Food & Drink

How to grow your windowsill salad

Fire-escape pepper photo by Urban Greenscaper. Click on it for lots more inspiration.

Read the rest of the installments in our four-part series on urban vegetable gardening: seedssoil and putting it all together.

We know, we know… you probably don’t think you have the space or the know-how to grow a measly sprout, let alone the ingredients for a salad. And you might be right. But growing food in tight, urban quarters is not only possible, it’s easier than you might expect. Gardening experts estimate that every square foot of growing space yields almost a pound of food over the course of the growing season. That’s a sizable crop squeezed from even the most meager Park Slope patch of dirt. And if a Crown Heights fire escape is your whole domain, that’s at least a crudité. Here’s how to begin. Where to begin: indoors Since most Brokelynites lack yard access, we’ll start indoors. So long as your radiator isn’t busted, you can start in early March. According to the National Gardening Association, “Almost any vegetable can grow in a container and with a little care can produce abundantly.” So take a look at your containers around the house. If something will hold soil and you can poke holes in the bottom for drainage, it can be part of your container garden. Of course, there’s always something to be said for style points. Gardening indoors requires paying attention to issues like temperature, pollination, light and fertilization. Leafy greens are comfortable at temps into the 60s, while tomatoes, cucumbers and the like require warmer temps around 70 degrees. A south-facing window may be all you need, but if your only view is of a brick wall, then look into buying a UV light. They can run from $30 for spot-grow lights to $300 or more for more intense UV light systems. If you’re blessed with a yard, screw you. Just kidding. But things will be much easier—you can start the seeds indoors, and when they’re ready for transplant (typically when stems are over one inch tall) put them in the ground. Of course, the are some considerations like timing (see calendar below) and finding a spot with the appropriate amount of sun. For those without a yard and who lack the drive to micromanage an indoor project, consider a plot at one of Brooklyn’s many community gardens. Depending on your neighborhood, some may already be wait-listed and some may require a bit of dedication, but others are a matter of sign up and plant. Non-profit groups like More Gardens and New York Restoration Project convert abandoned lots into green spaces every year. See below for a complete list of Brooklyn’s community gardens. So what can I grow and when? Brooklyn falls in Zone 6 of the USDA Hardiness Zoning Map (but you knew that already), so the all-important last frost falls between March 30 and April 30. Beware, transplanting anything into the ground before the last frost is certain death for the crop. Avoid such losses by following suggested start dates. Timing varies, depending on the plant. Some common veggies for Zone 6 include: tomatoes, peppers, green beans, cucumbers, squash, cabbage, beets, collards, carrots, lettuce, peas, turnips, potatoes, melons and so forth. Since our biggest enemy at this point is the last frost date,VeggieHarvest has a helpful calender for tactful growing in Zone 6:


And here are some resources for indoor gardening: GardenGal’s vegetable list and indoor tips WikiHow on Indoor Gardening Garden Guides: How to Grow Indoor Vegetable Gardens How to Buy UV Sun Lamps Keep reading, with all the installments in our series on urban vegetable gardening: seeds, soil and putting it all together.


  1. Alex: to get rid of aphids, mix together a small amount of liquid dish detergent (1 Tablespoon should work), vegetable oil (again, about a 1 T), and water (a few cups) in a plastic spray bottle. Shake and spray on your plant. You might have to do this several times to rid yourself of the bugs, but it works. When you want to eat your basil, just rinse it under water to get rid of any excess detergent.

  2. Courtney

    You know, you don’t have to buy expensive UV lights to garden indoors. A much cheaper option is a regular CFL, preferably with a cool color temp, hanging about 12″ above some plants, it does WONDERS. I turned some shelves in my closet into a veggie growing factory. This year, I have grown herbs, greens, tomatoes, peppers…some work more perfectly than others, but all in all, they have turned out pretty well! If you want to up the ante, and adjust for varying temperature needs, line nearby surfaces with aluminum foil. I have also used baking tins with plastic covers from the grocery store as mini-greenhouses, they hold moisture really nicely, which is great for getting seeds started.

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