Category Archives: Seed

Here’s What’s Growing 6/2/11

I haven’t been posting much about the rooftop situation out of pure shame and embarrassment. I was mislead by a few nice days in mid-May to think I could plan my SIPs. Then the weather got weird; warm season veggies got too cold and otherwise hardy veggies were shredded by high winds.

Three tomatoes survived and now have stems that could survive a hurricane. Most of the pak choi survived (pictured below). Peas did great.  The rest of the vacancies were replaced this week by heirlooms I bought at Gethsemene Gardens or leftover seedlings I kept indoors. Tomorrow I’m heading to Portland, OR for a week so these babies better learn to get along without me.

Here’s a look at what’s up:




pak choi






SIPs well-staked and bamboo-d




Micro-irrigation kit in place for my upcoming week out-of-town





Very hardy and prolific Dwarf Gray peas





First meal of indoor-grown baby Asian greens



I have a couple hundred amaranth seedlings I’m not quite sure what to do with. Lots of pho’ I guess.




Not bad for an $8 rose bush from English Gardens in Royal Oak, MI, eh?

Unconventional planters and trays

When my seeding and sprouting turned into a major operation last week, I needed all the containers and space I could find to accommodate them. Yesterday I needed somewhere to put my fiber pots where they wouldn’t blow away in the wind when I start hardening them off outside. Here’s the solution: an inexpensive shoe rack from Ikea. Perfect fit!

I even have a boot tray that fits under the shoe rack perfectly to catch drips. If I can just remember where I put it!

As for seed trays, the “clam shells” or plastic tubs that salad greens are sold in work perfectly. They all have lids to keep in moisture and warmth during germination, they let in optimal sunlight, and are reusable. Perfect for sprouting are germinating seeds that don’t mind being transplanted. I keep a baby green mix going at all times in a large clam shell and just cut what I need.

This clam shell happens to be growing Asian mesclun greens from Renee’s Garden Seeds.

Looking for other planter ideas? One of my favorite sources for inspiration is Urban Gardens. Check out the amazingly creative planter ideas!

Finally, an update on the Japanese Shishito pepper seeds I ordered from Kitazawa Seed Co. As  you can see they are thriving and the germination rate is quite high. So far only 1 out of 11 hasn’t sprouted. Have you ever had Shishitos? Look for them in Japanese restaurants where they are often flash fried in oil and garlic. Very mild, tons of smoky flavor, and a much more exciting appetizer than the standard edamame. Japanese grocers usually carry them.

Worldwide Permaculture Network

The Permaculture Institute defines permaculture as: “…an ecological design system for sustainability in all aspects of human endeavor. It teaches us how build natural homes, grow our own food, restore diminished landscapes and ecosystems, catch rainwater, build communities and much more.”

Permaculture is a way of life that can be adopted by virtually anyone, anywhere. In developed cultures we certainly have access to the knowledge and the means to implement these strategies, however big or small, from the smallest apartment patio or backyard garden up to the largest corporation rooftop or agricultural production. In developing nations, permaculture design can mean new or improved sustainable ways of living that are mutually beneficial with their environment.

There are many challenges and threats to our relationship with our environment, but I believe permaculturists are optimists. And despite the dismal headline news, there is a lot of good in the world. The goal of the Worldwide Permaculture Network to map the growing network of permaculture projects so we can all visualize just how much change is occurring. And of course to teach us all how we can adopt permaculture into our own lives. This new Network was just officially launched and anybody can sign up for free – make your place on the map.

The Aftermath


A mere two days after the Great Seed Disaster of 2011, here’s a look at some of my makeshift sprouting vessels in the living room. The larger plants on the left were started the first week of April, the rest were added this past weekend.

Looks like peas and radishes were the first to sprout. This is just a sample- more rain soaked seeds not pictured.

Meanwhile, up on the roof, the Dwarf Gray peas in their EarthBox are loving this cool rainy weather.

Nifty new bird feeder we picked up at Grand Street Gardens in Chicago.

Popoutz bird feeder – cheap and simple. This one only cost $1.99 and was perfect to hang on this rose tree. The feeders are sold as a single flat unit (heavy duty plastic) and they simply pop into shape. The excess seed falls into the planter and is already sprouting a few days since I hung it out. The feeders are small so they don’t waste much seed if strong winds or rain gets in. Of course that also means you have to refill it more frequently. Still, a nice option for the rooftop where we have no squirrels and a larger more expensive feeder would just get knocked around in the wind.

A gardening incident in 10 parts. Plus, the 7 stages of (seed) recovery.

Part 1. Chicago got a lot of rain over the past few days

Part 2. My indoor crate full of gardening supplies was temporarily placed outside on Thursday to make room for patio furniture being hauled up to the roof.

Part 3. Saturday is a nice day to garden so I go up to the roof and find my indoor crate still outdoors.

Part 4. Stage 1. Discovery: I opened up the crate to find my box full of 2010 and 2011 seed packets. Oh yeah, that’s where I put those!

Part 5. Stage 2. Revelation: Said seed packets were floating in rain water. Or, as a smarter gardener would have it, pre-soaking for germination.

