Home-grown produce, even in the city

By Sheryl Lynn Carvajal

Whether you like to grow tulips and peonies, or tomatoes and raspberries, living in Boston may not seem ideal for cultivating your own garden.  But fear not. There are several plants you can cultivate in limited spaces like a small concrete “backyard” or a balcony. And, since so many Friedman students love cooking with fresh vegetables or can’t resist biting into fruit that is perfectly ripened, container gardening is a great way to yield a steady supply of edibles. Here are some of the easiest plants to grow in small spaces, as well as some tips to help your plants flourish.

Garlic

Plant the pointy end up

Plant the pointy end up

Garlic is a great ingredient to include in many dishes.  It adds a punch of flavor without the extra calories.  It is easy to grow at home in just a small amount of space, and planting one bulb can result in about 20 additional cloves.  All that is required is a small pot, some soil, and one whole clove or bulb of garlic.  Plant the pointy end up near the surface of the soil, and place it in a sunny area.  Soil should be damp, so water occasionally, but be sure not to over water your plant.  If growing conditions are ideal, your garlic can start to sprout in as little as a couple of weeks!  When the leaves that have sprouted have turned brown and died, it is time to harvest the garlic.  Just pick it, hang it in a cool and dry area, and in about a week your garlic should be ready to enjoy.

Content and photo source: http://soapdelinews.com/2012/04/how-to-grow-garlic.html

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potato slips

Sweet potato slips

High in beta-carotene, sweet potatoes are a versatile root vegetable that can be eaten in savory or sweet dishes.  Fortunately, these spuds are great for container growing with a little TLC.  First, take a sweet potato and cut it in half across the middle.  Organic is preferred, since some sweet potatoes may have been treated with sprout-suppressing chemicals.  Place both halves in a container of water, cut side down.  Place the container in a window where it will get heat and sunlight. Be sure to keep the water level constant at about an inch or two.  After a few weeks, the sweet potatoes will have little slips, and those will be your starting point to planting and growing your own sweet potatoes.  Plant the slips in a larger container to hold the yield.  Though these crops take all summer to grow, you can look forward to a nice bushel to cook and eat by fall.

Content and photo source: http://www.outlawgarden.com/2012/04/25/grow-your-own-sweet-potatoes

Celery and Romaine Lettuce

Use the celery bulb for a new plant

Use the celery bulb for a new plant

Celery and romaine lettuce are similar in that you cut off and use the leaves and stalks and typically throw out the bottom, or the bulb.  However, rather than throwing the bulb away,  store it in a shallow bowl of water for a day or two; it will start growing again.  Then, just plant the bulb in a small container with soil.  Place it in an area with direct sunlight, water thoroughly, and within just a couple weeks, you’ll have new stalks of lettuce and/or celery.

Content and photo sources: http://chickensintheroad.com/farm-bell-recipes/re-growing-celery and http://threepsandq.wordpress.com/2011/12/11/peculiarities-and-plants-romaine-lettuce

Strawberries

These bright red fruits are one of the easiest to grow in containers, which makes them great for city gardening.  There are three main kinds of strawberries: June-bearing, which produce one large crop in the summer; ever-bearing, which produce crops in the spring, summer, and fall; and day-neutral, which produce the largest crops in the summer.  You can sprout seeds directly from the fruit, but it takes much time and patience.  If you want to make life a little easier, buy strawberry runners from your local nursery.  Very gently plant the roots of the runner in the top of the soil, careful not to cover the small leaves or damage the roots.  You should water the plant about once a week, being sure that the top 6 inches of soil are always wet.  Be patient with the production. Sometimes it takes a year to start yielding an abundance of strawberries, but picking them from your own plants will be worth it.  Another great thing about strawberry plants is that they remain dormant in the winter, but once warm weather comes around again, they can start producing fruit again!

Diagram of a strawberry runner. Source: http://click4biology.info/c4b/9/plant9.1.htm

Diagram of a strawberry runner.
Source: http://click4biology.info/c4b/9/plant9.1.htm

These are just a few of the fruits and vegetables you can grow in an urban garden.  There are plenty of additional resources online if there is a specific crop you would like to grow, or if you want to know if a container would provide a suitable environment for which your crop will flourish.  Just be sure you give your plants the amount of time and care they need, and put them in optimal conditions. Soon your green thumb will contribute to fresh and delicious dishes prepared in your kitchen straight from your own concrete garden.

Content source: http://lifeonthebalcony.com/grow-baskets-full-of-berries

Sheryl Lynn Carvajal is a first year Nutrition Communications student.  She’s excited for warmer weather in Boston and wants to test out her green thumb by growing some yummy fruits and veggies on her window balcony.

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