Sunday, May 27, 2012

cross town seedlings

Kilbourn Organic Greenhouse is on the other side of town from where many of the Ginkgo gardeners live. Because most of us either have day jobs or use alternate forms of transportation (or both), it has been difficult for us to schedule visits to tend to our seedlings while the greenhouse is open.

Annie and I saw the results of our scheduling issues on Sunday, when we met at the greenhouse to prepare the seedlings for their move to Ginkgo. Our young seedlings had suffered much in their first few weeks. The seedlings were pale, parched, and leggy—weak from their efforts to escape their cramped seed pots. Worse, though, were the tomato seedlings with broken stems—victims of a hail storm that pelted them while they were outside the walls of the greenhouse, being “hardened off”, or gradually exposed to the outdoor climate. No amount of hardening off can prepare a tomato seedling for a hailstorm.

We composted the broken seedlings, potted up what we could of the rest, and set everything outside again. The forecast called for warm and clear weather for the following week, so the seedlings would have some time to strengthen before we moved them to the garden.

I had thought that we still had a couple of weeks before we needed to move our seedlings. That was, for example, why we had sown radish seeds only a couple of weeks before in the beds that we planned for the tomatoes: we figured that we had time enough for one round of radishes. After witnessing firsthand the state of the seedlings at the greenhouse, though, I realized that it would be good to transport the seedlings by the next weekend.

The following Friday, I took the day off from work and rented a pickup truck from iGo. I drove to Kilbourn, loaded the truck bed with seedlings, and drove everything over to Ginkgo. Moving the seedlings required two trips across town and five hours because of traffic. Driving with a truck full of young plants broiling in the noonday sun, moving at a snail’s pace in a traffic jam caused by a road construction crew, and knowing that I was going to have to extend my iGo rental by yet another hour, I realized the following:

  1. I still loathed driving in general, and driving in Chicago in particular.
  2. Ginkgo needed its own greenhouse. 

After returning the truck, I biked back to the garden, glad to be free of the internal combustion engine. I arranged the seedlings in the shade of the fruit trees to protect the plants from the sun and installed temporary fencing to protect them from rabbits.

 Before I left for the day, I conducted an informal seedling inventory. I was relieved to learn that even after losing so much to hail damage, we still had over 150 tomato plants. We also had seedlings for eggplant, peppers, collards, and even a single beet. In retrospect, I realized that we had started so many tomato seedlings back in February that the hail storm might have done us a service: we no longer had to agonize over finding homes for a large number of extra plants.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Kilbourn Organic Greenhouse Plant Sale this weekend

The Kilbourn Park Organic Greenhouse—which generously provides Ginkgo with greenhouse space, abundant rainwater, organic soil, and pest control assistance from a swarm of ladybugs—will be holding its annual plant sale this weekend (May 19 and 20, 2012).

Sunday will feature a number of events specifically for children: yoga; running around screaming with glee; getting faces covered in dirt and popsicle remnants; etc. (The last two are not officially scheduled activities, but I'm pretty sure that they will happen.)

I have been out to the greenhouse a few times in the last couple of weeks and have seen the seedlings on offer, and each time I have been glad to have been in a hurry and not to have had large amounts of cash burning a hole in my pockets. Even today, as I loaded around 150 tomato seedlings onto a truck to transport from the greenhouse to the garden, I considered tossing in a flat of Green Zebras.

If you go to the sale, you may catch the greenhouse cat dozing up on a shelf somewhere.

Kilbourn Park is at the corner of Addison and Kilbourn, in the Old Irving Park neighborhood.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Darden Foundation Restaurant Community Grant

The growing season in Chicago is relatively short. The final frost of the last winter cannot pass soon enough for us; the first frost of the next winter comes too early. My mother in Louisiana phones to tell me of canning green beans in April and shoulder-high tomato plants in May, while I watch tiny radish and pea seedlings poke their way out of the cold mud of our raised beds.

