Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Chicken Coop Walls Going Up

Helped Bruce move the coop walls out of the workshop to get tied in to the coop structure this afternoon.

It's a paradise for hens!

There's the roof frame, which Bruce is finishing this afternoon.

We're gonna miss the actual roof raising due to the AUA meet tonight. On the agenda: an overview of Chicago's proposed urban ag zoning changes.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

How to Plant A Mini SIP (aka Portable Micro Garden)

Learn how to make an excellent Portable Microgarden from the nice folks at Inside Urban Green. They advised us on retrofitting our plastic spinach boxes into traveling mini SIPs like this one so we could take them on our road adventure and eat fresh greens.

Check out the travel SIPs post to learn how to make one from stuff you already have or can garbage pick. The bottle provides a reservoir for water and oxygen. You don't need that black HDPE pipe--we had some left over and used it. You could use a second water bottle for the water fill tube.

These microgardens are perfect for those of us living in the northern hemisphere right now as spring tenuously approaches. Chicago weather can be fickle: 28 degrees F today and last week 65.

We planted some cool-loving lettuces and greens in our mini SIPs and set 'em on the outside windowsill facing south. If temps plummet, we just lift them inside and shut the window. Click to see these are bungee corded so they don't drop on unsuspecting perambulators below ("Knocked out by kale!").

Here's how to plant your mini SIP...
I'm putting in young plants Bruce started under lights, but these containers also work well for direct-seeding, especially if you keep them on a warming mat in the strengthening spring light. We'll discuss that in next post.

1--Fill with damp potting mix and add a handful of organic fertilizer.

2--Mix the fert in with your hands and top up the boxes with plain potting mix.

3--Plant, water the plants once top-down, and then water through the fill tube into the H2O-oxygen reservoir (aka, the buried water bottle). You don't need to water until it comes out the overflow tube--just enough so the box has some weight). Here we planted some miner's lettuce and Wrinkled Crinkled Crumpled cress.

Click to enlarge. These will look a lot better once they settle in and get some legs...and leaves! You will get an amazing amount of salad out of these just by clipping the small leaves that develop. Salads forevah.

Here are the tiny determinate tomatoes Debbie brought us in a yogurt cup during our seed swap Feb 12.

They loved growing up in this mini SIP on a heating mat, drawing the water they needed from the bottom. Gonna get these into some larger grow pots soon.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Beginning the Chicken Coop

They are starting to get a little crowded in their brooder. Plus I'm getting tired of all the mess; the dust gets everywhere.

 I'm building a 48 ft2 coop with a 130 ft2 run below my back deck.  Today I framed the floor which I then insulated with folded up burlap bags.  I happened to have a hundred or so that I picked up free from the Intelligentsia coffee warehouse. 

Tomorrow I'll frame the walls and roof.  Then make the doors and windows, with cedar shingles for siding.  Basically it's a little house, albeit it one with a composting toilet.  It should be done in a couple more weeks.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


In a little over a month, Debbie, Little Green Girl and I are going to be showing a large group of Evanston schoolkids how to make and plant a pop bottle SIP.

I'm interested in "education" in general, but leaving aside our contributions, have my doubts as to it's effectiveness.  Some of them are summed up in this clever animated lecture.

We'll let you know how the session goes.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Sure Signs of Spring in Chicago

60 degrees in Chicago yesterday. People on the streets as if unleashed, faces toward the sun. 

The relentless push of a spring bulb through the leaf mulch in our back yard says it all...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Agretti Sprouted

Fun to see these odd-looking, wiry sprouts coming up. Seems like the green will emerge from the top of a main stalk.  I have a whole row with no action, though, so I cover with plastic periodically to provide greenhouse sprouting conditions.

When we started these agretti seeds, one of our readers sent a link to the Ladybug Letter from Mariquita Farm in the Bay Area, growers of agretti. Good stuff. 

Can't wait to nibble on it.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Chicken update

At roughly 5 weeks of age, they're about the size of pigeons.  H2 came over and took some pics.

I've got them drinking from poultry nipples that I put into an improvised waterer.  When they go outside, they'll drink from the same nipples attached to a 5 gallon bucket.
Shredded newspaper makes a nice bedding.

In another month they'll go outside in a coop and run I'm building.


H2 and I both admire Lloyd Kahn's style, specifically the way he manages to tell a compelling story with just a few pictures.  We're both trying to find ways to post more and write less, something he does so well.

His Tweets are pretty cool too.

Cool-Weather Greens 2011: Hardening Off + Salad Ready (Already)

Hard to believe just two weeks ago we transplanted our tiny seed starts into these larger containers.

Yesterday we walked to Bruce's to pick up the results of two more weeks under light in a room-temperature house. Yow! They must have grown a third of an inch a day. Time-lapse photography would be fun here.

