Friday, December 24, 2010

I'm Dreaming Of...

...Seattle's Pike Place Market
Being there always makes me smile. How could you not, with grown people throwing around whole fish? And rows and rows of flowers and vegetables? Thanks to our Seattle correspondent KK for this shot, taken last night.
Plus, I agree with Martha Bayne: why can't we have this in Chicago?

...Pesticide-free produce for all.
Thanks, Bruce, for link, describing a (to my mind) grim 12-year study on pesticide exposure and its effects in pregnant women and young children. To be certain nobody sprayed what you eat, grow your own.

...Magical bees, somehow warm in their hives on the roof, scheming to do this again next year.

...This photo, shot from an Amtrak window a couple Januarys ago as the sun was setting over Odessa WA. It feels like a painting.

To all a good night!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Winter Solstice Musings + Seed Savers Exchange

Pondering on this solstice the dreaming gardeners do mid-winter, it strikes me as a real-time definition of optimism. It's 18 degrees F outside, last year's growing season is behind us (good or bad, for this gardener it's always eye-popping in December to look at photos of ripe August produce), and anything is possible in the year ahead.

Like these lemon drop tomatoes, from Seed Savers Exchange (SSE),
another ultra-reliable seed source for us.
SSE says they'll grow even in cold-wet conditions. Will summer 2011 be like 2009, with exactly that, or more like this year, the blast furnace?

Seeds are an affordable indulgence. What else can you buy online for $2.75 plus shipping with so much inherent potential? Not saying seed orders don't quickly build into real money for many of us, but seeds never go to waste around here.

calls out to me from the new 2011 SSE selections.
Last year, Bruce and I made a real effort to use up all our old seeds. I cataloged what we had and many sprouted nicely after three years in their packets. We shared seeds with gardeners at the first-year Hermitage Triangle Community Garden and I tossed the oldest seeds into my own in-ground garden, where they did well. And Debbie shared her Franchi seeds with us.

Now we can feel righteous about buying fresh seed for the coming growing season.

Maybe Bruce and his friends at the in-ground community garden could use this gorgeous Frances Perry poppy in their perennial beds. Why not?

A few lunar eclipse links...
  • Homegrown Evolution has a good post on peat moss. I'm conflicted. After three years of growing in SIPs, it appears to be the very best medium. 
  • Fast Grow the Weeds talks about sorrel, a new crop for us last year immensely enjoyed for its citrus-like tang.
  • Feast your eyes on the tomato selection from SSE.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

She looks straight ahead not at he

Still cold in Chicago. Warm it up with...
One of the greatest hit singles jazz has ever known.
Some background here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Seed Shopping

Browsing seed catalogs is one of my favorite winter pastimes. Today I'm dreaming of Sun Gold tomatoes and I can't wait to grow Sugar Snap peas for a tasty stir-fry. There are many great seed companies out there, but my favorites last year were the Franchi brand seeds at Our family grew 6 types of their Italian heirloom tomatoes that included Maremmano, Cuor Di Bue, Principle Borghese, A Groppoli, S. Marzano, and Red Pear Sel. All were delicious, but I was most impressed with their Red Pear Sel, an unusually shaped medium-big size tomato with a lot of flavor, great in a salad and also as a sauce.

I've already done a little early seed shopping at and am excited to grow a few new things this year. Amstrdam Seasoning Celery is a beneficial insect plant that attracts the good insects, they eat the bad ones that prey on your nice vegetables. The package says it resembles a large flat leaf Italian parsley plant but has a strong celery flavor. I also bought some Alpine Strawberry seeds and we are hoping to pop a few fresh berries in some cereal or a shake.

If you are looking for something unusual to grow I'd suggest growing a Carosello Tondo Di Manduria which is an Italian cucumber/melon by Franchi, again at Last year I was given what I thought was one of those varieties by a nice gardener on a NeighborSpace community garden tour. Some grew very big and one even weighed over 4 lbs! I ate them like apples, they were sweet, and also in my salad with some dressing. I've read that the longer they remain on the vine the sweeter they get. Just think, harvest them early if you want cucumbers or harvest them later if you want a crispy sweet melon.

Happy seed shopping!

