We challenged our favorite Brooklyn gardeners to grow a feast in just 8 square feet. Some had only a few planters; one had an actual (albeit tiny) raised bed. By the end of the season, though, each of these urban farmers had a plot bursting with flavor-packed produce. Want to eat truly local this summer? Follow the leads of this inspiring quartet, and start planting your seeds today.
What She Does: Cofounder of Eagle Street Rooftop Farm (rooftopfarms.org), a 6,000-square-foot organic produce plot and market located above a warehouse
Her Plot: Four large -- yet lightweight -- planters on the corner of the roof
Her Plan: Novak focused on herbs, greens, and edible flowers. “We keep bees, so I wanted bee-friendly plants.” Her assortment included chives, thyme, lemon balm, sorrel, bok choy, senposai, tatsoi, mustard greens, mizuna, nasturtiums, borage, and flowering cucumbers.
Why It Worked: “Cut-and-come-again plants like culinary herbs and microgreens proved perfect for containers. I paired the low-water thyme with the chives, and the moisture-loving greens with the cucumbers. The refreshing borage flowers and spicy nasturtium blossoms were delicious -- and favorites of the bees.”
1. Sorrel (with borage, cucumbers, lemon balm)
2. Bok choy, green mizuna, ruby mustard, senposai, tatsoi
3. Chives, thyme
“Sky-high gardening is a great use of space; plus, most edibles prefer full sun. Just check your roof’s weight load and make sure it’s easy to get water up there," says Annie.
What She Does: Teacher at Youth Farm, a partnership of the High School for Public Service, Green Guerillas, and BK Farmyards. Ayer and her colleagues have turned the school’s front lawn into a one-acre educational farm. Student farmers help grow the crops and learn about everything from nutrition to trade policy. The produce is sold through a community-supported agriculture program and a weekly farmers’ market.
Her plot A 2-by-4-foot raised bed from Naturalyards.
Her Plan: Ayer selected plants that would be easy and satisfying for her students to grow from seed: hot and sweet peppers, tomatoes, fennel, rosemary, basil, parsley, and escarole.
Why It Worked: “Our Youth Farm is all about growing as much healthy produce as possible in the space we have, so this challenge was right up our alley. We picked a mix of ingredients that can be combined to create many different kinds of delicious meals -- basil, parsley, and tomatoes in particular are classic companions.”
2. Sweet and hot peppers
“Raised beds are especially good if you live in an area where the soil contains toxic heavy metals. Just put down an impermeable border and fill with clean soil and compost. it’s also easier for kids to gather around a bed to tend the plants and see what’s happening as they grow,” says Elizabeth.
What They Do: Owners of Groundworks, a garden design, installation, and maintenance firm
Their Plot: Six containers scattered among the other plants on Krieg’s (seated) front stoop
Their Plan: The duo chose to plant a variety of their favorite fruits and herbs: oranges, limes, blueberries, stevia, spearmint, peppermint, basil, lemon balm, cilantro, oregano, and coriander.
Why It Worked Vertical thinking. They potted two fruit tree saplings and a blueberry bush that provided space (at the trees’ base) for low-lying herbs. “We grew so much food that we wound up drying many of the herbs and preserving a lot of the fruit,” says Krieg.
1. Lowbush blueberry
2. Spearmint, stevia
3. Lime, Vietnamese coriander, peppermint
4. Small-leaf basil
5. Cilantro, lemon balm
6. Satsuma orange, oregano
“Pay attention to shadows. For part of the day, a tree blocks our sun. we placed pots strategically in the patches of morning light,” says Alice.