I grew up in the 1970s in Dallas, Texas, at a time when processed food was the hot new thing (think Funyuns, Cap'n Crunch and Velveeta, and the list goes on...). So you can imagine what I must have been surrounded by foodwise.
Fortunately, my mom was a foodie at heart—she baked loaves of bread, cultured her own tangy yogurt, and not only grew a good-sized vegetable garden, but maintained a healthy compost pile. She was no doubt considered "weird" for the time and the place, and I for one have never stopped appreciating her weirdness.
My mom's garden was really sweet, and gave me a whole new appreciation of fresh vegetables as a kid. I remember once she grew a cucumber that was nearly as tall as my younger brother. We were in awe. I also remember stealing plenty of tomatoes, fresh off the vine and warm from the sun. And I still think that there is probably no better thing in the world that you can eat than a freshly-plucked tomato at the peak of ripeness.
Up until now, I haven't really been in a place where I could easily grow my own vegetables. So, a few weeks ago, on a whim, I decided to buy a few half wine barrels and start my own urban garden. I managed to find 4 barrels for only $20 each with free delivery on craigslist . What a steal! Finding the soil and then lugging it up our steep flight of stairs to the front of our house wasn't quite as easy, but somehow we managed.
I have to admit I went a little overboard and bought 9, yes NINE, tomato plants and planted 3 in each barrel (I'm saving one barrel because my mom is bringing me cranberry beans to plant this weekend). If they actually work out, I'll be swimming in tomatoes, but that's ok. I love them. Especially plucked right off the vine.
How to Make An Urban Tomato Garden
1 half wine barrel (make sure it has a few holes drilled into the bottom)
A warm, very sunny spot
About 6 large handfuls of large pebbles or rocks or broken terra cotta pots
2.5 cubic feet of good-quality, preferably organic, soil
.5 cubic feet of compost
1/4 to 1/3 cup organic vegetable plant food
2 or 3 tomato plants (I chose brandywine, early girl, beefsteak, roma, and sweet 100s)
A tomato cage
A hose for watering
1. Put the wine barrel in your sunny spot. Perch the wine barrel atop your 3 bricks so it's stable and not wobbly.
2. Get all your ingredients gathered round and put on your gardening gloves.
3. Cover the bottom of the wine barrel evenly with the pebbles.
4. Add enough soil to fill the barrel about 2/3 full. Water the soil and mix it around with your hands.
5. Add the compost and more soil, and mix them all together with your hands to make a nice, rich base for your tomatoes.
6. Water the soil again, and mix together.
7. Sprinkle the plant food over the soil and mix it in.
8. Place the tomatoes on the soil in the spot you want to plant them. Try to position them so they are evenly spaced from one another, not too close to the outer edge or the center.
9. Dig a little hole for each tomato under the spot you placed them. Remove the tomato plant from it's container (gently!) and (gently!) loosen it's roots.
10. Place the tomato plant lovingly into its hole and pat the soil around it so it feels all snug and tucked in. Water the plants again.
10. Position the tomato cage so the tomato plants can grow up and around it. You might have to tie them as they start. Make sure to water them, not too much and not too little. And give them lots of love and care, and hopefully you will get loads of flavorful, succulent, juicy tomatoes.