Great Urban Gardens: Chris Floyd

The garden:
Chris Floyd's Capitol Hill backyard

What's growing: Herbs, both perennials and annuals, pretty much everything you can think of from a culinary standpoint although I avoid weird things like pineapple sage, which I find one seldom uses. Thyme, parsley, chives, oregano, savory are all easy to grow and come back each year. Thai basil, sweet basil, cilantro and chervil are all things that I plant each year from seed.

I also like to grow lettuces and greens in the spring and fall. It’s amazing how much salad greens you can get out of a 4’x4’ bed. I have enough for a family of four for two to three weeks in the spring, and I’ve got some summer Bibb lettuce going now. Spinach is fast and easy, but short-lived. Dino kale and collard greens are two of my favorites and can tolerate the cold. I love red Swiss chard because it looks pretty and you can cut the leaves and it grows back all summer. I planted Savoy cabbage late last fall, and it weathered the winter and matured in the spring.

Midsummer, I usually have eight or so tomato plants in large pots (big pots – 5 gallon plus). Because I don’t have a lot of space, the pots are great. You can move them around and control the moisture and nutrients. I like to have a mix of heirlooms and hybrids. The heirlooms are great, but the hybrids yield better and have less diseases. Brandywines are like the holy grail of tomato growers, but you might only get ten tomatoes per plant which is not a lot for a whole summer. I also have hot peppers, Japanese cucumbers, different varieties of eggplants and squash.

This year I’m trying a new heirloom variety of squash that climbs and has a pale green crook-neck shape. I’m taking a lot of my plants vertical this year because of space and it gets them over the fence for sun. I find that these green triangular tomato towers made of plastic are much sturdier and versatile than the traditional wire cages. You can get them online or at Lowe’s for $8.

Urban gardening tips:

Grow what you really like to eat. Otherwise you are wasting space.

Soil matters. Start with really good soil and load it up with compost or other organic material like garden tone. I started with some really beautiful soil this year and my plants took off like on rocket fuel. Plus healthy plants are much less likely to succumb to disease and pests. If you are growing in pots (tomatoes), you need to add some nutrients twice a month to keep the plants going.

Consider the space you have and what makes sense. The squash and pumpkin family gets huge and will grow all over the garden. That’s why I only have one zucchini and two heirloom squash plants which is plenty for one family. I tried growing Brussels sprouts one year, and it was a big mess. By the time the huge stalks matured, they had taken over half of my garden. Then they were infested with aphids (little white flies), and I had to throw them out withou t getting any Brussels sprouts. From now on I buy Brussels sprouts. The same goes for potatoes. They’re great if you have the space, but they take up you garden and you just get one batch per year. So some things are better left to farmers with big fields.

Seeds or plants? I like to grow from seeds when I can. It’s cheaper, and my daughters like to help me plant stuff. However, if you don’t plant things on time, or if they don’t come up, get a jump start and buy some stuff that’s already been started for you.

Experiment to see what works. I’ve learned over the past six years what will grow in my garden. I like to try one or two new things each year, but I go back to the stuff that has worked the best in the past, and I’ve got it down now. This year’s new stuff will be the squash mentioned above and scarlet runner beans which are climbing string beans that have pretty red flowers.

If you have kids, get them involved. My girls love to pick lettuce and tomatoes and now eat all sorts of vegetables that they otherwise might not. It’s easy to get them to try stuff when they helped grow it.

Don’t be afraid to trim and thin. This was my biggest fault when I started gardening. I wanted each seedling to grow and wouldn’t thin my beds enough. Plants grow better and are healthier when they have the proper space. So pull out the baby lettuces by the roots and wash them. This will allow the other lettuces to grow better. If plants are browning or diseased, try cutting away the bad part and see of the good stuff comes back.

Pests: That’s a whole other chapter…