The Fanaticism and Frustration of Urban Farming

I can’t grow peppers, cilantro or cucumbers worth a damn.  Or basil.

And I can’t figure out why.

  • It’s not the soil; I always have good, fluffy, rich soil.
  • It can’t be the water; I drip-line pretty much everything and have varied the schedule a million times in an attempt to find the proper amount.
  • I suppose it might be the amount of sun; sometimes they end up burned, sometimes spindly and limp, but I’ve tried multiple plants in varying degrees of light.
  • So, that leaves……what?


I don’t have a brown thumb….I can grow the hell out of tomatoes….

Note: Tomatoes are the ultimate confidence booster.

If you live in L.A., like I do, you can practically throw a seedling into a box full of dryer lint, wet it down with Pepsi and you’ll get a bountiful harvest…. same goes for corn, zucchini, onions, herbs, salad greens, broccoli, cauliflower, garlic, peaches, citrus, figs, berries, even melons.

Besides, there’s no such thing as a “green thumb” or “brown thumb,” there are only The Big Three; soil, light and water.

The quality and amount of those three elements is what will determine the success or failure of an edible plant.  I’ve even put ornamental garden Gnomes near the basil….nothing.  I feel like they’re looking up at me as if to say, “Look, bro, I’m not a miracle worker.  I can’t turn water into wine, either, what do you want from me?”  One more failed attempt at cilantro and I’m going to be reduced to prayer circles.

Welcome to the conundrum of Urban Farming.

My neighbor can absent-mindedly throw a handful of pepper seeds into the gravel, ignore them contemptuously, and six months later open up a veggie stand in her front yard featuring nothing but teetering stacks of red, green, yellow and purple bells and dangerously hot and delicious jabaneros.  I, on the other hand, can provide vastly superior growing conditions and get on my hands and knees every day with a watering can, gently saturating roots and softly cooing Enya songs and I won’t end up with anything other than one sad, deformed pepper that even slugs will send back to the chef.  Like my mom says, “Sometimes things just don’t grow.”  And she should know, she grew up on a farm in Ohio.

The young me never would have imagined the old(er) me having an interest in Urban Farming (i.e., gardening) that borders on obsession.  Of course, the young me was interested only in “young me” things like…well…staying out late and drinking things that did my liver no good.

The old(er) me, having rebuked such behavior and having traded it for ones like healthy eating, growing edibles, obstacle course races and fitness, is actually much younger than the young me was.

There may be some measure of genetic predetermination in my love of farming; as I mentioned, my mom grew up on a farm and I can still remember early-in-life visits to my grandma that featured her crouched down between rows of growing green things, the High Definition pop of a homegrown tomato and the sound of freshly-picked beets boiling on the stove.

I suppose it could be said that I was born with soil flowing through my veins and dirt under my nails.  Underneath it all, I’m just a Midwestern boy lost on the West Coast.  But there’s nothing like the feeling of running inside, holding aloft a single red tomato like a newly-born chick and crying out to my wife:

“Look!  We made food!”

So I take it for what it is and continue going; loving it, frustrated by it, and, ultimately, devoted to it.  And one day the cilantro will come, but I’ll never be able to grow basil worth a damn.

If you want to chat with Jonathan about urban gardening, fitness or his Arena Fitness training center…you can reach him on Twitter and Facebook

Jonathan Aluzas

Small-time urban farmer, big-time animal lover, two-fisted recreational martial-arts fan, bookworm and gym owner obsessed with staying fit and healthy.

One thought on “The Fanaticism and Frustration of Urban Farming

  • August 22, 2012 at 11:31 pm

    I hear you! I live in Canberra Australia and have exactly the same problem – can grow everything but capsicum (peppers to you). If you find out what the problem is please update. Thanks – Helen


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *