City Dirt

Introducing City Dirt

By • January 10, 2012 • 102 Comments

Starting today, Amy Pennington -- urban farmer, founder of GoGo Green Garden, and author of Urban Pantry and Apartment Gardening -- will be writing a biweekly column for FOOD52 on how to start growing your own food, no matter how tiny your garden-to-be is.

Read on for how to get growing!

amy pennington  container garden

- Amy Pennington

I spent the cold winter morning staring out at all of my container plants from the warmth and safety of my Seattle apartment trying to determine how best to ‘introduce’ myself to you. On the other side of the sliding glass door sits my faltering plants – their leaves turning dry and brown, likely due to under-watering more than the recent chill. Embarrassing, really, as I grow food for a living. While I love each of those edible plants dearly, winter renders me lazy and neglectful after a long season of gardening. I am tired.
 
I am an urban farmer. I grow food for people in their city backyards, front yards, side yards, you name it: any patch of land in which I can persuade food to grow. And by food, I mean greens, roots, fruits, herbs, flowers, and more.  I started growing food in other people’s back yards many years ago, as a weekend hobby. Eventually, my environmental idealism combined with my passion for food and inspired my business, GoGo Green Garden. I build plant and tend edible gardens for city folk. Best job ever. With GoGo I get to dig around in the dirt, plant seeds, and watch food grow.

Additionally, I’m a food writer and contribute columns to some local magazines and wrote a cookbook, Urban Pantry. (You may recall me getting my ass kicked by Frankies in the 2010 Piglet Tournament?!) I use the gardens for inspiration and write about what is in season, often turning to preservation as a tool to extend the harvest. The gardens are constantly dictating what I cook.

urban pantry  apartment gardening

The irony here is that I live in a small one bedroom apartment, so I don’t have a garden plot to call my own. I make do with what I have; in my case, an east-facing deck that gets the first rays of morning sun. Over time, I have overcrowded this tiny 75-square-foot space with pots, containers, hanging baskets, window boxes, and more. I’ve been forced to figure out a production schedule using only containers and through years of trial and error have it pretty dialed in.

My hope is to inspire people to eat a broader range of food and flavors than they are used to. I also want to evoke a sort of small-scale self-sufficiency in the daily lives of urbanites. The end goal is to have a prolific garden that both inspires and influences what we cook indoors.

In this new column, I will offer biweekly projects for anyone wanting to grow food at home – be it on a stretch of backyard or a pot on a balcony. Posts will be project based (like, “How & Why to Start Seeds”) and then have sub-sections of instruction for both back yard and container environments.

The concepts will follow the seasons so you’re not left wondering what you should be doing NOW. (We’ll also have a side bar addressing regional zones, so you have a quick reference for the climate in which you live.) Consider this your go-to guide for lessons in urban farming from a girl who has had to make her imperfect conditions work. My favorite photographer, Della Chen, will take instructional photos of gardens along the way so you have a rad visual guide to follow as well.

And of course, I want your questions! The goal is to get each of you food lovers engaged in growing your own food. It’s quite simple, really, and it opens up a world of flavors that you otherwise cannot find conventionally. (When is the last time you saw Tangerine Sage at the grocery?) So, mark your calendars, sharpen your garden forks and stay tuned.

First up? Figuring out what the hell to grow. Having a clear vision is a great place to start.

Photos by Della Chen

 

Jump to Comments (102)

Comments (102)

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7 months ago Benjamin

Great seo help, much appreciated! We will blanket seed beginning, winter planting and all the more as the season and year advances. The segment runs each other Tuesday, so stay tuned! Meanwhile, have you ever acknowledged growing? It's an incredible winter time developing venture.

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11 months ago SunBunny

I've just started growing tomato plants and the bugs have been loving it too! What are some plants that deter mites from coming to the tomato plants that I can gather around them?

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over 1 year ago Josefclare

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over 2 years ago Carole H

I have been gardening for years but have been stymied by the lack of sun in my urban back yard. We have several gorgeous maple trees but I just cannot get tomatoes to do well with so little sun. i look forward to this column.

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over 2 years ago Amy Pennington

Carole, did you see this weeks post on tracking your sun?! Will be a good guide for what you CAN grow successfully.

