Notes from Zone 6b – growing glasswort and sorghum in a Brooklyn basement
March 22nd, 2011
02:15 PM ET
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Eatocracy's Managing Editor Kat Kinsman attempts to vegetable garden on a roof deck in Brooklyn, NY in USDA Hardiness Zone 6b. Feel free to taunt, advise or encourage her efforts as this series progresses.

I'm growing glasswort in my basement. Okay, technically, I am trying to germinate glasswort in my basement.

It's a dumb thing to do, but that doesn't seem to be stopping me. The stuff (also known as "sea beans" and "saltwort") pops up unbidden along saline-rich seacoasts and salt marshes and last I checked, my basement was host to neither. Or at least not since the Great Basement Flood of '10, and that was mostly sewer overflow. Yet, that's where I'm attempting to germinate a handful of seeds under grow lights in anticipation of warmer temperatures.

It would be a weird little victory, but I want it. In the face of chaos, both global and close to home, I garden. Hands in the dirt, grime under under the nails, food in the mouth. It's the natural order of things, it happens with or without my assistance, and occasionally asserting my place in the chain has brought me comfort.

Gardening is a deeply optimistic endeavor, regardless of the eventual outcome. It's striking an accord with the Earth for a period: I feed, water and tend to your care, and eventually you'll feed me. Deal?

But there's also something in me that seeks to subvert the system - toss a boulder in my own path. I have the luxury of not having to rely on my own gardening for all my sustenance (which is good, because I'd either perish or actually evolve into a husk cherry), so I set strange challenges and parameters. Can I force glasswort to start in my basement? Can I mimic snowmelt to germinate the wolfsbane (that one's not for eating - just in case of, you know, wolves...)? Will heirloom African Guinea Flint corn or Mennonite sorghum get lost in geographic translation to a roof deck in Brooklyn? Stevia seeds - why must you vex me?

These are problems I can wrap my head around. If they fail to thrive, little is lost - a speck of seed money, some trips with the watering can, a tiny bit of pride - but the desk was stacked against me anyway. If they live, if they flourish - I get to high-five the universe and then feed my friends.

For the record, here's what's in the dirt under grow lights in my basement thus far - hopefully they'll make it out to the roof deck. The tomatoes in the pictured packets come next. I have a few rules for myself - if there's an heirloom version available, go with that. Organic soil and compost, only - maybe a bit of fish fertilizer - but no chemical growing aids or herbicides. Dibs on growing space goes to things I can't easily find in a grocery store.

Come along for the dig, and feel free to share links to your own garden endeavors in the comments below. We may spotlight you in an upcoming feature.

Variety Producer Heirloom
Aunt Hettie's Stays Red Okra Victory Seeds Yes
Black Valentine Beans Southern Exposure No
Broad Windsor Fava Beans Southern Exposure No
Caraway Baker Creek Yes
Carciofo Romanesco (Artichoke) La Semiorto Sementi No
Cardoon Nichols Garden Nursery No
Chervil Page's Seeds Yes
Culantro Eryngium Page's Seeds No
Cumin Nichols Garden Nursery No
Dwarf Taylor Horticultural Beans Page's Seeds Yes
Edible Chinese Luffa Evergreen Y.H. Enterprises No
Erba Stella Franchi No
French Breakfast Radish Nichols Garden Nursery Yes
French Dinant Celery Nichols Garden Nursery No
Giant Prague Celeriac Victory Seed Co. No
Green Purslane Baker Creek Yes
Large Smooth Prague Celeriac Southern Exposure No
Purple Xi Su Perilla Baker Creek Yes
Red Burgundy Okra Seed Savers Yes
Roscano Liscari O Agretti (Glasswort) Bavicchi No
Salad Burnet Baker Creek Yes
Summer Savory Baker Creek Yes
Victoria Rhubarb Baker Creek Yes

Previously – Seed me, Feymour – getting started in your garden

soundoff (36 Responses)
  1. AlizaEss

    Glasswort! That's awesome! I've come across the plant before while randomly internet searching but wrote it off since it needs such a specific environment. Trying sorghum for the first time this year too, I've got about 20 plants and they look like they're doing well! Won't get a substantial amount but I think it would be awesome to try brewing beer with the seed. Photos of the sorghum, peanuts, and other first time crops on our brand-new farm in the heart of Baltimore City >

    June 22, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
  2. Island Vittles

    In addition to the regular spring plant (greens, herbs and root veg), we planted some jerusalem artichoke (sunchoke) tubers last week, and started our own little shiitake "farm" by inoculating 6 alder limbs - can't wait for the mushrooms to appear about a year from now! Theresa

    March 23, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
  3. Kim

    Kat I know you? If so this is Pennsylvania Kimmie...childhood friend!

