Notes from Zone 6b - Tubers on the roof
June 22nd, 2011
10:00 AM 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.

This may seem like small potatoes to you, but I managed to grow some spuds on my own at home. On a roof deck. In Brooklyn.

I know I shouldn't be admitting this in public, but I'd honestly had no idea how potatoes...happen. Sure, I'd seen seed potatoes at the garden center and had a vague memory of an elementary school project involving sprouting eyes. I pieced together that they need the soil scrubbed from their skin, and that there's some sort of blight-prone leaf, but the mechanics of tater gestation had somehow escaped me.

I turned, as I often do, to Twitter to ask, "I have pretty potatoes with eyes. Forgive naive question, but I can pop those in the (heavily composted) dirt to grow, right?" Moments later, the hive mind confirmed: jam them in the dirt, and eventually, voila! Potatoes.

Chop, chop and up the stairs to my little second story farm on the roof of the kitchen. I stuck the knobby segments into a planter mounded with compost-chunked dirt, then heaped that with supplemental rabbit poop - because I have that sort of thing laying around - gently uprooted some tomato volunteers that had sprung up (nightshades can spread disease amongst each other) and then proceeded to feel a little bit stupid.

Don't potatoes require, like, barrels? Or possibly hillocks? And heaven forfend I accidentally expose the wrong parts to sun while the plants are developing, as that can lead to toxic, green awfulness and possibly zombie attacks and poltergeists. I should mind my own agrarian business, stick to radishes, lettuce and creepy, fuzzy cucumbers and leave the tater making to the pros at Ore-Ida.

But mostly, I forgot about the plants for a couple of months. Yes, leaves shot out from thick green stalks, but I just assumed the tubers were taunting me for my hubris. Weren't there supposed to be vines or something? Still, I watered and tossed more rabbit manure on the pile. I'd jammed some sprouted shallots into the planter as well, and figured an extra trowel of TLC couldn't hurt.

And then a funny thing happened. Just the other day, bleary-eyed and bone-tired after a red-eye home from Colorado, I stumbled onto the roof deck, aching to reconnect with the garden I'd been more than half a country away from for far too long. In my absence, several tomato plants had begun to fruit, the marshmallow, erba stella and fenugreek burst forth from their enameled steel pots, the vast majority of the radishes (French Breakfast, China rose and daikon, if you're keeping score) had bolted in the heat and...shoot.

Despite an intensive misting in an organic pyrethrum, an troop of ants had methodically gnawed the tender, green skin from the central stalk of one of the largest potato plants. The leaves had begun to yellow and curl and I slumped forward in exhaustion and defeat. Why had I even entertained such folly? Best to cut my losses and free up valuable real estate for more idiot-proof plant life. I slumped forward, grasped the plant and wrenched it from the soil.

By God, there were potatoes attached to the roots. Not the gnarled little chunks I'd so naively chucked into the dirt two months prior - but two fully-formed, red-skinned, egg-sized spuds that would look right at home in a basket at Brooklyn's Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket or in my husband Douglas' stunning (and apparently controversial) potato salad. It seems that tubers grow between the seed chunk and the plant above. When the leaves have had their fill of sunshine, the energy is channeled down into the plant, and the roots absorb nutrients from the soil. The tubers - essentially storage roots - swell into the starchy orbs we mash, fry, boil, bake and eat by the bushel.

This had all taken place under cover of manure on my own little urban farm, a story up from street level. Blame it on the jet lag or lack of sleep, but I started to tear up a little bit.

My garden is never going to feed the world; I may end up only getting a few doll-sized salads after all this care and time and hauling of soil and water. But for the moment - I grew potatoes on my roof in the middle of New York City. And that's pretty spud-tacular.

Previously - Notes from Zone 6b – eat shoots and leaves and The best potato salad we've ever eaten

soundoff (59 Responses)
  1. Lauren Vallis

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    April 27, 2013 at 1:16 am |
  2. indio

    Congrats on the potatoes!! it is so satisfying to grow your own food and know that it is only covered in nitrogen rich rabbit manure and not slathered in pesticides. Also, make sure that manure has definitely composted so you don't have a follow on story about e.choli.

    June 22, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
  3. sharcc

    What an awesome story! Those are probably the two best tasting potatoes the author will ever eat. Gardening teaches us so much. There is nothing like fresh vegetables from the garden. It is hard work but it is so worth it. I love coming home after a hard day in the office and spending some time out in my garden. The stress of the day just melts away.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  4. AmyLou

    Awesome to hear! I myself have started a rooftop veggie garden this year... it's tough with blazing summer heat!

    June 22, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
  5. Jerv@Kat

    Great read. Glad you are having success with your garden and thanks for the update.

    June 22, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
  6. Bailes24

    Loved the article, congrats on the spuds and thanks for the giggle and the education, I had no idea either :)

    June 22, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  7. Trish

    You need to compost the rabbit poop. Just throwing raw poop on anything is dangerous. I hope you don't get ecoli.

    June 22, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
    • Kat Kinsman

      Rabbit poop can be added directly to garden soil because they're herbivores, but I do compost.

