Sunday, June 21, 2009

Garbage Can Potatoes

Here's my first attempt at video blogging. I shot this with my new iPhone 3Gs (in stores now!).

This is the second year I've tried to grow potatoes in these garbage cans. The first year was a bust but these are looking pretty fabulous!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Harvesting Garlic Scapes

I planted garlic last fall for the first time. I chose one hardneck and one softneck variety and planted them in one of the two 4x4 foot beds after all the veggies I'd grown there were finished.

Of course I took on the garlic-growing not knowing what the heck I was doing other than trying to be cool by growing my own garlic.

While reading one of my favorite garden blogs, Skippy's Vegetable Garden, I saw that Kathy had harvested garlic scapes then used them on her delish looking grilled pizza. Never heard of garlic scapes! Thank goodness she had pictures so I thought I'd better go outside and see if I have anything that looks like a garlic scape. Holy Moly there they were all curled and looked whimsical.

Before it is time to harvest the garlic, the plant sends up a single thick round shoot from the center and the end is a bulging area that will eventually burst open with a flower. In order to encourage the garlic bulbs to grow larger, the garlic scape should be cut off so that the energy can be spent on the bulb, not the flower. So, that's what I did.

One article I read suggested cutting the garlic in the heat of the afternoon to decrease the drippage from the garlic scapes but I did that and still found the garlic scape juice running down my hand. I also read that you should harvest the garlic scapes before they curl but since I didn't even know these things existed before mine were already curled, I missed that chance. I did notice that the less they were curled, the more tender they were.

I cut off the bulging part at the top of the garlic scape leaving just the green stem then cut the stems into 1/2 inch pieces. The smell of these things was heavenly. It's like a cross between a really strong garlic smell and a green onion.

I sauteed the chopped garlic scapes with some spinach and local portabello mushrooms I'd bought, chopped and marinated. You can also make garlic scape pesto which I may try later when I harvest the garlic scapes from the softneck variety that I have growing.

If you have a great way to use garlic scapes, please share your recipe with us. I'm so excited about this newly discovered food that I can't wait to see what all can be done with it.

Monday, June 15, 2009

2009 Kitchen Garden Expansion Complete

After about a month of hard work and backaches, the kitchen garden expansion is finally done. All that's left now is to cover the paths in between the beds and finish planting them.

The dimension of the new area is 18 feet wide by 21 feet long. That was supposed to be reversed (21 feet wide by 18 feet long) but I made an error on my drawing and in my communication to the guys who were helping me remove the old Vanhoutte Spirea and the sod from the area.

When they alerted me about the error, I couldn't imagine removing any more of my flower beds to make the kitchen garden bigger, so I just went with it. But, because of the error, I lost the extra 3 foot compost space (now it'll just be a one 3 foot bin system) and the space for the two narrow 1 x 10 foot beds that I was planning to use for strawberries. Still, I love this size. I think it's perfect!

Also due to the measurement error, I have this wide space at the front of the garden. I'd like to build an arbor in the center for grape vines and either build a couple of small narrow strawberry beds, or place pots and a couple of benches there.

The dimensions of the raised beds are 2x8 and 4x8. They are all 8 inches high and I used 2x2x8 foot boards to make them. Did I mention I made these all myself? And that I purchased and used a circular saw which was terrifying?

If you've been following me on twitter you've probably already seen pictures of the new pie garden where all the plants that used to live in the now kitchen garden were moved to. If not, I'll be posting about that in the next few days.

Here's the before picture (left). What do you think about the transformation?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Tomatoes I'm Growing In 2009

Sometimes coming up with a catchy title is exhausting

Now that my tomatoes are finally in the ground, I wanted to tell you which ones I'm growing this year. It's only my 3rd year gardening, but my tomato lineup this year blows the two prior years out of the water. 17 tomato plants total. 17! For two people! I can't help it. I love anything related to tomatoes from ketchup to straight tomato sandwiches, so since I have the space now, I'm going all out.

This year my tomato plants came from 3 sources. The plant sale supporting our future community garden in Forest Park (FPCG) the heirloom tomato plant sale sponsored by Slow Food Chicago, and good ole Jewel Grocery in River Forest who carried organic and heirloom plants for the second year in a row.

Looking at all these plants, it's easy for me to tell the source even without a tag. The ones we grew from seed for our community garden plant sale look the feeblest. In their defense, I bought them in early May and they've been sitting on my patio in their bio-degradable cups filled with nutrition-less coco fiber since then. So, I'm just glad they're alive!

The ones from Slow Food look better but still not all that lush. Damien commented to me that this is their 3rd year growing tomatoes from seed and that these plants look much better after the lessons they've learned over the past couple of years. And the best looking ones by far are the ones I purchased at Jewel. I don't really want to think about why. Period.

Oh, the other thing is that I have no labels on any of the plants that I purchased from the Forest Park Community Garden plant sale. I wrote on the cup with a black marker but it wore off in the rain. This has happened to me before. I never learn.