Our final deliveries to the Vital Bridges pantry at the end of each October are sad denouements: Dickensian bits of gnarled roots and frost-withered leaves, and tiny green peppers that we cannot bear to compost. At some tacitly understood point in the month, we agree to submit to the oncoming winter.

We have always wanted a way to extend our growing season. This desire led Susan to apply to the Darden Foundation for a grant for materials and equipment to construct a system of hoophouses—insulated tunnels of wire and greenhouse plastic that would cover our raised beds and allow us to grow vegetables later into winter and start them earlier in spring. With hoophouses, we estimate that our growing season could increase by three months.

Ginkgo Organic Gardens is pleased to announce that it has received a $1,000 Restaurant Community Grant from the Darden Foundation, the charitable arm of Darden Restaurants, Inc. The Restaurant Community Grant Program is a local grants program intended to help support nonprofit organizations in the communities that Darden and its restaurant brands serve. The donation will enable Ginkgo to increase the amount of high-quality produce that it can grow and give to people suffering from poverty and illness.

Perhaps this year, or next year, with the aid of our hoophouses, Ginkgo will break through the Ton Barrier of donated produce. In any case, we look forward to the prospect of pulling a bike trailer full of carrots through the snow.

Restaurants within the Darden family – Red Lobster, Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, The Capital Grille, Bahama Breeze and Seasons 52 – are helping to award more than $1.7 million in local grants to nearly 900 exceptional nonprofit organizations nationwide. Nonprofits receiving grants support one of Darden’s three key focus areas: access to postsecondary education, preservation of natural resources and hunger.

“Each grant is not just a check – it is an opportunity to make an impact, from providing essential supplies to food banks in Oregon, to mentoring students in Phoenix and supporting environmental education in New England,” said Drew Madsen, president and chief operating officer of Darden Restaurants, Inc. “Our service philosophy extends far beyond the walls of our restaurants. These grants bring that philosophy to life by helping to develop a better future for those we serve, one community at a time.”

More information about the Darden Foundation can be found at

About Darden Restaurants

Darden Restaurants, Inc., (NYSE: DRI), the world's largest full-service restaurant company, owns and operates more than 1,900 restaurants that generate over $7.5 billion in annual sales. Headquartered in Orlando, and employing 180,000 people, Darden is recognized for a culture that rewards caring for and responding to people. In 2012, Darden was named to the FORTUNE "100 Best Companies to Work For" list for the second year in a row and is the only full-service restaurant company to ever appear on the list. Our restaurant brands — Red Lobster, Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, The Capital Grille, Bahama Breeze, Seasons 52 and Eddie V's — reflect the rich diversity of those who dine with us. Our brands are built on deep insights into what our guests want. For more information, please visit

The Darden Foundation

The Darden Restaurants, Inc. Foundation is the charitable arm of Darden Restaurants, Inc. The Foundation’s mission is to maintain a spirit of volunteerism and philanthropy as defining characteristics of Darden Restaurants. Since 1995, the Darden Foundation has awarded more than $60 million in grants. Total giving in fiscal year 2012 amounted to $7.8 million, 20 percent of which is represented by the Restaurant Community Grants Program. The Darden Foundation carries out its mission by focusing philanthropic efforts and resources on the following program areas: Access to Postsecondary Education, Preservation of Natural Resources and Good Neighbor Grants.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Creeping Charlie

Under the cover of a light drizzle fading into a gorgeous day we spent Saturday tackling some ornamental planting and house keeping.

