Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Julia Child, Meet Cosmonaut Volkov: Planting Tomatoes on a Windy Roof

Winds were still gusting up to 28 mph today. When your SIP garden's on the roof this presents unique challenges, including how to minimize fertilizer ring blow-off, keep delicate plant starts from snapping, and secure the plastic evaporation barrier on top.  Coupled with a compulsive need to plant tomatoes, we get this...

Yep, I grabbed a staple gun and put up a wind-breaking bedsheet. Easy application on Art's wood trellis. It helped keep yesterday's newly planted (and fragile) tomatoes from being decapitated. I staked them too.

Then I moved most of my planting operation inside the greenhouse, filling SIP buckets about half full with potting mix from the large outdoor bin before carrying them in to do the rest (good upper body workout for sure).
relax in the wind-free greenhouse

Happy for that greenhouse am I. Visitors often ask if we use it for growing during the winter (it's unheated and this is Chicago, so no). What do we use it for? Organizing the myriad bits and bobs needed for SIP gardening, for storage...and for planting on endlessly windy days like those this strange spring. I did get six tomatoes in today and in they will remain until the weather calms.

Also staked every single vegetable planted outside. You can see these peppers have had their lower leaves ripped off by the wind. Now they've got nice bamboo stakes to lean on.

Hoping the sheet holds...and for calm.

Monday, May 30, 2011

May 30 in Chicago: 91 Degrees, 30 mph Winds

The last couple days have been all about rain. Rain, rain, and more rain. And cool. On Saturday nephew Marc and I planted out the tobaccos in 5-gallon SIPs, his first SIP effort and a fine job.

We tucked them into the greenhouse as the winds were stiff.

I walked over to Bruce's and said hello to the girls. They're very sociable.

Bruce's allium are alluring.

His peppers  are setting up nicely, planted the weekend of May 21 (a good planting weekend I missed because we were out of town).

He's growing a few of the tobaccos as well.

And his potatoes are flourishing.

Carl, a portrait
(naturally, click for larger cuteness)

And with his beloved bone

I have nicest sister in the world who's also a talented seamstress (she'd live at the fabric store if permitted). She brought me another fat roll of pellon thermolam plus to use in retrofitting our SIPs for the new wicking method. You can see below that the criss-crossed strips all but cover the hole where the wicking cup once sat.

Was up at 6 today and on the roof planting tomatoes. Got a few in, but not the best day for planting due to brisk winds. Returned mid-afternoon and discovered it's both windy and hellishly hot up there. So I cut fabric strips instead.

We like to experiment with other SIP types, this one the EZ Grow. But, maddeningly, it's larger around the rim than the base, which makes tying on the evaporation barrier (aka, shower cap) with string impossible. So I tape it.
 Tape is your friend

Love this perpetual spinach (chard) from Bountiful Gardens Seed. That's precisely what the label says: Perpetual Spinach (Chard). Which is it, I wondered. Turns out it's a kind of mini-chard, complete with salty flavor.

Our second floor has never been rehabbed. Its patina and energy are beautiful.
Art found a dumpster across the street with a boatload of like-new treated wood (ripped up from a poorly installed deck), which he uses as decking around here. He's been hauling wood for three days...

Thursday, May 26, 2011

May 26 Chicago: 44 Degrees, 24 mph Winds

Can't recall spring temperatures ever fluctuating this much. After a few temperate days last week, during which I thought it would be OK to plant some SIPs on the roof (erroneously, as you'll see below), today's just raw. Windy, cold, and raw. But I love the radishes up there, pulled a couple days ago from the raised bed. They're Hudson Valley Seed Library Radical Radish Mix and they're sweet.

Here's a tenacious white borage plant pushing up through a crack 
in the cement out front. Our bees love these blooms.

I pulled it to plant in the front window boxes, where we get full south sun and like to have herbs of all sorts, most started this year by Bruce under lights. Talk about through the wars--when I picked up the herb starts last week it was warm, hot even. Then came the winds and the cold and currently many of the basils are raggedy.

