Wednesday, July 31, 2013

You Shouldn't Be Able to Wear Pants in the Summer

I don't like to bring myself into this... but last week when my roommate and I roamed the apartment closing windows, putting box-fans away, packing up t-shirts and unpacking flannel-lined winter jeans, he said from inside a maroon tuke and scarf, "You shouldn't be able to wear pants in the summer." And he was right!  I mean what is this!?  Furthermore, I'm not a fan of the "interrobang".  I'm just at a loss.  As he spoke, little clouds of water vapor crept past his chattering teeth, confused about the early arrival of winter. 

Two weeks ago the heat and humidity were so oppressive that gardening became arduous, and I'm not begging for that to come back, but the tomatoes are wondering why the lettuce is still around.  Some of them have begun to ripen, and we are grateful, but compared to last year (a drought year) we are far behind in tomatoness.

Kafka put it best, "Coal all spent; the bucket empty; the shovel useless; the stove breathing out cold; the room freezing; the leaves outside the window rigid, covered with rime; the sky a silver shield against anyone who looks for help from it. I must have coal; I cannot freeze to death; behind me is the pitiless stove, before me the pitiless sky, so I must ride out between them and on my journey seek aid from the coal-dealer. But he has already grown deaf to ordinary appeals; I must prove irrefutable to him that I have not a single grain of coal left, and that he means to me the very sun in the firmament. I must approach like a beggar who, with the death-rattle already in his throat, insists on dying on the doorstep, and to whom the grand people's cook accordingly decides to give the dregs of the coffee-pot; just so must the coal-dealer, filled with rage, but acknowledging the command, "Thou shall not kill," fling a shovelful of coal into my bucket."  But of course fish peppers don't care any more about the coal dealer than the coal dealer does about the narrator.

What we need are history majors, anthropology majors, people with family cultures rooted in agriculture, anyone who knows of a dance, ritual, ceremony, OSHA-safe activity that can be used to implore the sun to linger a little longer so that we can finally call this thing a summer.

The sunny faces and plants in these pictures might contradict me and lead you to believe that I am exaggerating, but I assure you... it's not been summer yet and I'm wearing the pants to prove it.

Orange fruited tomatoes ripening.

These guys are labeled as "Orange Banana" but they are red... and globular... so I'm not sure.

A volunteer Sunflower is the first to start opening this season!

Go get'm

Fish peppers.  A beautiful variegated hot pepper.

The arugula is just now beginning to set out flowers and the flavor is becoming harsher.

Alan harvests the first Cabbage of the season.

What a beaut!

Thanks to Chicago cares and our independent volunteers for the hard work.

And a smattering of prairie flowers livens up the hugelkultur mound.

Friday, July 19, 2013

pictures from June 22 workday

In late June, our harvests are in all shades of green.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

no everyday experience is too base for the thinking man

My interests in sustainable agriculture and sustainable transportation began at around the same time. I purchased my first commuting bike in 2005. I probably biked to my first workday at Ginkgo in 2007.

As my engagement with the garden deepened, so did my interest in human-powered transportation. In 2009, I bought a bike cart so that we could deliver garden produce to the pantry without relying on automobiles. I will admit to becoming obsessed with the idea of our going an entire season without resorting to mechanized transport. We've never achieved that goal, but we have come close.

A couple of years ago, my shared interests started to converge in crunchier ways. I purchased a fixed-gear bike for commuting and fell in love with what I think is a Platonic ideal of movement under one's own power. After a while, I hitched the cart to my fixed-gear bike for deliveries to the pantry. Even though the stress of pulling a cart loaded with up to 150 or so pounds of produce gradually crushed my rear wheel hub bearing (and sometimes strained my knees), I kept it up, because I was able to pursue two of my favorite activities at the same time.

I wasn't really worried until I added to the mix a pair of overalls that I had purchased at a Blain's Farm and Fleet while on a business trip to Madison. [I have discovered, by the way, that in addition to being quite practical for gardening, overalls allow one to assume a relaxed demeanor opposite to that imposed by blue jeans, as discussed by Umberto Eco in his essay "Lumbar Thoughts."] On a Saturday afternoon some time early this spring, I realized that I was riding around on a fixie in Uptown, wearing a pair of Carhartts and pulling a bike cart of produce from an organic garden. This look of mine had seemingly arisen gradually through accretion; all that I needed to complete it were muttonchops and a bottle of kombucha.

I felt self-conscious for a second as I practiced a track stand at the red light at the intersection of Lawrence and Broadway. I looked like some kind of weird combination of Wicker Park and Some Rural Exurb With "Park" in the Name. Then I just told myself to relax and get over myself. The light changed, and I mashed to get the cart moving.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

June 3-7

This week in Gardening!  It was a big week for beans.  Although the cool weather has given us a tremendous season for peas, the yields are starting to taper off just in time for beans to start producing.  We have a lot of varieties this year ranging from the historic Cherokee Trail, to Purple Bush, and Scarlet Runners.  The Scarlett Runner Beans have been planted in the dodecahedron as part of our attempt at the 3 sisters (corn, beans, and squash), and they will look beautiful.

Ivy uses her Cat's Cradle skills to make trellis for our climbing beans
While the Scarlett Runners will be a big show with lots of flowers and delicious beans, I am most excited for the Milk and Cider beans that were planted in the hay bales on the north side of the garden.  Months ago volunteers built a trellis out of pruned fruit wood with a beautiful aesthetic. Last weekend a team punched holes in the bales at the base of the trellis, filled them with fresh compost and planted Milk and Cider beans to grow up the trellis.  These beans are an enticing cider color with mottled splashes of white.  The goal is to allow these beans to grow and dry on the plant rather than be picked as "green beans".  The beans will be an impressive addition to every dinner plate they touch.
Dario sifts compost to be stuffed into hay bales for bean planting

Hay bales stuffed with Milk and Cider beans and compost
John offers a drink to the newly planted beans

And beans are amazing and a magical fruit and fix nitrogen and are just one of the healthiest things you can eat, but... they simply don't have the swagger of raspberries.  Melville identified the lack of sex appeal in beans when he wrote, "In this world, head winds are far more prevalent than winds from astern (that is, if you never violate the Pythagorean maxim)."

This was our first substantial raspberry harvest of the year and more substantial harvests will come.  It's hard to pick the delicate Rubus idaeus without sampling every few for quality, but well disciplined volunteers are responsible for this bounty.

And what's this?  Our first Black Raspberries have appeared.  Rubus occidentalis is not to be confused with Blackberries, which are not actually berries at all (we don't grow blackberries, so I'll leave that alone), but instead are just a cultural shift from their red raspberry cousins.  The brambles are dense and need better trellising, but they are healthy and volunteers who wade in to get the fruit are not begrudged for replenishing themselves.

This week also brought another large harvest of leafy greens, which, it turns out, solve every problem your body can imagine.  Some of the greens are varieties of Kale, and some are Collards, but growing underneath some greens are beets!  Golden beets (pictured) and Bull's Blood beets and Chioggia beets.  Under some of the other greens are radishes, French Breakfast, Crimson Giant, and Easter Egg (I think).  Some of the radishes look bizarre (pictured).

Under other leaves are Potatoes, but those are not edible greens and the potatoes aren't ready to harvest yet, so we will save that post.

Thanks to all the volunteers who did such hard work harvesting, planting, transplanting and maintaining so that the garden get's to show off its good side.