Next we'll take our hardy transplants and harden them off, a process nicely described here by Johnny's Seeds via Washington State University. (If you don't live in a cold-weather climate, I suspect the term is meaningless, but as noted at the link, hardening off is both a season extender and important for intensive gardening.)

These plants will be happier once acclimated to their preferred temperature range, about perfect right now in Chicago, with lows just above freezing.

Click to enlarge the
 beautiful joker lettuce...or is it jester?

Here's a side-by-side shot of seeds started on the same day--outdoors by me using the winter-sowing method (right) and indoors by Bruce. Quite a difference, though our still-tiny starts in the box will surge with the increased light.

Thanks, Bruce!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Growing Agretti

Got some agretti seeds from Bountiful Gardens. They look like little bits of cork and the seed pack advises you to plant in succession until June, when seed viability "becomes questionable."

Ominous. I know myself well enough to suspect I won't be succession planting coherently enough to use all the seeds by June, so I started them last weekend in one of the small SIPs made from an old spinach container, drink bottle, and some tubing. We wrote about how to make these before our camping adventure last fall.

The growing medium is damp peat and coir with a little perlite, to ensure wicking.

On go the agretti seeds,
followed by a gentle tucking in

Then I wrapped the SIP in plastic and set it on a warming mat in the southern light. In the foreground, another SIP with the two patio tomatoes Debbie brought us a few weeks back. Everyone's happy being sub-irrigated.

From my reading, agretti is a little bit salty, a little bit sour, and one of those greens you can use in myriad ways: raw, our traditional steam, olive oil, lemon juice, and dijon, or the saute preparation our friends at Root Simple use for borage, already growing in profusion in their yard (envious).

Seeds from Italy has more on agretti.

How about this agretti cheesecake? I'm already envisioning Bruce's flock providing the eggs for it.

We'll transplant some of the agretti into SIPs on the roof in a few weeks. Others will go into our small in-ground bed, with few left over to share.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

An Urban Farming Experiment in Kansas City

This looks interesting --

I wonder how they plan on working with the residents who have been there a long time? 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Transplanting Seed Starts: 10 Reasons It's A Powerful Experience

1--Working with friends on the 2011 food supply.
Jessi, Bruce, and I transplanted seedlings last weekend. See the plants in their tiny cells, ready to move up to larger pots? We used a fork to gently lift them (from under their roots) and tuck them into their new homes, in threes. Just two weeks ago Bruce started the seeds under lights.

2--Viewing the energy in a seed.
Look at those vigorous roots: the extraordinary power of seeds on display. Nice job, Bruce, helping the seed fulfill its destiny in 13 days.

3--Because these fetal kale will look like this just weeks from now, ready to be hardened off, face the spring chill they love, and get planted in SIPs on our roof.

4--Plant diversity. 
We're growing some exciting new-to-us varieties this year, including Jester and Joker lettuces from Wild Garden Seed, Garland Serrated Chrysanthemum Greens (aka Shungiku) from Hudson Valley Seed, and vitamin greens from Bountiful Gardens. You'd never find these plant starts at a store in Chicago--I'm not sure anyone even sells starts for cool-weather greens.

5--Even if you have no tillable soil, transplants thrive in SIPs.
It's a beautiful thing if you have an in-ground garden that gets enough light to grow food. Most of the cool-weather seeds we're starting would come up on their own eventually in such a garden. But if you've got no well-lighted soil to dig, dig this: SIPs + cool-weather greens=massive amounts of vitamins in early spring, when lettuces, collards, and kale grow best.

6--Anticipation keeps hands moving. 
As usual, Bruce planted a couple seeds for every one we requested, resulting in lots of extras, meaning Jessi will have more varieties to try in her patch of the Hermitage Triangle Community Garden just across the street. Everything in the photo below was grown in a SIP.

 7--Checking on the chicks. 
Talk about a growth spurt. Click to enlarge, and note Bruce added a tree-branch perch at the back of their brooder.

8--People bring food to share.
Nice thing about people who grow food: they always seem to have something to share. Jessi's banana bread, my spring pea soup, and unshown, Bruce's pot of dal.

9--Loving the locals.
Good dog Carl! (Is he getting big or what?)

10--Comparing methods.
We promised to update you on the progress of the seeds planted using the winter seed-sowing method, discussed in this post. 13 days ago, on Feb 13, Bruce planted the seeds we just transplanted. I winter-sowed some hardy cool-weather varieties in my punctured spinach boxes on the same date and was excited to see the first sprouted seeds--arugula--on Feb 25. 

So, not far behind but for our purposes--planting out in SIPs--we need the accelerated indoor growth  to Get Those Greens onto our plates sooner. But I'll be harvesting these babies too. 
 What are you growing?