We're hopeful they'll perk up

 Also seeded some nasturtium, cosmos, and poppies
in the herb boxes

Yesterday we picked up these robust-looking tomato starts from Bruce, who's been keeping them through all this rough weather. I promptly placed them inside on the second floor, with southern exposure.

While I was up there I clipped some more food from these portable microgardens. Who loves this weather?

 Cool-weather greens

Now to the roof. My ill-advised early planting of a couple pepper starts resulted in their being sheared off by the wind last week. Even though I thought I'd sheltered them effectively by placing them against the greenhouse wall. Clearly they should have been inside. I'll get some more starts in these SIPs once things calm down.

Note the tied-up Jimmy Nardello pepper 
in the foreground. It's hanging on.

Now this I'm not proud of, another weather-beaten example, but it does speak to the resilience of some plants, in this case the lovely patio tomato gifted us by Debbie. Though it won't win any beauty pageant, it's got flowers. Stay tuned.

The peas are up...and flowering.

Here's a beat-up tomatillo whose Earthbox mate got snapped in half last week, and a hot pepper. They make me think of the lyrics to NY NY: if you can make it here, you'll make it anywhere.

Tatsoi from Hudson Valley has been a superb producer, offering a bounty of daily greens for salads. I love this green, round and beautifully formed.

We might be able to plant tomatoes and eggplant this weekend, a full 10 days later than last year. We'll see what Saturday brings.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Winter Sowing Was a Success!

Late winter when we had a warm period we sowed Dinosaur Kale and Amish Deer Tounge lettuce in our salad table then watched them germinate. When they were about an 1" in height we took off the plastic on the low tunnel exposing the plants to full sun and were amazed at how fast they grew. Yes, it's nice to have fresh homegrown food again, it makes me think summer is almost here and I can almost taste some real tomatoes!

Plans for this salad table can be found at Maryland University Extension and the videos and instructions by Jon Traunfield, a fellow Master Gardener are very simple and complete. We love this salad table because the rabbits can't access it but after this harvest we plan on converting it in to a SIP because we found it required frequent watering and SIPs are just more efficient at conserving water.

I'm feeling pretty lucky that the squirrels haven't discovered it, or at least haven't been interested in digging in it, they'd rather eat my heirloom tomatoes!

I LIKE this homemade salad table but will LOVE it when it's converted into a SIP this Spring!

The salad table wasn't our only success this season. Mid winter Little Green Girl and I winter sowed lots of seeds not knowing what would happen. As we uncovered the containers when the temperatures got warmer we found the results to be incredible. Just about everything we sowed germinated well with the exception of the Marsh Mallow seeds... and that's probably because I didn't make enough drainage holes. Seeing a container full of water, mud, and no seedlings seemed to have confirmed my suspicion.

Here's what we sowed this winter:

What's one of the best advantages of winter sowing? The tomatoes and pepper plants we grew indoors required hardening off while winter sowed plants didn't. From seeds to plants they've already acclimated to the outdoor environment. Mother Nature is truly amazing.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

8 Humans Celebrate 8 Chickens Home

On a cool rainy May day, what do you suppose the other 3 million Chicago residents did?

Who knows! But whatever I doubt it was as immensely satisfying as ushering eight robust Rhode Island Reds from their brooder upstairs at Bruce's...

...to their gorgeous new digs, replete with deep coffee bean chaff bedding from Intelligentsia.

Bruce with his beautiful handiwork,
including pieces of reclaimed lumber oiled to a smart finish

Perches with feeder in position

Hi Art, Leah, and Ala

The move crew:
Leah, Rob, Brad, Art, Bruce, Ala, and Blake

First chicken honors go to Bruce

Blake and his bird

These chickens kept us smiling for portraits

Me too

Raw food guy Blake
knows what they want

Getting the waterer up.
Plus, early adopter finds food

Carl had fun exploring...

...and we finished with a St Germaine-fresh lemon-fizzy water toast 
to chickens come home to roost

What an excellent day. To watch all the chicken-lovin' action, click here (thanks, Rob!)...