      June 22, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
  8. Slr@Kat

    As well you should have felt proud of your little spuds. It's magic that they could grow in the air up there, never mind all the other obstacles! Personally, I think the rabbit manure helped, but that's because I'm biased. Keep up the good work, and you may start the next NYC trend...

    June 22, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
  9. Mare@Kat

    Yea!!! Congratulations! I wish I could grow potatoes, but the soil in my yard isn't right. I'll trade you some potatoes for some tomatoes and asparagus! :)

    June 22, 2011 at 11:44 am |
  10. JBJingles@Kat

    Congrats! Those spuds look great...wishing I could grow something, but too many critters visit my back yard. I'm lucky to keep basil, thyme, and cilantro alive for 2 weeks.

    June 22, 2011 at 11:17 am |
  11. Gina Jackson

    I'm trying my hand with a "potato box" this year as space is a premium for me even though I have a large yard. In essence you start with a wooden box that can drain, fill it with soil and your potato plants. As they grow you add soil, and more box sides, so you're forcing the plants to grow UP. In this way you'll have many potatoes on fewer plants. Sounds good in theory, we'll have to see if it works in practice! =} Nice taters BTW!

    June 22, 2011 at 9:50 am |
    • AleeD, Thread Dominatrix

      "... my hand with a 'potato box' "

      Must ... use ... control ... this is a ... family .... thread.

      June 22, 2011 at 10:18 am |
  12. Patrick J.

    LOL! I think you have to be a gardener to care!

    June 22, 2011 at 9:43 am |
  13. MATT

    Ok, moving along then...

    June 22, 2011 at 9:19 am |
  14. Nelson

    Isto só mostra o quão afastadas estão as pessoas da terra e do cheiro a m*rda. Não saber como nascem as batatas é o mesmo que não saber que os ovos são cagados pelas galinhas ou que o leite sai das mamas das vacas ou que uma criança sai pela c*na da mãe. Ainda assim é uma bela história. If you don't understand a word, don't worry and move along.

    June 22, 2011 at 9:02 am |
    • Truth@Nelson

      Tôi nghĩ rằng có quá nhiều người như bạn trên blog này và tôi thực sự muốn bạn sẽ đi xa và chết. Trong trật tự.

      June 22, 2011 at 9:43 am |
      • Nelson

        Tôi sẽ không nói nhiều. Tôi đoán tôi bị hiểu lầm. Được tốt.

        June 22, 2011 at 10:18 am |
      • Truth@Nelson

        Cam on.
        Tam Biet.

        June 22, 2011 at 10:56 am |
  15. spuds mcshutit

    That picture looks like a medical school textbook of dissected testicles.

    June 22, 2011 at 9:00 am |
  16. laura

    As I sat here at my computer a mere few yards from my own two thriving gardens in Ohio, I realized once again how important it is to teach "earth science" or in the real world' farming skills" to children. the magic of a growing blossoming fruiting plant is not to be taken lightly, nor is the food that is thereby produced. In this age where so many lack both the food and the knowledge to grow it, we should all do our part and insist that reading, writing and math are not all the basics that all children must learn. I don't know why more "earth science" classes are not taught on the roofs of schools or in the adjoining empty lots one so often sees in the city. It can even be taught in large gardening pots. It's called container gardening.

    June 22, 2011 at 8:56 am |
  17. zaphed

    I believe the ones who put this guy down must be part of the american idiotic fat/obese ignorant majority which is bringing this country back to the dark ages. Carry on fatios.

    June 22, 2011 at 8:50 am |
    • RichardHead

      Are you related to Zamfir because you both BLOW!

      June 22, 2011 at 8:56 am |
      • Ms. Grammar


        June 22, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
  18. Keeto

    Grow them on my desk in plastic bags filled with Mirical Grow Soil and keep them moist.. just harvested our "New" Potatos. Will be harvesting 2 more times, we have 4 more bags, 2 for a 120 day harvest and 2 for a 150 day harvest.. Nothing like fresh!

    June 22, 2011 at 8:21 am |
    • Keeto

      DECK not Desk sorry! LOL

      June 22, 2011 at 8:22 am |
      • Jerome Howard

        I was just going to comment that you must have a pretty cool job to be able to grow potatoes on you desk!

        June 22, 2011 at 8:33 am |
      • Bailes24

        LMAO, I was like actually picturing a desk with bags on it and was like this chick/dude is CRAZY

        June 22, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
  19. Scott

    I think it is a great story. I remember as a kid I use to grow potatoes naturally learned from a school project. I had 10 brothers and sisters and I remember how they all thought I was nut's. It was so much work, as you mentioned. But when my mother made potato salad one afternoon (with my potato's) , everyone loved them and I was like a hero. I just sat smiling through the entire dinner, so proud of myself. I can't imagine a different scenario for you even as an adult. I loved this story and the memories in invoked for me. Thank you.

    June 22, 2011 at 8:11 am |
  20. C. Smythe

    hey fella, this likely wasn't written with you in mind . . . kinda like a chick flick that you suffer through SILENTLY out of respect for your woman . . . dig?

