a closeup of these plants in the future. Anyway, all four of these plants were bought and seem to be doing well. The lavender here seem to be doing much better after I have them in their own containers with a lot of drainage holes. Now, they are a little more tricky though since I have to monitor them twice a day to see if they need watering. Thankfully, the future harvest will make the work worth it. No scent calms me more than lavender.

Sorrel, Cilantro and other herbs

Mixed French Culinary Herbs

Originally, I wanted to grow this in my kitchen. They were growing so leggy there that I transferred them to the roof. Since the container is small enough, Ill be able to add it to the table during dinner parties so  the effect will still be the same I guess. Next week, Ill complete the wood pallet planter and will use that to grow a bigger collection of mixed herbs.

3 Sunburst Sunflowers surrounded by a Beneficial Bug mix

Sunburst and Beneficial Bug Attractors in DIY Self-Watering Container 1

Next week, I will be making a video showing how I make my self-watering containers. In this container, I have some plants which attract beneficial bugs like wasps to the garden to fight off some pests. They all seem to be going well here.

Some kind of pepper plant surrounded by marigolds.

A Pepper Plant and Marigolds in DIY Self-Watering Container 2

This pepper was started indoors this fall. His brother didnt quite make it. Im honestly not sure what kind of pepper it is, but am pretty sure that it is a Tabasco pepper plant. Im going to have to trim up the marigolds this week as I think this container could use some better airflow, but generally everything seems to be growing well.

Left - Paul Robeson and Cinnamon Basil. Right - Brandywine and 2 Marigolds

Paul Robeson and Brandywine Tomatoes in DIY Self-Watering Container 3 and 4

These plants were bought from the Bushwick Campus Farm and seem to be doing well. I have another set in the "Various Plants" section. They all look to be thriving at the same right, so I shouldnt worry about transferring the other tomatoes too too much, but will hopefully do it when I get back in town early next week. Will also need to add support structures for the tomatoes, too.

Two Purple Mizuna plants

Jagged edges are Purple Mizuna and Rounded edges are Tuscan Kale

Solo Purple Mizuna and Kale and Purple Mizuna in DIY Self-Watering Container 3

The three Purple Mizunas were all bought at the same time from the Bushwick Campus Farm. It is amazing to me how differently they are growing. In the second picture, I wanted to use the Purple Mizuna to take up space while the Kale grew up. I have already harvested this plant three times and it seems bigger every day. The other two solo plants are growing much more slowly, so I might have to add those two to a larger self-watering container together. For now, Im trying to test which spot on the roof allows them to thrive the most. I love experimenting. Im very very pleased at the progress of the Kale. It is such a slow grower in the beginning, but seems to be hitting its stride.

Sunflower, Texas Blue Bonnets, Peas, and several Basil Plants

2 Cinnamon Basil Plants
Paul Robeson and Brandywine Tomatoes

Various Plants Awaiting Planters

Below, I note my struggles finding containers, but these will all be planted out soon. Ill have to remember to tilt the smaller containers to maximize sunlight.

"Working" pile
"Addition" Pile

Compost Piles

The "working" pile has dramatically cooled down, so I think that it is nearing completion, which is good since my other pile is almost full. In about 3 weeks, Ill shift through the first pile and transfer everything in the addition pile into the "working" pile since it is so much easier to turn.

6 different kinds of tomatoes. 2 kinds of squash. Quinoa. Two kinds of Basil.

 Tray of Plants Hardening Off

Im still searching for free 5-gallon buckets, which are turning out to be harder to find lately. The following plants are still being harden off and awaiting transplanting when I finally bite the bullet and just buy 5-gallon buckets. Ive given myself a Saturday deadline to either find or buy.

Closing Notes

Overall, Im overbudget in how much that I wanted to spend on the rooftop garden. I had always had plans of a couple financial ventures to allow the garden to partially pay for itself, so those plans will have to be accelerated. Be sure that I will be sharing my progress on those fronts in the future.