    March 23, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
  4. Kim

    I'm so excited that gardening time is starting....My boyfriend and I just completed a green house to start early plant production that's attached to our little rancher off the master bedroom in PA. We've ordered seeds from a catalog and also picked up some from the local big box things will get started this weekend! It was such a pleasure to plan meals around the vegetables and herbs that were just growing around the house. And my extended family really appreciated the home-grown collards at Thanksgiving AND Christmas!! Plus he cans (I call him Peter Piper) we had beets, peppers and tomatoes all year. Gardening has become my favorite hobby (-;

    March 23, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
  5. Amy

    I was introduced to rainbow carrots and multi colored potatoes this past fall on a trip to the Adirondacks. Once back home I went to or called every produce stand, farmers market or organics store in 20 miles and found nothing. So I am waiting for my rainbow carrot seed, and potatoes to arrive to start them. I also have tomatoes, green peppers, yellow, purple and green beans, corn and cucumber seed to get started.

    The deck pots will have the usual of basil ( purple and reg) lemon and pineapple sage, oregano, thyme, rosemary, chives, parsley and maybe a bay tree. I cannot wait to get to play in the dirt again but sadly have another few weeks until its safe planting season.

    March 23, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
  6. srhx1605

    wow....i guess it pays to live in florida!! My garden is ½ way til harvest! However, I did start most everything indoors under flouros, then moved them up to 400w hps bulb for a couple days (to slowly get my plants used to the strong tropical sun. Everything has been in the ground outdoors for about 5 weeks. So far this year, I've got 4 different tomato varieties, turnips, radishes, beets, red/yellow onions, shallots, garlic, green/lima/pod beans, serrano/bell peppers, cucumber, zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant, okra, corn, artichoke, watermelon, swan lake melon, pumpkin, pineapple, cilantro, cinnamon/regular/sweet basil, catnip, and rosemary. I know there is more, but i think u get the hint.

    March 23, 2011 at 10:45 am |
  7. fob

    We will be planting our first garden this year. My parents are great gardeners, but my husband once told me that I can kill fake plants. Well, I'm going to give it a try anyway. We have an enourmous backyard and I would at least like to see some pumpkins growing back there. Going to plant some tomatoes and squash too and maybe some green beans. I will also be attempting my first compost pile as well. I figure they go hand in hand.

    @Kat- in last month's Reader's Digest they showed a picture of a garden growing in the back of a pick-up truck. Proof a garden can be grown anywhere!

    March 23, 2011 at 10:24 am |
    • Kat Kinsman

      I need to dig that up! Love it. Might it have been the King Corn guys?

      March 23, 2011 at 11:08 am |
      • faith

        Not sure, but it was the March issue. I said last month because I already have April's.

        March 23, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
  8. Plantmaps

    There is a nice interactive version of the USDA zone map for New York at

    March 23, 2011 at 8:08 am |
  9. Sara

    I had to choose "other because, while the plan for the garden is "its a big part of my diet," the harvest last year wasn't nearly as much as I'd envisioned. Half of the peppers I grew fit in the palm of my hand - simultaneously. But its not a "hobby" either.

    March 23, 2011 at 8:00 am |
  10. Brian Macker

    Here's a little rule of thumb that anyone can use to determine how much fossil fuel is being used to produce the food they are consuming (assuming zero government interference in the market like subsidies). If a food costs more then it's using more oil. Same goes for fuel. Ethanol costs more because it's using more resources.

    Growing food under lights consumes enormous quantities of fossil fuel. If you are doing it then it's for vanity and not to save the planet. Even when you include transportation a farmer can grow your food much more cheaply.

