Tag Archives: seed

Planting Fall Crops in Chicago and the Great Lakes Region

Well, the strawberries are loving the late summer heat and putting out some serious runners and fruit. This week I pulled up some ugly looking squash plants that were starting to die back. That gave me space in a few planter boxes for fall crops, including some deep red chard seedlings. I hope to squeeze out every last drop of warmth from the season and harvest right through first frost.

Courtesy of FreeFoto.com

Mid to late August and even into early September is a good time to plant early harvest vegetables in the Great Lakes region. Some crops will mature before first frost while others can withstand light frost and be productive through October. Chicago can expect an average first frost around October 14th, which is a week later than much of Illinois due to our position on the lake and micro-climates caused by the urban heat effect. That gives us plenty of time to plant veggies with 50 to 55 days maturity.

Vegetables that can be planted now include greens such as chard, collard, kale, spinach as well as lettuces. When it comes to radish, peas, beans, beets, broccoli and cabbage, look for early maturing varieties and plant now. In the northern Great Lakes it may be too late for some of these crops, so check a frost chart for your area to determine how many days you have left in the growing season.

Here are some charts that will help:

First and Last Frost Dates For All States: Victory Seed Co.

The Fall Vegetable Garden (PDF): Purdue University Extension

Illinois First Fall Frost Chart: University of Illinois

The Aftermath

Upstairs/Downstairs

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…

First round

I’ve noticed on Facebook and in the blogs that some people in Illinois and Michigan have been starting their seeds indoors recently. I have to wait a bit longer and plant mine on April 2nd. I’ll be visiting Portland, OR for the week prior and not able to tend to the babies back home in Chicago.

In the meantime, I’m enjoying ordering supplies and planning. I used the site Growing Taste to help me pick my veggie crops this year. Along with the 10 EarthBoxes that are on their way, here are the seeds I’ve picked up so far:

Heirloom/Open-pollenated seeds from Seed Savers Exchange:

  • Pea, Dwarf Gray Sugar
  • Watermelon, Blacktail Mountain
  • Cucumber, Poona Kheera
  • Tomato, Kellogg’s Breakfast
  • Tomato, Opalka
  • Tomato, Stupice
  • Thai Basil

From Renee’s Garden:

  • Mesclun Salad Mix, Asian Baby Leaf

These 3 packets are from an Asian market that I picked up to experiment with. No expiration dates, so I’m not holding my breath:

  • Eggplant, Chinese long, purple
  • Pai-Tsai, Chinese cabbage or “choy”
  • Rau Den, Amaranth

Since I’m container gardening and have limited space I decided to grow crops that are either difficult to find or more expensive to buy in stores. Flavorful/colorful tomatoes, for instance, are impossible to find in stores and potentially pricey at farmers’ markets. On the other hand, organic juicing carrots can easily be purchased in bulk at stores and don’t seem very practical to grow in containers. Although, the nutrition level of any store bought produce is debatable. Next on my list are more herbs and native perennials.