Sunday, April 21, 2013

April 20 2013 - hay ya!

While the fence repair project was going on in the garden on April 20, the day's group of volunteers completed a number of other tasks.

While some of us used the large gardening fork to loosen the soil in some raised beds, others rebuilt raised beds that had fallen apart over the winter. The beds are essentially boxes made from heavy beams of plastic wood, secured with long rods of rebar. Rebuilding the beds involves prising the beams from the ground, repositioning them, and knocking them back into the ground. After preparing the raised beds, we planted them with radish and beet.

While the planting was going on, a number of us worked with the many bales of hay that had been laying around all winter. We distributed the intact bales throughout the garden, positioning them at the ends of raised beds or around structures like the bathtub or cherry tree planter. All of the bales were unwieldy; however, some had absorbed enough water over the winter that they were quite difficult to move. A number of bales had self-composted to the point that they were essentially blocks of icy mud. After rearranging the intact bales, we still had piles of leftover hay that we spread throughout the garden.
We have discussed how best to use hay bales ever since we received them as a donation last fall. We have many more bales than we need for use in cold frames, and probably more than we need for mulching. Because the bales are small enough to fit in oddly shaped spaces between our raised beds, we may use some of them as small vegetable planters, thereby increasing the available planting area in the garden.

Finally, we reorganized the garden shed. This is not the first time that we will reorganize the shed this year.

rebuilding a raised bed

turning a raised bed

our new reusable metal row labels

all that's missing is a car up on blocks and the strains of a banjo

April 20, 2013 - installing a new fence

A light snow covered the ground in the garden on the morning of April 20. The presence of bluebells was one of the few signs that it was spring. Though cold, it was clear, dry, and sunny. It was a good day for an infrastructure project.

A two-man crew from Advanced Fence and Gate arrived at the garden a little after 9:00 AM and started dismantling the decrepit cedar fence that ran along the southern side of the garden property. Reciprocating saws and electric drills made short work of the demolition.
sawing through the wood fence

John and I took wooden fence panels as they came down and stacked them in the garden. John has plans for new compost bins that will make use of wood that we salvage from the fence.
John takes away a fence panel

salvaging 2X4s from a fence panel

removing the last wooden pole

the new metal fence

the view of the new fence from the alley

wood panels ready for salvage

After removing the fence panels and cutting out the support poles, the crew installed a 6 foot galvanized steel chain-link fence. Installation of the new fence took less time than did the removal of the wooden fence--probably because John and I weren't in the way.

There's still the matter of the leaning gate and the washout at the eastern end of the garden. That will be our next large project.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Self Starters

This early in the season we don't have a water hook-up to the city and thus rely exclusively on our rain barrels.  Until these seemingly endless April showers kicked in, this giant ice block is all we had to work with.  Great if you're looking to make a sculpture of a man-eating sea horse, but not so much for watering sprouts.  Empty your rain barrels before winter folks!  Lesson learned.

Evelyn demonstrates Ginkgo's new wood chipper.

Despite the lack of water, we are chipper (ba-dum-ching) and our self-starting perrenials have launched the season!

On a side note: this photo will probably be the last of our wooden south facing fence... I can't think of a better photo to show why we are getting a new fence.

Take the rhubarb for example.  By their own will-power these weird alien protrusions begin freaking out volunteers  each spring.  While they currently look like sickly crumpled viscera, soon they will look like pie.  And you wonder why we volunteer.

And without any coaxing we are surprised by the half inch purple nub of an asparagus spear.  This perennial won't yield significant harvests for another couple of years, but it is encouraging to see that it survived year one.

And remember those turnips that never grew last year?  They were in the ground waiting for us early this spring.  The one that I took home was too squishy to eat, but that doesn't make their triumph less remarkable.
While we all look forward to tomatoes that a grocery store could not feasibly stock or finger-staining berries that taste better because you left a little skin in the bramble, spring is brought to us by self starters.  While we fill beds with seeds and transplants, the early risers give us something to look at.  And did I mention, there will be pie.
Frost tolerant volunteers plant potatoes.

Monday, April 15, 2013

2013 garden plan

seedlings and the Crunchy Singularity

 On sills and shelves in homes and greenhouses in the north and west sides of Chicago, the seedlings for Ginkgo's next season await transplanting.

This year, I tried something new: starting collard seeds in cardboard tubes instead of peat pots or plastic seed pots. Most of the tubes were originally toilet paper or paper towel rolls. I did manage to start one collard in the bottom of the package for an individual compact fluorescent light bulb. This act that may have initiated the Crunchy Singularity; sorry about that. (Somewhere in the Pacific, a small island is spontaneously covered with a layer of raining hacky sacks.)

What the YouTube videos and other sites fail to mention is that you must be precise when building the seed starters from cardboard tubes, or else you wind up with a small leaning tower that you then have to secure using tape.
 After a few weeks, I transplanted seedlings to a more traditional arrangement. They should be ready for the garden in a couple of weeks.
 Further west, Dave started our tomato and pepper seedlings in donated greenhouse space.
Labels made from popsicle sticks are certainly green--but they can't beat a seed pot made from a CFL box.

April 13 - Chicago Cares Day

The morning of April 13 surprised us with a light snow. Together with a group of volunteers from Chicago Cares, we worked to wrest the garden from the begrudging grip of winter. 
Turning beds
Sieving compost

We sieved compost from our bins and worked it into the raised beds. We planted garlic, peas, and radishes and found places to lay out hay bales to dry.
The clouds broke briefly just as we finished up for the day.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

April 13: the panic in ginkgo park

When we consider gardening equipment, a sharps dispenser and heavy rubber gloves are not the first things to come to mind. Our garden is in the city, however--so sometimes our trips to the hardware store are for things other than tomato stakes or pruning shears.

The front area of our garden is open to the public. Benches and a small ornamental bridge invite passersby to sit under our flowering trees and consult their smartphones, or watch their dogs sniff around our prairie grasses.

Sometimes, of course, people put the front area to less innocuous uses. We are accustomed to picking up confettied lottery tickets, spent forties and empty tallboys on our Saturday morning workdays. We find the occasional thumb-sized plastic baggie emblazoned with a cannabis leaf, or the suspicious glass tube. Once, I happened upon the contents of a pocketbook in one of the beds near the street: detritus from a purse-snatching, a sad tale strewn amidst the allium stalks.

The remains of a full heroin rig, though, are a different thing entirely. We now have to worry about needle sticks in addition to our more mundane concerns over powdery mildew and fusarium wilt.

We notified the police, who have promised to keep an eye on the garden on weekdays when we are not around. We hope that the increased scrutiny will ward away those who would use the garden as a shooting gallery. We will also keep volunteers out of the corner where we found the rig, and only work in that area with heavy gloves.

I realize now that I have always secretly believed that the garden was an oasis from urban ills like crack or heroin, and protected from unpleasantness because of its mission. That belief was childish. If we are to be an oasis, it must be by choice, and awareness, and diligence.