The basil is in, the carrots are sown, as are the French marigolds, and the garlic is on its way. The seed catalogues didn't crush me, and I feel great. What I feel even better about is the way they were put in their little beds of soil.
Brace yourselves, people; this week is Urban Trash Week.
The 21st century lunch still might not be free but the myriad layers of plastic and packaging around it certainly are gratis. Living in the city, we're surrounded by garbage; plastic bottles, food trays, jars and cans and newspapers. Even Maccy D's has something to offer the urban farmer and our sky gardens.
Because city agriculture isn't just about food and produce; it's also about embracing what we already have and somehow making it life-affirming. One man's trash is another man's treasure, and the junkyards, thrift stores and recycling depots beckon.
My first port of call this week was to the excellent Instructables website, where a host of jolly clever individuals have put up stacks of how-to guides on just about everything from music to lifestyle, and technology to green living. Free to join and a joy to peruse, it has a wealth of practical information for the city scavenger on a budget who wants to grow plants.
Close up of basil germinating in plastic bottle garden
Courtesy of my Beloved's student abode and a neighbour's recycling bin (asking politely in both cases, of course) I had amassed enough unwanted 2 litre plastic bottles to start a ghetto germination station, complete with greenhouse tops. My basil and marigold seeds will be happily self-watering as they spring into life and warm enough in their humid pods.
The carrots are housed in abandoned yogurt pots and toilet roll germinators - and everyone's happy on the sunniest windowsill in the apartment.
Carrot seeds in old yogurt pots and toilet roll germinators
See, this is the charm. Plants need only three things; soil, light and water. Beyond that, the aesthetics of the container are for our benefit alone, and to start with, in the privacy of our own home, a fancy-schmancy high-end pot really isn't necessary.
As for the mechanics of the thing, something to bear in mind when you go shopping for those all-important seeds is a "patio range". The carrot seeds I purchased are smaller in depth - the business end being the edible root - and with space and weight your major concern on a balcony or roof space it's a good idea to get something which isn't going to need a deep or heavy pot. My carrots are good to start sowing this month and are ready to eat in about three months.
Also, look out for continual plants, ones that you can sow in batches. Once my carrots have started showing leaves I can harden them off and then plant them out on the balcony and at that point, the next batch can go in to start germinating indoors. Working along those lines, you can have something around a nine month stretch of a crop, and when you consider that a sizable packet of seeds cost me around $1.50, you can start to see the benefits of growing your own.
The basil is also good to begin sowing in February and usually takes about six weeks to get to the edible stage, and herbs are quite happy growing on a windowsill in the kitchen if you have the sun for it. I managed to pick up a basket in the thrift store for around a dollar, and that'll do nicely to transfer a whole bunch of herbs into once I'm ready to put them out.
As for the marigolds, I'll be using those as companion plants for some tomatoes. Companion planting is a system where certain plants help each other along either by destroying bugs or providing helpful nutrients in the soil, and marigolds, basil and tomatoes are natural pot buddies.
Garlic planted out in a found pot
A book I'd highly recommend this week for trash gardening is the excellent Thrifty Gardener by Alys Fowler, who spent some time practising urban gardening in New York. It's an easy and enjoyable read and has loads of really good ideas on how to make the most of your city space.
Next week, the slightly pongy subject of composting and yet more good garbage as I get ready for some vine vegetables.