Tuesday, May 31, 2011

tomato bed map: beds 13 and 16

Following are maps of the tomato varieties that we planted in beds 13 and 16.

may 28, 2011: quickening

The second radish of the season. (I ate the first.)
There comes a time in each gardening season when things start to happen of their own accord. Seeds emerge from the muddy ground to strain against the row cover. The plants that we sow by choice begin to outnumber those that we remove.

The soil no longer seems to be a sink for our inputs of seed, water, labor, and concern. The semblance is, of course, only in our minds: our garden has not been dormant over the last few weeks, but occulted by topsoil. We have been impatient, weary of even the vestige of winter. We need to relax. (I need to relax.)

The day on which we transplant the first batch of tomato and pepper seedlings seems like the official start of a season, like the Memorial Day weekend during which the day occurred. On the annoyingly chilly Thursday evening before Memorial Day, Susan and Dave brought flats of starts from the greenhouse to the garden. We swaddled the seedlings in straw bales and row cover and hoped that they were still alive on Saturday.

transplanting tomatoes
The seedlings emerged unfrozen from our makeshift cold frame on Saturday morning. I arranged the small pots of peppers and tomatoes in the beds in triangular patterns. Before allowing the other volunteers to dig holes for the starts, I mapped the beds by variety, recording the location of each seedling so that we did not have to rely on scrawled markings on plastic tabs or chopsticks when it was time to save seeds for next season. (Did I mention that I needed to relax?)

planting peppers
While I completed the bed maps and worried about incipient OCD, the other volunteers dug holes deep enough so that the surface of the beds came just below the first true leaves of the seedlings. They filled the holes with water. After the soil had absorbed the water, the volunteers removed the seedlings from their pots and transferred them to the holes. Soil and more water followed the seedlings. We finished by mulching the beds with straw and surrounding them with chicken wire (or, more accurately, rabbit-fencing).

Katrina and April fence peas
We moved on to the beds that we had planted in prior weeks. We used branches newly pruned from our fruit trees as fence posts. We retrieved from storage the braided trunk of an old alley-abandoned ficus that we’ve used for the last few years as a fence post, driving the brittle stalk into the soil of the carrot bed and twist-tying it to a roll of rabbit-fencing. (Our appreciation for particular pieces of repurposed detritus approaches animism.)

Annie and Evelyn arranged paving stones in the dodecahedron bed, and planted mounds of butternut squash, radishes, and spinach between the pavers. The pavers always seem like a good idea at the beginning of the season, before they start to disappear into the loose soil of the bed.

oh hai u rly shld B working
While everyone else worked at the Garden, Dave biked out to Kilbourn Greenhouse to pot more seedlings. It is unclear how much potting he was able to accomplish.

pole beans

chives in bloom

Sunday, May 29, 2011

garden map: may 28 2011

may 21, 2011 - chamomile

As has been the case for almost every workday this year, the morning of May 21 was overcast and unseasonably cool. The seeds in our beds seemed to be germinating slowly. The one crop that was obviously thriving was our infestation of chamomile, which threatened to overrun the back of the garden.

We differed in how best to control the chamomile. Some wanted to dig up the plants; others preferred to hand-mow the patch to within a few inches of the ground. In the end, we did a little of both. We tossed the chamomile trimmings into the compost bin, only to find them growing lustily in the bins the following week.

Those who were not tangling with chamomile performed other work around the garden. John installed screen at the back of the shed in an attempt to prevent wasps from building nests inside. John also patched the shed’s roof.

Volunteers weeded beds of flowers and vegetables, including a patch of coriander that had self-seeded in a bed that we had intended for collards.

We decided to plant a bed of beets, turnips, and radishes. We gathered our seed packets and read the planting instructions. This is when I learned that beet seeds should be soaked in water for at least 24 hours before being planted. We had missed that instruction last year—which may explain why we had such poor results. In the end, we planted a few rows of turnips and radishes.

