Monday, June 6, 2011

The Hanging Gardens of Washington Heights

I have been talking about how to grow tomatoes indoors since last summer. As I have mentioned, I live in a 1000 square foot space in New York. Our apt faces East and so we have lots of light. But our outdoor space is shared and I cannot just go and plant tomato plants wherever I please. So I got the crazy notion to try indoor growing. The intention was to plant them in late April like the guy at the farmer’s market said I should. But things slipped through my fingers due to busy schedules and general laziness. So now, I proceed even though it was late May.Recently I purchased two Topsy Turvy indoor tomato planters, two heirloom tomato plants (one yellow oxheart and one Abe Lincoln) and 10 pounds of dirt from the lady at the Union Square Farmer’s Market. The dirt contained 6 months worth of compost she said. When we arrived home, Thing 1 about burst out of his clothes to get me to start in on planting them. And though we didn’t follow directions to the tee, my plants were quite large with flowers on them when the planter specifically warns not to do so, yet after a little jiggering and gentle pulling, our new friends were planted and upside down in no time.

But what to do, what to do? The planters were heavy, 5 or 6 pounds, and I needed to add more dirt making them closer to 10 pounds. Hanging them from my plaster ceiling now seemed like a bad bad bad idea. I thought, ‘What about a couple of two by fours?’ We could affix the two by fours to the ceiling with anchors and then screw the planters into the wood. DH thought that was a marginally better idea than screwing them into the ceiling, but he still didn’t declare it a solution. Finally he got a great idea (he usually does). He went to Home Depot and bought one of those metal industrial kitchen shelving racks. He bought wheels so that we could move the rack around for optimal sunlight, and out of the living room altogether when we have company.

So now I have my two little beauties hung. But has this been cost effective? Not so much. The planters, the plants and the dirt cost almost $40. The rack and the wheels cost another $80. Yipes! If like the box says that the average tomato plant can produce 30 pounds of tomatoes a year, then my 60 pounds of tomatoes will cost me $2 per pound. That’s cheap for heirloom tomatoes, but far from free. And that is only if I can get them to produce. So far I have had three flowers fall off from the stress of being planted. Now that they are cozy and getting sun every day I am seeing new shoots. That is a good sign.

The first step in getting more familiar with what one eats is to start shopping at a farmer’s market. Get to know what is being grown in your area. From there you can join a CSA, find local meats and other various local foods. But the next logical thing one does is to grow one’s own food. If I lived in a house on even a quarter of an acre I would likely have some kind of a garden. And much to the chagrin of my neighbors I might even try to keep chickens. But that is not an option for me right now. I love my home, I love my neighbors and I especially love my commute. And when you consider that it is *only* 45 minutes each way, then you start to see why moving even further outside the city creates its own challenges. My hanging garden is one way that I am trying to grow my own food and doing it with what I have, fresh air and sunshine.
My rack is big enough to add at least two more Topsy Turvy planters. And thus far the plants themselves have started to grow up, so I think they won’t be as big as I first thought. Which means I can add peppers or cucumbers or eggplant next year if things go well. I would like to try and add strawberries this year if it is possible. I am not sure if they do well indoors. This is an exciting adventure. My goal is to grow enough fresh tomatoes to have enough to sustain us throughout the winter. Perhaps, since they will be inside in the heat, my plants will continue to produce after the first frost? I don’t know. I wonder will they produce at all? We will have to take this one day at a time.


  1. I've seen the topsy turvy thing advertised but don't know anyone who has actually done it. Looking forward to an update once you get going.

  2. is it just the lighting, or are those turvy things not even half filled with dirt? I planted my first one this year a few weeks ago and the tomato plant has grown like a weed and we are just starting to get buds, but I remember it saying I needed to fill it at least 3/4 full of dirt..

  3. Haha Connie! Yes!! You are so observant!

    Yes. The day I planted them I didn't have enough dirt. I had to take the dirt home on the subway with the kids and the stroller and the two plants and the planters!! So I was out of room. I went back last week and got more dirt. The two planters are now both completely filled, with just a few inches of head space.

  4. Here is a city-girl question: Do you need bugs to pollinate? I bought a tomato shoot at Whole Foods a few years ago and it got leggy, produced some tiny white and yellow flowers and an incredible vegetal smell...and then nothing. Everyone laughed that I needed bees, etc to grow fruit. Oh PS the rack idea is genius.

  5. Ha! Diane, I had considered that. I have not had any flowers open yet. So I haven't had to address the issue. But I was thinking perhaps I would pollenate the flowers by gently shaking or tapping them. That should allow some of the pollen to get where it needs to go without breaking the flower. We shall see....