Big-girl gardening

July 27, 2011

I’ve missed you blog. And I’ve been very busy. My sad little collection of random planters from last year has been getting a facelift – and a backyard transformation has been in progress.

Our handsome handy-man dug-in, literally, and helped me dig out the massive tree root that I, in a silly delusion, thought I could get out myself. He called it a dinosaur. My favorite quote of his: “Some men like to drink beer. I like to cut trees.” He also likes to jump out of planes and took his 70-year old father with him last summer – but that’s another story for another time.

With the monster tree stump and roots out, I got on my big-girl pants, hauled out the power drill and built myself an above-ground planter box. And then I proceeded to spend a small fortune on garden soil to fill the 4’ x 12’ box. Ouchy – but totally worth it to have a fertile, dedicated vegetable growing area a foot off the ground (and out of the puppy potty path).

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I started all of the seeds for my produce myself – Cherry tomatoes, yellow pear tomatoes, Roma tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes (culled from Danielle’s CSA box last year – thanks pop tart!), orange bell peppers, sugar daddy sweet peas, zucchini, yellow summer squash, cucumber, regular chives and garlic chives, oregano, cilantro, basil, parsley, and mint. Everything took. I’ve even been trying to give away plants to anyone who wants to jump on the home-growing bandwagon.

And even though I transplanted all of my tiny plantlings late in the season (July 4th weekend) they’ve rooted in and shot up. This weekend I noticed tiny green fruit on my cherry tomato plant! I’m keeping my fingers crossed for so much bounty that I can give it away in random acts of produce throughout the summer. Here’s looking at you, tomato!

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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!

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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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Buds! (and a six lb mystery “squash”)

July 29, 2010

Yay!  I can literally see the fruits of my labor…uh, veggies, that is.  I have buds! It’s very exciting.

The vast majority of my plantlings came from my wonderful friend and neighbor, Karla, who told me that this is some sort of squash:

Mystery Squash

I’ll be very interested in seeing what it grows into.  In case you can’t tell from the photo, it’s HUGE already. I swear it weighs a good six lbs.

Everything else is growing too! I have what appear to be two different kinds of peppers, tiny buds of sweet tomatoes, basil GALORE, dill that is growing amazingly tall, lettuce that is also growing surprisingly upwards rather than round (shows how little I know about gardening, I guess), and little round green beginnings of what will be beefsteak tomatoes that I started from seeds in Lauretta’s kitchen.

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Last weekend I removed the lattice that I had placed behind the plants.  I had second thoughts. It looked sort of cheap.  I’ll need to invest in some other means for the climbing plants to climb.  I was considering transplanting some of the plants directly into the ground for maximum growth, but at this point, I don’t want to shock anything that is budding, and besides, Dottie likes to lie in the dirt between all the pots and I don’t want her to squish anything (or pee on it).

Have good gardening tips for a novice? I want to hear about how to organize my garden to the max.  Write me some comments!

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Garden epiphany

July 11, 2010

Because the whole of last week was miserably hot and humid in Chicago, I spent the entire week working on the inside of my house. By the time this weekend hit, so did the restless stir-craziness. On Sunday the temp cooled down just enough for me to justify spending some time outside to try to make the backyard mayhem into some semblance of a tranquil garden – my total fantasy.

And now I can say that I get it. I finally get it. I never thought I’d be the gardening kind, spending hours outside in the hot sun, swatting at bugs, getting mosquito bites, having to pull dirty clumps of weeds out of the ground…But I totally am. I spent the entire day outside yesterday and loved every minute of it.

The back yard hasn’t gone through any radical changes like the rest of the house. It’s always just sort of been there, under utilized. About a month ago my friends with a beautiful, bountiful garden asked me to take some plants off thier hands so they could thin out thier over-growing plot, and I graciously accepted tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, basil, squash, dill, parsley, and sage. All of these have been sitting (and thankfully growing) in containers out against the garage wall. On Sunday I set to clearing a prime patch of weeds out of an area I thought would be perfect to transplant them all.

This is just the beginning…

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