Friday, May 29, 2009

Is summer finally on the way?

The garden welcomed a large crew of volunteers on a beautifully sunny holiday Saturday, May 23, to seed, weed, water, harvest and transplant.

The ornamental alliums (members of the onion family) in the front garden are fully in bloom now. Unfortunately, a few were snapped by the wind. These were cut and made into a bouquet for one lucky volunteer. Also unfortunately, there was a lot of trash in the front garden, which was picked up by the bravest volunteers.

A new wildflower bed was seeded next to the new patio.

Onions, pole beans and snap peas were sowed in the large dodecagonal bed. Bush beans and soy beans were sowed in half of a nearby bed.

The fava beans sowed earlier in the dodecagonal bed are looking happy.

And the radishes in that same bed continue to flourish.

Swiss chard was moved from the cold frame and transplanted into new beds.

Unfortunately, the tomato plants suffered a bit from the wind earlier in the week. They were looking a bit beaten down. Hopefully, the thorough watering they got on Saturday, and the sun over the weekend, will help them toughen up a bit.

The herb bed is rather full, so cumin and tarragon were started in pots. Chives and mint continue to proliferate and be harvested.

Creeping buttercup had taken over about three-quarters of one of the flower beds, so a team of three spent a good long time weeding, but only managed to get about halfway finished. Creeping buttercup is a nice looking plant with its serrated, variegated leaves and bright buttercup flowers, but it was strangling the sedum and everything else that might want to be coming up in that bed later.

We’re looking forward to lots of transplanting (and a lot less weeding) next week. The sweet peppers and the hot peppers are spending their last week in the cold frame, just to be safe.

...and the wood chips from the city finally arrived! They were spread throughout the garden to help keep down weeds.

With thanks to Evelyn Y. (again), who seems to have become our unofficial photographer.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Planting out the tomatoes and weeding (again)

Saturday, May 16 was a lovely day at the garden. It was perfect weather for finally planting the tomatoes in their new beds. So far, we’ve set aside two beds for tomatoes and two beds for hot peppers and sweet peppers.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite warm enough to plant the hot peppers or the sweet peppers, so they went back into the cold frame for another week. One group of volunteers weeded (yet again) the tomato beds and then planted about 40 long-legged tomatoes, securing them to stakes and surrounding the beds with chicken wire to keep the rabbits out. The temperature was predicted to drop Saturday and Sunday nights, so we were hoping for the best.

Another small group weeded the flower beds just inside the gate, in preparation for planting cosmos, zinnias and calendulas. The native echinacea (purple coneflower) and rudbekia (black-eyed Susan) plants will be coming along later. (We're starting them from seed.)

Meanwhile, the rhubarb (beautiful big leaves in front of photo) and the raspberries continue to flourish.

As do the beans (on the right) and radishes (on the left) in the dodecagonal bed (you can see the two newly planted tomato beds in the background). The beets are still struggling along.

The daikon are looking leafy and there are a few carrot tops sprouting too.

The wine-cap stropharia mushrooms have been ordered. Mushrooms will be a new crop at Ginkgo this year. But...we’re still waiting to find out from the city when they will be able to deliver wood chips...

We've also started trying to ferment some comfrey leaves into fertilizer. We've got to make use of that ineradicable plant somehow. We dug out all the leaves we could find and put them into a container with a lid, and a spout at the bottom. Apparently, they are supposed to rot down quickly into a (possibly foul-smelling) liquid that is especially good for tomatoes.

Sunday's Chicago Cares crew got to work weeding (again!) and re-seeding the spinach bed, potting up the remainder of the plants that were brought over from the greenhouse at Kilbourn, seeding onions and more beets, and planting sweet potatoes!

Many thanks to Evelyn Y. for the photos this week.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Time for tough love in the garden

It’s that time of year – tender seedlings need to be moved from their safe, warm home in the greenhouse in preparation for facing life in the great outdoors.

During the first week of May, about 60 of the most robust tomato, jalapeño, artichoke and herb seedlings were transferred from the greenhouse to various living rooms to begin the “hardening off” process. This involved putting them outside for a few hours each day in the windy and unpredictable Chicago weather to toughen them up a bit. The seedlings will spend about a week-and-a-half at various way-stations in preparation for being planted outside on the weekend of May 16th and 17th.

Meanwhile, at the garden on May 9, a handful of hardy volunteers braved the increasingly cold and windy weather to weed, plant more potatoes (Desirée variety this time) and plant additional golden beets (not very many had germinated and some of us were looking forward to seeing them, so we’re trying again). Somehow, the spinach bed had become covered in a multitude of tiny weeds, so several dedicated volunteers took on that tedious weeding task. On the other hand, weeding the dodecagonal bed was a bit like playing Twister, as volunteers struggled to balance on a few paving stones and avoid being strangled by the bean trellis. (Sorry there aren’t any pictures of that, but our fingers were cold!)