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over 2 years ago Jay Geneske

This is quite exciting indeed. I recently moved to a new apartment in Manhattan with an east-facing deck. Just ordered a bunch of seeds and can't wait to get started.

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over 2 years ago debbie pond

Looking forward to your article. I am mentoring a homeschool class this semester. The big project is to grow something. Anything, anywhere. They have heard a lecture on soil and this week it was on intensive gardening. This will be a great reference site.

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over 2 years ago bmallorca

What a great addition to the Food52 site! Was negotiating for a raised bed last season, and with your inspiration it might happen now! I hope you will include suggestions for "part-time" gardeners; those of us with limited time to play in the dirt. Looking forward to your first column!

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over 2 years ago Amy Pennington

Hello! You know, if you do it right the first time, you actually don't need to spend much time in the garden outside of daily watering, which is time consuming. Unless you invest in automatic drip system!

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over 2 years ago bmallorca

What a great addition to the Food52 site! Was negotiating for a raised bed last season, and with your inspiration it might happen now! I hope you will include suggestions for "part-time" gardeners; those of us with limited time to play in the dirt. Looking forward to your first column!

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over 2 years ago Peggio

Oh, I am SO excited to see your new column!
We have a small raised bed (8x16) that we have had some success with growing peas, root vegetables, herbs & tomatoes. We live in the Northeast with very little sun during the winter but I would LOVE to get some tips on how to start growing indoors for the winter. because I go through withdrawal after the last of the root vegetables have been harvested in the Fall.
Any & all ideas about how to have some homegrown winter success in the Northeast is welcome. I'm going to check out all the links here in the comments section & use my B&N gift card to get your book Amy ... I'm hooked already just on the ideas you have shared in this first column!
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over 2 years ago Amy Pennington

Awesome, thanks! We will cover seed starting, winter gardening and more as the season and year progresses. The column runs every other Tuesday, so stay tuned! In the interim, have you ever considered sprouting? It's a great winter time growing project.

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over 2 years ago edamame2003

I am excited beyond words! I finally have a garden area again (after 2 years of poisonous rail ties lining my yard). Cannot wait to follow your every word. And I live in southern California, so there's no excuse not to grow my food again. a brilliant addition to food52!

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over 2 years ago tanmeet

Amy-I keep checking back every day to see when this starts! What's the start date and can I get them emailed to me? This is just the kickstart I need to get gardening!

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over 2 years ago Amy Pennington

Will run every other Tuesday! Thanks for your interest.

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over 2 years ago Binx

Great! We're moving from New Orleans to Seattle next month . . . leaving behind our citrus trees. We'll get your book though, and we look forward to the blog.

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over 2 years ago DanaYares

So Cool! We have a business in Northern California called My Urban Farm http://www.myurbanfarm...

I'm always SO happy when I see other people urban farming and teaching others. GO GIRL!

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over 2 years ago waterbabyandrea

Sounds great, I live in a bachelor apartment, patio on the ground level, and indirect light, (northwest facing main window.) I would like to grow my own herbs for this year, if that goes ok will get more ambitious next year. maybe. ;)

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over 2 years ago Kate's Kitchen

Excited to read your new column. I have a small raised plot, 4x 8 in our community garden and have never been more inspired to grow my own produce. It was soooo much fun and so gratifying over this past - this tiny organic plot produced several lbs of sugar snap peas, 125 tomatoes, green beans, 7 different lettuces, chard, herbs and beautiful zinnias. I just picked my last salad 2 weeks ago.

If any reader has any inclination to garden no matter how small the space - do it! It is a most fulfilling hobby. Thanks Amy - very excited and looking forward to your column!

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over 2 years ago Amy Pennington

Awesome! I just inherited a small plot, too, so I finally have a little piece of land. Make sure to add some root vegetables to your crop list, Kate! That will give you a more well-rounded rotation.

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over 2 years ago Lynnda

Amy - I'm new to urban gardening and would like some suggestions for how to seed shop. What resources do you recommend? Thanks.

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over 2 years ago Amy Pennington

Stay tuned for an upcoming post, Lynnda - we run every two weeks!

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over 2 years ago sheredel

how do you know when new postings occur?

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over 2 years ago Amy Pennington

Every two weeks! You can subscribe to the Food52.com newsletter for a reminder of updates, too.

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over 2 years ago sheredel

count me in, hoping to become inspired to create an indoor garden. Novice level gardener here!

