City backyard gardens are easily depleted of nutrients essential for the development of healthy vegetables. Although chemical fertilizers such as Miracle Grow enable urban farmers to produce in small spaces what corner grocers sell for hundreds of dollars, after nearly a decade of robbing the ground of the treasure of organic matter, one must learn to grow new garden varieties creating cycles that keep fresh the abundance of mother earth.
If home was in a rural setting, it would possible to order an entire truckload of what is necessary to grow 500lb pumpkins, but in Brooklyn, scattering the rot of manure fertilizer in back-yards is out of the question.
Despite the fact that Earth of Bedford-Styuvesant, Brooklyn was exploited long ago, like the ground before the great Dust Bowl, it is possible to produce miracles here. A most robust variety of the moonflower somehow flourished this season.
The first year of gardening on Kosciusko Street in 2002 yielded green and yellow pepper varieties that if being stuffed with hamburger meat, bacon and rice for baking, would require an entire pound of sirloin per pepper. In early July, there were at least one dozen, ripe for picking. They were best if simply washed and eaten fresh.
In year three, a fence went up next door, blocking precious sun rays from westerly, evening skies of purple hues. A grill was lit by the couple next door– a gas one– and God awful bug torches flamed in all hours of the night. The garden suffocated. Gone were the days of five pound tomatoes and peppers that served as an entire meal. Only tall sun flowers would thrive in the half-dark shadows of the lower earth in years five and six, on the far side of Bedford Avenue.
The sunflowers, like corn, are vampires of the soil. Long, fingernail-like roots reached deep down, draining the lot of precious, earthworm-digested, decomposed matter, found just underground.
Remaining in year eight was just a little precious, de-composed energy; enough for just two tomato vines. Of course, strands of sunray- hungry cucumber vines struggled to get up to the light. They were planted in hills of three, in hopes of foot-long fruits like the ones that grew on year one, up a fence, one that was not wooden, but chain-linked; that’s how the sun came through.
Rows of flowers with a name that escapes the gardener never went to blossom or developed flowers in year eight. The flowers were planted with care, with everything else, back in April. All the seed packets were purchased for just pennies at the Home Depot around the corner. Oddly, the flowers that are not of the moon variety, are edible– good in salads is what the package indicated.
Rats are outside again like they were in year one. The city seems infested with them again. The Sanitation Department had the rodents under control for nearly a decade, but like the bedbug, they are seemingly uncontrollable again. The rats are a part of the natural course of nature perhaps; an indication, metaphorically, what’s going on in hidden spaces in the subways where they thrive.
Take the surplus of acorns on the ground this year; to a gardener, a flood of acorns in Fall is a sign that winter will overflow with precipitation. This is a sign that a farmer who pays attention, year after year can see. It is like the black and brown fur of a caterpillar that men of older generations used to predict coming winter weather on a week-to-week basis.
The flowers of the shade did not burst to blossom, but because there has yet to be a frost, there is enough to feed an army outside. The rats are about, so the edible flowers will serve as ornamentation to a wind chime that comes back to life because all the leaves in the tree from which it hangs have fallen and it blows that song of winter in Brooklyn.
In year eight, despite a terrible dry spell, the city garden in the bitter winds of fall, yielded seed pods from what are called “Moonflowers”. They grew here enchantingly, as they open in just a matter of minutes. The seeds of the moonflower are located inside brittle, dark brown pods. They are packed in units of four, and tucked neatly, like little eggs in a carton. These unusual, nocturnal flowers are perfect to grow in a place outside where one spends an evening, after the sun has set. The large white flowers open only after the sun begins to set. Because the flowers are so large, seeds are the size of a pea and will be easy to plant in warm spring soil. These precious flowers, never before grown in this part of Brooklyn, have proven to be far more rewarding than a typical, edible flower variety that demands earth with manure and robust sun!
The vines of the moonflower grow nearly ten feet tall. In the evening, just as the sun dipped below the wooden fence, the moonflowers opened. The blooms were as large as a man’s open hand. Each moonflower lasted for just one night, by morning, the silky tissue of vampire-like pedals melted at the sight of dawn, never to bloom again.
The seeds are white and shaped like eggs. Loved ones who taught this writer to farm will receive these precious seeds for Christmas. The tender seeds will be removed from brown pods and serve as little eggs, all placed carefully inside tiny nests woven from frost-bitten vine that has been dipped in glue and sprinkled with gold glitter.
Attached to these hand-made tree ornaments will be a card filled with twenties for each of the kids, and a little hand-written note; one with directions for sewing the ornament. Surely these will be the most unusual of Christmas tree ornaments; ones that will not be forgotten when it is time to throw out the tree in those weeks just before it starts to turn warm again.