It is amazing how many of the herbs have already come back: several clumps of chives are doing well and about to flower; the sage looks healthy and happy; the thyme is starting to make an appearance; and the oregano is taking over one end of the herb bed. In a different bed, the mint is already tall, and the Monarda fistula (bergamot) is coming along.

In the front garden, the viburnum is blooming and scenting the air, and the alliums are just about to open.

Next weekend will be spent planting all those seedlings and hoping we don’t get a late frost like we did last year (which killed off most of the original tomato plants). Keep your fingers crossed!

...but the wait goes on for woodchips to be delivered by the city....

Thanks to Evelyn Y. for this week's photo.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Seedling Sale at Kilbourn

This weekend our friend Kirsten Akre is having her seedling sale up at Kilbourn Park. It's the Kilbourn Greenhouse where we've been starting our seedlings. If you want to start a few plants at home this year, this is about as good a selection and price as you can get. AND they're all organic. AND proceeds go to support the greenhouse.

To reduce waste, bring your own box or flat to carry all your seedlings home.

Do stop by!

Here's the info:

Annual Organic Plant Sale

Peruvian Purple Pepper, Amana Orange Tomato, get your organic vegetable seedlings here, plus Bionda di Lyon, Chard, Rosita Eggplant. The Chicago Park District’s Kilbourn Park Organic Greenhouse will sell more than 150 varieties of organically grown vegetable, herb and flower seedlings. Plant prices range from $2 & up.

Date: 05/16/09
Start Time: 10:00 AM - 3:00 PM
Schedule Notes: This popular annual weekend sale is May 16 & 17. You can take your chances and attend the Half Price Sale Wednesday, May 20 from 5 - 7:30 pm plus, free Question/Answer session by the Master Gardeners of Cook County Chicago - University of Illinois Extension Bring your gardening questions and select from limited quantities of organic seedlings. Sponsored by Master Gardeners of Cook County Chicago, a program of the University of Illinois Extension
Cost: free admission
Location: Kilbourn Park & Organic Green House

Kilbourn Organic Greenhouse’s annual event focuses on open-pollinated tomatoes suitable for Chicago, in addition to seasonal organic vegetables, herbs and flowers

Monday, May 4, 2009

Our (volunteer) workers' day

We had a beautiful warm spring day on Saturday May 2 to welcome a willing crew of volunteers from Chicago Cares (Thanks, Stephanie -- the brownies were especially good) and the neighborhood for our very own May Day celebration. With such good weather we managed to make progress on a wide range of tasks throughout the garden.

On the cultivation front, we planted all the greens that have been growing at Kilbourn Greenhouse for the last seven weeks (collards, kale, cabbage and chard). We also trained the raspberry canes in arches over their new wire supports, which should make picking a little easier. The smaller variety of seed potatoes (La Ratte fingerlings) had sprouted well, so we planted these in our newly built potato bed, and with many left over we also filled a bunch of containers and the bath tub (that will be an interesting experiment!).

In the dodecagonal bed, we sowed the last remaining outer portion with turnips. The temperature in this bed measured 59F, so we decided to hold off another week on sowing pole beans or snow peas as these seem to prefer 60F and above.

We also made progress on a couple of long-planned infrastructure projects. Alan and some Chicago Cares folks shifted the huge rock pile to the south-east corner of the garden and laid a new patio area, surrounded by a low stone bench on two sides. The idea is to use this shady, unproductive area as a place to work in the heat of the summer on such tasks as weighing and packing produce. We're hoping we can also create a pergola for some more vines.

The new patio under construction

A separate crew attacked the flaking paint on the benches in the demonstration garden next to the street. The idea here is to coat these with a soy-based sealer, rather than repaint them. But first we need to remove a lot of green paint. Lots of elbow grease was translated into clear progress on these. There's still a little work to do, but the improvement is obvious.

A newly sanded bench in the front garden

We also had a chance to talk to a local contractor about options for fixing the drainage problems in our delivery and loading area, perhaps by diverting the runoff into a rain garden in the area previously occupied by the rock pile. It's clear that we'll need to raise the area by the gate substantially. The contractor gave us some useful ideas about permeable drainage layers and pavers that we could use in this area. We're hoping to get a quote within the week, so that we can put together a budget and apply for a grant. Undoubtedly, doing this properly is going to cost some money.

The last of our bulbs are still brightening the front garden.

Grape hyacinth (muscari)

In our herb beds, chives, thyme, sage and mint are all coming back strongly.