Saturday, July 30, 2011

I'm Worried, Aways in Love

The old Wilco tune comes to mind when I ponder my connection to growing food.  I started when I was 8, my first radishes igniting a slow-burn fuse on a lifetime love. 

(BTW, what was up with the draperies back then?)
Why worried? Because I am always in love with what we grow and, more specifically, with eating it. But again this year the tomatoes aren't right and it feels personal. More precisely, some tomatoes on our roof are just fine and others are sickly. I have 50 years of experience. What's the problem? (Clearly that's rhetorical until I post details.)

For now let's focus on Saturday breakfast from all the food that's thriving on the roof, despite hail, inches and inches of rain, high winds, and that week of 100-degree temps.
Jimmy Nardello peppers, a Santa Fe Grande pepper for heat, the pingtung long and Listada eggplants and Matina tomatoes. Plus a whole bunch of chopped basil from the six varieties out front.

Here's a rain/wind-ripped branch of peppers called Little Bells. We've had roughly 11 inches of rain in 11 days, with bucketfuls falling all at once. And wind.

We chopped these sweet peppers for the melange. The power keeps going out too, twice in one week (make that three times--it just went down again). Last night's power went mostly-but-not-all out: weirdly down to 41 volts, enough to kill air conditioner, computer, and fridge, leaving us in cocktail-hour light, which would have been fun, but it was hot and who wants to open the freezer at that point for ice. I'm lucky to live with a nice guy equipped with a voltage meter.

Eggplant slices go into the cast iron pan, already slick with a hot film of coconut oil. Toward the end, I'll sprinkle the tomato halves with kosher salt and lay them face-down into the hot cast iron to warm.

A nice miso sauce on top and that's a breakfast I love.
Maybe I shouldn't worry so much...about wobbly electrical grids and confounding weather, wondering if we could feed ourselves in the face of shortages. But I do.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Rooftop Vegetable Lunch

A small meal, but a lovely one.

Art put up a better sun block to shade the tomatoes, a majority of which appear to have some kind of funk, despite bleach-washing the SIPs and using fresh potting mix. Too sad to blog more about it now.

We got nearly 7 inches of rain last night in Chicago. Drastic weather changes are upon us.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Inescapable Heat in Chicago

I can only guess how hot it is on the roof. Yesterday I put up an overhead block (sheets), but Art reminds me the sun is sinking lower in the sky and this tomato line-up will continue to get blasted by the south sun.
I was slightly heartened to note that we haven't had this kind of heat since 2005, before we started growing on the roof. Which doesn't do much for the stir-frying plants up there, but might indicate we need to consider further steps to shade the tomatoes.

The eggplant seem more heat-tolerant 

The heat index — a measure of heat and humidity that quantifies how hot it feels — could reach dangerous levels between 105 and 110 degrees Wednesday and Thursday afternoons, according to the weather service.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

First Harvest 2011: July 18 Eggplant, Tomato, Eggs

Midsummer color, maximum flavor...a feast for the eyes and the belly. Yesterday for lunch: fresh eggs straight from Bruce's coop, first tomatoes, and quick-fried eggplant.

Tomatoes were Matina, from Reimer Seeds,
small but perfect.

Crayola colored eggplant 
pingtung long (SSE) and Thai green (Bountiful Gardens)

The Thai green hid from me until I discovered it today. 

Bruce talked about his thriving coop yesterday. When we visited Sunday, his carton held a diverse selection.

It was so hot, we all needed needed a drink...

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Chickens Are Laying Eggs


I've been getting two to three relatively small eggs a day since July 1st, when my flock of eight Rhode Island Reds were 21 weeks old.  Over the next eight weeks they'll begin laying more, and bigger eggs, until they reach their maximum, theoretical, output of five or six 65 gram eggs per week per chicken. 

I check the nesting box a couple times a day.  Until my friend Blake makes a simple raccoon proof latch I'll continue to hold the door shut with a couple of drywall screws.

Since I'm taking eggs soon after they are laid, I leave a golf ball in each of the three nests to remind the chickens that this is the place to lay.  Their impulse is to lay a clutch of 5 or 6 eggs in the same spot, then, if they're broody, to sit on the eggs for 20 days or so until they hatch.  Not having a rooster, none of these eggs are fertilized, but the hens don't know that.  Luckily my hens aren't broody so they lay the egg and walk away.

I've been weighing and recording the eggs. More out of curiosity than anything else.

I've always eaten store bought, and hence uniformly sized eggs, so I'm getting used to having a carton of differently sized eggs.  As the hens mature I'm guessing that their eggs will become similarly sized.

