NYC Fire Escape Garden

Screenshot 2014-04-10 17.44.17My first urban garden was a fire escape garden set up on the fourth floor of my East Village apartment in New York City. I had this from May 2009 – December 2009.

The landing space of the fire escape was about 2 x 3. There were three self-watering containers that were planted up against the rail. This left over a foot of space on the landing.

The fire escape was actually outside of my roommate’s room and wasn’t so easy to get into and out of.

Screenshot 2014-04-10 17.44.35In one of the containers I started out growing lettuces. I was able to harvest the lettuce less than a month after planting. The feeling of being able to trace my produce to my bowl was a bit overwhelming for me.

After the summer season, I replaced the lettuce with kale. I was able to get a few good kale harvests from this container as well. The kale lasted longer into the cold season than I thought it would..

Screenshot 2014-04-10 17.43.56The middle container had red and chile peppers. These produced some fruit, but the yield wasn’t very high. Peppers are not something that I would grow given limited space.

The third container had cherry tomatoes planted in it. Once the plant grew, I learned that the tomatoes might be small, but the plant grew to be larger than me. The size was definitely an issue for the fire escape, but the yield was great.

Besides the self-watering containers, I also had about 10 hanging planters made from soda bottles on the handrails.

Even though I had limited space, I was able to maximize it and produce some fresh organic produce for myself.

  • chamomilla

    wow, very inspiring!

  • Mike Lieberman

    Thanks. Anything is possible.

  • Anu

    Mike, this is great. Shows you can garden in any space :-)

  • Mike Lieberman

    You most certainly can. Anything is possible.

  • Shayna

    Nice site, Mike! Just featured you on my little blog since venturing into fire escape gardening!

  • Mike Lieberman

    Thanks Shayna. Glad I could be your “hero.”

  • Cynthia

    WOW, in such a small space your had a beautiful garden. I know you miss it. I think I am going to try the soda bottle planters for some of my evaisve herbs.

  • Mike Lieberman

    Nice. Oregano, mint and basil worked well in them. Lemme know how they turn out for you.

  • Chukubly

    You need a Phytopod!

  • Dawn Robuck

    Love the soda bottle planters! This is definitely inspiring. “Green” Thumbs up :-)

  • Mike Lieberman

    Glad you liked. Thanks. Can grow food anywhere.

  • Fitchbarbara

    While I have been gardening for almost 30 years now I am inspired by what you are doing. Love the soda bottle gardening. Keep up the great job and I believe you would make a great host for a gardening show that would draw the attention of young people and city dwellers to gardening.

  • Mike Lieberman

    Thanks Barbara. Appreciate your kind words.

  • Valtwit

    WOW. I started container gardening about 4 yrs. ago. However, I've never grown anything in containers as small as yours. This is truly inspiring. I love the fact that you are recycling as well as growing your own food.

  • Mike Lieberman

    Thanks. Been enjoyin and lovin it.

  • Sam Pardo

    Hey Mike great job!

    As it were, I started my own fire escape garden early this June in Greenpoint and I thought I'd share my experience.

    I planted strawberries, a few herbs, miscellaneous flowers and ornamental vines, cucumbers, green beans and tomatoes. I was hoping I could use the escape structure as a trellis for the beans and cucumbers and I placed the tomatoes under the stairway from the floor above so the corner railings could serve as support.

    Well, things went pretty well except I've got plenty of green tomatoes but they're not ripening. I did some research and I think this summer has actually been too hot. It seems like every day is in the 90s (with some over 100) and the fire escape faces west and is painted black so I think its a micro-climate of the planet mercury out there. In fact, the cucumbers refuse to wrap around the black iron because it so hot but I've seemed to fix that problem by tying a bunch of twine to the railings and in between the ladder rungs and they've begun to grab that.

    Also, birds keep on eating the babe cukes and even the flowers when they first bloom so I haven't been able to harvest much from that.

    All in all it's been fun and it is a pretty scene out there with all the greenery and flowers. And to water all i have to do is open the window and lean out with a watering can which is nice and easy.

    Mike, what direction was your fire escape facing? Was the temperature of the iron and the micro-climate of the fire escape an issue? Did you have similar problems with birds thieving your sprouts?

    I highly recommend fire escape gardening to anyone with the opportunity to do it.

  • Mike Lieberman

    Nice. Brooklyn stand-up! My fire escape was north facing. Heat wasn't an issue. If anything, it didn't get enough sun, but was still able to grow.

    Luckily I didn't have any problems with pests out there either. Happy that you've started. It's a fun learning experience. Keep me updated.

  • Nancyr51

    I thought it was illegal to have plants on the fire escape. The building inspector made me take mine inside. My landlord said there would be a fine. Can I hang a planter from the railings instead?