The front garden was in the midst of a palette shift. The garden's first blooms in March and April are Virginia Bluebells. In May, the alliums and chives bloom, turning the garden purple. This year, there seem to be more dark red leaves of the Smoke Bush to form a ground for the purple flowers.
All of the colors in the garden seemed saturated, enhanced by the filtered light from the overcast skies.

may 14, 2011: ginkgo rhubarb marmalade

fiddlehead fern
The drizzly chill of the morning did not discourage the group of volunteers that visited the garden on May 14—although we did need reminding that it was not, in fact, April.
We spent the day in tasks of preparation. We were glad to find that the City had reconnected the garden’s metal “buffalo box” to the municipal water supply. We pulled our hose from the shed and snaked it through the garden, running it from the reel in front of the shed to the connection near the street.
eventually, this will be soil
We weeded empty beds in anticipation of the seedlings that were still growing at Kilbourn. We pruned and tied back raspberry bushes. We turned compost. We weeded the perennial bed in which we grow rhubarb, sorrel, and lovage. (For some reason, a group of us can remember the names of only two of the plants in this bed at a time, so that it requires two people to identify all of the plants in the bed. Signs would probably help.)

 We planted a few varieties of lettuce throughout the garden. We planted some of the lettuce between the mounds of summer squash that we had started the prior week. We might consider this an example of companion planting, in which we plant together species that have complementary growth habits. We should be able to harvest the quick-growing lettuce before the leaves of the slower-growing squash plants produce too much shade. It’s no Three Sisters, but it’s a start. We’ll need to do similar types of companion planting if we want to increase the yield from the garden.

planting lettuce between squash

We also planted lettuce in the bathtub. This is yet another attempt to make the tub serve some use other than to contribute to the garden’s junkyard motif. Last year’s try at growing potatoes in the tub was unsuccessful—although that may have been as much a result of the seed potatoes as the choice of planter.

Annie surprised us with marmalade that she had made using rhubarb from the garden. We opened a jar and spread the marmalade on bagels that Susan had brought. 

Consuming a food that was made from produce of your garden is qualitatively different from consuming produce directly. To eat a green bean picked from the vine or a radish pulled from the earth is to live in the moment: to luxuriate in the season, heedless of the future. 

It thought: here I am still, in my black suit, warm and content—and drew a little music from its dark thighs. As though the twilight under the refrigerator were the world. As though the winter would never come. —Mary Oliver, "The cricket did not actually seek..."

To eat a preserve or a relish made from something harvested earlier, on the other hand, is to consume evidence of forethought and delayed gratification. It is living chez la Fourmi au lieu de celle de la Cigale.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Thursday evenings are back

Starting May 26, the Garden will be open from around 6:30 PM until it either gets too dark or we tire of weeding. Come out and dig up some purslane.


Kilbourn Organic Greenhouse
Around a month ago, we started seedlings that we hope will become this season’s crop of tomatoes, peppers, kale, and herbs. A couple of weeks later, Dave and I left the garden a bit early and biked across town to the Kilbourn Organic Greenhouse, where our seedlings grow until they are hardy enough to be transplanted into beds in the garden.

 Our flats of seedlings, or starts, occupied a small space on a counter in the back of the greenhouse, dwarfed by the huge inventory of seedlings that Kilbourn was growing for its annual garden sale. Some of our tomato starts were “leggy”: having grown too quickly because of untimely exposure to heat, they were not yet strong enough to support the new length of their stems. Our peppers and kale, though, were upright and sturdy, even a little stubby—evidence of controlled and even growth.

We transplanted our starts from their tiny cells in the seedling flats to larger pots. Transplanting is delicate work: the soil around the seedlings is loose and can fall away to expose fragile roots, which risks shocking or even killing the seedling.

To protect a start during transplantation, we work with pointed sticks, or dibbles. We first push a dibble down into the cell near the stem of a seedling; using a combination of squeezing the cell’s walls from the outside and digging around the start with the dibble, we eventually ease it from its home.

We next prepare the start’s new home. After using the dibble to hollow out a cavity in the soil in a small pot, we align the dibble beside the start’s stem and guide the start into the soil ”like a lineman making way for the fullback”, according to Dave.

