Concrete Jungle Gardening

By Jeanelle Horcasitas

September 5, 2014 5 min read

Biting into a juicy red tomato or a crunchy cucumber from my mother's backyard was one of my favorite things to do as a kid. I loved the task of assessing the right shape, color and firmness to determine whether or not it was ready to be eaten. Fortunately, I've always had fresh fruits and vegetables from the yards of my parents and grandparents. So when I decided to start my own garden, I assumed I knew it all.

I definitely did not.

My biggest obstacle was figuring out a creative way to use my limited cement-covered patio space to bring life and verdure to the area. I spent hours pinning some great ideas to my Pinterest gardening board for inspiration. However, the most crucial information I found came from a variety of sources: Urban Organic Gardener, HGTV and, my favorite, About.com's Home and Garden section.

I loved About.com the most because it clearly summarized how to get a vegetable container garden started, how to successfully maintain it, and even included a few suggestions for newbie vegetable gardeners. According to About.com's container gardening expert Kerry Michaels, the easiest vegetables to grow are: peas, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, radishes, cucumbers, eggplant, and summer or zucchini squash. I headed to Home Depot to collect my supplies. I decided to start small (three plants) to see if I inherited my family's green thumb.

Standing in line at the register with my cherry tomato, green bell pepper and Serrano pepper seedlings -- I felt as though I was off to a good start. Unfortunately, when I got up to the counter and the employee observed my purchases, he amusingly informed me that if I intended on planting these seedlings in potted containers, I would need potting mix soil, NOT garden soil. Helen Tuton, of Healthy Urban Habitat, explains, "Potting mix is specially blended to hold the correct amount of moisture in a container, and provide a stable growing medium for pot plants." Versus gardening soil, which is best to mix 50/50 with already existing soil, according to Tuton.

Despite the embarrassing setback, I got on my hands and knees and gave it a try. It took me about an hour and a half to scoop enough dirt in each pot, delicately place the seedling within the soil, add some Vigoro plant food and top them off with water. According to The Garden Helper, it takes about four to five months for tomatoes and peppers to grow. I'm not sure why I expected overnight success like "Jack and the Beanstalk," but I was eager to see the fruits of my labor. Thus, the waiting game began.

When I saw some growth in my plants after a couple of weeks, I was ecstatic! I proudly posted pictures to Instagram, proving that I in fact did plant vegetables; no, they hadn't died within a few days; and, yes, my excitement over my plant's growth was comedic.

However, What made planting these vegetables special was how it strengthened my relationship with my mother and grandparents. Since my plants' conception, I have made an effort to FaceTime with my mother or my grandparents at least once a week to update them on my plants' progress. They have expert advice for positioning the plants to get the right amount of sunlight, pruning the bad/dried up parts of the plant and getting rid of pesky caterpillars.

A.J. Andrews, writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, provided even more tips on preventing these crawling creatures from chomping on my tomato plants. Andrews suggests inspecting your plants twice a week and removing any caterpillars and placing them in soapy water Alternatively, planting spearmint, clover or daisies near your tomato plant attracts paper wasps, which are a natural predator of the caterpillar.

Like any new project, I knew that gardening would be a challenge. And, despite being around gardeners my entire life, I still made a few rookie mistakes. However, I learned my lesson and my plants thankfully survived these little mishaps. Growing my mini apartment garden has strengthened my patience and appreciation for nature. Ruminating over the days I used to dread helping my mom pull weeds, prune leaves, water, plant, and pick up vegetables and fruits from the ground -- I am thankful.

Today, I can smile and say that my plants are growing beautifully and fruitfully. There is no excuse for not adding a little greenery to your life. Whether it's in the dirt from your backyard or in the soil pot on your patio, life can grow anywhere.

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