Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Carlo Petrini: Good, Clean, and Fair

Contrary to its Yuppie image here in the US, Slow Food is based on radical priniciples. Carlo Petrini calls the food system "the shame of the West", with only 5 cents of every dollar going to producers and 95 cents going to the Players.

Let's give more value to olive oil than car oil.

Carlo Petrini, in this final installment, argues for economic respect, and fairness to the small farmers of the world. Economy and ecology, he reminds us, share the same roots, and that it is local economies that will save our society, and it’s the global economy that threatens to destroy it. For those who may think of Slow Food in terms of being an organization striving to promote better conditions for farmers, and better awareness for people about the food they eat—while true—the ideas laid out by this founding visionary are a trumpet call for an entirely new world order.
(See the first 5 parts of this interview at Cooking Up A Story)

If you liked the Petrini clip, there are several other interesting food related interviews at the site.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

March 22 Seed Starts

The first wave of seedlings are the cold-weather varieties, listed here by proper name and, while you're checking, for sale to anyone in the Chicago area who wants to come by.

Bruce has done a superb job of nurturing these babies to robust young adulthood. Check 'em out: Russian white kale, mixed mustard, and (yeah, it's my favorite because of its name and kick-ass bite) wrinkled/crinkled/crumpled cress.
We even have rosemary starts (upper right) and understand this plant is difficult to grow from seed. It sits on the tray with lovage, sorrel, and colorful fetal chard.
These cold-weather lovers include broccoli, Brussel sprouts, and collards.

Look at the roots on these kale--long and healthy and more than ready to go into a two-bucket sub irrigated planter (SIP).
This year I'm lucky to be getting a very early start on planting. Mr H2 gifted me with a cool little greenhouse for my birthday, and I've been up there happily planting up the SIPs and letting them acclimate inside. A good thing too. Check out our March 29 on-site Chicago weather:
Won't be long before we can move the planted SIPs outside the greenhouse to flourish in the 35-55 degree temps.

Seed Starting Update

In How to Start Seeds, Part 1, I talked about some of the basics.

I haven't figured out what to say for Part 2, but in the meantime I'll show you what we're doing.

We used a couple of different techniques. The easiest is to put peat cubes filled with seed starting mix or potting mix into a waterproof container. Better yet, skip the peat cubes. Then set it under fluorescent lights, apply heat and cover with plastic until the seeds germinate. Then keep them watered.

(If you want more details on what to do, click on this seed starting tutorial.)

We also used Burpee's Deluxe Seed Starting Kit. It's not a bad product, though the only advantage seems to be that it is a mini SIP in design, allowing you to go a week without watering.

Here's a schematic of the Burpee kit.

Starting 72 different seedlings at a time, it's important to keep a list of what you planted.

This year we're starting three times as many seedlings as we did before, roughly 300. That meant it was time to update our lighting rack.


I used this design as a basic guide and made a few changes. I put two shop lights side by side on each level and omitted the hardwood dowel as a light support. You can read more about growing under lights here.

Once the seedlings have their second set of true leaves, they're ready to be transplanted into larger containers. I made 15 gallons of potting mix; 45% sphagnum peat moss, 45% coir, and 10% perlite. To this I added 3 cups of Espoma Plant-tone 5-3-3 and 3 cups of Nance Klehm's earthworm castings.

To protect the roots I use a kitchen fork to lift the tiny seedlings out of the germinating tray and drop them into a larger cup. Then I lightly pack extra mix around the seedling until it's set. Water them in and you're done.

Art and Heidi had a few leftover cafeteria food trays that are perfect for this. I can set 25 4" grower pots on each tray and then fill up the tray with water. Makes things much easier. At right are Carmona Lettuce and Bloomsdale spinach.

Here are some cold weather greens that will go outside around April 1st. This picture was taken March 22nd, it's amazing how much bigger they've gotten in the last week.

Both Russ and Heidi have picked up most of their cold weather starts. I know Heidi's already got them planted in bucket SIPs in her new greenhouse; nice thing to have this time of year.

With those seedlings out the door I now have room under the lights to transplant our tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and herbs into larger containers. I got a great price on 500 32 oz. deli containers from a local vegetable market. With drainage holes drilled in the bottom they're perfect for seedlings.