Part 6. Stage 3. Contemplation: Spent Saturday getting creative. How to accommodate more babies than my nursery could possibly have room for.

Part 7. Stage 4. Acceptance: Can’t possibly plant them all- we will be eating sprouts and baby greens with every meal for the next 2 months.

Part 8. Stage 5. Preparation: Amassed every unused container I could find including cookie sheets and baking dishes.

Part 9. Stage 6. Action: Sprouting plantable seeds in paper towel for transplant once I get more containers. Combined peas and beans and squash for salad sprouts. Planted trays for baby green and herb mix.

Part 10. Stage 7. Change: Lesson learned. Pledge to develop a better seed saving procedure for this fall. Pledge to not leave stuff out in the rain.

My rooftop project is now no longer just a rooftop project. It is now also a living room project and a sprouting project. It’s Sunday and I just finished prepping all EarthBoxes for rooftop planting- may have to risk planting earlier than May 15 and so far the forecast is looking good. Stay tuned…

Happy Earth Day! …a celebration, a 40 year tradition and, of course, capitalism

It’s a rainy Earth Day in Chicago so our celebrations may have to get creative. What are you planning? The website can give you ideas and you can sign up for their “A Billion Acts of Green” campaign.

Lots of companies are capitalizing on the Day, of course. People will be burning a little extra gas today to get to Starbucks or Caribou for free coffee. One of the more beneficial giveaways, perhaps, is the million trees that Lowe’s is giving away tomorrow 4/23. What’s even better? Buying a native tree from a local nursery, perhaps. Or, walking to a neighborhood coffee shop that serves locally roasted, fair-trade, organic coffees and teas.

Speaking of Fair Trade, May 14th is World Fair Trade day. In Chicago, World Fair Trade week will be kicked off on May 4th with a celebration in Daley Plaza.

Here are a few other small ideas you can do right away to celebrate Spring and Earth Day:

  • Spread some natural fibers in your yard for bird’s to build nests: try rafia, shreds of cotton, straw, small sticks, shredded paper, etc.
  • Set up your kitchen/home to be more recycling friendly and learn some convenient recycling locations. Most grocery stores now have plastic bag, light bulb and battery recycling bins. Consider composting to reduce garbage bag usage and landfill space.
  • Plant native annuals & perennials this year. They will attract native birds, bees, and butterflies. Contact your local extension office to get a list of native plants and where to get them. Don’t have a yard or garden? That’s ok, recycle a container and fill it with flowers: a coffee can, an old boot, a plastic bag, a colander, get creative- if it holds soil, it’s a planter!
  • When planting this year, choose coconut coir, now widely available in garden stores, over sphaghum/peat. Peat bogs are dwindling precious resources whereas shredded coconut is bountiful. Just add perlite to help the coir drain well and keep plant roots happy.
  • Make “seed bombs” with native plant seeds and go do some “planting” guerrilla syle! Recipes for seed bombs are plentiful online.
  • Make a small donation to an environmental cause of your choice. Use the fantastic Charity Navigator tool to locate a top rated charity so your money makes the biggest impact.
  • Do a walk-through of your house with a bag in hand- fill it up with stuff you just don’t need and donate it to a local charity store. Keeping used items in circulation will help keep newly manufactured items out.
  • Pick up trash outside. I guarantee you’ll see some, so keep a bag and gloves handy. It’s a dirty job that feels great.
  • Start using cloths/rags for cleaning rather than paper towels. Paper towels are a HUGE and expensive waste. Buy a dozen or two unbleached cloths and use them for months. Wash them in oxy-cleaner rather than bleach.
  • Teach something to kids: take them to a natural history museum, let them pick out an environmental activity book, visit a greenhouse conservatory, rent a documentary and eat organic snacks, let them pick out a reusable stainless steel water bottle, pick out a never-before-tried unusual fruit or veggie from the grocery store and then research it online- pique their curiosity about nature and growing.
  • Make a commitment to not forget Earth Day tomorrow and next month and the middle of the winter.

These are small gestures of involvement but by no means enough. We all have a responsibility to stay educated, stay active, and be personally responsible for how our choices affect the Earth.

Sunday April 10, 2011 – in like a lamb out like a lion?

An amazing treat for us today in Chicagoland – 80+ degrees by noon and a nice breeze (bordering on strong wind). Problem is, that breeze is predicated to turn into severe weather later today with potential for tornadoes and hail.

Got all the Earthboxes set up today and planted one box of Dwarf Gray Peas. They like to start in cooler weather but this will have to do for now. Here’s a look at my seed starts inside that were planted on 4/4 – 6 days ago. The clam shell is sprouting asian baby greens and the trays are showing cukes, pak choi, beans, amaranth, tomato, watermelon, yellow squash and basil… so far

Seed Starts after 6 days

Filled the Earthboxes with mix of peat/perlite/dolomite and using FoxFarm’s Peace of Mind Tomato and Vegetable granular fertilizer.


Earthbox Prep

Mia trying to escape the heat amongst planters:

Shade is hard to come by on the rooftop.