Notes from Zone 6b – letting failure bloom
July 19th, 2011
01:45 PM ET
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Eatocracy's Managing Editor Kat Kinsman attempts to vegetable garden on a roof deck in Brooklyn, NY in USDA Hardiness Zone 6b. Feel free to taunt, advise or encourage her efforts as this series progresses.

My edible loofah won't fruit, and there doesn't seem to be a darned thing I can do about it. For that matter, I can't stave off daikon bolt, keep my African Guinea Flint corn from slumping or save my white bush scallop squash from the indignity of slug consumption.

This is mostly my fault, and I have to live with it. I could have just laid down to drown in a deluge of Netflix-streamed episodes of Battlestar Galactica, taken up yogalates or just napped like a normal person, but no, not me. As a friend recently pointed out to me, I use any scrap of down time I have to assign myself an extra job.

This manifests in all manner of extremely stupid ways, not the least of which entails trying to grow vegetables that plain old don't want to in places where they really shouldn't. So far as I can tell, there's not yet a DSM-IV diagnosis code for small-scale agricultural masochism, but I strongly suggest the American Psychiatric Association hop right on that. I'm far from the only one, and the condition is highly infectious.

For goodness sakes, they're seeds. Their sole reason for existing is to find their way into the ground, sprout, and make more copies. People - totally reasonable, thoughtful, intelligent, rational people - are often baffled by this, thinking that is takes all manner of special lights, elixirs, urns and incantations. Nope, I say. Next time you come across an heirloom tomato (not the over-hybridized, drywall-tasting ones from the supermarket) or a colorful potato that you fancy, stick it in the dirt, and it will make more.

Unless, that is, you're a freakshow heirloom vegetable fetishist like me and insist upon trying to raise fruits from tropical climates on your semi-shaded deck. Or perhaps you (okay, I) find it necessary to mimic snow melt by popping herb seeds in and out of the freezer or attempt cucurbit varieties that require each seed to be individually scarred with a razor blade.

Even should the seed eventually germinate (the thrill of which is sometimes reward in and of itself), there's no guarantee that it will flower, fruit and flourish to an edible state. Chances are that despite my most careful organic composting, kelp, blood and fish carcass fertilization, individual slug removal service and gentle humming of Burt Bacharach's greatest hits, the plant will just...sit there, green, sterile and stolid. It may tease me with a fruitless bloom, get nibbled by invading aphids, be pooped on by the neighbor's cat or just plain slump over and die, and don't I feel silly for having tried?

I should not.

Why I set myself up for frustration is anybody's guess, and my therapist (or at least my insurance company) has made a mint over the years digging down into the underlying compulsion that drives me to attempt the improbable. I have only this to offer: I deeply dig the notion that my actions have a link to the past, may ensure the existence of a threatened ingredient for the next generation and I'm honored when someone trusts me with their seeds.

And when something actually does thrive and bring forth fruit, I can casually toss into conversation to dinner guests, "Oh that funny looking thing? I grew that from seed. Oh no - you can't get it at the market. Not that I've ever seen - but I'm happy to share some seeds if you want any..."

Yup, I'm propagating my madness - one reluctant, improbable, frustrated farmer at a time. Long may it flower.

Previously – Tubers on the roof and Heirloom tomatoes explained

soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. Debra

    As you say, "At least you try". I'm here to encourage you to keep trying. Growing veggies on a semi-shade deck is difficult but not impossible. Usually it just means a smaller harvest but a harvest none the less. Try a Salad bar! Lettuce is a cool crop that prefers sun but does well in shaded areas and the tomatoe plant can go where you actually are getting the sun. For more tipson shade gardens visit my site at

    October 5, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
  2. simmons444

    My Father grows vegetables in his garden in Canarsie, Brooklyn NY......Tomatoes and all! Its doable with the exception of ravenous squirrels

    July 29, 2011 at 9:29 am |
  3. fob

    I grew lettuce! It was so easy too! That means I just planted the seeds and it grew. Nothing too it. I was so happy!! Soon I will have some tomatoes and jalapenos.

    July 20, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
  4. alecia

    I live in an apartment and have discovered that if I cover my window box veggie garden on my patio floor with sweater drying racks the critters dont even try. And I am ashamed to admit I do use Miracle Grow as I have limited sun but the tomatoes, cucumbers, okra and green beans grow relentlessly in the Texas summer! Thats the only good thing about the heat-everything is sweeter and jucier!

    July 20, 2011 at 7:33 am |
  5. JehseaLynn

    I have a friend with a very green thumb. Last year, I planted my very first garden, and my friend, Mary Lou, brought me two tomato plants – one regular and one cherry tomato. I was SO afraid to plant them, having heard all my life that tomatoes require an experienced gardener, that they are very "hard to grow." But I sucked it up and planted them. At the end of the season, OMG! DID I EVER HAVE TOMATOES! Even Mary Lou laughed in astonishment and said, "You had more tomatoes than I did!" So it was that I discovered that gardening is not only good for the soul; but it is also such a RELIEF to make a delicious salad and know, with 100% certainty, that there is not one drop of PESTICIDE or other chemical in it! Not to mention that it gave me pride to say, when complimented by dinner guests, that I had grown the veggies myself!

    July 20, 2011 at 3:08 am |
  6. Abby

    Ah, at least I'm not the only one who seems to do this too.

    July 19, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
    • Darren45

      There aren't any rabbits in our neighborhood. Sometimes cats, but no rabbits. Frustrating.

      July 19, 2011 at 9:47 pm |
  7. DAve-o

    @ Springsgranny....I had the same problem, and wound up laying cut cedar, pine and nettle branches ALL around the garden. It hurt their little bellies trying to jump over it and they went away.

    July 19, 2011 at 4:34 pm |

    I had a really nice garden growing until the rabbits found it. I tried fencing it in with chicken wire, but it was too much of a hassle. I'll take my neighbor's leftovers! Rabbits eat everything I plant and I haven't found anything yet that works to keep them away! Garlic, human hair, Liquid Fence, Hot Pepper, Lime, Torn Basil leaves, you name it! They're not supposed to like marigolds..ha!..they ate mine! I give up!

    July 19, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
    • Harry Callahan

      A 44. Magnum,the most powerful handgun in the World should do the trick....or an electrified fence. Crispy Critters.

      July 19, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
  9. suj

    There is nothing wrong with "hail mary gardening". If it sprouts, try to grow it. Survival of the fittest. In the quest for growing the odd and exotic, in the disappointing and failed attempts, there will always be an odd one that simply is amazing. Stuff bolts early? Plant it earlier next year...

    I have a friend whose thumb is greener than the jolly green giant. It's amazing to walk among his tomato plants towering almost 10 feet high bearing jealously many many colorful fruits. In plant and fruit size his dwarf the very same plants grown in almost the same way in my garden. He has 40 kinds of peppers, mostly hot; 5 kinds of cucumbers each with a planned purpose. And his garden goes on. Some have it, I don't. Ergo the hail mary approach. The positive – even though those happy artichokes aren't supposed to be growing here in my zone, nobody hasn't told them that yet .. Boooya!

    July 19, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
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