If you want us to start any seeds for you just let me know in an email (greenroofgrowers [at] geemail [dot] com) or comment. I'm not doing it for the money, trust me. I'd like to meet some of you and bridge the gap between the pixels on my screen and the real world.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Back to School

Doug Wood is the longtime head of the Wicker Park Garden Club. Every year they put together a series of seminars on garden subjects, here's a few that might be of interest to our local readers:
Saturday, March 28 - 10 am-12 Noon - Workshop
Reservations: $15 - wpgarden@aol.com or 773-278-9075
Wicker Park Historic Home - Location Given to Registered Students

Richard Tilley, Larry Clary - Wicker Park Garden Club

So you want to grow something special or plants you can’t buy at the garden center. NO PROBLEM! Richard has grown plants for his garden from seed for 15 years-1200 plants from seed this past spring. Learn about affordable light sources; soil mixtures; propagating hardy and half-hardy annuals, tender perennials, biennials; germination conditions--heat or cool, in light or in the dark, pre-chilling or soaking seeds; germination times - days to months; transplanting and hardening off.
If you don't want to start your own seedlings--or buy some of ours-- they'll have a nice selection available for sale on May 2nd and 3rd.
Saturday, Sunday May 2 & 3 - 10am-3:30 pm
Wicker Park - 1425 N. Damen, Chicago, IL
Fundraiser for the Gardens in Wicker Park
Good Weather--Outside Field House-West Side or Bad Weather Inside

Enjoy shopping for your spring garden design s—the plant sale fundraiser features a large selection of plants that can be used for your containers, come for exciting tropicals for sun and shade, zone 5 hardy perennials for sun and/or shade gardens, and a selection of tomatoes and vegetables. Plant list composed of recommendations of our members--let us know what you would like to see at the sale. COME EARLY!
You can also find seedlings at some of the Farmers Markets, starting at the end of April. Before I grew my own, two of my favorite spots were Green City Market on Wednesdays and the Lincoln Park High School Market on Saturdays. Plenty of interesting varieties not found at the big box stores.

Another great--free!-- resource is the Garfield Park Conservatory.
Stop by the Conservatory's outside Demonstration Garden to visit with our hard-working gardeners. They might be planting, weeding or if you’re lucky, they’ll be harvesting something you can taste! Many of our garden volunteers are Master Gardeners who would be happy to answer your questions and talk with you about their work. Staffed garden is dependent on weather ─ please call 773-638-1766 ext 16 for additional information.

The University of Illinois Cook County Extension office has a terrific outreach program on Urban Horticulture and the Environment. They have plenty of practical advice, and again, it's Free............

Finally, there's Nance Klehm. She does it all and likes to share what she knows. This is from the Living Kitchen section of her site:
Localizing the Palate in the Landscape

Are you looking for a different taste? Do you like to cook with others? Are you wondering what to do with your cabbage/apples/dandelions? Are you curious about foraging for wild plants?

Living kitchen is a series of informal cooking workshops that hopes to reorganize our connection to land, ourselves and our communities through the processing and sharing of local and regional foods. In these workshops we use foods that are locally cultivated, as well as foraged in order to foster exploration of our environs and with our relationship with what’s growing around us.

Living Kitchen is about direct experience with what’s living and growing around us, new tastes, simple food-making processes, and sharing with others.

QUESTIONS? Contact Nance via email: nettlesting [at] yahoo [dot] com

Thursday, March 19, 2009

"It's Not Rocket Science" by DeAnander

DeAnander has taught me a lot about alternatives to our current industrial food system. I think of her as Michael Pollan, Wendell Berry, and Alice Waters rolled into one. Her latest post is a gem.

We’re all familiar with the myth: we learned it in school. It goes something like this:
Once Upon a Time, in the 1960’s, a crew of brilliant whitefellas in lab coats Saved the World by revolutionising farming and eliminating world hunger. Their new, advanced mechanical/chemical farming methods — vast areas of monocrop, heavy tractors, giant combines, tonnes of artificial pesticides and fertilisers — and their new, improved, superior hybridised crops increased yields tenfold and more. Without industrial farming, billions would starve, even though other billions would be re-sentenced to the short lives of brutal, backbreaking toil from which they were rescued by industrial/mechanised farming. Therefore, anyone who advocates organic or “sustainable” farming practise is some kind of heartless elitist who wants billions to starve and the rest to live as dawn-to-dusk field slaves — for this is what will happen if we do not continue and expand the highly successful [and highly profitable, for everyone except farmers and eaters] model of industrial/corporate farming. There is no other way to feed ourselves. If there are “external costs” of the industrial farming system, we will just have to accept them.