    June 22, 2011 at 8:11 am |
    • Blithering Moron

      HA! Dig! ...cause you have to dig up potato's, right?

      June 22, 2011 at 9:10 am |
  21. Amayda

    Great job Kat! I have grown romaine for the first time this year. Its wonderful. My garden however took quite a beating from a storm we had last night. A tomato and a broccoli plant was lost, as were all of my sunflowers :( ah well, maybe they will surprise me and be sprung back up by the time I get home tonight. :)
    Anyways, great job! I can't believe the amount of trolls there are around eatocracy. Too much negativity.

    June 22, 2011 at 8:09 am |
    • Brad

      Guess their are a lot of angry miserable people in the world. Oh well, better them then us :)

      June 22, 2011 at 9:18 am |
  22. Yea

    I agree...

    June 22, 2011 at 8:08 am |
  23. NC Rooftop Farmer

    I just did this as well on my rooftop in North Carolina. Too cool!

    June 22, 2011 at 8:06 am |
  24. Shocked in Florida

    I'd like to try planting potatoes in my king-sized bed. It might be kind of filthy, but think of the benefits. I could have a bed of potatoes right in my own bedroom. Of course, I'd have to shower liberally every morning, but I do that anyway. Why I could grow potatoes all year long! I wonder if my wife will agree to let me do it. Hmmm....

    June 22, 2011 at 8:00 am |
    • Jerv

      WTH!? LOL!

      June 22, 2011 at 8:06 am |
  25. The Small Town Gardener

    Yes! Food is not magic! Congratulations for starting to rip that particular veil from your eyes. So exciting to see people growing veg, eggs, honey etc... in urban settings over the last few years – not only better for you, but connects you to your outside space. Enjoy the harvest!

    June 22, 2011 at 7:55 am |
    • RichardHead

      I tried growing eggs once but they never panned out.

      June 22, 2011 at 8:05 am |
      • JohnDorian

        @RichardHead....Beat me to it!

        June 22, 2011 at 8:20 am |
    • The Bees Knees

      I tried growing honey once but I couldn't get those damn bees to sprout.

      June 22, 2011 at 9:13 am |
  26. Thread Police@DaeQwon

    If you don't care, then don't comment. Duh. Be a nice knuckle-dragger and stfu.

    June 22, 2011 at 7:47 am |
  27. Usaywha?

    I thought potatoes grew in ears? At least that is what Iwas told when I was a kid... "your ears are so dirty you could grow potatoes in them"

    June 22, 2011 at 7:46 am |
    • QTip

      Huh,What's he say,,What'd he say?

      June 22, 2011 at 7:48 am |
  28. Raven

    Outstanding! It's great to see someone on the road to self sufficiency. Screw Monsanto!

    June 22, 2011 at 7:45 am |
  29. Chris

    Fantastic Job!! fill up the whole roof.....people in the hot concrete city will look at your green lush garden as a little bit of paradise. ENJOY!

    June 22, 2011 at 7:41 am |
    • AleeD

      Roof top gardens are cooler for the building in terms of energy use, too. GoodOnya!

      June 22, 2011 at 7:44 am |
    • Joe

      No, you don't want to fill up the whole roof. At least not with soil. It probably wasn't designed for that kind of weight, I'm sure. Urban gardens are heavy. That's why architects are being recruited to design buildings differently to allow for green rooftops. Go with hydroponics with a lot of the plants and you can greatly reduce the amount of weight. You also use a lot less water. Or, for the potatoes you could actually use straw. Then filling the roof might not be so bad.

      June 22, 2011 at 8:28 am |
      • Snoop

        Hydoponics are waaayyyy better fo shizzle.

        June 22, 2011 at 9:12 am |
  30. Karen

    Congratulations! That is so awesome, I love it.

    June 22, 2011 at 7:32 am |
  31. Ted Nugent

    I think this is great, but it's been done for decades. Kid's pools used as gardens, trash bags used as gardens, stacks of old tires, etc. Rooftop Gardening is not new.

    June 22, 2011 at 7:30 am |
    • Karen

      Not the point of the editorial, Cat Scratch.

      June 22, 2011 at 7:36 am |
    • Frank

      Don't be a hater Teddy...

      June 22, 2011 at 7:42 am |
    • The Oldfield

      It may not be new, but to the millions of ignorant – this could be a blessing in disguise.

      June 22, 2011 at 7:42 am |
      • patsybronx

        I'm with you! I never knew you could do this, and now I'm inspired to try!

        June 22, 2011 at 8:52 am |
    • laura

      Ted, I believe the important point of this story is that she tried something that was new to her, and learned along the way several important lessons. I just wish our children in the schools could go back and have school gardens like they did in the 30's and 40's. Those kids learned important lessons in self sufficiency and dedication our kids lack today.Try reading the old farmer's bulletin on school gardens, published by the dept of agriculture. (they used to do lots of good work that way).

      June 22, 2011 at 9:04 am |
  32. Mr. PotatoHead

    We don't care about YOU either so move along troll before we potato poop on your head.

    June 22, 2011 at 7:28 am |
    • Karen


      June 22, 2011 at 7:33 am |
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