So far I've made ice cream, scrambled eggs, and here, boiled.
If you have basic chicken questions, Backyard Chickens is a good online resource.

H2 here, adding a photo of our lunch today. The yolks are stunning, Bruce, and the flavor remarkably alive. Thank you! Next time I'll bring my $.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Little Green Girl Meets The Urban Worm Girl

Photo by Debby Preiser

Last month Stephanie Davies- author of Composting Inside and Out came to our library to speak about composting. She has helped install hundreds of worm bins all over the country and has earned the nick-name Urban Worm Girl. You can visit her at

Urban Worm Girl talked about how composting could naturally decompose organic materials fairly fast when landfills can take years to decompose garbage. She also talked about how 70% of our garbage each year could be worm food. She went over some ways to compost and how vermicomposting (worms composting) is better than normal compostings. She even told us that she tried feeding her worms dog poop and they LOVED it! YUCK!

Worm tea (made from worm castings)

At the end of the presentation we got to take some “worm tea” home. Worm tea is worm castings dissolved in dechlorinated water. I think all of the audience at the presentation were deeply persuaded to compost or at least understood why and how to compost.

Urban Worm Girl we LOVE your book!

Our worm bin is doing great thanks to what we learned from the Urban Worm Girl!


Growing Mushrooms

Growing mushrooms have always be a mystery to me but this video seems to simplifies the process. If you're in Chicago check out the Illinois Mycological Association, they host mushroom hunts.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Derecho! and the July Roof Garden

The derecho that slammed Chicago Monday morning brought winds of up to 75 mph. Our summer 2011 weather had already featured pummeling hail, evidence of which can be seen on the tobacco leaf at upper right in this photo. 
Even the tough eggplant leaves show battle scars. Still, we feel lucky. While the derecho was over as quickly as it hit, it knocked out power to some 900,000 people. My sister north of Chicago remains without power three days later.

We made it through with a bunch of broken tomato leaf stems, despite my tying up our current crop more conscientiously than any previous year. I started this after early-season high winds snapped a Black Prince tomato in two at the main stem. The weather is weird, with string and scissors more necessary than ever.

On to some happier pix. Here's a Matina tomato (Reimer's Seeds) setting some nice early fruit. I love this tomato for our region. While larger fruit is nice, Matina's a reliable bearer...and always one of the first. Thanks to far-flung GRGer Russ for buying those first seeds.

A Valencia tomato (Johnny's Seeds) across the roof--click to enlarge. It's a beautiful thing to see fruit emerging from flower.
 Rampant tomatillos shading out the okra in the adopted earthboxes
Nice crop forming up.

Jimmy Nardello peppers.

Little bells peppers proliferating.

This year I brought a jasmine plant to the roof and put it in a SIP (center below). 

It took a while to establish but now scents the melon-pepper run like heaven. Remains to be seen if it will grow up the PVC arch I've guided it onto.

Here's our old friend agretti. Planted April 6, it's taking its time and I nibble judiciously, still hoping for seed for 2012.

The joker and jester lettuces from Wild Garden Seed are going to seed, and yet there's no detectable bitterness to the leaves. What a beautiful lettuce. Definitely growing it again next year.

The lettuce sits amongst the going-to-seed lineup.

Tomatoes are all flowering and moving toward fruit, though there's some leaf curl I'm not happy about (and I'm not showing you pictures of it either).

Pepper and melon run...

The cool-weather greens run, transformed to hold beans, tobacco, extra tomatoes, and Erik's Greek squash.

Once I knew a guy who said: What's lookin' good 'sides you, me, and the weatha?  It's a beautiful, moderate summer day. How's your garden growing?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

This Must Be The Place

I just got a new digital camera after being without one for a couple weeks (making me feel like I lost an eye). This was after the one Art brought home went through an epic fail and had to be returned. 

Speaking of epic, last week's hail apparently decimated our pal Nance Klehm's roof garden. Father north, Bruce's and ours fared better, though when we returned home from being away I noticed some big bruising on tiny tomatoes and flagging tomato leaves, and for both of us shredded tobacco leaves.  

Pause for an old photo: from our first year growing in SIPs

  • Soon we'll have an update from Marc on the Tobacco Project.
  • Also, an update from Brad H on his balcony SIP garden.
  • And maybe some actual roof pix, since the tomatillos are forming their paper lanterns, the tomatoes are looking like the best crop in years, and the automatic plumbing system Art installed is innovative and perfect.
  • AND...Bruce has fresh eggs! Don't you want to see the color of the yolk?
 Meantime, the incomparable David Byrne...