That’s what I was taught in school — and probably you were too, if the subject of agriculture was even mentioned during your school years.
The real story — slowly emerging now into public discourse, in bits and pieces, in a mosaic of books, documentary films, research, nationalist and peasant movements, grassroots efforts — is a lot more ambiguous and complicated. Did agricultural productivity really rise as a result of industrial farming methods? Well, yes and no; it depends how you measure productivity. Was hunger really eliminated by the so-called Green Revolution of the 1960’s? Obviously not, since billions are going hungry worldwide today. How effective were the new artificial pesticides and fertilisers really? And what are the long-term consequences of their use? On what theories was this shift in agriculture based, and who benefited most, and what other agendas were on the table (or under it) at the time? And most urgently perhaps — as we measure the annual loss of topsoil, the reduced nutritional value of industrially-farmed food, and the many risks to food security posed by massively centralised and fossil-fuel-dependent food production — is there any other way to feed ourselves? If the answer is Yes, and any other approach to farming and food is capable of feeding us, then these two (or more) competing models of farming which should be examined and evaluated. But if the answer is No, then we are indeed the captives of an irrevocable choice made sometime in the 1930’s and 1940’s, with no way out.

Hunger is not inevitable. Factory farming is not inevitable. Low-quality, tasteless, contaminated food is not inevitable. Repeated “food scares” are not inevitable. Soaring public health costs are not inevitable. Another and better food system is eminently possible — now, not ten years from now or after some promised, imaginary “scientific breakthrough”. It is possible right now, today — in our own backyard(s).
What are we waiting for?
I'd encourage you to read the rest. It's brilliant.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Automatic Watering of SIPs, Part 2

Prompted by a comment from Publius, I decided to follow up on my first post from last summer. Fair enough: I did call it Automatic Watering of SIPs, Part 1, which at least suggests I had more to say on the subject.

Problem is I'm not sure what to write. When I put up Part 1, I thought that I'd follow it with a list of all the "tricks" that I'd discovered along the way. There really aren't that many.

I talked a little bit about this in my response to Kathy last summer. Purging the lines of air bubbles is the hard part.

Here's how I do it.

First, fill the main reservoir--the yellow bucket in the picture-- high enough to let you gently push the connection between the hose and the siphon/supply line below the water level in the reservoir. In practical terms this means 3/4 full. Next, fill up all the SIP reservoirs, one at a time, with a hose. Now, if you attach a hose to the beginning--where the Hudson valve is suspended--of the one of the black siphon lines , open the other end of the siphon/supply line, and turn the hose on, you'll force out all the air with water. Once a full stream of water is coming out the end of the open siphon tube/supply line, abruptly close the open end of the line. Then, making sure that water is coming out of the end of each 1/4" whip, put each of the 1/4" lines into its respective SIP fill tube.

Lower the hose/siphon supply tube connection below the surface of the reservoir. Slowly unscrew the hose from the supply line, being careful not to let the hose kink, while the water is still running through the hose.

Now that all the individual reservoirs are linked via siphon tubes, you only need to control the height of the water in the main reservoir. Figure out the right height for your Hudson valve and you're done.

Last year I used a 5 gallon bucket as my reservoir. It has a relatively small surface area, making it hard to submerge the hose/siphon tube connection below the water level in the bucket without kinking the hose. I found out that this causes the water to stop, briefly, and introduces air bubbles. Not what you want.

To make it easier, this year I'm going to use a longer, flatter reservoir. Probably a 14 gallon Rubbermaid tote. This will let me lower the connection between the siphon tube and the hose below the waterline without any hose kinks/air bubbles.

Whenever the system isn't primed, it stops. You'll see the plants droop, and you know it's time to flush it out and get rid of air bubbles. That happened about once a month last summer and I'm not sure why it did. It might be the fill tube that goes down into each SIP is moving around too much. Or the 1/4" whip that goes into each tube gets pushed/bumped and no longer sits in the water reservoir . As a safeguard I'm trying to figure out a way to be able to see the level of water in each tub. I might put a clear vertical cylinder in the middle of each siphon line, mimicking another sip in the loop. That way I could quickly tell if it's gone off.

Any ideas on what else I could do?

There are (at least) a couple of limits to what I'm doing. The first is that the SIPs need to be on roughly the same level. In my case, since my individual SIPs have reservoirs 5" tall, that's the maximum height that can separate the highest and lowest SIP--on my slightly sloped roof--being regulated by one Hudson valve. The second thing is about the priming process. It determines how you lay out your piping system.