    March 23, 2011 at 7:33 am |
    • srhx1605

      easy there Brian....No one is talking about going from germination to harvest under six 1000w grow lights. Using a couple 40w fluorescent bulbs to get an early start is not "vanity". Not to mention, think of it this way, if you are able to start your seedlings under low watt lights early in the year, get them into the ground earlier and larger than usual, then you have a much better chance at a greater harvest, and possibly the ability to turn the crop over for a 2nd round of plants during the same growing season.

      March 23, 2011 at 10:35 am |
  11. AGeek

    As the outdoor growing season starts drawing to a close, I start herbs in the basement. A normal winter will see four types of basil, flat-leaf parsley, cilantro, and microgreens. Always fresh, frequently trimmed. This requires three 4'x18" shelves and six shop lamps. Nothing is crowded, everything is vertically arranged and takes minimal space.

    Once February arrives, the flowers and veggies are stared – geraniums, impatiens, tomatillo, tomatoes, and on. The ones requiring more time are started first, less time starts later. I'm near Rochester, NY so it's not wise to put plants out until early late April (if you're daring) or early May (safer). By the time nature is ready, I've got plenty of plants for our yard & garden – and plenty to give to friends and neighbors.'s cost me a pittance and I know the entire cycle for the plant has been free of nasty chemicals.

    March 23, 2011 at 7:28 am |
  12. Merlie

    Normally I'm an apartment dweller with no place to garden. I'm also not very inclined to deal with the tilling, the pest control issues, the clearing out, the fertilizing questions, etc. that goes with gardening. But my mother is a big gardener so I grew up around gardens, and I recently moved "home" as she is elderly and the caretaker of a disabled sibling. SO – I also help out with the garden, mostly with harvest and prep of food for canning and freezing. She, (we) can tomatoes, beans, pickles, applesauce, carrots and fruit juice. Beets and some tomatoes are frozen. Raspberries and cherries are frozen. Potatoes, cabbage, peas, radishes, broccoli, kohlrabi and leafy stuff is eaten fresh in mass quantities in season. Potatoes, onions, squash and garlic are stored as long as they last.
    We stick to pretty ordinary stuff. Our experiments with brussels sprouts, asperagas and lima beans among others have not worked out. Gotta grow what your soil and climate are best for I guess.
    It's nice – esp. the lovely tomatoes – but I long to go back to the apartment and the city green grocers.
    I don't understand why the author is trying to sprout things in her basement under a gro-light if she has a house. She'd do better with some sunny windows – assuming she's got 'em.
    City girl I may be – but in the event of the destruction of civilization I'll be able to buy survival with the gardening and preservation skills that my wanna-be farmer mother taught me. ;)
    Ah kin kill, pluck 'n butcha a cheecken too. *shudder*

    March 23, 2011 at 1:00 am |
    • Kat Kinsman

      "I don't understand why the author is trying to sprout things in her basement under a gro-light if she has a house. She'd do better with some sunny windows – assuming she's got 'em."

      That's the problem - not much sun, the way the house is set up. It's a row house in Brooklyn and while it's not dark, the exposures aren't what you'd get in a free-standing house. Once it's warm enough to use the roof deck, I can bring these outside but for the time being, the only windows that would work are ones where the dogs would knock it all down. life.

      March 23, 2011 at 1:21 am |
  13. Wannabe Gardener

    I would love to grow vegetables, but my children and I live in a hotel. We are currently homeless. We don't have a car to get to a community garden, either. It sure would help our food bill!

    March 23, 2011 at 12:47 am |
  14. The_Mick

    For the first time, this year I'm converting my veggie garden into raised beds. For the first time, I'm not in "improved" clay soil – I'm mixing 2/3 topsoil with 1/3 peat moss – so I decided to grow some root veggies that didn't do well in the clay like carrots. Shallots are expensive, so I'm growing them, too – for the first time. I'm also growing a bush version of summer squash in a tomato cage.

    March 22, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • Emmaleah

      I'm doing the straw layering and soil mix thing in my yard. I need to fill in the low corners so I figured I might as well make it worth my while.