  • Sam Pardo

    Hmmm…. illegal? Probably, after all the plants obstruct the emergency fire exit and that's not something to be taken lightly.

    However, they are plants and as long as its not excessive I don't see it really being a problem. For example, I have no plants on the actual stairs of the fire escape and there is still space on the landing to maneuver. The only real “obstruction” is that I used the ladder as a trellis for the cucumbers but the weight of the ladder alone would tear the vines if it were released. I'm going to write a blog post at my community garden's website ( ) in the next few days about my fire escape with accompanying pictures if anyone is curious.

    Additionally, I have an update concerning the birds and the delayed ripening of the grape tomatoes. The intense heat and humidity broke slightly two weeks ago and then again few days ago and there are now more cucumber flowers than the birds can forage and the tomatoes are ripening. So from my unscientific, unseasoned viewpoint it was the intense heat and humidity of July that was causing my fire escape garden to pause its growth. Also, the fact that the garden faces west and there are no trees or anything else to filter the most intense heat and sun of the afternoon probably made the issue that much worse.

    Check by Tuesday next week and I'll have the full story up.

  • Sam Pardo

    By the way who is your landlord? The garden grinch?

  • Mike Lieberman

    According to the fire code, having anything on the fire escape is illegal. How that is enforced is dependent upon the management.

  • Mike Lieberman

    Nice dude.

  • Izzi


    I'm interested in looking for a small raised bed for my new York city fire escape, as being that I live on a small 4 story building and live I on the top floor as I do share the fire escape with the tenant next to my apartment.

    The fire escape in this image is similar but much the one on my end is much longer.

    And yes…I know its against fire code for NYC tenants to have any items on the fire escape, but some building management do enforce this law and some don't, not sure if mine's will.

    Any suggestions on how I can build a small raised bed or buy one that is suitable to to place upon a fire escape?

  • Mike Lieberman

    I dunno. Raised beds could be pretty dangerous on the fire escape, but I'm sure that you could find some shipping pallets to take apart and make into a raised garden bed.

  • Izzi

    okay….what about garden baskets in this image: or square pots, like the ones you have in you have in your third pic from the top, that's located on the left of this page. My question would be on what would be the minimum height. For examples have come across baskets that are 6.5 ” – 9″ – 11″ – ect ect in height.. What do you suggest ?

  • Mike Lieberman

    Not sure I'm understanding. I guess it would depend on the measurements of your fire escape.

  • Izzi

    sorry….let me rephrase my question, the pics on the left of this page…. Right above the heading that says” My Brooklyn backyard vegetable garden” It looks like your standing in front of green square pots? Just curious, what is the height measurement of those square green pots? as in how tall are they in inches?

  • Mike Lieberman

    Not sure of the measurements on those. You can get them from your local pharmacy or drug store.

  • Your Name Not My Name

    “I had this from May 2009 — December 2010.”

    Wtf are you talking about? It’s not Dec 2010 yet! Sober up!

  • Mike Lieberman

    Hahha. True dat. Good catch.

  • kris kemp

    dr. bronner container … ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. i thought it was when i saw the label, then you mentioned it. hilarious. nice garden. thanks for posting.

  • Mike Lieberman

    Loves me the Dr. Bronners.


    Great idea. We are trying to do the same with some bleachers from a old football field…

  • Mike Lieberman

    That sounds pretty dope. Keep me updated. Would love to see pics of that.

  • Kim McCray

    Hi Mike, this is very interesting and inspiring concept. I suppose there is NO excuse anyone of us can use since you have now paved the way. Keep on keeping on! ūüėÄ

  • Mike Lieberman

    Word. So what are you growing?

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  • Dara BK

    Hi Mike. I am starting my first fire escape garden in Bushwick, Brooklyn. But there is one problem I already foresee, I have spotted raccoons on my fire escape several times. Have you had any experience with the raccoons in your NY gardens? If so, any tips?? Thanks

  • Purpleorchid

    O.k. So, I stumbled upon your awesome site today right before I had to head out the door. And I couldn’t wait to get home to dive right back in! Yum. It’s like a treat :)
    This stuff really inspires me to get back on the gardening horse (so to speak). Last year was able to do some potted herbs like oregano, basil, mint (great in mojitos), and thyme in a very low sun exposed area due to the roof on the house. (My patio faces west as well). They did pretty good actually, but I want to be able to do more (lettuces, tomatoes). Do you think they’ll have a chance? What do you recommend?
    Keep on keeping up this beautiful work you’re doing, inspiring and informing..

  • Mike Lieberman

    Give em a go and see for yourself. That’s the only way that you’ll know.

    Glad to have connected and keep me updated.

  • Aurorabelarose

    What a cool,cozy,spot of a jungle escape!

