Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Sunday work day

One Sunday a month, we have a special workday in which we are joined by a team of Chicago Cares volunteers. While our Saturday sessions are usually frenetic with the tasks of harvesting and delivering, our Sundays are often more strenuous, if less glamorous. Freed from the demands of the regular harvest, we focus on longer-term projects and maintenance: weeding walkways, picking up, reorganizing the shed, turning the compost bins, and pruning.

Last Sunday was especially productive. With the help of an industrious team of volunteers, we worked our way through and beyond our to-do list. We cleared our apple and pear trees of the unfortunate victims of a fruit blight. We dismantled one of our listing trio of compost bins so that we can rebuild it with reinforcements. We weeded out front and between the pavers of the entry walkway.

We also built some overdue trellises to support trailing plants. In our latest bed of pole beans, we strung a cat’s cradle of garden twine. To support and—we hope—direct our flourishing winter squash plants in their pumpkiny peregrinations, we attached a wall of wood trellises (an alley find) to poles along the side of the bed. For summer squashes that often tend to rot when they lie directly on the soil, we strung a net of cotton clothesline.

It was all good, needed work that should benefit the garden later.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Book Swap and Reading

Join us at Ginkgo Sunday, August 9th for a book swap and literary reading.

Bring those old novels that are clogging up your shelves and swap 'em out for some new ones. Then hang about for some readings and songs.

Garden opens at 1:30
Book swap from 2 - 4
Readings from 4 on

Beau O'Reilly
LeAnne Ray
Jill Summers
Fred Sasaki
and then some

with garden implement music provided by Matt Test.

Bring a few bucks for the donation jar ($3, suggested) or a snack to share!

Oh, it's getting good

Saturday July 25th, 2009:
Temperature: High: 82; Low: 63.
Rainfall: trace.
Average windspeed: 8.6 mph, from the NW.
Adjective: perfect.

Summertime is here, by golly. And for proof I offer (ladies and gentlemen, drumroll please) this season's first tomato!

The "Orange Fleshed Purple Smudge", an heirloom of great charm and dignity:

Ohhhhh, it was a doozer too. Just ripe, it had the texture of a peach but with impeccable tomato flavor. We haven't grown this varietal before and jeez, if we get even a few more pounds of these, we're gonna count this season a success on the merits of that tomato alone.

Tomatoes weren't the only new additions to the harvest family. We pulled up a generous bunch of Siskyou Sweet onions and made a exploratory dig into one of our potato containers.

Those spuds you're looking at are a French heirloom variety called la ratte and here's a little histoire pour vous:

Like so many fashions, la ratte is a revival. It was grown in small quantities mostly around Lyon, and was known by such names as the quenelle de Lyon and the early pickle or cornichon hâtive. It appears under its present name for the first time in the Vilmorin-Andrieu seed catalogue for 1880.

After World War I,
la ratte disappeared and it does not even figure in La Pomme de Terre dans Votre Assiette, an authoritative guide by Nestor de la Bouteillère...

The revival of
la ratte began slowly in 1962 when a farmer near Le Touquet, in the north of France, found that the potato flourished in his sandy soil. He began research to improve breeding and emerged with a specimen fine enough to attract the backing of alarge cereal producer, the Société Rignot, in 1977...

"When you have dinner guests you bring out an exceptional wine," [
la ratte farmer] Dominique Dequidt says. "your potatoes, too, should be out of the ordinary."

(Blume, Mary. A French Affair. Free Press, 1999)

Considering such high praise, we took a handful home to test out. Ooh la la. Not only out of the ordinary, they might have been the best potatoes to ever grace a garden. But just you wait. If we can beat these aphids, we'll have plenty more where that came from.

Other fruits of the harvest included greens, beans (green and yellow), bunching onions, peas, raspberries, gooseberries, beets, carrots, basil, and one enormous daikon. It was a good haul. After such a strange spring it was nice to see that summer is reaching its height and with it our veggies.

Harvest at Vital Bridges/Groceryland:

Come by and see how we're doing!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Good Evening

Last Thursday evening, while volunteers were busily weeding and watering, Cliff Shierk from UIC stopped by Ginkgo in the name of science. Cliff is part of a project called the Chicago Area Pollinator Study that hopes to get a better understanding of the population and diversity of bee species in the Chicago area.