What I'm growing

  1. Roma by Jewel
  2. Super Sweet 100 by Jewel
  3. Rutgers by Jewel
  4. Mortgage Lifter by Jewel
  5. Cherokee Purple by Jewel
  6. True Black Brandywine by Slow Food
  7. Cuor di Bue by Slow Food
  8. Tappy's Heritage by Slow Food
  9. Tess's Land Race Currant by Slow Food
  10. Riesentraube by Slow Food
  11. Brandywine by FPCG
  12. Sugar Sweetie by FPCG
  13. Beefsteak by FPCG

This year I'm hoping to try canning. I helped my mom with it once years ago and we had a great time and made some delish Marinara and Salsa. I'd like to can enough of both to last us the entire season, but it'll be hard. We eat a lot of spaghetti!

If you purchased tomato plants from Slow Food, be sure to check out their Chicago Tomato Fest blog where Damien is asking us to report our tomato progress throughout the season. And even if you didn't, stop on by there for your tomato fix.

What kind of tomatoes are you growing this year?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Ginkgo Organic Garden, A Community Garden In Chicago

Later on Saturday after the Garden Bloggers visited Rick Bayless' kitchen garden, we headed over to Ginkgo Organic Garden, one of the many community gardens in Chicago.

Ginkgo Organic Garden is located at 4055 N Kenmore Ave on a vacant Chicago lot.

Just like the Bayless kitchen garden, this one is planted in raised beds and dedicated to feeding a particular group of people. But, from the time you step foot on the Ginkgo property, you know that the similarities stop there.

As soon as I walked through the gate I thought I can do this - I was comfortable. Like walking into a house where you don't need to take your shoes off.

Ginkgo grows all their produce for a local food bank that supports HIV positive needy people, a group who can really benefit from organic fresh vegetables and fruit in their diet. The garden is maintained exclusively by volunteers but overseen by a fantastic organization called Neighbor Space.

I noticed that, while the Bayless gardener talked in terms of how many dollars worth of food they grew last year, the Ginkgo gardener (pictured above, in the white t-shirt) talked in terms of how many pounds of food they produced. Around 1500.

The crop selection was also quite different here. At the end of the year Ginkgo surveys the food bank to find out if they'd like different food options than they have been provided and the Ginkgo gardener says that every year the food bank says the same thing, "more collard greens! less herbs!"

Ginkgo has a fantastic 3 bin compost system and they recently installed a rain collection system onto their modest shed. Their biggest problem? Rabbits! They protect their crops from them using chicken wire.

When we asked Ben Helphand (he's the guy from Neighbor Space pictured above in the blue shirt)how they deal with vandalism, he had four main tips for us:

  1. Involve as many people in the community as you can so that it is shameful to do any harm to the garden.
  2. Make a sitting area outside the garden and encourage the community to gather there and enjoy the garden.
  3. Grow enough to "share".
  4. Plant stuff like Rhubarb at the front because criminals typically have no idea what to do with it.

Before we left, Ben handed out free Blue Lake Pole Bean seeds that were left over from One Seed Chicago, so hopefully, gardeners all over the country will be growing and blogging about their Chicago beans.

If you live in the area and have any spare time during your week, stop on over to Ginkgo Organic Garden and offer to help out in some way. They say their biggest stuggle (besides the rabbits) is having enough volunteers to tend the garden. They'd appreciate anybody, regardless of your level of knowledge and experience with gardening.

Follow me on Twitter for bonus Ginkgo Organic Garden pictures.

Monday, June 1, 2009

5 Things I Loved About The Rick Bayless Garden

I'll be honest, I'd never heard of Rick Bayless until a fellow garden blogger mentioned wanting to dine at his Chicago restaurant during the Garden Blogger's Spring Fling.

After a little research, we were delighted to learn that Rick grows a lot of his own produce in his home kitchen garden and even more delighted when we secured a tour of his garden for our group.

Rick's garden is tended by full time gardeners. Bill Shores and his wife Lori (pictured) specialize in small-scale urban gardening. Take a look at those beds (1st picture abov).

During our tour, Bill gave us the blow-by-blow of how he makes the most efficient use of Ricks urban garden space which produced about $20,000 worth of food for Rick's restaurant last year.

Here's what I found most interesting about Rick's kitchen garden:
  1. He does not rotate crops. Instead, he uses lots and lots of compost which he adds before every planting.
  2. His single compost bin produced 40 wheel barrows of compost last year. We all agreed that that is kind of hard to believe. He adds red wiggler worms. (If those worms will up my compost production to 40 wheel barrows per season, I'm ordering some. Like today!)
  3. He plants a new bed of salad greens every 3 weeks through the entire summer. (I had no idea that you could grow salad greens in the late summer here, but if he can do it, I can do it!)
  4. He's got a heated greenhouse on-site (pictured below) and between that and the fluorescent lights he uses to start his seeds, his set-up has all the components needed to start and grow all that wonderful food on-site.
  5. Bill says they spend about $3000 on seeds every year. $3000! They get most of them from Johnny's. (I will look at my basket-o-seeds in a different way from now on)

Bill says that over the years he's gotten to know the many micro-climates that exist on the Bayless property and he plants accordingly.

They even plant on the roof of the garage and said that the south facing wall that borders the kitchen garden (1st picture above, currently covered with ivy) is the next project. I can't wait to see what they grow there!

I also really loved that, even though Rick is probably pretty darn well-off, he still chooses to live in the city in a rather modest house for somebody like him.

I was so inspired by Rick Bayless' kitchen garden that I wanted to jump in a cab and go right home to finish working on mine. In the end, I'm glad I didn't because I would have missed another great raised bed kitchen garden on the tour.