Now that the bulbs are blooming and the ground is moist, it’s finally time to plant! Generally speaking, the island that makes up Brooklyn, Queens, and Long Island warms up about two weeks ahead of mainland New York, which means the last frost date usually falls somewhere around April 15 on any given year. Of course, this was not any given year, and our long-playing winter gave an overnight snow and hard freeze in the second-to-last week of April that killed the couple of poor pepper plants I’d put on a reconnaissance mission in our garden box in mid-April.
Finally, though, May is here, and with it the full-on green light to start filling window boxes, pots, and if you’re one of the lucky few urban dwellers a small plot of dirt with flowers and eatables (Our vine-enclosed patch of clover, 10×7 garden box, and dirt-filled bathtub make the continual leaks and periodic waterbug landings inside our apartment totally worth it).
This year we’re planting tomatoes, small melons, peppers, and plenty of flowers. But the favorite thing we plant is also the easiest. Even better, it does double duty—it’s both a flower and a food. I’m talking about the beloved nasturtium. Not only are the flowers multicolored and plentiful, they taste like a kind of like a lightly peppered cauliflower and can be plucked right from the vine. They make stunning additions to a summer salad, or as a garnish to grilled burgers, or grilled anything really. And if you let them go to seed, fear not—you can eat the seeds too!
Speaking of seeds, another great thing about the nasturtium is they are ultra-easy to grow from seed—which is a good thing in fact, as from what I’ve heard they don’t transplant well. Just take the fairly sizeable seeds, each of which kind of resembles a tiny brain, and gently push them with your thumb into loose prepared soil roughly 8 inches or so apart. Within a couple of weeks you’ll see the distinctive dark green hexagonal leaves pop up, and by late June you’ll have your first flowers.
Along with calendulas, nasturtiums were the first flowers we grew in our bathtub flowerbed, a repurposed representative of our landlord’s menagerie of old appliances he leaves lying around the concrete slab outside our garden. We chose them on the recommendation of my friends Tatiana Ryckman and Sarah Braud, both of whom mentioned the tendency of nasturtiums to spill over the sides of a container. Many varieties do in fact trail and cascade, and all are edible.
The first time Checkers ate one, she was two years old and immediately dubbed them “eating flowers.” The name has stuck, though she sometimes also calls them ‘sturshums. We’ve increased their presence every year, as it turns out they are a great restorative species to plant, giving more back to the soil they’re planted in than they take, and they make a great living mulch for larger plants and vines like tomatoes and peppers. They also go well in hanging planters, or as edging for a larger flowerbed, or, or…