The Outsider: Low-Cost Veggie Garden in Vinegar Hill


    WELCOME to The Outsider, Brownstoner’s weekly exploration of the many and varied ways Brooklynites approach their green spaces. Written and produced by Cara Greenberg, you can find it here every Sunday at 8AM.


    A 2,000-SQUARE-FOOT BACKYARD, shared by three buildings, was overgrown and mostly neglected space until Andrea Solk, a LEED-certified architect and recent West Coast transplant, spent the better part of this spring working to reclaim it. Solk, a renter in one of the buildings, is trying, with the owners’ permission, to “transform it without any intention beyond growing vegetables and making a nice space for everyone to hang out in.”

    She’s had the help of assorted folks who’ve pitched in at weekend work parties, and the benefit of advice from Andrea Parker, Julia Price, and Maggie Hansen, all practicing Brooklyn-based landscape architects who consulted on such matters as how to deal with existing contaminated soil.

    One of the initial tasks was removing dirt from buried pieces of slate and flagstone to uncover a patio area. In order to grow edible food, they built raised beds out of wood and salvaged brick, filling them with fresh soil and compost. Two cubic yards of imported topsoil at $35/yard has been the main expense to date, along with some Greenmarket veggie starters and a few bags of compost. “It’s incredibly low-budget,” Solk says.

    Clusters of clay pots, plastic buckets, and “anything we could find” are filled with broccoli, sprouts, cabbage, tomatoes, eggplants, and herbs. At the rear of the lot, where there’s daylong sun, Solk plans to put more wooden beds with tomatoes, cukes, squash, melons, and other summer veggies that need a lot of sunlight. There are flowers as well, including bachelors buttons and foxgloves, along with rose bushes that have been there all along. Right now, watering is done by hose and watering can, but Solk hopes to put in a drip irrigation system.

    The photos in this post were taken in late April. “It was very undefined space,” says Solk. “Now it’s starting to look like a cared-for garden.”

    Photos: Andrea Solk

    Most vegetables were started from seed indoors in late winter.


    An existing ‘tree house’ built by a former resident still functions as a centerpiece for the garden.


    Salvaged bricks stacked dry, without mortar, make effective raised beds for lettuce and other greens.


    A glass incubator that was once a commercial jewelry display case happened to be sitting in the garden unused. Now it’s a cold frame, or mini-greenhouse.


    Herbs grow in plastic pots.


    A view from the tree house.

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