It’s a sunny January day. That means that it is cold, but the sun is energizing and gets us outside. After taking photos of our “cold frame”, my husband decided he could do better. So he did.
With scrap material from various home improvement projects, he created two row tunnels with plastic instead of fabric, aluminum instead of PVC. The idea is that some sunlight can make it through the plastic while at the same time trapping the heat to keep the temperatures within the row tunnel several degrees warmer than the ambient temperature. The row tunnels also capture and release the air’s humidity, acting as a watering mechanism of sorts.
Stapling the plastic around the frame
The tools, gathered
The second finished product, over our spinach
It is amazing what a couple of extra hours, some sunshine, and the pure will to “grow your own” can inspire in each of us. What have you been inspired to do this winter?
It’s January 1st. Chicago has recently broken records of above freezing temperatures and days without snow. Both of these weather patterns – should they stick- mean that our local ecosystem will need to make adjustments more quickly than evolutionarily possible.
In the meantime, we keep growing.
Gardeners make their mark on the world, one small plot at a time. We’re stewards who increase the vitality of the soil we work with and increase habitat for insects, birds and animals to ensure pollination. We grow food that is alive with flavor and freshly picked.
Even on January 1st in Chicago, there can still be life in the garden. Insects and bacteria are breaking down organic material in our compost piles, and season extension is possible even now. At our house, we’re using old windows, 2″ x 4″s and our front yard raised bed as an imperfect cold frame to continue growing through the winter this year. We’re growing spinach and cilantro. The growth is slow due to the lack of sun, but they’re still growing.
Our spinach, coming along.
A rudimentary cold frame with existing materials. Not pretty, but it works.
Mizuna and arugula, started 10 days ago.
Inside, our mizuna and arugula micro greens are growing quickly, just waiting to be added to a salad.
Are YOU still growing?
October is winding down. This garden season was highlighted by bulbs that bloomed way too early as a result of our warm March. There was barely any rain in May and June. And this fall feels like fall for a change.
But this garden season isn’t over just yet. If you planted your garden properly there are still fresh goodies to harvest. There still will be more to eat from your own yard or containers for a good 5 weeks or so, maybe longer if you use row covers and high tunnels.
Yesterday Joe dug up our Jerusalem artichokes and brought in another huge crop of lettuce mix and arugula for our daily salads. Today we have our eyes on the broccoli shoots that Sofie eats right off of the plant as we take down the sunflowers that the birds finally finished picking through. Our last sowing of radishes will be ready soon, and we should have spinach to add to our fall salads shortly. It’s so satisfying to eat and live like this.
We had a great season this year – even though neighborhood kids used some of our eggplant and tomatoes for balls, and we had one massive ransacking in early summer that left tomato cages on end. Our blueberries produced so much fruit that we’re going to add 3 more bushes next year for a total of 5, hoping to reduce the amount that we buy and freeze for yearly use. We added raspberries from our family’s Crooked Row Farm, blackberries from edde and Lorrie, apple and green gauges from Christy Webber’s Farm and Garden Center. The volunteer butternut squash plant gave us a dozen fruit and the carrots grown over by the plant still grew.
Even our late July experiment of potato growing yielded great results.
Good luck in these last few weeks of gardening for the year. Hope to hear from you soon.
A few weeks ago we had a great outdoor dinner at our friends’ Jeanne and Verde of The Organic Gardener. As our growing season has been so warm, our potatoes were hit by the potato flea and in decline, so we were harvesting smaller potatoes much earlier than usual. We asked Jeanne and Verde what they thought of planting potato seeds for a second harvest in…July.
They said, “We’ve successfully planted potatoes as late as the end of June for clients. It’s worth a shot.”
You see, we usually plant our potatoes in late March or early April. The spring rains then give them all of the water that they need to thrive. Harvesting of large potatoes then typically happens in August. How would it work if we planted a second harvest of potatoes this month?
We used the area that we’d just pulled up our mature garlic for the planting. My husband Joe made great rows for the potatoes and put straw in between the rows like we’ve done in our most successful potato growing years. And…
Our mid-July planted potatoes sprouting in less than two weeks.
Are you growing things differently this year as a result of the heat? Let us know in the comments below.
So, I owe you an update. I know that you were on the edge of your seat waiting to hear how those mail order vegetable seedlings were growing, weren’t you? If you don’t know what I am talking about, find out more here.
And the verdict is…? We LOVE how our seedlings from Cooks Garden are performing. The India Paint eggplant and The Godfather green peppers are producing beautiful fruit, much earlier than our scraggly self-started eggplant and peppers did last year. We’ve harvested more green peppers already than we have in an entire past season. Hooray! See two of the lovelies below. And let me know if you grew anything new this year.
India Paint eggplant, in the cages.
