Category Archives: Irrigation

4 Surprising “Green” Chicago Websites

1. The above picture isn’t a mockup of some lofty futuristic eco-architecture. It is now and it’s Chicago’s City Hall. If you’ve never explored Chicago’s Green Roofs project, you’re in for some surprises. For instance, did you know that nestled in that photo above are beehives that produce salable honey? If you’re curious about which city rooftops are green (or where to buy some of that honey) check out the city’s Green Roofs page or take your binoculars up to the Skydeck of Willis Tower and see for yourself.

2. A little more visible from our vantage point are the city’s Green Alleys projects. Chicago’s Department of Transportation began the green alleys pilot project in 2006 and renovated more than 100 alleys by 2010. What is a green alley? Check out the city’s comprehensive and well-illustrated Green Alley Handbook. Who knew your back alley could be a marvel of modern eco engineering. By the way, there’s a lot more to these alleys than just pretty landscaping. Take a look.

3. Being a relative newcomer to Chicago, I was very pleasantly surprised by the city’s incredibly progressive Sustainable Backyard Program. Residents can get cash rebates from the city for buying rain barrels, compost bins, native plants and trees from local retailers. A great way to help the environment while supporting local business and spending more time outdoors. Unless extended, the rebate program runs until 12/31/2012 so make this your year for creating a more sustainable backyard. Oh, and if you’re a retailer wanting to learn more about getting involved with the rebate program, consider attending the upcoming workshop on March 1st.

4. Finally, to learn more about any green & growing topic imaginable, check out the list of free and low-fee workshops offered by the Chicago Center for Green Technology. Learn about anything from how to install green countertops to finding out how the city uses vegetable oil from local restaurants to produce biofuel. Their building also contains a staffed resource center and free exhibits throughout the year.

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Rooftop Composting & End of Days

Hey Chicago, look what you can do:

It’s a rainy gray day in Chicago, which is good because I’ve stopped irrigation on the rooftop. We went out of town last week and I decided the tomatoes would have to fend for themselves. I’m ready to let the garden wind down on its own.

I didn’t end up buying a composter or vermi-poster for the rooftop this season for two reasons: weight and odor. I want to try vermicomposting in the worst way, but I’m concerned that the high temps on the roof will cook the worms and give off a disastrous odor. I also have weight anxiety. I tracked down our building’s developer and only received a vague answer as to the type of roof construction and weight load this building can handle. I think we’ll end up hiring  a structural engineer from one of those rooftop gardening companies that have popped up around Chicago. At least that will stop the visions of planter boxes crashing down on the living room. Exhibit A, an Illinois green roof.

To [potentially] solve the anxiety problem, this season I have been putting all the composting material in garbage bags, spraying in some water, and closing them with just a small air hole. This way I can control the amount of weight concentrating in one area, control the odor by either double-bagging or throwing away certain bags and not have to worry about acomposter overflowing or worms dying. Of course, I’d scrap this method in a second once I determine the weight load of my roof.

So gardeners, what are you going to do now that the season is ending? Indoor gardening? Planning for next season? I’m planning on trying my hand at growing epiphytes from seed (dragon fruit producing varieties), winter sprouting, and finish up a terrarium project. I’ll keep ya’ posted!

 

Stupice Tomatoes and How I Picked Them

I arrived home from Portland, OR last night to find this beautiful crop of tomatoes all lined up on my living room floor. No, that’s a lie. I put them there just now for dramatic effect:

These are heirloom Stupice tomatoes that I started from seeds purchased from Seed Savers Exchange (where Prez Obama visited last week, I might add). They are early, prolific, consistent and highly flavorful. For an excellent article about picking vegetable varieties, including Stupice, check out Growing Taste. Those folks do the research and taste tests to take the guess work out of which plants to choose.

Some of the tomatoes I picked had cracks or splits in the skin. So, I found this helpful description about tomato splitting over at the Veggie Gardener blog. With the intense heat on the rooftop it can be tricky to provide consistent watering, but I’m getting the hang of the micro-irrigation and I’m on my second battery operated hose timer. Oh, and while I’m thinking about it, I should mention I haven’t used ANY pesticide this year. Fingers crossed.

Lessons for next year… although, not exhaustive of all lessons I’ve learned:

  • Better arrangement of Earthboxes and irrigation drippers from early on in the season = consistent irrigation and less back pain.
  • More plant variety = fewer eggplants. We’ve tried every eggplant dish save for babaganouj and moussaka. Who knew they’d be so productive.
  • Later transplanting = fewer heartaches.
  • Cool it on the eggplant!

