City Picker: Grow Tomatoes on your Porch, Patio or Deck

City Picker

A few years back, a friend raved about an Earth Box, a self-contained planting system for vegetables.  I’m not sure if they were hard to come by at the time, but I never stumbled across one in any of the garden centers I frequent, or I simply didn’t take the time to look.

Our raised beads spread out across the back of our house in past years, but they were too close together making it challenging to get around them without getting your foot caught between them.  When we refurbished our back yard this winter, we widened the path in front of the beds, to make room for our summer pumpkin vines.  We added gravel, since part of that area isn’t easily plant-able due to pipes, irrigation shut off valves, the electric box, etc.  It was a great place for a chair in the cooler months, with the sun reflecting heat off the side of the house.  Hoping to capture that trapped heat for our tomatoes this summer, I went looking for an Earth Box.  What I found instead was a City Picker, virtually identical in every way, but almost double in width.

City Picker’s are perfect for urban gardeners, since they are a fully contained system in a portable box.  The planting box comes with casters, a ventilation tray, a watering tube and plastic mulch.  You can roll it around your patio or deck to maximize sun, while at the same time containing the mess.  No need to worry about watering your downstairs neighbor!

Here is our setup:

1.5 CU FT. Organic Potting Mix

Dolomite Lime and Fertilizer

Fully assembled City Picker

Fill with potting mix to about two inches below the top
Add a thin layer of Dolomite

Organic Fertilizer:
Make a two-inch trough in the center of the box
Add three cups of organic fertilizer

Mound Potting Mix:
Cover fertilizer with mix, about one inch above the box

Plastic Mulch:
Cover with the elasticized plastic mulch
Clip in place with the enclosed binder clips

Cut Holes in Plastic Mulch:
Cut a hole for the irrigation pipe
Cut additional holes and plant seeds/seedlings

Ready to Grow

I’ve provided links for the Earth Box and the City Picker for feature comparisons.  Please let me know if you’ve tried one in the past, or if you plan to set one up this season.

Next House: Voodoo and Tasmanian Tigers

Garden nurseries and animal shelters have the same effect on my psyche: I want to bring everything (and everyone!) I see home.  I chant my “all things in moderation” mantra, and tell myself I can visit those plum trees and flowering succulents any time I want.   When possible, I stay out of animal shelters all together, since a steady stream of stray cats and the occasional dog make it to my door on their own.  I value the necessary work that our shelters provide, but find it disheartening to see so many animals in need of a good home.  Nurseries, on the other hand are always great fun.

My husband and I have a saying between us when we pine for something we unattainable: next house, code for it’s not going to happen.  So…in my next house, I’ll plant the following:

Ruby Clusters: Jewels for the Common Gardener

Tasmanian Tiger: Where the Wild Things Are

Voodoo: For my Tim Burton Inspired Fairy House

If you had the space and place, the time and the money, what would you grow?

Plants available at Almaden Valley Nursery in Silicon Valley.

The Plants are In!

Resident (Self-described) Hole Digger
My Husband, Mike

We’re sore and tired but content with the satisfaction that comes from an honest day’s work. It’s been a few years since we’ve planted for the better part of a day but we did it. Mike prefers sailing to gardening, but at the start of our marriage, he designated himself the resident hole-digger. Am I ever lucky!

The plants near the house went in quickly. The soil is free of roots and was easy to work. The challenge was the planting area under the neighboring pine. I cut away several surface roots before digging was under way, but the roots are invasive, in some cases two inches in diameter. We ended up tag-teaming the larger holes, digging a little, cutting the roots and then digging some more.

Getting Started

We made a quick run to the local Home Depot for redwood mulch, but underestimated by about 10%. Otherwise, the planting and mulching are done.

I can’t wait to get started on the vegetable beds!

Plant Placement

Putting Down Roots

Planting Area Adjacent to the Steps

Planting under the Living Room Window
Don't the plants look cozy under all that mulch?

