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Grow your own (veggies) in Tokyo

When I was growing up, the bane of summer for my brother and I was gardening related. If my parents are reading this, I’m sure they already know well and good what I mean.

WEEDING.

We had stubborn weeds encircling our home, and we were engaged in a perpetual, futile battle to pull them all each summer. Perhaps it was because of this important and cherished past time I never had a particular interest in gardening. As far as I was concerned, gardening was tough, relentless, sweaty work at the hottest time of the year. And for what? To make the yard look nicer? Yeah, yeah. What did I care? I just couldn’t wait to get back to my computer when I was relieved of weeding duties.

Not a whole lot has changed.

The part that has changed, however, is that I somewhat recently grew (HA!) an interest in that other part of gardening that teenage Alisha didn’t quite understand:

You can grow your own stuff.

My parents planted beds of flowers outside my window, in planters on the back deck, and even stuck a wall of sunflowers on their side of the house. They went nuts. They even grew some peppers hydroponically. There were flowers in the front yard, houseplants dotting the living room, and even a special little window over the kitchen sink where tiny little buds were cared for. I never really “got” it.

Last year, whilst having a wander through the inexplicable fortress of stuff that is Don Quixote, I found a couple little “planting” sets. Nothing more than a miniature water bottle, some seeds, fertilizer, and a sort of cottony filter thing to grow them in, I was dubious. The things were only about $3, so I was rather skeptical. I picked up a basil set and a tomato set. Gleefully, upon arriving home, I followed the directions for planting the tomato plant. In autumn.

A number of days later, after waiting very impatiently and beginning to wonder if I were fit to care for any living creature, I arrived home from work one night to find, lo and behold: a SPROUT!

Hydroponically grown tomato sprout

I was unreasonably proud of my ability to follow directions, and even briefly considered giving my new plantbaby a name, but decided against it. In case, you know, I killed it or something.

Feeling very pleased, I continued caring for my plant as it grew bigger and bigger in its little watery pot. I transferred it to an actual flowerpot with dirt and minerals when it became too big for its plastic first home. Then, winter hit. It spent a few months looking bedraggled and weary in the corner of my bedroom. I watered it, kept it in the sun, and propped it up on days when it was particularly wilted. Somewhere around January-February, I resigned myself to the fact that at last my plant was dead. I even moved it out of the direct sunlight and more into the vicinity of…my closet doorway. I kept telling myself I needed to remove it, but due to a combination of hope and laziness, I let it stick around.

Spring came this year, and with it a renewed interest in having some plants around, despite my failed attempt with my tomato. I was looking for a budget friendly way to do this, and wanted to make sure this was a concerted effort to get some useful plants going in the small space I had available on my balcony. I enlisted an enthusiastic comrade to help me in this adventure this past weekend.

Across the street from my apartment is a small flower shop selling houseplants, veggies, herbs, and flower arrangements. We hit them up for eggplant, cucumber, green pepper, and basil for a whopping total of 400 yen ($4). Next, my comrade and I explored the Shinjuku area, where I live, in hopes of finding some more options for this veggie/herb balcony garden. It is surprisingly difficult to find much variation in flower shops in urban areas, but find it we did! On the rooftop of the Keio department store on the West Side of Shinjuku station, shoppers can find a small pet shop, some large pokemon-themed play structures, and a great little garden section!

The outside gardening center at Keio department store, Shinjuku, Tokyo
Vegetable Seeds available at Keio department store, shinjuku, tokyo
Flower seeds available at keio department store, shinjuku, tokyo

This garden shop seems to have everything one might need to garden in the city; flower and vegetable seeds, house plants, outdoor plants, and an extensive collection of potted plants waiting to be taken home. Here we picked up thyme, mint, and red peppers. That set us back 1,155 yen ($12).  A quick stop in to the nearby Tokyu Hands secured a packet of coriander seeds (just because) for 157 yen ($1.50).

My local 100 yen shop had all the supplies one could ever need. I already had a couple of pots I purchased for my aforementioned tomato plant, and a few other items including a bag of dirt, some rocks for the bottom of the pots, and a small bag of fertilizer pellets. We grabbed two small planter box/tray sets, 2 more pot/tray sets, and 3 more bags of dirt.

Nothing makes you feel like a dumbass city dweller quite like buying DIRT.

With supplies in hand, we set to work preparing the planters on the balcony. Step one : break out gardening goods and choose a home for each plant.

Planting vegetables and herbs on an apartment balcony in Shinjuku, Tokyo

 

Planting vegetables and herbs on an apartment balcony in Shinjuku, Tokyo

Step two: transplant to new homes.

Planting vegetables and herbs on an apartment balcony in Shinjuku, Tokyo

 

Planting vegetables and herbs on an apartment balcony in Shinjuku, Tokyo

This cucumber plant was a little on the wobbly side. Chopsticks serve as excellent plant crutches.

Planting vegetables and herbs on an apartment balcony in Shinjuku, Tokyo

While working on this little balcony garden project, my neighbor, a 60-70 year old Japanese man living by himself, popped his head out his door to see what we were up to. Pleased with our efforts, he informed us that he didn’t think he could ever keep a garden. His reasoning? He’d have too much to drink and forget that his plants needed any. Regardless of his faith in his own gardening skills, he bid us good luck.

Step three: when planting is complete, water plants and admire work.

Planting vegetables and herbs on an apartment balcony in Shinjuku, Tokyo

 

Planting vegetables and herbs on an apartment balcony in Shinjuku, Tokyo
Planting vegetables and herbs on an apartment balcony in Shinjuku, Tokyo
Planting vegetables and herbs on an apartment balcony in Shinjuku, Tokyo
Planting vegetables and herbs on an apartment balcony in Shinjuku, Tokyo
Planting vegetables and herbs on an apartment balcony in Shinjuku, Tokyo

This is the same tomato plant I thought was long gone in winter! Amazingly, somehow, the plant survived. It really hung in there. On the day I planted all its new garden friends, I even noticed it was finally growing its own little tomatoes for the first time ever. Hooray!

Planting vegetables and herbs on an apartment balcony in Shinjuku, Tokyo

And there we have it! A tiny little urban balcony herb and veggie garden. I imagine I have made some terrible mistakes already with regard to what plants I chose and my placement of them, but I’m sure I’ll learn in time (and with some research).

Aside from this being a fun project, my hope with this little garden was to help offset some costs in the long run. I use a lot of herbs when cooking, and fresh herbs can often be hard to find and/or expensive. Having a few oft-used fresh goodies in my “backyard” might end up being a tiny money-saver! I imagine some of these plants will eventually outgrow their current homes, but that’s a bridge I’ll cross when I get there.

I’m very happy with my little garden. It was surprisingly cheap to do! Cost of all items (dirt, fertilizer, plants, pots, etc.) comes to only about $35-$40. I can’t wait to see how these little creatures grow and produce in the coming months. It’s like my own happy little green place right here in the middle of the city. I was advised to “not forget to water” them (of course) and to “speak kindly to them” by my local gardener, which is also advice I’ve heard from other gardeners.

I can already see why my Mom and Dad were so into plants every spring and summer. There’s really something satisfactory about growing something on your own and enjoying the fruits of its (and your) labor.

Just…keep me away from the weeds.

2 Comments

  1. The Mother Plant The Mother Plant May 27, 2013

    Remember to always thank the little plant when you harvest something from it, “Thank you little plant, grow little plant grow”

  2. Pieter Pieter January 1, 2015

    You have a great garden.
    Where do you buy the seed in Tokyo? I am visiting Tokyo at this time. Thx

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