      Shallots are a great idea. I'm doing onions and all my standards (peppers, squash, tomatoes, corn).

      March 22, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
  15. heath

    I'm in Queens & do a combo of container and ground gardening. I've had pretty good success with grapes, black raspberries, blue berries, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet & ornamental peppers, chives, cilantro, basil, onions, rhubarb, and sunflowers. Every year I try a few new things, and if they work, I do them again the next year. This year I'm attempting cranberries, pumpkins, gooseberries, & Juneberries (along with everything else that's proven to work).

    I've got a few dozen more plants on my wish list to include Flying Dragons, Marsh mellows and hopefully a small aquaponics system with Tilapia (which I'm hoping to have in place next spring).

    March 22, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
    • Kat Kinsman

      Juneberries – I know not what these are! Cranberries are a bold choice. Keep us posted.

      March 22, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
    • Emmaleah

      Try French carrots for container gardening! They are perfectly round balls like beets, so they grow in shallow soil. And, they're so tasty. :)

      March 22, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
    • Margret

      In Queens?! I'm way impressed. I live in N. Fla and feel downright lazy now. We have the luxury of gardening year-round. In spring, taters, maters,beans, squash etc. In fall–brococli, lettuces, spinach, chard, beets. I've thought about tilapia, but elected to try chickens this year. Good luck!

      March 23, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
  16. Jdizzle McHammerpants

    I'll give you one guess as to what my garden consists of.

    March 22, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
    • AleeD

      LOL!! ....something green perhaps?

      March 22, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
      • Jdizzle McHammerpants

        No. Dirt, dummy!

        March 23, 2011 at 9:59 pm |
  17. dnfromge

    I have limited sunny space in my yard (lower deck) – so I only have room for herbs, jalapenos and tomatoes. Would love to add to the garden but not at the expense of the trees!

    March 22, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • heath

      You should search for fruits/veggies that grow in the shade (don't forget about mushrooms either). There's a LOT of them, most I'd never heard of until I started digging (get it? ha). You don't usually find shade fruits/veggies in grocery stores because shade=smaller yields=less money for the farmer, so you have to do some research. Think about it. Our planet didn't evolve as a big open farm field with no trees. There's TONS of edibles that grow in the shade.

      March 22, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
      • Jess

        Examples? My fiancee and I recently bought a house and I'm itching to get gardening, but as the entire yard is in shade I'm a little stymied.

        March 23, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
  18. Local Snitch

    Yo,Ossifer! That white chick be tryin' to grow some OH-Ray-Gun-O down in dat basement. Better check it out!

    March 22, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
    • laughing

      You're thinking like me! Waiting for the narcs to bust in and sieze the arugula

      March 23, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
  19. Amayda

    Wow, I will be very interested to hear what you are able to succeed with! I do a vegetable and herb garden in lower michigan. I love growing our own food. I stick more with the basics however, snap peas, pole beans, radishes, two varieties of tomatoes, 2-3 squashes, mint, basil, cilantro, oregano, lavendar, cultivated wild strawberries (that's my husband's doing) onions and shallots. This year I am going to try broccoli as well. I love it. I even do all the rototilling (not the little bitty ones either). I may even try lettuces this year, however that may be a little too much on top of everything else. :)

    March 22, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • ITfarmer

      You should try out some Swiss Chard. It's a leafy vegetable like spinach, but it tastes different, and will grow almost year round if you use row cover. I'm in Zone 5, NW PA, and I'm planning on a Chard harvest this weekend. Have a look:

      March 23, 2011 at 11:17 am |
      • Amayda

        Thanks, I am in zone 5 as well (5b) I will look that up when I get home (darn internet blocks at work!). I like swiss chard, that would be fun to be able to grow, I have never done cold framing before though, that is why I haven't tried lettuces. :)

        March 23, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
  20. Laura from Remember the Pudding

    My vanity crop this year is quinoa. Portland, OR, is hardly the mountains of Bolivia, but I figured, why the heck not? Worst case scenario, I'm out $3.50 and some water.

    March 22, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • Kat Kinsman

      First of all – great name! Second – dying to hear how that works out!

      March 22, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
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