I found that you need to restrict the number of SIPs on each siphon line to a maximum of 12. The reason for this is that at some point there's not enough water coming out of the hose to fill the 1/2" main line and all the 1/4" whips that go to each SIP at the same time. And that's the only way to get rid of all the air bubbles: fill the entire section of siphon tube with water. Basic math can help here. The total cross sectional area of all the whips can't be greater than the cross sectional area of the 1/2" main line. Due to frictional losses, the area of the whips should be less. How much I don't know. Trial and error or a clever engineer could give the answer.

All this is by way of explaining why there are three black 1/2" polyethylene lines coming out of the yellow bucket in the photo above. Each of those lines runs in a loop around 10 SIPs. Since I have 30 planters on my roof, I have 3 main supply/siphon lines.

Guess I did have something to say.

Thanks Publius.

Heirloom Seedlings for Sale

[Update 4/21/09. I've been getting a lot of inquiries, which is Great™, but from the requests it's obvious that my post below wasn't as clear as it could have been. Most of the seedlings are started inside 6-8 weeks before they are transplanted outside. That's why the original post went up on 3/15. The idea was that people would place their seedling orders and I would get them going. It didn't play out that way, I think I know why: It's hard to think about summer plants when there's snow on the ground. Now that it's getting warmer, people are focusing on gardening and seedlings, a little late for me to help. Which is a long winded way of saying, All we've got left are the 'extras'. Seeds that I planted with the expectation that not all would germinate, when in fact most of them did, and so we have more than we can use. Here's a current list of what we have available. If there's nothing there for you, there are a couple of other options: Both the Lincoln Park farmer's market--on Sat--and Green City market--Wed--sell heirloom seedlings through the month of May. And the Wicker Park Garden Club is having a seedling sale on 5/2 and 5/3.]

A new seedling light rack was in order, I just couldn't fit all our seed starts in my utility closet. Putting that together with plenty of extra seeds, we thought that a few of our local readers would like us to grow seedlings for them for a nominal charge. [$3 per seedling in a two cup (4") container. $5 in a quart container. And you'll need to pick them up.]

Below is a listing of what we're starting. What's more, if you have your own seeds you'd like us to start, drop them off (we're 2 miles NW of downtown Chicago, near Ashland and Division) and we'll get them going for you. That includes hardening off, so they're ready to plant outside as soon as we turn them over to you.

Have a look at the list and let us know what you'd like. An email to greenroofgrowers [at] gmail [dot] com or a comment below this post will get things started. Frost sensitive plants--tomato, eggplant, peppers, and herbs--will be ready around May 15th. There's still time to start broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage and other cold loving plants too.

Some Seed Company abbreviations:

Victory Seed Co.= VS
Seed Savers Exchange = SS
Reimer Seed Co. = RS
Wild Garden Seed Co. = WG
Seeds from Italy = SI
Renee's Garden = RG

Bulls Blood (VS)

Green Sprouting Calabrese (VS)
Green Goliath (RS)
Romanesco (SS)

Brussels Sprouts
Catskill (VS)

Red Acre (VS)

Pingtung Long (SS)
Udumalapet (SS)
Diamond (SS)
Black Beauty (VS)

Collards 'Champion' (WG)
Mustard 'Indian Mix' (WG)
Cress 'Wrinkled, Crinkled, Crumpled' (WG)
Swiss Chard 'Rainbow' (VS)

Basil 'Genovese' (Seeds of Change)
• Basil 'Lemon' (from our saved seeds)
• Basil 'Lettuce Leaf' (from our seeds)
Black Cumin (SS)
Curled Chervil (VS)
Dill (Ferry Morse Seed Co.)
English Lavender (SS)
English Sorrel (VS)
Greek Oregano (SS)
Lovage (RS)
Garden Thyme (VS)
• Parsley (from our saved seed)
Rosemary (RS)
• Savory (from our own saved seed)
Stevia (SS)

Delicatesse Blue (VS)

Red Russian (VS)
White Russian (WG)
Lacinato (WG)
Lacinato Rainbow (WG)

Arugula (VS)
Red Velvet (SS)
Carmona (WG)
Green Salad Bowl (VS)
Spinach 'Bloomsdale' (VS)
Marveille des Quatre Saisons (SS)
Endive 'Full Heart Batavian' (VS)

Napolean Sweet (SS)
Rooster Spur - hot (SS)
Sweet Chocolate (SS)
Santa Fe Grande (SS)
Purple Beauty (VS)
Pimento (VS)

Abraham Lincoln (VS)
Black Cherry (VS)
Brandywine Yellow (VS)
Carbon (RS)
Caspian Pink (VS)
Cherokee Purple (SS)
Hillbilly (VS)
Kellogg's Breakfast (SS)
• San Marzano (SI)
Matina (RS)
Stupice (RS)

Ornamental Grass
Dacotah Switchgrass (Seed Swap with Nance Klehm)

To make this complete, here are the rest of the plants that we'll direct seed this year.

