the Urban Terracist

Notes on Container and Terrace Gardening in the Inner City.

No longer on a farm with unlimited resources for a garden, my destiny has called me to downtown Ventura, California. No backyard, no garden, not even a usable window. I miss my garden. But down a corridor a door opens out onto a deck with our emergency generator on it. It is surrounded by four walls at least one story high. One wall is south-facing and gets a lot of sunshine. Here is where I set to work.
With so little space, I had to choose only the very most useful, powerful and productive herbs and vegetables with the best culinary, medicinal, and spiritual properties. Here's what I've got:


Photo: Nov. 1998. On the left, in a tub, echinacea (with the pretty purple flower), four thai dragon chili pepper, six blue lace petunias (my favorite goth flower), purple basil. In a hanging basket; parsley and oregano. Then my gingko biloba tree. The leaves turned gold and all dropped off soon after this. I got about a gallon of leaves. On a ledge in the middle: horehound. Middle in front: comfrey, garlic chives, thyme, and rosemary; and a big white sage. On the right: thai dragon chili pepper (with red peppers on top), catnip, lemon balm, and lemon grass.
The pepper plants drive off pests as well as yield lots of hot little peppers perfect for stir fry.
The gingko biloba tree. I bought a male about 8' tall. I figure it'll live 3-4 years in a big container. Then I'll replant it into true ground. It is having the toughest time out there. On a sunny day it is murderously hot. First the gingko wilts, then the horehound. Extra water brings them back.
It the start of the summer, I added a gallon tomato, which I transplanted into a box with catnip and lemon balm, and I planted purple basil seed, which is now coming up.
I also bought a little rosemary bush, which I'm going to keep in it's pot, so I can move it around and keep it (and it's faeries) out of mischief. I also want to move it inside with me for protection during my next seance. And I added a little tub of lemon grass. It's supposed to be kind of hard to grow.
UPDATE: August 1998
Okay. It is brutal up there. During this summer's heat wave, my plants would completely dry out in between waterings. I lost my sunflowers, tomatoes, squash, peppermint, camomile, echinacea, and St. John's Wort.
My Solution: I had read about polymerized water ( not Kurt Vonnegut's "Ice-9") and when I saw some for sale at the local farmer's market I decided to try it out. I bought a little bag of crystal powder for $5 and made a big gallon of the jello-like stuff. Then I went up to the roof and added it to the soil in the containers by drilling 6" holes in the dirt next to the stems down to the roots, pouring in the goop, and pluging the holes with compost. The soil stayed wet for days. As I water, the polymerized stuff bines up more molecules and holds it in the soil, replacing itself as the roots drink it up. Amazing. I bet you could add it to your houseplants and then leave town for a month.
Another problem: white flies. My previous gardens were interplanted riots, but in the containers, the sage can't properly protect the other plants. And I don't have natural predators, like little tent spiders to keep them in check. Some pregnant female stumbled on my garden and the whole place was soon abuzz.
My Solutions: I read about some clever woman using a little vacuum cleaner to suck the flies off her plants. Up on the roof there are big air ducts sucking air into various ventilation systems. I carefully picked up each affected pot and carried it over to the duct. Then I would shake it and watch the little cloud of white flies take off from the plant and get sucked into the grill and down the hot throat of the duct. I And I read that lady bugs, while not dangerous to the adults, eat their eggs and larvae. So I bought a bag of bugs, 7,000 or so, and let them loose. They went nuts, crawling over every square milimeter, and hanging out for days. The white fly population was utterly devastated. I still repeat the duct treatment on my comfrey, basil, and peppers.
New plants: wormwood (for absinthe and seances) and French thyme (for cooking and seances).

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