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over 2 years ago petrini.elisa

love this! i live in NYC and have only one sunny southeast facing window in my kitchen. i've been longing for an herb garden! what can you grow in such a small space??

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over 2 years ago Amy Pennington

Hi Elisa, It's hard to do. Stay tuned for a post on containers and check out: www.windowfarms.org.

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over 2 years ago Patrisha

Looking forward to urban dirt talk. I've been gardening, canning & cooking for years, but it is always interesting & fun to hear new ideas or even old ones. Can't wait.

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over 2 years ago kirstjen

I love the idea. I live in downtown Chicago & would like to grow something... No patio, very limited Southern exposure. I'm on the second floor & am shaded by a building across the street. I'd be thrilled to hear your suggestions.

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over 2 years ago kirstjen

I love the idea. I live in downtown Chicago & would like to grow something... No patio, very limited Southern exposure. I'm on the second floor & am shaded by a building across the street. I'd be thrilled to hear your suggestions.

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over 2 years ago Lindy Cahill

i am urban farmer in North Seattle using my corner lot parking strip as organic heirloom veggie garden. Looking forward to this urban dirt talk as well as connecting the DIRT blog mentioned above. I grow organic heirloom tomatoes, peppers, garlic, etc from my own saved seeds each year. LC

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over 2 years ago Lindy Cahill

Sorry for multiple posts below....

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over 2 years ago Lindy Cahill

I am happy to see this resource about growing your own food. I also am an urban farmer in Seattle's Greenlake/Roosevelt 'hood with a curb side corner lot raised veggie garden. I grow heirloom tomatoes, garlic, and hot peppers & more from my own organic saved seed each year. I will have extra seed for most of my veggies to share; I usually give to community pea patches but hope to become a professional seed saver of organic heirloom seeds. Also want to find the DIRT blog/site that was mentioned. LC

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over 2 years ago Lindy Cahill

I am happy to see this resource about growing your own food. I also am an urban farmer in Seattle's Greenlake/Roosevelt 'hood with a curb side corner lot raised veggie garden. I grow heirloom tomatoes, garlic, and hot peppers & more from my own organic saved seed each year. I will have extra seed for most of my veggies to share; I usually give to community pea patches but hope to become a professional seed saver of organic heirloom seeds. Also want to find the DIRT blog/site that was mentioned. LC

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over 2 years ago Lindy Cahill

I am happy to see this resource about growing your own food. I also am an urban farmer in Seattle's Greenlake/Roosevelt 'hood with a curb side corner lot raised veggie garden. I grow heirloom tomatoes, garlic, and hot peppers & more from my own organic saved seed each year. I will have extra seed for most of my veggies to share; I usually give to community pea patches but hope to become a professional seed saver of organic heirloom seeds. Also want to find the DIRT blog/site that was mentioned. LC

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over 2 years ago Lindy Cahill

I am happy to see this resource about growing your own food. I also am an urban farmer in Seattle's Greenlake/Roosevelt 'hood with a curb side corner lot raised veggie garden. I grow heirloom tomatoes, garlic, and hot peppers & more from my own organic saved seed each year. I will have extra seed for most of my veggies to share; I usually give to community pea patches but hope to become a professional seed saver of organic heirloom seeds. Also want to find the DIRT blog/site that was mentioned. LC

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over 2 years ago [email protected]

Great idea... growing on a deck. I have the opposite problem, in a way. I have a lot of land - an acre. However, it's in the desert, which means hard-pan, calichi, coyotes, javelina, and rabbits. Lots and lots and lots of rabbits. So far I have discovered they will eat pretty much everything I plant, except rosemary. Including jasmine. Right down to the roots. I don't have the energy to build a big double-dug garden, fence it in, and roof it. And, while I have a great patio (it's huge!) it's shaded most of the time. Any ideas?

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over 2 years ago Amy Pennington

Sorry to tell you, but.........find the energy to build a proper garden! Or relegate yourself to countertop projects only like microgreens or sprouting.

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over 2 years ago susan g

I went from a good sized vegetable garden (with the help of Ruth Stout) to no garden. Now we live on 2 acres, all trees!, and I've tried some pot gardening -- peppers, cherry tomatoes, lettuce, with moderate success. I move the pots around a bit to catch the sun, when possible. The peppers have wintered over here in New Hampshire and go back out in the spring. ALL help will be appreciated! I'm looking forward to reading your columns. Next, I'm looking for your books.