Burgundy (WG)

Climbing French (SS)
Empress (SS)
Fin de Bagnol (SS)
Hidatsa Shield Figure (SS)
Red Swan (SS)
• Scarlett Runner (Lakeland Seed Co.)
White Emergo Runner (VS)
• Valena (Saved from previous yrs VS)

Armenian seedless (RG)
Diva (RS)
Lemon (RG)

Lancelot (Gethsemane, though the link is to Dixondale Farms)

Mesclun (RG)

'Banana' (Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co.)

White Lisbon
First Edition (Gethsemane, though the link is to Dixondale Farms.)

Mammoth Melting (VS)

• 'Inca Gold' (Ronniger Seed Potatoes)

Summer Squash
• Zucchini 'Romanesco' (SI)
• 'Summer of Squash' mix (Botanical Interests)

• 'Clearwater' (Fedco/Moose Tubers)

Giant Greystripe (VS)

Winter Squash
Delicata 'Honey Boat' (Botanical Interests)

Friday, March 13, 2009

Making SIPs at Chicago's Greenhouses of Hope

There's so much to say about Chicago's remarkable Nance Klehm, who invited us to meet her yesterday at the Pacific Garden Mission shelter to make SIPs with her resident staff. In the sunny Greenhouses of Hope, she oversees worm composting, seed-starting, and what can only be described as the shared joy of being around growing things.

As Nance says at her website, Spontaneous Vegetation: The greenhouses grow soil, food and people.

Take a look at the slideshow at this Chicago Public Radio link for an expanded view of the greenhouses and its resident gardeners.

When we stepped inside we left behind the bitterly cold day and entered a world of warm worm bins, seed starts, and a blooming pasture of greens, whose seed they'll capture for the next round of plants.

We got right to work on the food-grade buckets that would become SIPs, first cutting out the central hole for the wicking chamber...

...and drilling the many holes that enable air to flow into the area between the bottom of the roots and the water reservoir. The design of the official Earthbox™ has plenty of science behind it and letting the roots "breathe" is one of the ideas that produces a healthier, more productive plant.

The resident gardeners at the Greenhouses of Hope clearly love what they do and we had great fun making SIPs with them. They gave us a detailed tour of the worm bins they create and the vermicomposting (composting with worms) process and components, including food scraps from the mission kitchen, newspaper, and, naturally, worms.

The worms produce nutrient rich worm castings, which are in turn used to grow the next generation of plants. This means that there's no need to pay for food waste disposal or to buy expensive fertilizer for new plantings. More importantly the program gives the residents a place to shine.

We're planting a young avocado tree--oops, too deep! Nance steps in to guide us.

After watering in the transplant, it's time to fill the reservoir.

The "shower cap," made from a garbage bag, goes on top, is secured with string, and voila: the first container finished.

We're thrilled to be able to pass on this technique and can't wait to go back to help build more. Thanks for asking us to participate Nance!

Check out Nance's site for info on purchasing worms and vermicomposting bins from the Pacific Garden Mission.

Updated 6.5.2009 -- Bruce went back to PGM and built trellises for the SIPs that were placed on the roof of the building.  Check out the cool pics.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Big Ag's Latest Scam

From Op-Ed News:
The "food safety" bills in Congress were written by Monsanto, Cargill, Tysons, ADM, etc. All are associated with the opposite of food safety. What is this all about then?

In the simplest terms, organic food and a rebirth of farming were winning. Not in absolute numbers but in a deep and growing shift by the public toward understanding the connection between their food and their health, between good food and true social pleasures, between their own involvement in food and the improvement in their lives in general, between local food and a burgeoning local economy.

Slow Food was right - limit your food to what comes from your region and from real farmers, and slow down to cook it and linger over it with friends and family, and the world begins to change for the better.
In the same vein, if you're a seed saver, you might want to read this.