Category Archives: Rooftop Gardening

Don’t Get Fooled By Unseasonable Weather! Zone 5 Planting Calendar

With the weather in the 70s all week in Chicago, my fingers are just itching to push down some seeds into the soil. But I can’t forget that it’s only March 14th. So I wanted to pass along this simple but extremely helpful gardening calendar for those in zone 5 (Chicago, that’s you). If your zone runs a little warmer or colder, you can adjust by a week or two. Thanks goes out to Tim’s Square Foot Garden for putting this together.

Weekend Recap: Pretending It’s Spring

The first official day of Spring is over a week away, but don’t tell that to this weekend. It’s been a gorgeous weekend in Chicago, especially compared to rest of the week which I spent in the Upper Peninsula of MI.

Yesterday was major grocery shopping day. If you’re in Chicago and are not familiar with Stanley’s Fruit & Vegetable Market on North & Elston, for sure check ’em out. The store is divided into half organics and half conventionals. Most of the organics are so affordable you can even buy them in bulk without going broke. Check out their spinach- longest spinach stems I’ve ever seen in my life!

Whole Foods surprised me with cartons of these bright organic sweet peppers (grown in Florida) for only a couple bucks each. I’ll be trying out this pickled pepper recipe tomorrow. Refrigerator pickles in March!

We still managed to spend about $200 in groceries yesterday, so needless to say we didn’t leave the house today. I spent a few hours on the roof (and yes, it was the first day of the year that I wore sunscreen) prepping soil and even putting in a few potatoes that had started sprouting in the kitchen. Last year I grew potatoes in regular round plastic planters and they did great. I didn’t even buy seeding potatoes, I used what was emerging from my pantry! It’s quite early for planting, but potatoes like the cold and I can always carry them inside if we get extended freezing. If you have kitchen scraps or manure, throw them in a pot and cover with your potting soil. Spuds thrive in the gunky junk. Here are some other potato planting tips.

Last year’s strawberry plants are sprouting up and the roses are pushing through their burlap winter coats. It will be interesting to see how this early warmth will affect the garden. I don’t imagine the harsh weather is over yet, so I’ll have to keep my hands out of the dirt for awhile longer. But today sure felt good!

Next weekend I’ll be checking in from the Chicago Flower & Garden Show at Navy Pier.

 

What To Plant When

This came across my Facebook feed this morning from Mother Earth News. It may not be precise, but it’s a good start for preparing which veggies to plant in which month. February in Chicago may have freezing temperatures but it’s still a good time to transplant your asparagus or sow your mache seeds outside, according to this chart.

To use the chart, pick your region and then choose the month on the following page.

Compare the Mother Earth News chart to your planting zone as indicated by the 2012 USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. The zone map changes due to climactic variations; so if you’re in Chicago, for instance, your long-time zone of 5a may now be 5b. Do a zip code search here:

Keep in mind, both charts are only estimates and projections based on past data. Considering the strange weather the past two years, your guess is as good as mine on what to plant when. Happy growing!

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.

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!

 

Freaky Fruits & Vegetables Part 2

Actually, these aren’t so much “freaky” as “differently developed”.  They’re just an unexpected surprise when you happen upon them in the garden. Came across these cute little twins today:

Linda at rooftopgarden.com calles them “Kissing ‘maters”. These fruits are pretty small, about the size of standard cherry tomatoes. The twins appear to share a single calyx (the green leafy star at the top of a tomato fruit).

In other news I’ve seen two late season tomato hornworms… boooooo.

Reader Request: Aphids! and Container Fruits

I’m putting a request out to my readers to respond with your advice. After a  relatively pest-free summer I now have aphids on my late season bok choy. I think the tender leaves are a lost cause but now I have a few questions:

What’s your preferred way of eliminating outdoor aphids? When I have aphids on my houseplants I use an effective spray made out of crushed garlic and hot chili peppers steeped into a tea.

Outdoors I don’t mind pulling up infested plants, but that what about the soil? Does aphid larvae overwinter? Do you reuse potting mix next year if you had any sort of infestation the previous year?

I’m still pulling in some beautiful tomatoes, mostly Stupice and Opalka. The Kellogg’s Breakfast didn’t do much this year. Has anybody else had success with them? Shishito peppers are doing beautifully and one of my Ozark strawberries put out the biggest fruits I saw all year. Chinese/Japanese ggplants are as hardy as weeds and I’m constantly bringing them in, almost daily. Cukes and squashes fizzled out. I’m tempted to do a lot more fruit next year: blueberries and strawberries. Any suggestions for other Midwest hardy container fruit?