The view of the farm and my tomatoes from my bedroom window.
Where I live in Queens, New York there is a mix of apartment houses and private homes. Many of the private homes have small backyards. Now when Queens had an immigrant population of Italians and later Greeks, many of these small backyards had fig trees, grapevines and gardens. For the past thirty years or so these first generation immigrants moved or grew too old to plant their gardens and new residents preferred flowers to eggplants. When I moved back to Queens from Brooklyn in 1995, the neighborhood where my parents lived from 1963 had begun to change again with an influx of new immigrants, this time from Asia. Slowly, I witnessed the return of vegetable gardens as these new residents began buying up the homes in our neighborhood.
I live in a six floor apartment house of about a hundred or so families. We have a strip of dirt bordered by a hedge in front of our building but it was never cared for in any significant way. About the same time I moved here, a Korean family moved down the hall from me. Because they had school age kids and I was still teaching at the time, we grew friendly enough to have short, polite conversations in the hallway. The mother of the family asked for and got the permission of the landlord to improve the strip of dirt which boarders the front and side of our building. Over the course of 3 or 4 years, she paid for and grew several bushes and flowers so that now, we have a very nice garden on the perimeter of the house. In return for all the work she put in improving the soil, buying and caring for the flowers and bushes,she was given permission to grow a vegetable garden in the thin strip of earth which separates the back of our building from the neighboring yards of private houses. This was an area I should explain, that was filled with junk, poison ivy, rocks and cement chunks. Somehow, this woman along with the help of her daughter and two other Korean neighbors have managed to turn this worthless strip of earth into a veritable farm! They cleared the poison ivy (at the expense of several rashes), dug out rocks and used them to form boarders, constructed raised beds, put in new soil and have used every available space to grow lettuces, greens, herbs, hot peppers, squash and eggplant. The garden/farm doesn't get that much sunlight, but these remarkable women have managed to use every inch of space to the best advantage. When I told her I wanted to grow tomatoes, she offered me a plot but I could see that there wasn't enough light available. That's when I got the idea of using my fire escape. Although it's on the same side as the "farm" (facing South East), it has the advantage of being on the third floor thus getting an hour or two more of sun. It should be enough. Burpee makes a hybrid that does well in containers, so although I would have preferred imported seeds from Italy, I'm using them. I will keep you informed of their progress. Also, I'm hoping the landlord doesn't find out and make me remove them.