Green peppers, gathering sunlight to ripen fully.
Little fingers don’t have the dexterity to plant seeds easily. Young kids are usually much better at putting seedlings in the ground. But, sowing seeds outdoors is just something that is part of gardening and our kids will want to help.
Big seeds, like squash, sunflowers, zinnias, peas, and beans are a great way to include your child in planting seeds. If you try this, just be patient. Spilled seeds (see photo below) can be picked up easily when they are large enough to not be camouflaged by the soil. And seeds are cheap, so if some are lost along the way, there isn’t much “loss” after all.
See some easy steps here, in the form of photos.We planted edamame seeds this week.
But I want to see the seeds NOW, even if I AM nowhere near the raised bed they are going in.
Sofie spills the seeds out
Taking a seed from hand, instead of from the packet
Putting one edamame seeds directly into the pre-dug hole.
When planting things like lettuce and carrots – which are very small seeds – consider making some seed tape. Organic Gardening Magazine has a great “recipe” here.
Do you have different tips to share?
Over a year ago, my daughter participated in a Garfield Park Conservatory activity where she was able to bring home a chocolate mint plant. We potted it up and kept it indoors on a sunny, south facing windowsill with promises that it would last longer than it would outdoors. (This is because chocolate mint is more like an annual here in Zone 5-Chicago, and it usually dies over the winter.)
Our chocolate mint lasted about 18 months before it was sampled too many times and couldn’t photosynthesize enough to keep going. Alas, Sofie still looks at that empty pot on the windowsill and asks about her chocolate mint.
Last weekend we bought two mint plants – a sweet mint (yes, the aggressive type that we all know/fear) and a chocolate mint. I dug while Sofie planted these herbs in Earth Boxes. Gardening with plants that arouse the senses – in this case, touch, smell and taste – is a great way to get kids of any age interested in gardening. Just make sure that the plants that you choose are safe to ingest – kids can’t help wanting to eat what they plant – and that they have no allergies to what is selected.
Mint leaves are rather course, fragrant, and of course edible. And, mints are really pretty tough, as long as your little one(s) don’t eat ALL of the leaves. Try this or another herb in a pot if you don’t have outdoor planting space. All it takes is some regular watering and some sunshine to get your little gardener going.
Two weeks ago the National Wildlife Federation released their Dirt Report (warning, this is a PDF). I can’t stop talking about it, professionally or personally.
My work at Openlands intersects with my family and passion for gardening. This condensed research report shows just how important playing and being outdoors are for the health of our children. From my perspective, here are The Dirt Report highlights:
- Exposure to dirt and pathogens at a young age increases the strength of immune systems and decreases adult health issues.
- Bacteria found in soil activates serotonin release in the brain, making us all happier.
- When children are too clean they are more likely to have allergies, asthma and autoimmune diseases.
I think this means it is time to make a play date with our kids and the outdoors. Let’s get dirty!
If you know me as a parent, you know that I like to include my daughter in the things that I do: making dough for bread or pizza, cleaning the windows, and gardening, of course. This weekend it was time to start the zinnias, nasturtiums and mexican sunflowers.
Reusing takeout dishes from our friends at Nana, I poked holes into the bottom of the container. These lidded containers are great for keeping in moisture while seeds are germinating. Once they germinate you can simply lift up the lid or remove it altogether – and try to remember where you put it for the next time you want to start seeds!
After that, it was time for my daughter to pitch in. She poured the water into the seed starting mix, used her hands to distribute the moisture. Those same two and a half year old hands moved the soil into the containers. I threw an old towel (see photo) under the bucket and container in an attempt to make cleanup easier. I shook the soil out in the backyard afterward.
Sofie lost interest after this, so I planted the seeds myself and put the cover on to lock in the moisture. These flower seeds take longer to germinate that vegetable seeds, so we’ll be checking on the seeds daily to see if anything is sprouting. After that, to the grow light they go!
The second and third weeks of March have felt like a dry June here in the midwest, then the temperatures dropped somewhat. Most plants are four to six weeks ahead of their normal bloom times.
Back to our current weather…while we are certainly far from a safe frost-free date even if we will have a week of upper 50s to 70 degrees, many plants tolerate the cold and often a frost. The spinach, swiss chard and peas are ready to plant. So are safe annual flowers like pansies. Don’t be in a rush to plant your annuals (vegetables or flowers) any sooner than usual. They need warm soils to thrive!
My daughter and I planted some pansies today one per pot knowing that they’ll fill up most of that space eventually. We bought the pansies from Grand Street Gardens – now Christy Webber Landscapes Farm & Garden Center – at the Green Metropolis Fair. My daughter did a great job planting her first annual now that she is totally capable of doing so at two and a half. See some photos, here.
Do you garden with your child(ren)? Please share your tips with us!