Wednesday, May 20, 2015

16 May 2015: It's a Garden!

Saturday, May 16th was that first day of the season when I really felt like we transitioned from starting the season to being in the season.  Of course the rhubarb and mint and oregano have been up for weeks, but they do that on their own.  On the sixteenth, we had harvestable heads of lettuce and radishes popping up out of the soil like the instant thermometer on a butterball (only the total opposite of an instant read thermometer on a butterball).  The lettuce and radish are from seeds sown by our volunteers.  Raise your hand if you planted Black Seeded Simpson lettuce! Oh, not you?  What about Red Sails? Surely, you are responsible for the Cherry Belle radishes?  Meanwhile, the Shirz and Penelope peas are making their way up trellises and our greens are looking great!

With regulars and volunteer groups from Second City and Northwestern University Gives Back, we got a tremendous amount of work done on this extended day.  We planted cucumbers. And sure, we planted your regular old slice it in a salad cause you need something crunchy cucumber (yawn), but we also planted Lemon cukes, which look like yellow tennis balls, and Armenian cucumbers (hubba hubba).  We also planted beans (Royal Burgundy and Milk & Cider), watermelon, Patty Pan squash, and a succession of lettuce. 

And that's just the stuff you can eat!  Don't get me started on the geraniums and Inky Fingers coleus.

The season is under way.  Unless we really screw something up, we will bring a harvest to Vital Bridges every week starting this upcoming Saturday and continuing into the late fall. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

9 May 2015: rodent-proofing the fruit trees

9 May 2015 was chilly and overcast. We were fortunate that the rain stopped before we opened the garden to welcome the group of hardy volunteers who had arrived to help, including a group from Chicago Cares.

There are varieties of loveliness in the garden that occur throughout the year. It is sometimes easy to miss the shortlived beauty that appears just after a spring rainstorm, especially when it is cold and damp. Blooms and seedlings glowed in the cloud-obscured morning sunlight as raindrops dry on petals and leaves. The front garden was carpeted with petals that had fallen from flowering trees overhead.

Our group had work to do that day that wasn't particularly lovely: we needed to rodent-proof the beds that house the fruit trees in the back of the garden near the alley. While some of us installed hardware cloth around the tree trunks (to keep critters from digging into the beds), others sifted compost. After covering the hardware cloth with compost, we sowed seeds for alyssium between the trees.

We finished the day by planting a bed of carrots. In previous years, we fussed over our carrots, preparing a special bed for them by incorporating sand in the hopes that the looser soil would ease root growth. We've never really had much success in this coddling of our carrots; this year, we're letting them fend for themselves in a regular bed.

May 2 2015: Blue Devils and Green Comics

On May 2 2015, two groups of volunteers worked together to complete a huge amount of work at the garden. May 2 was DePaul University's 17th Vincentian Service Day, and at least the third time that a large group of students has arrived at the garden ready to help us finish preparing it for the season. The DePaul students, many in blue, were joined by a green-clad group of volunteers from The Second City's Volunteer Team.

After John introduced everyone to the garden and described the tasks that we had planned for the day, he unveiled two pies that he had made using rhubarb from the garden. These pies approached the limits of rhubarb density possible in baked goods.

The Ginkgo Rhubarb Pie
The volunteers set to work. Two teams unearthed the fig trees that we buried last year so that they would survive the winter. The trees looked gray and a little groggy, but they both had already started putting forth leaves.

Digging up Persephone, our larger fig tree

Uncovering Kore, our smaller fig. We shroud the figs in gardening cloth.
Another team distributed the remainder of the mound of wood chips about the garden, while a smaller group nearby repaired our decrepit back gate.

Kore upright.
After finishing the heavy work, we moved on to planting. Before the start of the work day, we had received a number of flats of kale and cabbage seedlings from Dave, who had started the seedlings using greenhouse space graciously donated by the Center for Green Technology. The kale seeds themselves were made possible by yet another gracious donation from Jill, the mother of our regular volunteer and Chicago Cares coordinator Johanna.

We transplanted the kale seedlings from the flats to our raised beds. After transplanting, we covered our beds with hoop houses: a number of kale pests (including flea beetles) had reached the point in their season when they lay eggs, and we wanted to try to prevent infestation.

We finished up by watering all of the beds and setting up pea trellises.

Thanks to the efforts of our volunteers, the garden was well prepared for the 2015 growing season.

Weeding the beds in preparation for seedlings

After transplanting

Installing hoops for the hoophouses
Beds covered with hoophouses
Cat's cradle pea trellising
Watering radishes

Our volunteers

Saturday, May 9, 2015

25 April 2015: Volunteer Appreciation Month

As I have heard, April is considered Volunteer Appreciation Month. At Ginkgo, where nothing is accomplished without the contributions of many volunteers, April is Hardcore Volunteer Appreciation Month.

April is, indeed, the cruelest month in which to volunteer at our urban garden in Chicago. (What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow/ Out of this stony rubbish?) It's usually chilly, even if sunny (which it only is rarely), and the breezes are uncomfortably brisk: frustrating weather when you are sunlight-starved and really, really ready for all of this winter nonsense to be done with.

The 25th was typical--cold, with a light rain. The weather did not deter volunteers from both Chicago Cares and Dreams for Kids from helping us to plant lettuce and flowers, sift compost, and install what we call "anti-bunny fencing" (what everyone else calls "poultry netting" or "chicken wire").