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 HabaƱero 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.