Abutilons Along the Fence Line

View from the Corner of the House

Paradise Found

Plant Legend

Corner Near Steps:

Heuchera micrantha ‘Palace Purple’ Coral Bells
Liriope muscari “Variegata” Lilyturf
Phormium hybrid ‘Maori Sunrise’ New Zealand Flax
Hemerocallis hybrid ‘Evergreen Yellow’ Daylily

Under Window:

Azalea kurume hybrid “Hino crimson” Azalea
Campanula poscharskyana Serbian Bell flower
Heuchera micrantha ‘Palace Purple’ Coral Bells
Liriope muscari “Variegata” Lilyturf

Fence Line:

Abutilon hybridum ‘Flowering Maple’
Campanula poscharskyana Serbian Bell flower

Back Corner:

Campanula poscharskyana Serbian Bell flower
Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ Japanese Frost Grass
Hemerocallis hybrid ‘Evergreen Yellow’ Daylily
Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Nikko Blue’ Garden Hydrangea

Ready to Plant: Our Trip to Almaden Valley Nursery

Doug Reviews Our Order

The planting begins!  The stars aligned this weekend and we had the time and the weather to begin filling in all the planting spaces created earlier this year when we re-did the hard-scaping in our back yard.

We placed our order with Almaden Valley Nursery, a locally owned nursery and gift shop in San Jose.  Our friend Doug is a nurseryman there.  He pulled the order earlier in  the week, then loaded it into the van with my husband’s help.  Turns out we needed to make a couple of trips, but by late Saturday afternoon, all the plants were home and lined up on the back steps.

After this morning’s Easter egg hunt and a pancake breakfast, we got to work.  Details tomorrow, along with photos of our progress.

Talking Shop

Admiring the Fruit and Dreaming of Another Fruit Cocktail Tree

Soaking up Some Vitamin D

Tucked in Among the Plants in the Van

Plants: This Makes me so Happy

Almaden Valley Nursery is located at 15800 Almaden Expressway, San Jose, California.

Blooming Thursday: Where Have all the Flowers Gone?

Blushing Azaleas

Didn’t spring just arrive? According to my calendar, yes. My garden, however moves along at a different pace. Buds are forming on the berry vines, but everything else seems to be heading for the leafy stage of growth. Green is my favorite color so I’m not completely disappointed, but the contrast of pinks, purples, reds and golds is visually stunning. Only two small blooms remain on the Hardenbergia.  This time next week that spectacle of color will be a distant memory.  The Azaleas are popping in pinks and whites.  Soon they’ll flaunt a brilliant show of color.

Taking photographs each day is a rewarding experience.  I’ve bared witness to things in the garden I might have otherwise missed.  This time next year I’ll have a record for comparison.  Today I’m working on living in the moment.  Perhaps my garden is right on schedule and only now am I taking proper notice.

In order to hedge my bets, I think it’s time to visit Almaden Valley Nursery for some summer annuals.  I want to continue my Blooming Thursdays.

Hardenbergia about to close up shop

Magnolia Continues to Flower

Wildflower Holdover from Last Summer

Reading the Fine Print

When my nine-year-old son discovered Fruit Cocktail trees, he could talk of nothing else. I’d never heard of them till our neighbor shared her plans to plant an edible garden. For the uninitiated, a “fruit cocktail” is a multi-grafted fruit tree; one tree, four varieties of fruit.

These trees are a boon for suburban gardeners with tiny lots. Another plus is the harvest season. The fruits mature at slightly different times extending the bounty gradually over the season.

Last spring we had beautiful fruit, but we were ill-prepared for nature’s scavengers. The squirrels and rats picked the tree clean in a day. We’re more prepared this year and will “net the tree” as soon as the flowers begin to fruit.

I photographed the beautiful blooms today, then removed the identifying tags. Reading the fine print on the back of each one made me smile.

A few gems:

“Self-fruitful in most climates.”
“Excellent pollenizer”
“…some tartness near the skin.”
“Tangy when firm-ripe, sweetest when soft-ripe.”
“Reliable, heavy-bearing tree.”

Blooming Apricot

Blenheim Apricot: Dave Wilson Nursery

July Elberta Peach Bloom

July Elberta Peach

Santa Rosa Plum Bloom

Santa Rosa Plum Bloom

Fantasia Nectarine Bloom

Fantasia Nectarine

Ah, fertility!

We purchased our Fruit Cocktail at Almaden Valley Nursery (thanks Doug!)
Wholesaler: Dave Wilson Nursery