Monday, August 30, 2010

August Roof Farm: Her Ups, Her Downs are Second Nature to Me Now

Inspired by Mrs Homegrown and her post The glass is half full--even if it's full of greywater, it's time for a reckoning.

Summer 2010 was the antithesis of Summer 2009, the latter cool, rainy, and overcast. This year's Chicago growing season can best be described as a blast furnace. Could it be that we need to think about lightly shading plants to shield them from the sun?

We did have some nice harvests in July.

Check out the black funk on these black velvet tomatoes. Click to enlarge.
Seriously sad to cut down the plant, since it produced early and often this summer. We picked every one of the last beautiful fruits, which had no signs of disease.

And then we removed the old fertilizer, added some new, and seeded the tomato SIP with collards. There, that's better.
Our tomatoes started producing nearly two weeks early this year, but didn't have the stay power of other more moderate weather years.

I wonder if the heat stressed them so badly that it set them up for disease, because we surely have a lot of funky looking tomato foliage. Interestingly, I visited Bruce's roof garden (six blocks away) and his greenery is suffering from the same plant-destroying whatever. Further, my brother the in-ground organic gardener in suburban Chicago told me his heirloom tomatoes did not do well at all.

Still, there were some productive periods. I brought in a few pounds of produce every other day, enough to keep us happily fed (one of these years I'll start recording the weight like these folks do).

The eggplant listada, from Seed Savers, was a robust producer, and nicely disease resistant.

So was this Franchi tomato start from Debbie, a sort of Christmas tree loaded with flavorful small tomatoes.
The Peppers Santa Fe Grande, another Seed Savers selection, always do well, and this year's heat didn't faze them.
Here's a real downer. The Armenian cukes that Art built a new trellis for were devastated by powdery mildew, despite being planted in late June. One lonely cuke...

This year we also planted summer squash in late June, trying to outwit the powdery mildew. I seeded some mustard alongside in one of our adopted earthboxes.
But not so pic to see the powdery mildew in all its glory today (one nice squash too).

We grew a melon called Golden Midget this year. I don't think the foliage is supposed to be golden though. Mildew again?
Still, we got a beautiful melon, sweet as can be.

Here's a pepper I planted very late--mid-July maybe--since it didn't get planted in May-June. I have no idea what it is (Bruce, any help?). Looks like a yellow banana type. This is planted in the Canadian SIP sold by our big-box Menard's store for $5.

And here's a self-harvested Mickey Lee melon. I found it cracked on the roof on morning after it apparently cut loose from its vine on the melon trellis one windy night.

Pried it open to reveal a gorgeous interior, sweet enough for dessert.

You can always hope for more, better, and less disease, but this day's gathering looks bountiful.

A fun upside to summer: Our new growing pals and co-bloggers Debbie and her Little Green Girl Kara visited the roof. Here Kara tries one of the purple tomatillos (or is she just faking it?).

They generously brought us The World's Tiniest Tomato! (in addition to a bounty of others) from their garden.

Debbie's heat-tolerant lettuce seeds are flourishing on the roof...

And remember Brooke and Amy, who came this spring to learn about SIPs and help me try the new wicking fabric method? Their rooster spur peppers (left) loved this summer's extreme heat.

More good news: in September they'll be showing a group of children at the Fremont Public Library District, where they are librarians, how to make Bob Hyland's pop bottle planters. Each participant will plant a young lettuce plant and also direct-seed some of the cool-weather greens seeds saved from our roof. Way to go, you two!

Most-fascinating-plant-to-grow-for-the-first-time award goes to...okra. Beautiful hibiscus-like flowers and noble fruit. This plant is about 7 feet tall.
Remember the Olive Garden salad bowl SIP? This one's still growing salad, using seeds we harvested from plants started by Bruce in February, set out in March, and gone to seed last month. Nice mustard greens and wrinkled crinkled crumpled cress.
We also direct-seeded some SIPs that had run their course. The tatsoi and collard seeds sprang to life, though it took several attempts because the heat on the roof dried out the soil the first few times.

Growing food is filled with uncertainty: you can't control the weather or pests or spores that move invisibly on the breeze. There are ups, there are downs. On balance, though, it still seems remarkable that we can eat so well from the roof of a building in downtown Chicago.

If the title of this post stumps you...listen:


Pack n' Boots said...

Everything looks amazing! Good news about your Golden Midget melon. The foliage turns completely yellow when the melon is ripe! So it looks like that melon is almost ready to eat. (Learned from a gardening friend who LOVES those melons) Hope that helps.

H2 said...

Thanks much, VV. Hadn't had a chance to look up the foliage question. That melon was yummy.

Law Office of Ava George Stewart, P.C. said...

Everything looks fantastic, lovely post. I'm already wondering what we will plant next year.

H2 said...

Ava, I know what you mean. Most gardeners I know start dreaming about next year right about now...

hamonrye said...

Good looking stuff.