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over 2 years ago SKK

Really, really looking forward to this! Also glad to know you also live in Seattle, which has its own growing quirks. I live in a flat with a north facing deck on the Magnolia side of the Ballard Locks. Given up container gardening because of the lack of sun. You are saying there is hope?

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over 2 years ago Amy Pennington

SKK - north facing decks are REALLY hard because of lack of sun. You may be able to grow mint and some other tolerant herbs, but not much. P-patch?! Or check out my website for gardeners in seattle - www.urbangardenshare.org

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over 2 years ago TheSpicyCheese

Is there I way I can subscribe to your posts? I want to make sure I don't miss any and get them in my inbox :)

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over 2 years ago Amy Pennington

HI Spicy, You can subscribe, but not to individual articles. Stay tuned for that feature in the future, but for now check back every other Tuesday for a new City Dirt. THANKS!

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over 2 years ago sheredel

start an email newsletter??? some off-shoot of food52?

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over 2 years ago susan g

Sign up for the food52 newsletter. It should be linked from there.

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over 2 years ago BistroVia

I have been curious to start my own little garden, but I live in a north facing apartment in Houston. I have no idea if this would be at all conducive to productive gardening. Any help and advice will be greatly welcomed.

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over 2 years ago Amy Pennington

HI Bistro, See my above comment about north facing and be sure to check back the Tuesday after next for a post on garden planning where I talk about sun requirements for plants. GOOD LUCK THIS YEAR! If nothing else, there are small projects you can do indoors with or without sun and we'll talk about those some time too.

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over 2 years ago OnBlank

Awesome! I can't get herbs to grow in my awful climate to save my life. I'd love tips on growing in extremes; imagine Phoenix summers but it still freezes most of the winter. Looking forward to the column!

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over 2 years ago Amy Pennington

No sweat! You'll be moving plants inside and out, but keep on reading and eventually you'll work out what works best for your area. Phoenix is great for lots of herb-y plants - basils, shisos and more that northern states struggle with.

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over 2 years ago Amy Pennington

No sweat! You'll be moving plants inside and out, but keep on reading and eventually you'll work out what works best for your area. Phoenix is great for lots of herb-y plants - basils, shisos and more that northern states struggle with.

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over 2 years ago drhevrin

So excited to have your column in my life. I bought Urban Pantry for my 25 year old daughter (hard to pass it along, I might add) and enjoyed your book. We have a patio home in the central valley of CA (summers are hot, hot & more hot) and have been tending a burgeoning herb garden in my small backyard for years. We also have citrus trees in containers and last year planted a small pot of Anaheim pepper...had such good luck we are going to give cherry tomatoes, onions & garlic (all staples in our house) a shot. Can't wait to use your articles as a learning tool. Welcome!

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over 2 years ago Amy Pennington

That is too awesome for words! I'm so happy you'll continue reading. You're a 201 level gardener, if not higher, so the science-y bits will really be great for you. THANKS for your support!

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over 2 years ago debbiek

This is great! I just got access to my cemented-over Brooklyn backyard and I'm dying to grow stuff. But I have a history of killing pretty much anything green so I don't even know where to start.

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over 2 years ago creamtea

This is great! I grow in clay pots on my North-facing city balcony. Although not ideal, over the years I've planted tomatoes & peppers (I'm stubborn), carrots, herbs, flowers & strawberries sometimes alpine and sometimes regular, but my yields are pretty limited given the light limitations and the spring winds. I should probably stick to herbs & lettuce... Looking forward to your ideas!

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over 2 years ago Amy Pennington

You're intuition sounds right to me, Tea. Keep me posted if any specific questions come up!

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over 2 years ago shortnmorose

Definitely excited. There came a point when I lived with my mother in her small apartment that I was so broke I started planting a windowsill & patio garden - forgetting that plants take time and the size of their pot determined their size. Ultimately the thumb-sized strawberries and tomatoes were delish and now that I live on my own I can't wait for my seedlings to start! Looking forward to this column! Another reason to love Food52

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over 2 years ago wssmom

Yipee!!! We have a teeny tiny patch of dirt and space for some boxes, so this is going to be WONDERFUL!!!!

