Category Archives: Rooftop Gardening

A Strange and Wonderful Growing Season

Well, I said I was going on hiatus from the blog for awhile but I guess this is what hiatus looks like…

It’s the last day of September 2012, but by looking at our rooftop you’d swear it was the first week of June. In the Great Lakes region we’re lucky to have one full growing season, much less two. But that’s exactly what it’s turning out to be- at least here in Chicago, 4 stories up.

Like the rest of the garden, these Atkinson heirloom tomatoes were an anomaly this year. I couldn’t get them to hold blossoms all summer – too hot? – but now in September I have plenty of fruit arriving at all stages from blossom to red ripe.

Green Bell Peppers were absolutely prolific this year and are still going strong. Each plant has more fruit than they can hold – and with new flowers blooming, there’s no sign of stopping. Will probably yield a crop of smaller peppers well into October.

Like the peppers, these Chinese eggplant were fantastic this year. In August the plants seemed to be on their way out. Leaves were yellowing and dropping. But when day time temps got milder, new growth sprouted and now flowers. Will easily have a crop of small eggs in a few weeks. They grow quite fast and can further ripen indoors if the risk of frost threatens the young’n’s.

What? A double season of squash? Now that’s a new one for me. This Dwarf Hubbard squash grew very quickly this month after the plant was surely about to dry up and blow away with the wind. Not thinking the season would support them to maturity, we actually had a September meal of squash blossoms. Glad I left one on the vine!

Another surprise – a third round of strawberries. These Ozarks are bound and determined to hold onto every last ray of sunshine this year. Fine by me!

It probably comes as no surprise that the Japanese Shishitos gave us more than we could handle this year. We ate, and ate, and ate, and gave away, and pickled. And guess what? Yup, another round of foliage and blossoms popped up this week. I think I’m going to start leaving them on people’s doorstep at night. Here’s a jar of pickled peppers that yielded amazing flavor.

Extra Dwarf Pak Choi did great in the spring but a second planting in the summer was quickly snuffed out by the heat. I planted these seeds a week and a half ago and expect to have several meals over the next couple weeks. Perfect weather for brassicas.

Mildly warm days and cool nights is ideal weather for late season greens like this arugula.

A flourishing Autumn herb garden? This cilantro seems to think so. So do its companions parsley and dill.

Not to be left out, this California poppy plant that had fully died back after its summer show is making a resurgence.

Attempting to upstage the entire crowd, this floribunda ‘Moondance’ rose towers over the garden in its 3rd blooming cycle of the summer. Am I going to have white roses at Christmas?

This year the news was full of stories about drought and poor farming conditions. Here in Chicago, it’s just been bizarre. If you felt this year’s season was strange too, I’d love to hear your story in the comment section.

Alright I really must put an end to these distractions. So back to work… unless I find more surprises up there.

Advertisements

Colors of Summer

Here’s what’s growing on the rooftop 6/14/12 – no words today, just colors…

 

Here’s What’s Growing On The Roof 6/4/12

Several year old cutting of a cactus that grows on the east end of Molokai Hawaii, unknown species.

Strawberries cohabiting with native prickly pear.

My new ladybug & butterfly attractors: Yarrow (foreground), Monarda (background)

EarthBoxes containing two species of bok choi, dward hubbard squash, and shishito peppers

Earthboxes containing two species of eggplant, cantaloupe, and lemon cucumbers

Earthbox (foreground) with the mystery flowers that I did not plant but I’m happy to have visiting. SIPs in the background are a catch-all for leftover seeds and seedlings: green beans, Atkinson tomato, shishito pepper, and cantaloupe plus some annual flowers for the bugs.

Several days ago I mentioned on Facebook that this batch of compost started off as an anaerobic stinky sludge. By adding a bunch of peat to absorb excess moisture and turning it frequently to introduce oxygen, it went aerobic in a matter of 3 days. The foul odor is completely gone and it now smells like a healthy batch of quickly cooking compost. And it’s steaming too!

Self-irrigated Planters and City of Chicago Gardening Rebates

I’m just about to head out to buy potting mix and then get the last of my seeds in. Aside from the inevitable wind & hail that spring will bring, the weather is looking great for the garden. In fact, just harvested my first batch of dwarf bok choy (pak choi) today. This variety from Kitazawa grew so quickly it was ready to harvest in just a few weeks:

Dwarf bok choi grown in an EarthBox. From seed to table in just a few weeks.

Last night at Home Depot I found a slightly cheaper alternative to EarthBoxes. The self-irrigated planter called “City Pickers” is made in the U.S. by Emsco Group. It was $29.95 which is a few bucks less than the online price of EarthBoxes, plus you save on shipping. Also, they claim the plastic is recycled & recyclable. The box measures 24″ x 20″ and holds 1.5 cubic ft. of potting media. Like EarthBox, Emsco suggests adding granular fertilizer and dolomite (lime). City Pickers comes with a mulch cover, aeration screen, fill tube, and, unlike EarthBox, the casters are included at no extra cost. Looking forward to comparing the two. The only other immediate difference I see is that the Emsco box has a shallower but wider surface area for root systems.

