This 2020 season, I began a project of cultivating peppers and lettuce. In the past, I had always focused chiefly on ornamentals, since in such a small space it can be hard to make growing vegetables worthwhile. I don’t want to care for a plot all year, and then get just one salad out of it!

Calendula, nasturtium, and sweet pea blossoms

As such, I started three types of lettuce: frisee, romaine, and butter lettuce. For peppers, I am growing small Thai chilis (also known as bird’s eye chilis), jalapeños, cayennes, serranos, and habaneros. Although I had begun these seedlings at home in February before the pandemic set in, I am especially excited about getting a robust crop of Thai chilis, as during the pandemic I set about learning how to cook Thai food from scratch. The Thai chilis are a key ingredient in many dishes and curry pastes, and are one of the main reasons why Thai food has a reputation for heat. For the other peppers, I make an annual batch of hot sauce, and am hoping to expand production this year so that I can send jars of it to friends and families as a gift. Does anyone remember those Pace salsa commercials from the 1980s where a group of cowboys sitting around a fire scoff at salsa “made in New York City?” Well, my hot sauce is not joke!

I always grow herbs, as well. This year, I started two varieties of basil, cilantro, thyme, oregano, and lavender. The cilantro started flowering almost before I could plant it, and then promptly died. Similarly, I planted the lavender seedlings into the box perhaps too early, and they have since departed. However, in keeping with the Thai theme, I have rooted some lemongrass stalks and am excited to get them planted once they are more vigorous! I’ll do the same with some cilantro from the Union Square Farmer’s markets — the cilantro root tuber is a key ingredient in southeast Asian cuisine, but it is also easy to start new cilantro plants from the root tuber. And I am curious about how galangal will grow in a raised bed in New York. Coincidentally, GreenThumb gave us some flats of Thai basil during the spring plant giveaway, and these have also been quite a boon for my project!

Although I have expanded into food production, I would be sad if I didn’t grow a least some flowers! As in previous years, I have a stand of orange and yellow calendula thriving at the front of my plot, complemented by a group of purple heliotropes which are just opening up in the summer heat. Years ago I planted borage, as well, and can always count on its return every spring. The small but flashy pink and violet flowers are a traditional garnish for the British summer cocktail Pimm’s cup, and I’ve been having my share of those lately! Also doing double duty as an ornamental and as a food crop are a small stand of nasturtiums. Their vivid blossoms and unusual UFO-like leaves make delicious and vibrant additions to any salad.

As usual, some plants “volunteer” each year, or I adopt an extra seedling or two that a fellow gardener cannot use. This year, my plot has been enriched with the addition of some heirloom tomatoes, peas, and beans through this channel. The first peppers, tomatoes, and peas are just ripening, and I can’t wait to start cooking!

My bed on 7 May 2020, shortly after finishing planting
The bed one month later: 13 June 2020
Pink and violet borage blossoms, late June 2020
Nasturtium leaves and blossoms, July 2020

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