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over 2 years ago luvcookbooks

Meg is a trusted home cook.

Hi, I'm excited to have a reason for my husband (the gardener) to log in to food52! I hope the column does as much for our garden as the rest of the site has for our kitchen! Also, I thought the book sounded pretty good in the site review...

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over 2 years ago eternalgradstudent

Looking forward to this column!! I live abroad, and try to use my balcony space to grow the foods I can't buy in the shops here (poblano peppers last summer). Would also love to hear more about preserving methods that don't require alot of freezer space - drying, canning, etc.

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over 2 years ago andrea gentl

love this idea. so timely. i have been growing an indoor garden this winter with some success. i long for the spring to get my hands in the dirt outdoors. i love the idea of the living wall garden or window garden for those confined to the city. looking forward to your articles!

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over 2 years ago Amy Pennington

What's in your winter garden, Andrea & where do you live? Have you heard of this project, yet? www.windowfarms.org. Def labor intensive, but seems pretty cool.

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over 2 years ago The Philly Foodist

All the catalogs have arrived. I've held them aside but I feel some "research" and planning is going to be happening in the next few days. I am a bit concerned about the lack of winter thus far - plantings are getting confused!

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over 2 years ago Amy Pennington

Great question, Antonia! You can always post comments after each article, but stay tuned for more info as we work out the initial kinks and timeline. THANKS!

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over 2 years ago Kate Gridley

Hurray! This is great timing. I garden on less than three tenths of an acre that is mostly covered by a house and painting studio in a small town in Vermont....after growing up in Manhattan. I look forward to reading your posts and adding my two cents.

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over 2 years ago jillyp

I can't wait to get started - for the first time, I have a tiny yard of my own and am eager to go beyond my fire escape tomatoes and cukes. Looking forward, Amy!

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over 2 years ago fiveandspice

Emily is a trusted source on Scandinavian Cuisine.

Wow! Welcome Amy!!! I absolutely can't wait to learn more from you!

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over 2 years ago pamelalee

Being a fellow gardener who lives just south of Seattle, I'm thrilled to read that you will be a regular columnist!

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over 2 years ago mcs3000

Loved every word. I am a brown thumb city gardener. So excited for your column. Welcome!

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over 2 years ago vvvanessa

This is the perfect addition to the food52 lineup! I'm looking foward to greening my sad, brown thumb-of-death.

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over 2 years ago Bevi

I can't wait to read your columns! I live in a veritable animal kingdom, so will be looking forward to your thoughts on that problem.

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over 2 years ago Amy Pennington

HI Bevi - Make sure to remind me of this when spring comes on. I know it's a problem for some and we should def talk about it.

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over 2 years ago Eating Local in the Lou

This is right up my alley! Cant wait to read what you have to say!

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over 2 years ago AnnieHynes

Great, i have a small plot that I would love to keep going year round. Will definitely follow this new blog!

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over 2 years ago Robin O'D

I love gardening and would be very interested in preserving those inevitable over achievers!
Looking forward to all your advice!

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over 2 years ago Amy Pennington

HI Robin, I'm hoping to include timely preservation advice, as well, so stay tuned and remind me when you have a bumper crop!

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over 2 years ago healthierkitchen

Very excited about this addition to the site! I've been doing some experimenting with containers and grow bags and finding out how much doesn't work in my yard which is shadier than I realized. I'm eager to find more that dies work!

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over 2 years ago Jestei

Boy oh boy this is exciting. I can' wait to get started with your suggested projects!

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over 2 years ago Rachel Gaffney

Oooh , this is great. Great idea. I look forward to reading and following this.

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over 2 years ago Valhalla

This is great. My motto is "everyone should at least grow their own lettuce" so I look forward to following along.

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over 2 years ago The Philly Foodist

Welcome! So happy with any and all discussions of urban gardening, especially edibles. I have given your pantry book to a number of friends who were having a hard time "getting started". It's a great publication.

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over 2 years ago Amy Pennington

Wow, that is so rad! Thanks for your support.

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over 2 years ago polly hogan

Amy -you should meet David Montgomery, MacArthur genius award recipient 2 years ago, author of Dirt, who lives in Seattle and teaches at the UW. He is a huge advocate of urban farming and expert in soil. http://www.groundswellnw...