  • Mike Lieberman


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  • Christie Smith

    That’s determination! I like it. :)

  • Mike Lieberman

    Word. Me too ūüėČ

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  • Summer Hodgman

    And I though using my 8×10 patio was a challenge!¬† This is amazing:)¬† I’m new to your blog, having just mozied over from Life on the Balcony, but do you share any of your work over at Urban Garden Casual?

  • Mike Lieberman

    Dope. Glad to connect. Not much of my stuff has been on Urban Garden Casual.

  • Geff Gardner

    Awesome garden, I’m going to start my own this weekend.

    For the tomato, peppers & lettuce, did you buy seeds or start off w/ small plants? 

  • Mike Lieberman

    Nice bro. Keep me updated!

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  • Geffg81

    I’m 2 weeks in and have a jalepeno pepper plant thats growing about 8 peppers already, basil and 3 tomatoe plants¬† including 1 topsy turvy¬†with a few growing on each. I had a squirrel problem though and lost some of my tomatoes & peppers¬† so I had to buy chicken wire to put around it.

    I’ve been trying to find some spinach and lettuce plants but can’t find them anywhere. Are they more for the fall?

  • Mike Lieberman

    Those would be more fall. For most varieties.

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  • JoJo Farrell

    Mike – That is awesome!!!! Great work. ¬†I am about to move out of a pretty sweet garden apartment into a place with no outdoor space but a pretty good sized fire escape. ¬†I have been bumming a bit. ¬†Your garden is an inspiration….KEEP GROWING AMIGO!!!
    JoJo Farrell

  • Mike Lieberman

    Cool. Cool. Keep me updated.

  • 6629helenmarlo

    My daughter lives in Spanish Harlem and has acess to the backyard, she asked me for suggestions РI live in Baton Rouge Рbut I suggested herbs in pots and flowers in the ground I love your idea about soda bottles as planters for herbs!  Going to suggest that to her Рwhat can be planted at this late date 7/25/11?  Here we can plant anything.

  • Mike Lieberman

    She can go to the Union Square Farmers Market and see what is being sold there. The people at Silver Heights Farm who sell plants are of great help.

  • Michelle

    Wow, that’s awesome!¬† It’s amazing how much can grow in a small area – such a beautiful sight. ūüėČ

  • Mike Lieberman

    Aww thank you much Michelle

  • Cardonemanagement

    If you do this for hire, my client in the West Village is looking for a quote for a rooftop garden.  If you are interested in this work feel free to email me at 
    gmail .comThank youJoanne

  • Mike Lieberman

    Thanks for the inquiry Joanne, but I’m currently living in Los Angeles.

  • Ed

    This looks really great.  No trouble from New York City Fire Department on this?

  • Mike Lieberman

    None at all. It was in the back of the building, so it wasn’t in clear site.

    Having stuff on your fire escape in NYC is kind of like J-walking. It’s illegal. It’s just a matter of it’s enforced or not.

  • Anonymous

    nice post. i like this blog so much…..really its a great idea

  • Mike Lieberman

    Glad you likes.

  • Dixied35

    These are all great ideas! However, being Irish, I want to try to grow potatoes (LOL). I tried growing them in straw last year and the results were all mush – want to try container growing them this year, even though I have enough space to plant them right in the ground,¬†but too many critters like potatoes. Do you have any suggestions for planting potatoes in containers? We don’t really have good access to the 5 gallon pails where we live.

  • Mike Lieberman

    I’ve never grown potatoes before, but you might want to look up “potato condos”

  • Pierretteleger

    I remember an idea, ppl used to use stacked tires as planters for potatoes, rubber used to pull heat and apparently worked well.

  • Polarican

    I’m glad I stumbled across your site, I’ve been dying to grow some edibles on my fire escape for¬†awhile and just needed some simple guidance.¬† I know this may seem¬†pretty basic but could say what you started from seed and what you may have planted as transplants (if any) and if transplants did you start them from seed indoors at some point?¬†¬†

  • Polarican

    ¬†Expand I’m glad I stumbled across your site, I’ve been dying to grow some edibles on my fire escape for¬†awhile and just needed some simple guidance.¬† I know this may seem¬†pretty basic but could say what you started from seed and what you may have planted as transplants (if any) and if transplants did you start them from seed indoors at some point?¬†¬†

  • Polarican

    Sorry about the double post, having technical difficulties!

  • Mike Lieberman

    Here’s a list of seeds you don’t want to start indoors¬†

  • Line Bonneau

    What vegetable can be grown on a balcony that has lots of light but not necessarily direct sunlight? What about a windy balcony? Mine is facing west, overlooking a wooded area. First year there, so not sure of how much sun there really is. Any suggestions beyond herbs?

  • Susssuuu

    Lowes and Home Depot

  • Belfiore stores

    Nice post. i like this blog so much…. It’s amazing how much can grow in a small area. thanks for sharing the amazing ideas.