Cliff Shierk lays out a grid of traps:

We were pretty sure we knew a thing or two about bees but Cliff explained that of the 20,000 species of bees, 85% are solitary and don't build hives. All of a sudden, we were disenchanted with bumblebees and were hoping to catch one of the 5,000 other varieties that are found in the US. Perhaps a Digger Bee, or a Sweat Bee, or a Cuckoo Bee!

Cliff laid out a series of traps, that are simply cups painted to mimic flower colors and filled with soapy water. The soap releases the surface tension of the water so insects stopping by for a drink can't land on the surface and instead fall in. Cliff came back first thing on Saturday morning to pick up the traps.

Selected results:

We're still awaiting the data but in the meantime you can find out more about the project here:

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Berry Bounty

The big news 'round Ginkgo this week was the bumper crop of raspberries. Between the black and red raspberries, we plucked six pounds off our canes (note: this weight doesn't count those berries that might have accidentally wound up in our mouths whilst picking.) Of course, the folks up at the pantry were as pleased as we were proud.

Steering committee member Susan shows off the bounty:

Even though we're still mostly harvesting greens the summer vegetables are growing fast. Sweet potatoes, squashes, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers and tomatillos are all going gang busters. We even pulled an eggplant this week!

After taking care of the harvest (50 lbs!), we got to work on the summertime nitty-gritty. A fantastic group of volunteers from Chicago Cares did a yeoman's job (or yeoperson, rather, and several of 'em) of weeding, watering, cutting, tying, and tending the garden. It was hot out but the volunteers chipped in without complaint.

Good work if you can get it:

This season has been very productive but the insect world has noticed too. Chicago Cares volunteers Sam and David addressed our aphids while the rest of us peeked fearfully at some wasp condominiums going up under the eaves of the shed. Just when we were about to curse their entire subphylum, who should show up on the milkweed but a monarch butterfly caterpillar?

What a charmer:

This tyke and her friends are welcome in our garden. As are you! Come visit Thursday evenings or Saturday mornings to see how we're doing.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Holiday Roads

As the Fourth of July fell on a Saturday this year, Vital Bridges was closed and we at Ginkgo cancelled our volunteer day, favoring (if for one day only) grilling over gardening. Instead, Doug, Dave and Katie headed over to the garden early on Friday the third to harvest and deliver the produce. It was Katie's last day at Ginkgo (she's off to Chapel Hill via Guatemala) and we had another good yield of greens, beets, turnips, and herbs but we were also excited to see this year's first raspberries!

Summertime goodness:

On our way up Broadway, we talked about gardening and the good ol' US of A, from the vast produce plots at Monticello and Mount Vernon, to the Victory Gardens during the world wars; from the back-to-the-landers of the 70's, to the Guerilla gardeners and seed bombers of today. Unloading our pounds and pounds of greens we suddenly felt very patriotic.

Gardeners of America, we salute you!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Summer's here, and harvests are growing

Saturday, June 27 was a beautiful day in the garden, and a nice group of volunteers picked our largest harvest so far this year: 45 pounds, again mainly greens and herbs, but we also pulled up our first beets (mostly red, but there were a couple of golden).

Together, the beets and turnips made up 15 pounds of the harvest.

Beets and turnips ready to go:

Cart overflowing with greens, beets and turnips, waiting for customers at the food bank:

We also harvested a small amount of rhubarb and some garlic scapes. Garlic scapes are the tender, curled stem of the garlic plant – when diced and added to food, they add garlic flavor without too much heat.

Scapes harvested and ready to be weighed:

The spinach has just about exhausted itself, so the plants were pulled and the bed re-seeded with scallions, more turnips, pole beans and “longstanding” spinach (which does better in hot weather). More beans were sown in one of the beds, since one row hadn’t germinated. And there was lots of watering to do. (Little did we know that a large rainstorm would pass through Chicago on Saturday night – hopefully, it refilled the rain barrel, which has been providing us with lots of water this season).

And there was time to work in the flower beds. Thanks to the Chicago Cares team last week, most of the perennial buttercup is gone, though it is a determined plant and we will probably have to pull up a few interlopers from time to time. Weeding also uncovered some struggling calendula seedlings and a small lavender. We were happy to see that some of the wildflowers sown in the bed near the new patio are starting to appear. And we had time to plant more prairie plants in the front garden, including three small bedstraw plants (Galium boreale) and some Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans).

Zinnia in one of the flower beds:

Many thanks to Brian and Dave Sh. for this week's photos.