July 18th Harvest: Before and After

We were in the Carolinas last week when we heard about the heatwave headed towards Chicago. About 80% of my containers were connected to irrigation, so I figured I’d suffer a few casualties. Arrived back home to find the garden doing surprisingly well and recovering nicely from the recent storms. Never expected to be eating an entire meal from the garden today. Sometimes gardens like to be ignored (ignored plus irrigation and fertilizer).                                                      (Above) Bush cucumbers, Blue LakeBeans, Red Potatoes, Squash Blossoms, Tomatoes (Opalka and Stupice)

An hour later and voila! Lightly breaded fried squash blossoms and two salads: 1) an Indian-street-food-inspired salad of tomatoes, cucumber and cilantro in a sweet lemon cumin vinaigrette. 2) A red skin potato and green bean salad tossed in a dressing of veganaise, vegan sour cream, mustard, celery seed, salt & pepper:

The foliage (above) has grown in so quickly you can’t even see the storm damage. I’m not getting any pollination on the zucchini or yellow sqash- hence eating their blossoms for lunch. Blossoms taste better than a boring zucchini anyway. With only that single pot of Blue Lake beans pictured on the right, we’ve already had 2 meals and there are plenty more beans on the way. Tons of green tomatoes have recently popped out and check out this baby eggplant that’s about 1/2″ long:

I nearly forgot about a few spindly seedlings that I was sure would die off. I put them in a windowsill greenhouse just to see what would happen. Well, as luck would have it, the little greenhouse got destroyed in the storm but not before it nurtured this Shishito pepper and a few tomatoes seedlings to hardiness. Not sure how prolific these plants will be, but I’ll enjoy every inch of these two peppers that have appeared:

A few random flowers currently in bloom 4 flights up:

And finally a few glimpses of the not-so-edible things thriving on the rooftop. One mantis is green and the other is brown. I don’t know if that indicates gender, but I guess I could just wait to see who eats whom. Ladies first!

With today’s perfect harvest and some critter sightings, I have renewed hope for our rooftop garden. Next year when we encounter hurricane-strength wind, marble-sized hail and 100-degree heat,  I’ll just flip back to today’s post and remember that lunch.

Pre-storm Bounty

Recent travel is really putting my mico-irrigation system to the test- so far so good. I’m using the Raindrip brand container gardening kit that uses 1/4″ feeder hoses with inline drippers. Fairly easy set-up, although I do wish it came with clearer instructions and descriptions of the various fittings. It doesn’t directly connect to EarthBoxes but I’m simply hanging the drippers into the fill tubes. Kind of mundane blog material, so feel free to get in touch if you have any questions about it.

Another intense storm this morning appears to have taken out more tomato plants. What a harsh year for gardening in Chicago. Needless to say I’ll be making a lot of adjustments and precautions next year. I’m heading to South Carolina on Wednesday, so next week I’ll take pics of whatever is left in the garden when I get back. Getting tired of just peas and pak choi!

Here’s a look at some peas and pak choy I harvested last week (still life on Tolix chair). And a bonus shot of blooming prickly pear on a Chicago beach/dune.

Update re: New Urban Grower Chicago Store

Just a quick update this morning before heading out to Taste of Chicago. I was contacted yesterday by the folks at the new Urban Grower store on North Ave. They will not be having their grand opening until mid July. If you marked June 28th on your calendar, scratch that and check their website for updates. They are only having a soft opening this week. Hey, can we get in on that?

Here’s my completely unsolicited wish list for their rooftop supply stock. Anybody care to add anything?

  • Happy Frog potting mix
  • Fox Farm granular fertilizers
  • Regional native seeds
  • Micro irrigation supplies
  • Cold frame kits
  • Vermicomposters

Hope you don’t mind that our gardening fantasies are running wild at your expense, UGC. It’s just that those of us in Wicker Park are thrilled to have an alternative to that gigantic orange store right down the road from you. Best wishes on your GRAND opening!

Early Rooftop Harvest of 2011

Portland, OR was beautiful as always. My intention was to post some panoramic pictures of the International Rose Test Garden, but their roses did not bloom in time for the Rose Festival. They’ve had strange weather this year, just like Chicago.

And just when I thought all hope was lost on my rooftop, I came back from Portland to find edible vegetables. Despite the wind, despite the 60 degree change in temperature over a 48-hour period, everything survived and without my attention. Is that like “a watched pot never boils”?

The micro-irrigation drip system I bought from Green Thumb Garden Center worked perfectly. I was plenty nervous to leave a faucet running on the rooftop for a week unattended, but between the anti-siphon attachment and the automatic watering timer, it all seemed to run smoothly. Simple set up too- approximately 45 minutes to run the entire system throughout my planters.

There were about 6 green beans ready for harvest. Hey, I didn’t say A LOT of edible vegetables… I had only planted a few beans as an afterthought. The real beauties were the Pai-Tsai, otherwise known as white-stemmed Chinese cabbage or “choy”. The original seeds were not organic but they were grown organically in an EarthBox. I’m letting one plant go to seed and here is what I harvested on 6/12/11: