Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Good News + Bad: A Visit to the Roof Farm

Anyone who grows knows that gardening teaches humility, among other lessons. A walk through the roof garden in June's final days reveals the good and bad, happy and sad.

The good: Seeds shared by our pal Erik Knutzen at Homegrown Evolution have emerged. I'm excited to see what they'll produce.

Labeled "mystery Greek squash,"
I guess Erik himself isn't even certain

Eggplant Udumalapet are setting
their extraordinary flowers

Peppers Santa Fe Grande
coming on strong

The bad: OK, maybe not bad, but frustrating. This is the Broccoli Romanesco, and wouldn't you be excited about growing it if it looked like this? But it doesn't. And we're about out of cool weather here in Chicago. I planted healthy starts on April 8 and this plant takes 75-100 days from transplant.

Your 75 days are about up, Mr Shrively

Walking through the garden, you can always find something to be thankful for, like Art with his drill securing another crossbar for the tomatoes. Plus, the prolific peapods in the background.

Art is a gardener's friend

Uh-oh. In my book, this falls into the category of really bad. These gorgeous little San Marzano tomato babies have blossom end rot. The starts were transplanted on April 29 in the greenhouse (even with low nighttime temps they got a lovely start) and set out a month later. Maybe they used up the cup of Espoma lime we mixed into the soil?

Today we gave them a quarter cup of hydrated lime
dissolved in a gallon of water

On the other hand, these early Stupice tomatoes are ripening nicely, with lots more to come.

I picked one today and ate half of it on the roof
before I remembered the gardener's friend downstairs

The Kellogg's Breakfast tomatoes are coming right along too. With peak 80-90 days from transplant, we should be looking for ripe ones in a few weeks.

Saying goodbye: To the Indian Mustard (Wild Garden Pungent Mix), gone to bloom for the bees to explore. Despite the bounty to come, I'll miss our toss of heat-seeking greens.

I've already made a note to plant them again in 2010

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

GRG On The Road: Destination - Faith and Tomatoes

This past Monday, Art and H2 loaded their old truck with buckets and tools. I picked up seedlings, potting mix, and fertilizer. Once we had all the materials, we headed south, to 8100 S. Dante Avenue, and met up with a group of people at Avalon Park Community Church.

Time to make some 2 bucket SIPs...

There's no doubt that certain religious organizations are doing important environmental work; while none of the GRGers are churched, we jumped at the chance to put our ideas in practice.

The class was facilitated by Veronica Kyle at Faith In Place. Katy Regalado, who attended one of our previous workshops and works for the organization, linked us up.


Did I mention it was hot? And also that the church had a perfect location for a SIP garden: a southern exposure against a natural trellis--a chain link fence.


We did our demonstration and then they got to it, drilling out and planting 10 SIPs made with 20 white food-grade buckets donated by our friends from Jewel-Osco.


Veronica Kyle noticed it was the kids leading the way. They loved getting their hands dirty.

Here's the youth crew, goofin' for a group shot with the extra shower caps they made from a potting mix bag.


Our charming group of adult gardeners got their hands dirty too while they learned about the advantages of SIP growing: no stooping to weed (no weeds!), less watering, and greater yield. Like H2, these gardeners had decades of experience gardening in the ground, but they were all open to this new way of growing food.


Collards, beans, tomatoes, melons, Sweet Chocolate peppers, Pingtung Long eggplant, kale, broccoli, and summer squash. We had more plant starts, many brought from church members' gardens, than SIPs.

The final test was for the group to build their own SIP out of two of our recycled Vienna Beef yellow pickle buckets and some leftover supplies. Needless to say, they passed with flying colors.

This class member, a natural-born SIP maker, skillfully improvised the shower cap and tie-down, using plastic from the potting mix and tape to secure.

See one. Do one. Teach one.


Thanks to everyone who made the day a success.

We'd like to especially mention Florence, at center in the picture above, for helping us with so many things once we arrived. Her wheelbarrow and water hose were crucial, but even more important was her generous spirit.

And thanks to Rev Paul Robeson Ford for welcoming us to the church.

After our work was done, Rev Paul talked to the young people a little bit about the importance of leadership and sharing their new skills with others in the community. And then he said a blessing over the new church garden.


A few of these photos were taken by Amanda Baugh, a Northwestern Univ. Doctoral Candidate studying the intersection of the environmental and religious communities. She was nice enough to share the rest of her pictures in this Picasa album.

Finally, a word about Stan Goff. What we did on the south side of Chicago is an echo of the work he (and others) are doing in Cedar Grove, NC. Thanks for the inspiration Stan.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

June 17 Roof Garden: Romanesco Broccoli, Stupice Tomato, Mammoth Melting Peas

Springtime in Chicago has been a cool, wet slog, but today we found signs of the harvest to come:

The tomatoes in their new 7-gal in 8-gal bucket SIPs are thriving. This has everything to do with transplanting Bruce's robust tomato starts into their SIPs early in the greenhouse and setting them out on May 25 as large plants. Today we poured a liter of compost tea into each tomato reservoir (from Art's amazing compost tea maker--more on that later), to urge them on.

Summer of Squash seeds (from a two-year-old packet) have finally sprouted, knocking some soil up onto the plastic. The power of plant energy is stunning.

Here's a Stupice tomato, one of the early varieties, ripening up, which seems like a miracle given our cloudy, rainy last few weeks.

And peapods have emerged from the pure white flowers that graced this Mammoth Melting Pea variety.

