Friday, April 12, 2013

Guest Post: Row House Gardening

My friend, Steve, has an awesome vegetable garden that he tends to every year and because he currently lives in a row home, I've become pretty interested in how he is so successful with it (I tried some of the veggies from last year & they were great!). He's taken the time to outline how he plants and tends to his garden throughout the warm months, and hopefully he will be back throughout the growing season to give us updates and tips!


Spring! Finally a chance to get outside and enjoy some warmer weather. That’s actually how I got started with my garden a few years ago. Being a transplant from Texas, where there are essentially nine months of summer followed by three months of not-summer, by mid-March I’m getting antsy to get outside and do SOMETHING. While March is generally too early to plant annuals and vegetables in Maryland, I can at least get the indoor part started and get to work on my planting areas outside (…errr, not that that’s actually happened yet).

Like many in Baltimore, my wife and I live in a pretty standard-sized row house with a small backyard. My planting area basically consists of an 8’x 4’ raised planter (which was super easy and very inexpensive to build even without any carpentry skills), a 7’x 11’ in-ground planter and about a dozen large plastic tubs which I use for everything from lettuce to carrots and radishes. The tubs are 10 to 20 gallon containers and if you know a landscaper, you can probably get them for free, as they’re commonly discarded after the trees or large shrubs which they contain are discarded. You might even ask at Lowe’s, Home Depot or a local nursery if they have any extra. Help keep some plastic out of a landfill and grow a plant in it instead!

One nice thing about container growing is that you don’t have to worry about weeding, one of the least fun parts of gardening. Three to four bags of garden soil will fill a 10-gallon container and usually they’re no more than $3.50 each. Considering the price (and crappy flavor) of grocery store tomatoes, you’ll have paid for your soil, seed (or plant) and container after you pluck your first set of tomatoes. Pictured below are some of my containers. These are a great size for bell pepper plants, or planting a bunch of smaller things like lettuces or radish. They’re also good because they’re deep enough to grow carrots or onion.

I start most of my non-herbs from seeds, and planted them indoors about three weeks ago. Tomatoes come up in about 10-14 days and hot/sweet peppers a week later. As you can see, my seed starting “equipment” is super-cheapo and it’s all you need. I scavenged everything you see here from the Lowe’s down the street. Just pick a weekend anytime in April, stop by and ask the garden center manager if you can have empty flower or veggie racks or little pots. At this stage, tomatoes will be ready for transplant in about a week and peppers a week or so later. I tend to start 3-5 seeds per little pot and keep the best one from each container (it’s about time to cull the herd…tomato genocide for the weak seedlings).

Below is a list of what I’m growing this year, in case you’re curious:
Herbs (in small half- to one-gallon containers on my deck): 
Rosemary (which will usually survive Baltimore winters)
Thyme (also very hardy, ours has been going four years now)

Tomatoes (in-ground planter):
Black Krim – Dark-topped tomato fading to brick red
Amish Paste – Roma-style pasting/saucing tomato
Orange Wellington – Bright orange with a mild, fruity taste
Mr. Stripy – Red and yellow striped tomato with a complex, tangy flavor
Marglobe – Fairly standard mid-sized red tomato

Cherry Tomatoes (in 20-gallon containers)
Super Sweet 100 – Huge number of red cherry tomatoes in big clumped bunches
Black Pearl – The cherry tomato version of Black Krim

Hot Peppers  (in the front row of the raised planter)
Big Guy Jalapeno Hybrid – Very large, moderately hot jalapeno
Poblano – Smoky hot heart-shaped pepper (dried, these are called ancho peppers)
Caribbean Red – A ridiculously hot strain of habanero. Beautiful red and orange fruits will melt your face

Other stuff:
Squash in the area between the planters
Sweet Bell Peppers in 10ish-gallon containers (which will hold two plants)
Sugar Snap Peas (in the back row of the raised planter, I’ll talk about how to build cheap supports for them later in the year)

I’ll try to get updates in to Ann Marie as things progress and feel free to email me ( with any gardening questions!

Steve is Texas transplant to Baltimore, Army veteran, amateur gardener, full time biology student, part time technical writer and collector of books and heavy metal music (it's not hoarding as long as they have value!). He lives in Parkville with his wife of almost one year, Melissa, who grudgingly puts up with his takeover of the backyard every year, an energetic pit bull named VooDoo and Gato the cat.