Saturday, April 10, 2010

Sneaking into the garden

We sneakily opened the garden a week early for some wonderful volunteers from Chicago Cares. Our favorite volunteer coordinator, Stephanie, was back despite suffering from a terrible cold. And Doug made some lovely muffins for snacking on.

The weather was amazing: warm and sunny and conducive to spending time outdoors. The cover crop, planted at the end of last season, was lush and green in most (but not all) of the beds. The cover crop includes rye, alfalfa and field peas. The alfalfa and field peas are legumes. As they grow, they take nitrogen from the atmosphere during the winter and "fix" the nitrogen into the soil to feed our crops during the growing season. Also, at sowing, the cover crop was inoculated with bacteria known as Rhizobium. These bacteria do the actual nitrogen "fixing". So, as the cover crop grows it replenishes nutrients depleted from the soil during the last growing season.

During our first day back in the garden, the primary mission was to get the beds ready for planting. To do this we trimmed down the cover crop – in some of the beds the crop was about 4 or 6 inches tall! After trimming, volunteers helped turnover the beds, working the crop back into the soil where it will decompose, adding additional nutrients to help support this year’s crops.

Thanks to the hardworking volunteers and the wonderful weather, we were able to sow three beds of spinach (which will be able to tolerate a cold snap, should one come along) and a bed of snow peas (which always do well).

The rhubarb, lovage and sorrell are already growing strong. The raspberries are getting leaves.

This kind soul went out and got water for us to drink as the day proved unexpectedly warm. We’d collected water in the rainbarrel, but that is definitely unsuitable for drinking. And the city hasn’t yet turned on the water for the season.

And these two braved the compost piles, probably turning them for the first time since we put the garden to bed last November (unless someone snuck in over the winter or earlier in the spring, which is a possibility knowing some of our volunteers).

We’re looking forward to preparing more beds next week, although the weather isn’t predicted to be quite as beautiful.