Thursday, June 25, 2009

Summer has last!

On what felt like the real first day of summer, June 20, a large team of volunteers harvested 31 pounds of veggies, primarily greens (collards, chard, spinach, lettuce and mustard), but there were 4 pounds of turnips (finally!), a handful of daikon and chives, sage and mint.

It was a hot day, so after harvesting and rinsing the greens, the beds all needed a thorough watering. We’re finally seeing some flowers on the tomatoes, a positive sign of things to come. And the other veggies all seem to have benefited from the recent rain and warmer temperatures.

Here are the beans getting ready to grab onto the papasan:

The sky was cloudless and the sun was bright and the temperature was hot, so it was a good thing we’d planned a potluck for the afternoon. The reason for the potluck was to wish super-volunteer Lara well as she departs Chicago for Pittsburgh.

Lara’s been a regular volunteer for a few years, and her expertise and help will be missed. But she’ll have her own garden in Pittsburgh and she’s actually taking an heirloom tomato plant with her to get her new garden started off right.

One of the highlights (among many) of the potluck was a salad made from a selection of different greens and herbs from the garden. And the two watermelons certainly hit the right spot. The newly built patio provided the perfect shady place to eat and chat.

A man in a hat seeking answers to the garden's challenges in the shade of the shed earlier in the day:

Friday, June 19, 2009

Rain, rain, go least for a little while

Only the absolutely hardiest volunteers showed up on Saturday, June 13. The rain was pretty well pouring down, and we spent some time huddled under the shed hoping it would pass or at least lighten, which it did, which made harvesting a little more pleasant and somewhat simpler.

Again, it was a bumper week for the greens: they are loving this cool weather even though the tomatoes and peppers are suffering from it. Unfortunately, one of the beds of collards has been attacked by aphids. The collards were still good, but we had to spend a long time washing the aphids off before taking the harvest to Vital Bridges. Collards covered in aphids really aren’t very appealing. Luckily, the collards planted in the bed with the chard escaped the attack of the aphids.

Many pounds of greens and herbs were taken up to Vital Bridges including two types of spinach, two types of collards, kale, some beautiful ruby chard, gorgeous purple-veined mustard, a few daikon, a large bunch of savory chives and a bunch of sage.

Here's some peppery mustard leaf

Sadly, the turnips were still a little too small to be harvested, but they are coming along, as are the beets (both red and golden – finally!) and potatoes (which are looking very happy, see photo below).

The fava beans continue to grow enthusiastically, and the beans planted around the papasan frame have already sprouted!

And the lettuce may be ready for harvesting next week.

The sun didn’t really come out while we were at the garden, but the rain did taper off enough to let us get some other work done. The aphids were sprayed with a diluted solution of dish soap. A few eggplants were put in the ground. The small plugs of prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepsis) were planted in the front garden along with some newly purchased Panicum virgatum, a native prairie plant commonly known as switchgrass and currently in vogue as a potential source of ethanol.

Caging the dropseed to protect it from predators in the front garden (that is, dogs and trash)

The Panicum virgatum, caged

And straw that had been soaked in water for a couple of days (thanks to the Thursday evening crew) was strewn under the plum trees and inoculated with more wine-cap stropharia spawn.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Wine caps and prairie dropseed

On Saturday June 6, Ginkgo hosted a happy bunch of enthusiastic volunteers (including a Chicago Cares crew), who tirelessly harvested, weeded, sowed, planted and mulched things into order.

Our second harvest of the season included the rest of the radishes, more spinach, chard, collards and kale, two heads of lettuce, and assorted herbs.

La Ratte fingerling potatoes

With the harvest in, we moved on to various maintenance activities. One team earthed up the La Ratte fingerling potatoes (half a bed, plus the overflow in pots and the bathtub). The principle is to raise the soil around the growing potato plants to encourage them to generate more roots and less foliage.

Ginkgo founders Eric, Shona, and daughter

Another team tidied the raspberry canes. And given the continued cool nights, we also blanketed the sweet potatoes with row cover. Much weeding was done in many locations. Benefiting from the advice of Ginkgo co-founder Eric, in town for a rare visit, we mustered enough courage to take out the sickly old boughs of the smoke tree to the left of the front gate, in the hope that some of the healthy shoots at the base will produce strong new trunks.

In a re-enactment of a scene from My √Āntonia we also dispatched volunteers to trade growing stock with neighboring homesteads. Alan returned first of all with a bountiful selection of unusual varieties of organic tomatoes from Rogers Park. We needed these to supplement our home-grown plants which have struggled in this spring's cold and damp.

Meanwhile, Doug trekked across the flatlands to Barrington to pick up the long awaited allotment of prairie plants from Native Seed Gardeners, a seed saving program associated with the the Chicago Botanic Garden. I think we had all envisaged getting something more than the six small plugs that they were able offer us. Apparently they have received lots of interest from local gardeners in their program, which is great. However, it looks like we set our expectations a little high. We're definitely going to need to purchase many more plants if we're ever going to have anything like a prairie garden.

Undeterred, we made a start on increasing our prairie plantstock by sowing Echinacea purpurea (purple coneflower), Echninacea angustifolia (prairie coneflower) and Rudbeckia hirta (one of the many plants called black-eyed susan) in parts of three beds at the west end of the garden.

Back with the vegetables, three of the remaining beds were quickly consumed by all sorts of squash: zucchini, acorn squash, two types of pumpkins, and Armenian cucumbers (strictly speaking, a weird melon). In the next bed, we finally discovered a use for the reclaimed papasan frame which has now been repurposed as a climbing frame for pole beans.

We finished up the session by inoculating our first bed for Wine Cap stropharia mushrooms. We're going to take two approaches with these. Today's was to mix half the sawdust spawn into a dampened 4-inch deep bed of 75% wood chips and 25% compost, spread out under one of the plum trees. With some more compost/chips mixture on top and a light straw mulch, this should provide the ideal growing medium. Next week, we'll try the other approach, inoculating a bed of pre-soaked straw.

[Photos courtesy of Dave Short]

Friday, June 5, 2009

The first harvest is in!

On Saturday, May 30, Ginkgo Organic Gardens had its first harvest of the season! Volunteers harvested collards, kale, chard, spinach, radishes, chives and mint. All were transported to Vital Bridges and happily received.

The greens, especially the collards, are always especially popular. Starting them in the greenhouse this year gave them a good headstart and meant we were able to harvest earlier than last season. The collards had a long growing season last year, continuing well into the fall. (They prefer cooler weather.) It will be interesting to see whether starting them in the greenhouse has any effect on the length of their season.

During Thursday's evening session, planning was done for the few beds that are still empty. We've now made room in the schedule (and the beds) for cucumbers, winter squash, summer squash and some heirloom tomatoes. Beans and eggplant will share a bed. Lettuce will share a bed with soy. Artichokes will share the sweet potato bed.

There will be a lot of planting to do on Saturday.

...and there is still more creeping buttercup to be dealt with....It has sprouted all over the neighborhood this season.