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over 2 years ago Amy Pennington

Looking it up now. Thanks for the tip, Polly.

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over 2 years ago drbabs

Barbara is a trusted source on General Cooking.

I'm so happy to see this, too! I recently moved to an apartment with very little outdoor space, so I'm really excited to learn how to grow food in this environment!

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over 2 years ago charlotte au chocolat

So excited for this column! I'm really terrible at growing things, but would really love to get more into it. I'd especially love tips right now for taking care of herbs indoors during the winter... I grew some in pots outside, and feel like I should move them indoors for the winter (I'm in NY)- would that be best?

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over 2 years ago Amy Pennington

Hi Charlotte, Sort of depends on what you have and how the weather co operates. So far, NY winter hasn't been TOO terrible, but that recent freeze last week may have killed everything. Plants go dormant in winter, too, so it's not like you'll see much green growth. With that, take them inside if you want to make sure they'll come back. Personally, I leave all my pots outside and keep my fingers crossed come spring. We'll cover plant maintenance this fall, on City Dirt, so stay tuned.

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over 2 years ago aargersi

Abbie is a trusted source on General Cooking.

WOOT! This is great! Will you consider growing zones (like you don't have enough to think about)? I am planning to start tomatoes as soon as the seeds get here (in a warm protected tray that can live on the dryer should it freeze before March) but am ALWAYS looking for more info on what, where etc and how to keep the MUTHA&%$@#$ mockingbirds and squirrels off my stuff.

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over 2 years ago Amy Pennington

We're hoping to cover zones, yes, or at the very least detail conditions well enough that you can be the best judge for your area.

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over 2 years ago PistachioDoughnut

I am really looking forward to get great tips and expand my little apartment gardening of Basil, Mint, Fenugreek and Green bell Pepper to so many other things. Excited!

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over 2 years ago adriennehamson

I second @AntoniaJames! I want to grow heirloom tomatoes and herbs this summer but no idea how and when to plant. I'll keep an eye here (or wherever it's most appropriate to post questions like this).

Looking forward to more...

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over 2 years ago Amy Pennington

HI Adrienne, We will have a post at some point dedicated specifically to herbs, and we'll most definitely cover tomatoes during the year and across their life span. Expect timely tips!

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over 2 years ago sdebrango

Suzanne is a trusted source on General Cooking.

I'm very excited to about this and hope this spring to plant a few veggies in my garden, welcome and I so look forward to reading your column.

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over 2 years ago testkitchenette

What a fantastic addition to the Food52 enterprise/family!

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over 2 years ago Cookie!

This is fabulous - looking forward to a homegrown bounty in 2012!

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over 2 years ago Midge

I'm totally thrilled to see this too! What a fab addition to the Food52 line-up.

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over 2 years ago mklug

I am too excited for this!! I loved Urban Pantry--it was such an inspirational read for me--I kept thinking, "I totally want to be Amy" while I was reading it--even though I'm not that adventurous of a cook (trying/learning to be!) and haven't actually planted anything--yet!

This is just the push I need--can't wait to get started.

Thank you!!

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over 2 years ago Amy Pennington

Hurray!!! Keep us posted on all your kitchen AND garden adventures this year!

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over 2 years ago Panfusine

Absolutely thrilled to see this.. Looking fwd to getting into the spirit of growing veggies & herbs this year along with you & my 32 sq ft patch!

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over 2 years ago Hilarybee

Yay! I am so excited about this column! I want to optimize the two beds that I have and build some skinny beds along my fence line. I never know which plants will be successful in my super sunny, north facing (very tiny) back yard.

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over 2 years ago Amy Pennington

HI Hilary - North facing could be an issue. We'll discussing Garden Planning on the next post for City Dirt, but for now do yourself a favor and monitor your sun pattern and log total hours the spot gets AND the time of day. This information will be crucial for a) deciding what to plant and b) identifying and ruling out variables when you have both successes AND failures.

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over 2 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

And "they" say there are no coincidences. Starting a raised-bed garden in on the 2012 list. Very much looking forward to this.

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over 2 years ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Simply wonderful! I'm thrilled to see this. What is the best way to communicate questions? Can't wait to see this column on a regular basis! Especially looking forward to your insights into why/when to plant from seeds. ;o)