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.