Saturday, April 25, 2009

Summer's false dawn?

Visiting Ginkgo on Saturday, April 25, it was hard to believe there is still three weeks until we are free of the threat of frost. Temperatures rose into the upper 70s and a strong wind blew across occasional thunder showers, flinging down large warm raindrops. The only direct sown crop to have germinated so far is the radishes, but we removed all the row cover from the bed to allow it to benefit from the next few days of forecast rain and warmth.

After last season's loss of the tomato and pepper seedlings, however, we know better than to assume summer has arrived, which explains why one of today's tasks was to build a cold frame out of three reused windowpanes, three disassembled straw bales and an ingenious arrangement of bricks and twine. This will provide a staging area for us to use as we bring seedlings from the Kilbourn Park greenhouse to Ginkgo over the next few weeks, and let them get used to the cooler, drier environment outdoors.

Other preparatory work included setting up guide wires for the raspberries; adding a downspout to direct water from the new gutter into the rain barrel; clearing the compost pile from the back gate; levelling the planned patio area; and rabbit-proofing the front gate.

If any blog readers are looking for organic vegetable or fruit plants for their gardens, or for straw bales or manageable quantities of Organimix compost, then Ginkgo highly recommends Kilbourn Park's annual organic plant sale on May 17-18, 10am-2pm.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Sun, sun, sun, where'd it go?

Weeding in Saturday morning sunshine
The weekend of April 18-19 gave a nice illustration of the fickleness of Chicago's spring weather. The Saturday was gloriously warm, with bright sunlight and temperatures in the low 70s. A jolly assembly of volunteers new and old worked in T-shirts mowing cover crop, turning dirt and spreading the newly arrived compost on every available bed. One of our local rabbits made a quick dash for safety after he/she was disturbed from a newly dug burrow amid the hairy vetch underneath the row cover, only to reappear hopefully half an hour later with a mouthful of straw.

With many hands to help, we were also able to plant several beds with hardier crops:
  • three varieties of spinach next to the front fence
  • carrots and daikon in the regular "deep bed", newly leavened with sand and compost
  • a half bed of glazed-leaf collards, and
  • Windsor broad beans and sugar snap peas, surrounded by onions, scallions, beets and radishes, all in the "dodecagonal bed"

The garden overseerBack at the garden on Sunday, it felt like we had wound the clock back a month, with steady rain, no sign of sun and temperatures hovering around 50F. A valiant group of Chicago Cares volunteers worked with great enthusiasm despite the fact that any job resulted in getting soaking wet. We lifted the soil in many more beds, spread a thicker layer of compost onto all the unplanted beds and got a head start on bunny-proofing as many beds as our limited supply of stakes would allow. At the same time, a smaller group screwed the new gutter to the eaves along the back of the shed (one task where having a steady rain actually provided some benefit). After restoring our energy with brownies, we tucked the newly planted beds under row cover to insulate them a little from the forecast sleet and called it a (very wet) day.

The best-laid plans

A chilly, bright and blustery Easter Saturday, April 11th, saw an enthusiastic crew of Ginkgo volunteers making progress on a bunch of pre-planting tasks. Several beds were aerated with the huge soil lifting tool, and there was also much weeding and raking.

Looking forward to five consecutive weeks in which we will have big groups of volunteers, we also spent some time trying to identify projects big and small that we can engage people in before we're safely into the second half of May and the threat of frost has passed. Some immediate needs are wood chips to keep down the weeds along the paths (available free from the city, but on no particular schedule) and compost to improve the nutritive composition of our beds. We decided to take the recommendation of Kirsten Akre at Kilbourn Park and get a delivery of Organimix from Lake Street Landscape Supply. Unsure what 10 cubic yards might look like, we found a handy visual aid.

The thought of receiving a couple of deliveries by truck made us look at the sad hole in the ground that passes for our loading area. It's clear we need to to something drastic here, and we will probably have to start by seeking the services of a skilled professional. Other plans for the coming weeks include: installing a length of guttering along the back of the shed to feed a rainwater barrel; building and painting signs for the beds; stripping and sealing the beds in the front garden; planning and planting some native prairie plants out front; repairing and replacing some tools; rebuilding our compost bins, to a design as yet unselected; reinforcing the new potato bed; building some steps on the east side of the shed that don't require rock climbing skills; and levelling an area west of the shed for shady summer working (and maybe a pergola).

A look through 2008's garden log found that on April 12th we planted peas, broad beans, scallions, carrots, spinach. On April 19th, with the soil temperature in bed 15 at 58F, we planted radishes, onions, beets and potatoes. This year, it seemed way too cold to plant anything edible, and the soil temperature confirmed this, with measurements of 47F and 51F.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Open the gates!

We had an astonishingly large turnout on sunny Saturday April 4th for Ginkgo's official opening day for 2009. All told something like 30 volunteers came along to help tidy up the garden and get it in shape for the growing season. Chicago Cares and DePaul University brought large crews, and these were supplemented with a broad array of individual volunteers, both familiar faces and new ones.

Tasks on opening day included removing the anti-rabbit fences and row cover; trash-picking, leaf-sweeping and Ginkgo-fruit removal; compost turning; endless restacking of chicken-wire rolls; and the creation of a brand-new potato bed from lumber (of the tree-derived and plastic kinds.)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Popping in for a midweek dibble

dib•ble (dĭb' əl) v. 1. trans. To make a hole in (the soil) with or as with a dibble; to sow or plant by this means. to dibble in (into): to put in or plant by dibbling. -- the Oxford English Dictionary

Wednesday evening, a quick trip to the greenhouse proved more exciting than anticipated. Not only had the tomatoes shot-up with gusto, even the peppers had begun to germinate! Well, if your excitement about this doesn't reach the same heart-palpitating levels ours did, you're forgiven. The herbs are still on their way and if that won't make a person giddy, I don't know what will.

After giving the babies their baths (and thanks to Kirsten and her volunteers for some emergency mid-week watering) we dibbled out the chard from their starter containers into seedling containers, giving them room to grow in anticipation of transplanting later this month.  

If the germination and dibbling wasn't enough to send us into fits of elation, then the promise of spring and our first day back at the garden surely is.  THIS SATURDAY, April 4th, 10:00 AM is opening day at Ginkgo.  Chicago Cares will be on hand to lend a hand and you, too, are welcome to come by and help us say, "welcome back, growing season!"

Volunteer Appreciation

Note: Ginkgo Gardens does not necessarily promise to scratch any or all volunteers under their chin or behind their ears.