Growing Edibles on the Stoop

Ascending up to the front door of our new place is a series of cracking concrete steps. They are fully exposed to the sun and I predict that in combination with the metal railings, they should prove to be a hot spot by mid-summer.

Since moving in I’ve been contemplating what to grow there. The steps are thin so I could not install large pots that would impede the mail man’s ability to get to the box. They’re in front of the house, and now for the first time in my life I am actually considering the neighbours. To a degree. This isn’t the suburbs after-all. Fortunately, I live in a mixed ethnicity, working class neighbourhood so it’s not an external pressure to “Keep up with the Jones” but more about not inciting bad blood with the Castilhos or receiving hostile stares from the De Silvas.

People grow their own food here, always have, and I suspect that the lack of large, old trees in the neighbourhood is the result of the importance that is placed on growing a good tomato crop. It’s not uncommon or breaking an unspoken social contract to grow food out front in these parts. I’m not breaking new ground in doing so, although where I suspect I will be is in some of my methods.

But I digress. My stoop is eight steps high. When it came time to plant, it was by chance that I happened to have exactly eight sap buckets, one for each step. I’ve been using these thin, but deep buckets for years to grow hot peppers and dwarf tomato varieties. The plants can take the heat absorbed by the metal and since the containers fit perfectly on the steps without getting in the way, it just happened to be the perfect place for them.


Since they are going to be out front, I placed some importance on aesthetics. I like the repetition of the same container sitting on each step. I chose varieties that would not only thrive in the containers, but also look nice. I grew all of them from seed, starting with a few slow varieties in February and the rest in March.

  • Dwarf Tomato ‘Hahms Gelbe’ – Has pretty, compact foliage and produces yellow cherry tomatoes.
  • Hot Pepper ‘ Chocolate Habenero’ – The foliage is uninteresting, but the fruit eventually turn a chocolatey brown and hang like little lanterns.
  • Hot Pepper ‘Purple Cayenne’ – Pretty purple foliage and stems with purple flowers, followed by purple fruit.
  • Hot Pepper ‘Filius Blue’ – Shown in first photo above. Compact purple foliage, flowers, and fruit that eventually turn red.
  • Hot Pepper ‘Golden Nugget’ – Variegated foliage produces small, square-ish green peppers that turn orange.

Growing Tips:

  • Holes were punched into the bottom of the pot using a large nail. I’ve had these pots for many years so that was done long ago.
  • One plant per pot.
  • I mulched each container with straw to lock in moisture and cool things down a bit. They are predicting a hot and dry summer.
Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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24 thoughts on “Growing Edibles on the Stoop

  1. Our neighbor in PHL had lilies planted in old washer drums on the sidewalk. Not the prettiest planter but very effective.

  2. Looks great! I’ll be curious to see how wild and out of control they get as the season progresses (maybe they won’t).

  3. Looks awesome! Very nice of you to set out snacks for the mailman, maybe you can help a strike to be avoided.

    Question about your straw mulch. Do you know of a place within Toronto to pick some up? I’ve been trying the garden and landscape suppliers in the east end and have come up empty so far.

  4. This is so great! I love the idea of using narrow buckets on the steps. Nothing more cheery and welcoming than a tomato ripening on the vine, if you ask me.

  5. I am really eager to know more about your straw mulch. I’m planning to track some down to mulch my new community garden bed, and wondered if you have any problems with it; do you use organic straw (and how the devil do you find that?) or do you use whatever’s available? Thanks!

  6. Daedre: They won’t get out of control. I’ve grown most of these varieties several times and they are dwarves and/or fairly compact.

    Erin: Finding straw mulch is a constant frustration. Humber is the only place I know of but they’re outside of the city. Thankfully I have friends with vehicles looking out for me. Be aware that their so-called straw still has quite a bit of seed in it. Watch out for those seed heads as they sprout.

  7. These look realy nice :) I have a big problem with squirrels diggin in my pots . . .I wonder if the straw would deter them at all? Sometimes I use rocks as a “mulch” around the plants but have to pick them back out in the fall when I’m emptying the pots. Straw would be so much nicer!

  8. Gayla, Don’t forget that the last lot of straw came free from a store that was glad to get rid of their Halloween display.

  9. This makes me wish I had a stoop. But alas I live in small town Kentucky (in my parents garage no less).

    It’s weird how things are different elsewhere. I have trouble finding weird varieties of plants but there are places I drive by every day that advertise straw. (like a huge truck with a banner on the side of the Highway)

  10. Castilhos and Da Silva?! Are you in a Portuguese neighbourhood? In general, we Portuguese love fresh produce and gardening but of course in big cities exceptions might occur ;)
    PS- I wish we would could have a hot dry summer in NL!

  11. Randy: I have tons of alpines elsewhere!

    Paula M: Predominantly Portuguese and Italian families.

    Cassi: Growing from seed allows you to have weirder varieties. I’d never be able to find these as transplants here.

  12. In a pinch, you can buy a small bale of hay at a pet store in the rabbit section. Four dollars or so will get you enough to solidly cover 30 or so square feet. It’s not quite straw and it’s far from seedless but it’s been mulching my strawberry patch effectively for a couple seasons.

  13. During the age of the victory garden, it was quite common to see a full vegetable garden in the front yard (or so my grandmother told me). I had a neighbor in Phoenix who had their garden out front. It was quite lovely and I always enjoyed walking past to see the progress of their veggies. I think that if the front yard is where you get your sun, then the front yard is where you should plant you garden. :) Great pots.

  14. How worried are you about people stealing the plants, pot and all? Had that happen to me recently with pretty hefty ceramic pots I had in my front yard.

  15. Barry: That was a rarity. Not something to count on.

    Madge: I’m somewhat worried. This is my first gardening season in this neighbourhood so I’m not yet sure what to expect. That was another reason why I put these pots on the steps. Closer to the house…

  16. I just purchased Grow Great Grub and I’m nearly finished. Tons of highlights, notes and ideas for the novice, urban, vegetable gardener like me. In the book you talk about container size for nearly all vegetables in terms of depth. That sort of information is quite helpful for people like me.

    What is the depth AND diameter of these sap buckets?

  17. Rachel: I’ll have to get out the ruler to be absolutely certain, but if memory serves, they are somewhere around 1 1/2 – 2 feet deep.

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