After weeks of growing all on its own with no assistance or harvest there was an abundance of unruly, intertwined, rhubarb waiting to be harvested.  2.75 pounds is no small amount, but if we were to bring it to the pantry alone it might look a little lonely on display, so I assumed guardianship and will make some delicious treats for our volunteers next week.
 Our radishes are doing their thing too!  Ginkgo looks good in horizontal stripes.
 At Ginkgo, we're not ones to count our chickens before they hatch, but we certainly have no opposition to measuring the eggs.  Here Dave Snyder measures the corridors of the garden to  estimate how much material would be needed to create a super efficient water management system at the garden.  In the past we have received free water from the city during the warmer months.  Unfortunately, the city is beginning to charge non-profits for water and our free ride is over.  The silver lining is that we have been coming up with all sorts of methods to reduce our water usage and be more efficient.  We are stepping up our rain collection and looking at other solutions.  A drip irrigation system, like the one Dave is measuring for, could be one way to use water more wisely.
 While the rain may have led to a smaller volunteer turn-out than we've had in the last few weeks, it allowed us an opportunity to observe the daisy-chained rain barrels in action and also gave volunteers a chance to show off their rain slickers.

 The Dodecahedron is one of the hardest beds for us to use because it doesn't let people in to the middle easily, but it's fun to say and hoe.  We planted beds with Kale, Chard, Collards and Alyssum among other things.

Not everything can grow though.  In maintaining the public park area in front of the garden we do a lot of weeding, which is hard to manage if people aren't quite sure what is a weed and what is intentionally planted.  So the idea arose, that there would be a "Weed of the Week".  One weed that can be identified by example and then thoroughly targeted and wiped out by eager volunteers.

Meet Creeping Charlie.  Creeping Charlie is like that sort of handsome, not-unfriendly guy you know that would be fine except for the fact that he attracts the worst kind of friends and you just don't want them following him to your house.  That is to say, Creeping Charlie is not an unwelcome weed to us.  It's not invasive.  It's actually a little handsome.  Unfortunately, Charlie creeps into neighbors lawns and the people who own buildings tend to use nasty chemicals to kick Charlie out. Creeping Charlie would be fine if it didn't attract the wrong element.  "Tell your friends that the fridge is totally off limits."

Sunday, May 13, 2012

the promise of plums, apples, and figs

While we sow and worry the soil in our raised beds, we sometimes forget what is happening around us in our small orchard of fruit trees. We performed a light spring pruning on our apples a few weeks ago, and unearthed the fig trees that we had buried for the winter; however, the trees had been dormant when we worked on them.

At the end of yesterday’s work day, I walked around the perimeter of the garden, looking at the fruit trees. I was pleasantly surprised to see that our Stanley plum tree is full of beginning fruit. Last year,  after suffering through a windstorm that happened at a critical point in the season, the plum tree lost most of its fruit, yielding only six pounds at harvest. If only a portion of the tiny plums that are on the tree make it to autumn, we could have a bumper crop.
Our apple trees are also loaded with bundles of potential fruit. It is a long time from flowering to picking, however; many things can conspire to keep the yield low, as it was last year. It is, nevertheless, heartening to witness what is literally perennial optimism, as apples start to blossom

The combination of an early thaw and a late freeze a few weeks ago may have damaged our pear trees. We’ll know for sure in a couple of weeks.

Even Persephone, our larger fig tree, has started fruiting. Last year, the then two-year old tree produced a handful of small, mild fruit late in the season. This year, we may get more, and earlier.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

garden map 05 may 2012

The garden site map, showing plantings from this weekend.

indeed, it is the only thing that ever has

Last Friday, I prepared a list of tasks that we thought should be accomplished in the next couple of weeks. Anticipating a large number of volunteers from DePaul University, who would help the garden as part of its 2012 Vincentian Service Day, I made an ambitious list of 18 items, adding a number of tasks that I thought would be nice to accomplish, but probably not possible in a single work day.

I am now glad that I made the full task list. Three groups of volunteers arrived on Saturday morning: a dozen or more students from DePaul; at least eight more volunteers from the Second City Dream Team Meetup group; and a number from the large group of people who return to the garden after attending as a member of another group. (I am an alum of the latter group: after first visiting the garden with Chicago Cares in the fall of 2007, I returned the following weekend on my own and never stopped. )

At the end of the workday, we had accomplished all but two of the tasks on our list.

