Sunday, March 29, 2009

Potting party #1

Our mini forest of tomato seedlings, practically indistinguishable from each otherIn the space of a week, our seed trays at Kilbourn have gone from showing just a few hardy strips of Brassica sprouts to a forest of seedlings, mostly due to the germination of just about all the tomatoes we sowed. The first few varieties, such as Koralik, started to poke up midweek, and by Saturday March 28, 14 days after planting, almost every plug had several pair of cotyledon leaves showing.

Collard seedlings, 14-days from sowing, potted up next to the Kilbourn grow lightsAlthough we had a crew of seven and plenty of pots and compost, we judged that the tomatoes could safely spend a while longer in the plug trays, and focused out energy on transplanting the collard and dwarf Siberian kale seedlings into the individual pots they will spend the next six weeks in before we're ready to plant them. The rhubarb chard has been joined by its rainbow sibling, and a few more cabbage seedlings have appeared. All of these looked like they could do with some more growth before transplanting.

There's no show yet from any of the herb seedlings or the peppers — both may need more warmth to make a showing. We also haven't seem any sprouts from the red Russian kale, which suggests it may be a dud. One new starter this week is a strip of Habañero chiles from Seeds of Change.

With so many people and a finite amount of potting, we took the opportunity to sketch out some plans for the coming weeks and months.

Most immediately, our focus for the first real workday, Saturday April 4, will be cleaning and tidying the garden after the long winter. In past years this has also been a good time to start turning beds ready for the first plantings. However, the cover crop (hairy vetch, clover and beans) that we planted in the fall has started to reappear under the row cover, so we are eager to let this do some more nitrogen fixing if we can. After some deliberation, we decided to leave these cover crop beds untouched until our second Chicago Cares work day, on Sunday April 19. There should still be several beds where we can start loosening the soil already — in particular the carrot bed, which could do with deepening if possible.

Now would also be a good time to apply soil amendments to restore nitrogen and other minerals lost last season. However, Kirsten from Kilbourn recommended opting for adding compost with built-in fertilizer in the form of manure. Soil testing might help us decide how to proceed, but this has shown pretty variable results in the past.

Other possibilities for early season work include sowing the very hardy Erste Ernte spinach, and perhaps taking some vine cuttings to plant along the north-east corner of the Ginkgo site, where the chain-link fence is enthusiastically colonized by morning glory at present. Another possibity for that location would be sweet peas.

Longer-term projects for the year include restocking our tools, including a ladder and a bucketful of clippers which seems to have disappeared over the winter; installing guttering on the shed roof, to feed the two rain barrels and reduce our dependence on city water; moving the compost bins to a new, more stable site; and building a solid new bed to replace the mound of earth that grew a whole pound of potatoes last year.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A week's a long time for a Brassica seedling

Collards and dwarf Siberian kale seedlings, 7 days after sowing
A visit to Kilbourn Greenhouse to water our seed trays on Saturday 3/21 showed that many of the greens have already sprouted, just seven days after sowing. Almost every collard seed has become a sprout, along with most of the dwarf Siberian kale (but none of the red Russian kale), and a smattering of Winningstadt cabbage and rhubarb Swiss chard (but none of the rainbow chard).

Herb seedlings (not ours) under grow lights
Kirsten now has three huge arrays of grow lights in place, suspended from pulleys and hooked up to AC. Underneath, a massed phalanx of herb seedlings are reaching for their ersatz sun.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Speedy collards

A quick drop in for Wednesday watering today. Everything's looking pretty happy, as much as bare circles of earth can do. When we were putting the trays back after bottom-watering them all, we noticed a few collard sprouts peeking out—just four days from sowing to germination.

We also had a chance to sow one more tray of plugs with those seeds we somehow overlooked at the weekend. These were:

  • Japanese Pickling Eggplant
  • Black Eggplant (two rows)
  • Green Globe Artichoke
  • Siskiyou Sweet Onion

  • Lettuce (seed collected from garden)
  • Mustard (seed collected from garden)

  • Lime Basil
  • Cumin
  • Oregano
  • Italian Flat-Leaf Parsley
  • Mexican Tarragon

Sunday, March 15, 2009

New season, new beginnings

Ginkgo’s 2009 growing season kicked off on Saturday, March 14, with a frenzy of sowing. This year we’re hoping to get much more momentum at the start of the year by starting off many of our seedlings in one of the greenhouses at Kilbourn Park.

Kirsten Akre, who runs the three all-organic greenhouses and a host of associated programs for the Chicago Park District, has very kindly agreed to let us use some bench space to germinate and raise trays of seedlings to get a head start on spring. In recent years, Ginkgo has had to make do with raising seedlings in spare corners of living rooms and on windowsills. The result has been a limited stock of rather spindly plants.

We felt these restrictions badly last May, when having toiled one Saturday to plant two beds with our full inventory of carefully raised tomato plants, almost all of them were destroyed in a storm two days later. Although the plants probably hated the cold temperatures, we think the worst damage came from the strong winds and driving rain. We’re hoping that two changes this year can reduce this risk. One is to grow our seedlings at Kilbourn where the better conditions should make for more sturdy young plants. The other improvement we’re planning is to construct some improvised cold frames at Ginkgo to allow us to harden off the young plants outdoors, so that they will be tough enough to withstand the Chicago weather once we’re ready to plant them.

We decided to focus our early efforts on three main areas: tomatoes, peppers and greens. The tomato and pepper crops are a mainstay of Ginkgo’s summer production, and getting an early start could allow us to begin harvesting much earlier. Greens, particularly collards, were a big hit with people at Vital Bridges last year; again, we hope that starting these off under glass will mean bigger yields from earlier in the summer.

Our first batch of seeds were planted in plug trays, so that we can easily transplant the small plants into larger pots when they’re big enough. So far we have sown the following:

Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Bull Nose
  • Chocolate
  • King of the North
  • Wisconsin Lakes
Medium Peppers
  • Poblano
  • Jalapeño
  • Serrano
Hot Peppers
  • Red Rocoto (a Peruvian variety)
  • Aji Cristal
  • Thai Hot
  • Rooster Spur
  • Yellow and Red Mushroom
Slicing Tomatoes
  • Moskvich
  • Amish Paste
  • Roma
  • Orange Oxheart
  • Old German
  • Oregon Star
  • Brandywine
  • Stupice
  • Cherokee Purple
  • Purple Calabash
  • Priden’s Purple
  • Orange Banana
Cherry Tomatoes
  • Koralik
  • Fruity Cherry (seeds collected from garden)
  • Mexican Strain
  • Georgia (Southern) Collards
  • Rhubarb Swiss Chard (red)
  • Rainbow Swiss Chard (mixed colors)
  • Red Russian Kale
  • Dwarf Siberian Kale
  • Winningstadt Cabbage
  • Cilantro
  • Genovese Basil
  • Dark Purple Opal Basil
Now the watering, watching and waiting begins.