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.