The DePaul students fanned across the garden, wreaking construction and order, leaving promise in their wake. They tied twine trellises for the sweet peas in beds 4 through 6.
They planted radishes (Crimson Giant; French Breakfast; Cherry; and others) in beds 7 through 9, carrots (Tonda de Parigi and Royal Chartenaux) in bed 12, and a border of marigold seeds in bed 13 for the tomato plants that will soon be transplanted there.
They pulled dead flowers and weeds from the front garden. They planted crowns of Martha Washington asparagus throughout the garden, including at the eastern end of the raspberry bed.

They built a brick walkway leading to our rain barrels. And after all of that hard work, they presented the garden with a thank you card.

The Second City folks were equally busy in the eastern part of the garden. Working in beds 15 and 16, they constructed bean tripods out of aluminum poles and trellises out of whatever they could find, including the pair of repeatedly repurposed papasan chair backs that are a personal favorite as a form of plant support. They planted seeds for three varieties of pole beans (Cherokee Trail of Tears, Sultan’s Crescent, and Bountiful) around the trellises before moving to the potato bed.

After repairing the western end of bed 22, the Second City volunteers dug a trench down the middle of the bed and planted sprouted red potato seeds. The DePaul students came along later and planted seed for a border of allysum flowers that we hope will live up to their reputation as potato companion plants.
Our third group focused on bed 19, under the Stanley plum tree. They planted a bewildering array of greens, alternating rows of rapini (broccoli raab), varieties of spinach (Bloomsdale Savoy, Bordeaux, and Monstreux de Virafloy), and Red Giant Mustard.
 Everyone wrapped the newly seeded beds with chicken-wire fencing. We planted so many rows that we ran out of plastic plant labels—a first. We wound up cutting up a couple of seed pots to make labels for some of our rows.

After only a single day of focused work, the garden was transformed from a collection of muddy beds to an array of fenced future homes of vegetables for the pantry. We are well positioned for the growing season.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

garden plan 2012

Two Sundays ago, a small group of us met to plan where we would plant for this year. Armed with guides to companion planting and knowledge of how we needed to rotate crops, we negotiated the locations of the various crops that we intended to grow. Following is the plan to which we agreed. It is subject to change as the year progresses.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

another day, another pile

Last Thursday, John took delivery of a load of wood chips from Crosstown Tree Service. The delivery truck was too large for our gate, so the service dumped its load where it could, flooding the back area. John spent the next two hours shoveling enough to where he could barely close the back gate. To complicate matters, the new pile of wood chips partially covered the older pile of compost that we had received the week before. We had a huge and—after Friday’s rain—sodden mass of organic material that needed to be shifted.

We were thus fortunate that many volunteers arrived on Saturday morning, ready to work. In addition to a biweekly group of volunteers from Chicago Cares and a new Meetup group from Second City, a number of individuals dropped in, asking for something to do.

We had a list of tasks with which to occupy them. First, we had to weed the areas between the raised beds. Then, while some of us worked from one side of the pile, shoveling chips into wheelbarrows for distribution throughout the garden, others worked from the muddier side, loading wheelbarrows of compost to work into the raised beds.

By the end of the day, most of the garden was either covered with wood chips or overflowing with organic compost and thoroughly worked.

Away from all of the earth moving, a couple of us worked in the northeast corner of the garden lot, sowing sweet pea seed in containers that we arranged around the fence. We hope that the sweet pea will crowd out the bindweed that usually menaces the corner in early summer.

We did little planting on Saturday, except for sowing a “cut-and-come-again” bed of lettuce in the bathtub. Now that the pile in the back of the garden is no longer a worry, we can turn back to planting quick-growing, cool-weather crops and make use of the time before we can transplant our tomatoes and peppers.