Now is the perfect time to start vegetable, flower and herb seeds in a sunny window indoors. You’ll get a jump-start on the growing season. You’ll save money starting from seed rather than buying transplants. You’ll grow what you like, whether heirloom, organic, or culturally-relevant crops you can’t find at the grocery store. One of my students, a Harlem community gardener, brought fuzzy cotton seeds to Bronx Green-Up’s Grow More Vegetables class. She’ll grow cotton to demonstrate the agricultural heritage of her ancestors.
Along with juicy-ugly tomatoes, fresh herbs, and those peppers that made the best hot sauce, gardeners should harvest the seeds from their most prized plants of the growing season. In my Bronx community garden plot, one basil plant is reserved for setting seed, while the others are for eating with Arthur Avenue smoked mozzarella and in-season heirloom tomatoes.
Saving seeds carries on the work of our ancestors, who selected plant varieties using excellent foresight—and their taste buds. An ancient practice dating back to the Stone Age, the first saved seeds were part and parcel in man’s transition from hunter-gatherer to farmer. As plants began to be domesticated, varieties were selected for their flavor, beauty, resilience, and abundance.
A school garden in summer can face some dire conditions, with students and staff fleeing the campuses of our local learning institutions at the hottest, driest time of year. As Bronx youth splash around the hydrants on their blocks, the peppers and cabbage they planted in spring try to withstand drought compete with the mugwort and crabgrass. Well, the JFK High School Environmental Club has just done something about that.
As Community Horticulturist for Bronx Green-Up, the community garden outreach program of The New York Botanical Garden, Sara Katz works alongside resident stewards of the borough’s community and school gardens and urban farms. She is also a hobbyist beekeeper at Taqwa Community Farm.
A message one frigid morning in early spring, left in a fine British accent: “Hello, this is Jane Selberg from PS 105. I’m calling because our school received a grant to build a garden. We would really appreciate any advice or resources you might be willing to contribute. We’d like to use the garden to teach the children about pollinators and wildlife, and plant native plants to attract butterflies and things.”
I smiled when I heard that one on the Bronx Green-Up line. Days before, we were offered 2,000 native plants for an upcoming public workshop we do annually with Butterfly Project NYC. The plants themselves were particularly noteworthy: castaways from construction of the new Native Plant Garden, which opened on May 4th at NYBG.
In a bright schoolyard near Pelham Parkway, in the Northern Bronx, the concrete has a colorful maze painted on it, a mural on the ground. This is where I came to meet Jane Selberg and, well, most of her immediate family: two blond daughters and their husbands, all yanking out weeds in a long brown stretch of garden-to-be, about a hundred feet long and four feet wide.