(Sporting similes are rare among the Ginkgo crowd. We occasionally hear the crowds roar at Wrigley, but we’re usually doing something else at the time, like staking tomatoes or spraying aphid soap on kale leaves.)

tubs of tempered water
After filling in the remainder of the pot’s cavity with soil, we add the pot to a flat. When a flat is full of small pots, we water it. As is every other activity involving seedlings, watering is a delicate activity. Pouring water directly over a start in a pot could either compact the soil around the start’s roots or—just as bad—wash soil away from the roots. There is also the chance that the water will not penetrate the soil down to the roots.

A better way to water seedlings is to submerge the entire flat of pots into a basin of water. The water wicks up from the bottom of the pot. When the soil at the top is moist, the pot is thoroughly irrigated. It is also good to use water that has been sitting around for some time. This “tempered water” won’t be so cold as to shock the seedlings; and if the water was drawn from a municipal tap, letting it sit allows some of the chlorine to vaporize. We avail ourselves of the tempered water that Kilbourn keeps in huge tubs next to its seed-watering stations.

Dave with Kilbourn's Kirsten Akre

Ours are truly coddled seedlings, thanks to the Kilbourn Organic Greenhouse: started in controlled conditions of heat and light; oxygenated by the breezes of air-circulating fans; and irrigated through capillary action using tempered water. All that they need to be like Kobe beef is to receive regular massages.

May 7, 2011

May 14, 2011

The idea of massaging seedlings seemed absurd until I read of the practice of brushing, in which one manipulates seedlings to encourage stronger stem growth. If we continue down this path, we’ll soon be wafting sage smoke in the greenhouse and playing Mozart to our tomato starts while performing tiny acts of horticultural Rolfing on them.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

consider the cherry tree

October 30, 2010
November 20, 20
Consider the cherry tree: thousands of blossoms create fruit for birds, humans, and other animals, in order that one pit might eventually fall onto the ground, take root, and grow.

Who would look at the ground littered with cherry blossoms and complain, "How inefficient and wasteful!" The tree makes copious blossoms and fruit without depleting its environment. Once they fall on the ground, their materials decompose and break down into nutrients that nourish microorganisms, insects, plant, animals, and soil.


March 21, 2011

April 30, 2011
Although the tree actually makes more of its "product" than it needs for its own success in an ecosystem, this abundance has evolved (through millions of years of success and failure, or in business terms, R&D), to serve rich and varied purposes. In fact, the tree's fecundity nourishes just about everything around it.

What might the human-built world look like if a cherry tree had produced it?

—William McDonough and Michael Braungart, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

garden map, May 7, 2011

The following image represents the state of the garden as of May 7, 2011. Crops in red are planned; crops in light green and black have been planted.

Monday, May 9, 2011

A Planting We Will Go

A cloudy morning did not stop more planting at Ginkgo on our first Saturday in May. A solid group of new and returning volunteers sprinkled wildflower seeds in the front beds along the sidewalk while Dave, Annie, Susan, and Alan sketched out our morning plans. We will be looking for marigolds, alyssums, sunflowers, and more in the upcoming weeks!

weeding and seeding the flower beds in front

The potatoes and turnips sowed the week before received some TLC next. John planted more alyssum flowers around the potato plants to naturally ward off any Colorado potato beetles. Rounds of watering the seedlings followed. Many thanks to our rain barrel for stepping up while our hose remains out of commission for a few more weeks!

planting pea seeds
Cucumbers, beans, squash, and peas were next on the agenda. First, teams split up to weed and set up trellises for our spindling plants. Through a collaborative group effort, new seeds were sown before any rain could fall.

planting pole bean seeds

planting summer squash seeds in mounds

Cosimo was good at pruning and charged little.- Calvino, The Baron in the Trees

Our fruit trees were not left neglected this weekend either. Dave climbed up our pear tree with ease to prune vertical branches that will not bear fruit.

Its white blossoms are open and have us crossing our fingers for a bountiful fruit harvest this year from all of our trees!