I’ve become fascinated by the fire escape gardens in NYC, and decided to do some research on the popular guerruilla gardening technique. These tiny jungles outside the windows of city dwellers are really nothing new – they’ve existed as long as the fire escapes themselves, which proliferated in the early 20th century as building codes evolved. However, in densely populated cities like New York, where access to outdoor spaces has been historically limited (although this is improving, as I’ve discussed in many past posts), and many residents lacked balconies or public rooftop areas, fire escapes have always been utilized for ulterior purposes. The New York Times published an excellent article about the fire escape culture in NYC back in 2004 that I encourage you to take a look at.
Mike Lieberman has an awesome blog at Urban Organic Gardener that really delves into the many ways you can successfully garden even from a teensy tiny NYC apartment. He has had success with lettuce, kale and tomatoes on his fire escape, among other things. I especially love his idea of hanging soda bottle containers from the railings, and he has self-watering containers as well – his site has all sorts of info on how to do these things yourself.
There are some concerns that you’ll want to consider if you’re thinking about doing gardening on your fire escape. First of all, there’s been some debate about how legal this practice is; at the very least, you should probably check with your building manager before getting started. That said, another big problem with gardening anywhere in the city is the critters that might enjoy the fruits of your labor before you can. Pigeons, squirrels, and yes – ew! – rats are known to steal city veg, so take some precautions. Chicken wire can be helpful, and garden stores & nurseries sell an organic nitrogen fertilizer with dried blood added, which not only turns off the critters, but helps your plants grow. So get gardening!