Finally, the broccoli Romanesco is setting its astonishing head. Click here to have a look at the mature plant.

I'm trying something new this year: overplanting a SIP that's finished hosting its original veggie. Here's the broccoli Green Goliath (with my pal Trish)...

..harvested and re-seeded with Climbing Emperor beans. These we hope will climb the arches Art designed. I didn't add fertilizer, reckoning that there might be enough remaining.

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

May 30 SIP Workshop in Chicago

Ten days after our first SIP workshop we did it again.

On May 30th another great group of people came to Art and H2's place to learn how to make a sub-irrigated planter out of two 5-gal buckets.

We drilled and filled, and then we planted. A look back:

Using a hole saw is the easiest way to create the cut-out
for your wicking chamber...

...but not the only way.
Here, one participant uses
a drill to outline the hole before cutting it out with a utility knife.

Identifying the position of the overflow holes is easy:
visualize and mark the bottom of the top bucket by holding the set up to light
Then drill about 3/4 inch below.

Now for the fun part:
Bruce offers his array of seed-started heirloom tomato plants
so class members can choose which they'll plant.

And plant they did.
The portrait gallery

How many pounds of juicy heirloom tomatoes will this group harvest later this summer? Possibly more than 100. Thanks to our great group of SIP-makers!

While you're dreaming about BLTs to come,
go have a look at this video and tidy list of the benefits of using SIPs to grow food

Friday, June 5, 2009

Making Trellises

The idea is to keep it simple. Like so many things, that takes a bit of planning.

A good trellis is.........

• Sturdy/Won't blow over
• Cheap
• Easy to assemble/take apart
• Weatherproof


• Doesn't make holes in the roof; holes = leaks

The key thing is to use the weight of the SIP (about 40 lbs for the 2-bucket design) to anchor something that you fasten poles to. Angled braces keep them from tipping over.

I've spent the last three Friday mornings building a simple set of trellises for about 100 2-bucket SIPs on the rooftop of the Pacific Garden Mission.

After setting a post at either end--and at each of the corners--of what viewed from above looks like a giant question mark, we used a variation of the Florida Weave to support the tomatoes, squash and cucumbers.

Each post, nothing more that a scavenged piece of 2"x4", was attached at the bottom to a 4 foot long piece of salvaged 2x10 deck joist. 1x4 angled braces were placed to prevent the post from tipping over. To keep it all in place, 2 or 3 planted SIPs were set on each 2x10 plank.

I put a few of the extra photos of the PGM Rooftop garden in my Picasa account:

Pacific Garden Mission Rooftop SIP Garden

My rooftop garden has an overbuilt, industrial strength trellis, made of electrical pipe and 2x4's. I was worried about a tall plant catching the wind and blowing the entire thing off the edge of my roof. Now I think all that piping is overkill. Also, I could have eliminated all the "A" frames next to all the SIPs in the middle of the grid.

If I were starting from scratch, I'd make something like what I did at PGM. It's so much easier--cheaper too--and works almost as well. A downside to the Florida Weave is that you need to add a horizontal run of twine every 8-10 inches, following the plant up as it grows. Also it's only good for one season. What I did on my roof is more permanent and works year after year.

Art (Mr. H2) had another idea, one that worked well with all their 2-bucket SIPs.

He used several of the green metal grids he bought years ago at an industrial auction. If you did the same, here's your chance to put them to work.

For more good trellis ideas, check out this Fine Gardening article.

Good luck making your own!

[Updated 6.8.09 - In the comments, Russ added this useful link, "Tomato Staking Techniques Evaluation", put together by the Master Gardeners of Santa Clara (CA) County.]

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Sub-Irrigated Planter Buckets Full of Thanks

This Vienna Beef graphic is iconic in our town

Today we're sending out a great big Green Roof Grower thank-you to two generous Chicago companies for their support of our SIP (sub-irrigated planter) workshops and home food gardens for local Chicagoans.

First, Vienna Beef. If you've never had a Chicago-style hot dog you might want to put it on your to-do list. Click here to read all about the dog itself and also to see the cool Vienna Beef Factory Store and Cafe, where we pick up their donation of two bright yellow kosher dill pickle buckets every week.

Vienna Beef is an active participant in our community, with links to the Greater Chicago Food Depository. To Janice, Wally, and all the helpful VB employees: you guys are the best.

Beautiful yellow buckets in action
Bruce steps in to help Erika, one of our workshop participants, drill out a Vienna Beef pickle bucket before it's planted with an heirloom tomato seedling.

Using these recycled buckets in our workshops is a way to keep the cost to participants relatively low.

The Chicago grocery chain Jewel-Osco is living up to its commitment to support hunger relief, nutrition education, and environmental stewardship with its donation of more than 100 food-grade buckets.

Last weekend our new friend Cory and his folks Mark and Kathy delivered the recycled buckets, clean as a whistle with not a trace of the vanilla frosting they held in their original incarnation.

Cory's dad, at right, drives for Jewel and stepped up to request the buckets for Green Roof Growers outreach
Our real champions here are the drivers for both companies who linked us to corporate: last year, Bruce's neighbor Rey Ramos, who drives a delivery route for Vienna Beef, gave us our first supply of yellow pickle buckets. And now Cory's dad. Do you know someone who drives for a food company? See if they might be able to swing a donation for your SIP garden.

Everyone wins in this collaboration: buckets don't end up in landfills, companies build goodwill in the community, and anyone who takes a few minutes to drill them out into SIPs and plant them winds up with a renewable source of fresh food.

Thanks again for all the great donations.