Sunday, December 12, 2010


Tonight in Chicago --
Very windy. Cloudy with chance of light snow in the evening...then partly cloudy after midnight. Areas of blowing snow through the night. Bitterly cold. Lows 4 to 8 (°F) above...except 11 to 15 downtown. Wind chills as low as 10 below to 20 below zero. Northwest winds 30 to 40 mph with gusts up to 45 mph at times until early morning decreasing to 20 to 30 mph with gusts up to 35 mph at times during the predawn hours. Chance of precipitation 40 percent. 
A good time to read Jack London's "To Build a Fire". 

Friday, December 10, 2010

So Danco Samba

This Friday's musical interlude brought to you by rooftop vegetables.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Seed Sources for 2011: Hudson Valley Seeds

Last year we did go on about Hudson Valley Seeds. Not only did their seeds grow strong and true for us here in Chicago, but the artist-produced packaging seems a perfect merging of beautiful regional vegetables and regional artists too.

Civil Eats just put up a nice interview with the proprietors, who say that choosing "artwork over photographs for our seeds packs...communicates what's important about seeds--that they come with stories."

Do they ever. Bruce started our greens seeds from Hudson Valley indoors early in 2010 and we planted out on St Patrick's Day. We particularly enjoyed the braising greens. Picked in their infancy, they provided endless salads (never did get around to braising them).

...and also the deep green tatsoi, shown here thriving on Bruce's roof.

Somehow I missed this October NYT story on Hudson Valley Seeds. On this wintry day you might enjoy thinking about the seed collection and packaging taking place there. We'll be renewing our membership this year. It's almost too good to be true: for $20,  choose ten seed packs from about 130 heirloom varieties.

We let our tatsoi go to seed this summer, harvested it, and replanted this fall. It's thriving right now upstairs in our unheated (but not freezing) second floor. Art has since hung lights over this SIP line-up, and we'll return the lights to Bruce in a scant couple months so he can start the cycle of seed-starting all over again, getting our spring crop up to size for planting out in March.

For indoor growing this winter, we're using these commercially available SIPs, because the slow-growing indoor crop requires less potting medium and water than our two-bucket SIPs.

HVS is here. Click in the left-hand column to review seed types.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Chicago: 22 Degrees, Low of 14 Tonight

A frigid close to 2010. Starting to think about seeds for 2011...

What would I give to head to the roof and pick one of these?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Vanishing of the Bees

One thing our Italian honeybees (Apis mellifera legustica) and I have in common: a passion for summer basil. Our bright yellow friends flock to our south-facing front window boxes all summer, but especially when the basil blooms. 
This summer I harvested a boatload of basil and tried making these chopped-basil-with-a-touch-of-olive-oil cubes for freezing and using later.

Meh. Something about frozen basil misses the very pungent point. Fresh basil is a luxury I allow myself year round.

 Bruce tipped us to this. Haven't seen it yet but looks provocative...
"Filming across the US, in Europe, Australia and Asia, this documentary examines the alarming disappearance of honeybees and the greater meaning it holds about the relationship between mankind and mother earth. As scientists puzzle over the cause, organic beekeepers indicate alternative reasons for this tragic loss. Conflicting options abound and after years of research, a definitive answer has not been found to this harrowing mystery."

Vanishing of the Bees - Trailer from Bee The Change on Vimeo.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Making Kimchi

Took us a while to coordinate the ingredient buy, but Bruce went to Joong Boo Market (aka Chicago Food Corp) and got a monster Korean radish and shelf items (pepper flakes, sweet rice flour, fish sauce) and I found organic napa cabbage at Stanley's, where we do most of our hunting and gathering.

And we set to making kimchi.

We broadly followed this energetic woman's instructions (minus the squid) with fine results...

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Making the Most of the Internet

"The internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it."


As the above URLs will undoubtedly change as they are shut down, you can find the latest updates on Wikileaks Twitter feed..

Here's why Wikileaks, who haven't done anything illegal (much less been charged with anything), matters.


I'm still growing food on my roof, though my blog posts have dropped off in the past few months.  We're already getting ready to expand our seed starting group next February, so stay tuned.


My friend Blake and I have been working on setting up a hobby machine shop in my garage. I hope to turn out stuff like this:

Blake + His Greektown Sculpture

Blake made this amazing sculpture out of steel rods.   I'm still learning how to manipulate metal, having him around to provide instruction and support has been invaluable. 

I'm really looking forward to the new year.