Since I’m sending in my rebate forms for Chicago’s “Sustainable Backyards” program this week, I thought it would be a good reminder for city residents to look into this program if you haven’t already.  The city will reimburse you up to 50% of the cost of certain landscaping plants, rain barrels, and composters that are purchased locally. After the rebate, my double chamber composter will only cost $50! The program runs until the end of the year.

Growing Potatoes in a Pot

Potatoes are one of the easiest things you can grow at home, regardless of how much space you have. And if you have any potatoes in your pantry, you’re halfway there already. All you need to do is plunge a few of those potatoes into a container of soil and wait few weeks. Here is today’s before and after picture of a few organic supermarket potatoes that I planted exactly 2 months ago. So in a matter of 8 weeks you can grow your own meal of garden fresh new potatoes:

Potato foliage reached about a foot and a half in height in a matter of 2 months.

A handful of new potatoes harvested from 3 starter potatoes from the pantry.

How to Grow Potatoes At Home:

1. Gather a few potatoes from your pantry or buy some from the supermarket. Look for ones that have “eyes” starting to form or sprout. The eyes are simply those white protrusions on the surface of the potato- usually there are several.

2. Fill a container with soil rich in organic matter. Any standard patio planter will work as long as there are holes in the bottom and room enough to accommodate the growing potatoes. Potatoes like well-draining soil, especially if it’s amended with manure, compost or even whole kitchen vegetable scraps mixed in. Beyond this, they won’t require additional fertilizer.

3. Bury 2 or 3 potatoes several inches down into the soil. Alternatively, you can carve out the sprouting “eyes” from the starter potato, leaving a small chuck of flesh around each eye. The eye will sprout into the root system and foliage as seen above. Each eye you plant will produce an individual plant, so the more eyes you start with the more potatoes you’ll end up with. But remember they need room in the pot to handle all their newborns!

4. Water well and place in a location that will receive plenty of sun once the foliage emerges. Water regularly when the soil starts to dry, but don’t make your potatoes live in soggy soil. Potatoes are hardy and can tolerate a fair amount of abuse.

5. After 8 weeks, when foliage reaches 1 to 2 feet in height, gently pull the soil away from the base of the foliage to explore the size of the new potatoes. Harvest if they are a size you want to cook with or cover them back up and wait a couple more weeks if you want more mature potatoes. When harvesting, explore the soil well as the potatoes may be scattered throughout the container.

6. After harvesting the potatoes, you might place some of the small or imperfect ones back into the soil to start the process all over again.

Spring Planting for 2012 Rooftop Gardening

With weather returning closer to average for April, I’m relieved I didn’t do any premature direct sowing back when the temps hit the 80s (other than spinach that likes cool temps). As recently as last week Chicagoland has received freeze warnings. This coming week looks to be quite warm, but it’s still too early to plant many varieties outside due to nighttime temps still dipping into the 30s and 40s. Even if the cold temperatures don’t kill the seeds/seedlings, it can stunt growth and cause poor performance later in the season.

Potatoes planted in March are thriving on the rooftop- they can handle cool night temps. Turns out, potatoes make great container plants.

Yesterday I sowed several seed varieties indoors. Competing with the high winds on the rooftop and lack of space indoors made growing from seed a challenge last year. Without much space indoors to accommodate proper lighting, it’s difficult to grow hardy seedlings that can then handle the hardening-off transition to outdoors. If we don’t get hurricane force winds and marble hail like we did last year in Chicago (literally) then I may have more success than I did last year.

Strawberries are also great container plants that thrive in the midwest, and despite the harsh conditions on a rooftop. With them getting an early start this year, it looks like we'll have our first crop in May.

Here are the seed varieties I planted yesterday along with the varieties I’ve added to the calendar for direct sowing in May & June:

Late April seeding for June transplants:

  • Cantaloupe (seed saving from an organic store-bought melon)
  • Tomato (Atkinson, heirloom)
  • Green Peppers (California Wonder, freebie seeds)
  • Green Pepper (Big Dipper, freebie seeds)
  • Eggplant (Tiger, Thai hybrid)
  • Eggplant (Chinese long)
  • Sweet Peppers (Shishito)

Plastic produce "clamshells" (left) make good countertop sprouting containers and come with lids to keep seeds warm and moist for quick germination.

Seeds for direct sowing this week:

  • Extra Dwarf Pak Choi, bok choi
  • Pai Tsai, bok choi
  • Tasoi Savoy, bok choi
  • Cucumber Lemon (heirloom)

Seeds for direct sowing when night time temps remain a bit warmer:

  • Malabar spinach
  • Green beans
  • Acorn squash

We’re planning to supplement these seeds with seedlings from a local nursery that sells heirloom organics… especially if the wind mows down my young ones!

Where Bugs Come From (animation)

I thought I posted this before but couldn’t find it, so here it is- one of my favorite animated explanations– about the invisible highway of insects above our heads. Incredible!