Outdoor organizing

March 31, 2011

Holy smokes – where did March go? Oh, I know. It was buried under snow and freezing temperaturs, making for perfect hibernating and lots of sleeping. I was thrilled by some decent weather two weekends ago (FINALLY!) in Chicago, as short lived as it was. I actually spent most of the day Saturday outside cleaning up my backyard. Now I can’t stop thinking about spring planting and garden planning. And – that magic word – organizing. I started doing some research when the temperature started dropping again last week, and talking with my friend Shelley (founder of The Chopping Block cooking school DEFINITLY knows how to grow veggies) reinforced that I need a plan this year, rather than just haphazardly throwing some seeds into pots in the backyard and waiting to see what happens. And there are a TON of resources out there for gardening, planting and urban growing for the novice, like me.

One site I visited recommended starting a garden journal to organize my timeline, tasks, plants and garden design. So I did!

It’s till in infancy, and I know I have a lot more to learn because this is all new to me, but here’s what I can share so far:

  1. Know your zone – there are a number of web sites that let you plug in your zip code and tell you your USDA Hardiness Zone (http://www.garden.org/zipzone/), which provides climate information (average temps, freezing and thaw seasons, etc.). It’s a great way to start figuring out your timeline of when to rake out all of the winter gunk from where I want the flower bed to be; when to till the soil; when to integrate compost; and more. This is the first section of my journal.
  2. Regional = Seasonal – I did a broad search for Chicago gardening tips, and hit a jackpot of resources – one of which gave me a month-by-month look at specific garden tasks, which is exactly what a newbie like me needs. (Check out Chicagoland Gardening Magazine’s Seasonal Tips here: http://www.chicagolandgardening.com/CGMPages/whattodo.htm). So I have a seasonal timeline customized for my zone as the second section of my journal.
  3. It’s never too early! In a four-season climate like Chicago where winter is long and growing season is short, it is recommended to start your seeds indoors for a month or two and then transplant them outside when it warms up. Now, why didn’t I think of that?
  4. Sun, soil, water, oh my! – I know what I’d like to end up with, sort of (lots of veggies I can eat!) but not really anything about the conditions they need to grow the best, biggest, most delicious products. So I’m starting from scratch, basically. But that’s okay, because there are zillions of web sites that explain all of the aspects of sun requirements, soil acidity, water frequency, harvesting times, etc. for specific plants. So the third section of my journal is dedicated to each of the plants I am going to plant. Each plant has a grid for me to fill out with all of the growing and harvesting info as I find it. Hopefully, researching this kind of detail for each plant will also help me fill in my task timeline and make things easier for me to learn as I go.

That’s as far as I’ve gotten so far. I welcome feedback and other ideas!



Not-so-secret garden

August 11, 2010

I posted a couple more photos of the house Sunday night – just the living and dining rooms for now. The upstairs is way messy – so no photos to share yet. We still don’t have a functional closet in the master bedroom, so we’re borrowing the little closets in the guest room and office for all of our hanging clothes – which means we can’t actually store anything in these closets yet – which means that all the stuff I would like to put into these closets is piled up outside the closets in the guest room and office, hallway or still packed and tucked away in the basement. Blargh.

So, as you can see, we’ve been focusing mainly on the first floor common living areas and, when I have the energy and it’s not a thousand degrees outside, the back yard. Since we only have one to two more months of summer left, I want to be able to enjoy our little deck and my attempt at a garden while I can.

I’ve been deforesting the overgrown foliage over the past several weeks, and think I’m making pretty good progress – despite all of the killer mosquitoes! The veggies that I’ve been trying to keep alive are flourishing. And, no, I still don’t know what the mystery squash is! It’s bigger, and appears to have faded a bit in color (photos below). I’ve gotten a few emails from people saying that it looks like a giant cucumber (not a squash), or a roundish zucchini. The mystery continues…

Ayesh had a cute little table and chair set from her old condo that we’ve set up on the deck, along with our new outdoor bench that we got at World Market for a STEAL! Hooray for close-out sales! Flanked by the lovely tropical trees that were gifts from John and David (thanks guys!) the deck is becoming a cozy little retreat from the craziness inside.

And Dottie LOVES lounging outside with us, sunbathing, rolling around in my garden and keeping an eye on her jungle of weeds that I haven’t tackled yet.

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Framing beginning

October 22, 2009

I get up early and walk Dottie every morning, and our walks have been growing increasingly longer in order to include a quick view of the house. Most mornings I don’t notice anything different from the outside (I daren’t bring the pup inside for fear she’ll step or stumble over debris or tacks). This morning, however, I was greeted by a big pile of lumber in the backyard.

As I was taking this photo the construction contractor, who I’d not yet met, stuck his head out the back door and startled Dot onto a ferocious barking stint, so other than apologetically introducing myself as the homeowner, I didn’t get to really talk to him. At least he won’t be surprised to see me back again tomorrow to check on progress.


The new old house

October 4, 2009

I rented out my lovely little condo earlier this year and moved in with my partner. She and I cohabitated peacefully through the spring and summer until we were enticed back into the real estate game – sooner we than expected.  

A cute little bungalow in our neighborhood came onto the market, and although the place needed way more work than we were willing (or could afford) to put into it, we were curious to look around at other homes in the area also for sale.  With the current economic climate as it is, we realized that in the neighborhood we thought we’d never be able to buy in, we could actually find a fixer-upper in a reasonable price range.  

It didn’t take us long to find a diamond in the rough: a great little dump in a wonderful neighborhood. On a quiet residential street, near a big park, the 1908 home was split into a bi-level apartment building some 30 years ago or so. It doesn’t look like much from outside; the dilapidated siding is chipping, the windows are old, small and caked with dirt and the front and back yards are overgrown.  The house is narrow and short (20’ x 40’) with only a few feet on each side separating it from the neighboring properties.  

Front View

Front View


When you walk in, however, tall ceilings, bright rooms and a beautiful grand craftsman staircase greet you. Despite having been split into two apartments with a bunch of small rooms on each floor, the place has charm and significant potential.  

Try to see past the mismatched old wood, linoleum, odd layout, nasty old bathrooms, minimal kitchens, and dumpy back staircase.  Our hope is that we can open up the space, replace the windows, put up new siding, re-do the floors and turn this early twentieth century A-frame into a twenty-first century modern masterpiece.  

We have been working with a general contractor and an architect to come up with a new layout and plan for renovating the house.  I think we’re getting close to having some concrete plans, which I’ll share in future posts.  

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“Before” photos by A. J. Hassan  


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