Gardening, In Between Rain Storms

It’s really starting to feel like we have a monsoon season  now in northern Illinois; it rains nearly every day. The day started cloudy and overcast, so much so that I packed our rain jackets and umbrella in the wagon for our weekly walk over to the farmer’s market. Today was the first day that the abundance of early summer made itself known. Prior to today, the farmer’s market has mostly been scallions, spinach, overwintered potatoes and onions, and vegetable starts. Today – every kind of green you could want, fresh herbs, leeks, young onions, rhubarb and tons of other things I can hardly remember. It was a good market day – we came home with cider, kale, scallions, bread, a parsley plant and two basil plants.

After we came home for the afternoon, the clouds cleared and the sun actually came out, so we seized the opportunity to get out into the garden and attend to the plants. The third raised bed we finally topped up with soil, so we today we planted out cabbage, squash, watermelons, and two varieties of pumpkins. The tomatoes, pepper and beans we already planted are also doing well. And we planted the parsley and basil in a planter up on the deck.

And it’s a good thing we did – the rain is back in full force. As I type, I hear the pitter-patter of a steady rainfall, punctuated periodically by terrific crashes of thunder. But at least now this means that tomorrow I won’t have to water!

Digging In

So, we have been doing things. Notably, trying to keep seven fruit and nut trees alive in our basement for longer than most orchards recommend, because the weather has been random and weird and not at all conducive to digging holes and actually planting trees.

And then there was the matter of the utilities. I spent the winter months dreaming and scheming about the best placement of all of the various edibles on our property, and had earmarked a spot on the northern edge of our property in the front yard as being the best spot for an orchard hedgerow. Great sun, solved an aesthetic problem (the not-so-lovely view of our neighbor’s driveway) and had an absence of existing planting beds, so could use a little  something.

Well as it turns out, there’s a reason the previous owner didn’t plant anything there – it’s where all of the utilities, including electricity, cable, and gas – come into the property. Sigh. Back to the drawing board.

The next suitable spot is in the backyard, along the western edge of the property. Only problem is, there was a trio of  young lilacs already in residence. But a door never closes without a window opening, and as it turns out this new problem is actually the solution to a few issues. Number one, I hate shrubs, and the entire front of the house is swathed in bushes. Number two, half of said bushes are dead. Not precisely an elegant landscaping situation. So, slowly but surely, out come the shrubs, and in go the new – in this case, lilacs.

Here’s the before with some of the offending shrubs –


The sentinels are out of control… when we moved in six months ago (has it been six months!?) husband gave them a buzz cut and trimmed them down quite a bit, but at that point it became apparent that despite the lush greenery in this photo, they were actually quite unhealthy. And anyway, my hatred for them was cemented from the first. So out they must go. So the lilacs have found a home flanking the big window –


Now granted – you might be thinking it looks worse at the moment and is not much of an improvement. And yeah – I can see that. I kind of feel the same way – they’ve not got any new growth on them yet (I mean, it is only mid-April in Northern Illinois…) but they have leaf buds on them, so I have hope that they will take to their new location. And obviously all the mulch has been pulled out of this bed for this little transplant operation, so that adds to the sparse look. Ultimately the big hedge will come out and something else (still TBD) will go in. And I’d love to install a window box planter on this window, and we definitely need to do something about the faux shutters on the house… it’s amazing how one little change opens up a black hole into the five billion other things you want to/should do. Crazy! But aside from that, I’m hoping the lilacs take to their new location, because the prospect of the lovely smell of lilacs wafting into the open windows on the springtime breeze is a wonderful thought indeed.

Oh yeah – and now we need to dig seven holes in the newly opened space in the backyard and get the orchard planted!

Hello, Three Day Weekend

I love weekends. Three day weekends especially. No alarm clocks, no schedule, no WORK – complete bliss.

This morning we headed up to Evanston for the farmer’s market since the one in our neighborhood doesn’t start until next week. I was after morels. Unfortunately, I came home disappointed. I might’ve gotten some if we went early (we didn’t get over there until after 10:30) but I really needed to sleep in this morning. I spoke with my favorite mushroom vendor there though, and she confirmed my fears – this season is no good for morels. Just too cool. Morels like to grow in hot, humid conditions. Well, we’ve had the humidity this season but not the heat. The supply is incredibily limited, and a lot of foragers are just keeping them for themselves instead of selling them. And can you blame them? I’d do the same thing. At any rate, she said they’ll likely have a few again next week, but I’ll have to get there right when they open because they’ve been selling out of them almost immediately. The one bright spot is they’re not charging super high prices even though the supply is severely limited. They’re letting them go for about $30.00 per pound, which is a steal considering how rare they are this spring. So if I can hold onto a $20.00 this week and convince myself to wake up at 5:30 next Saturday… I might be able to get myself a little pile of morels for my once-a-year proper coq au vin.

Fortunately, the market had plenty of other goodies on offer that we availed ourselves of. Our mushroom vendor did have some fine looking criminis, so we got a quart of those. Some mushrooms is better than no mushrooms. We’ve been doing them on the grill a lot lately. We also picked up some green onions, Rose Finn fingerling potatoes and some beef kabob cubes. We looked at flowers too, since we’d like to get a couple of spots of color out on the deck, but we didn’t see anything that caught our eye. Maybe next week.

While in Evanston, we popped over to Market Fresh Books, which is having a killer sale this weekend since they are closing their second location. You can get a whole grocery sack full of books for only $20! I was able to pile in 42 before my husband cried uncle and had to drag me from the store. Apparently I’d been in there an hour – but it only felt like a few minutes! I got a few books for me, and a major haul for the kiddo – I scored THIRTY vintage Golden Books! I also got a couple board books, two of which are Dr. Suess, and some activity and learn-t0-cook books (for when he’s older). Each book came out at just under fifty cents each – what a score! You can’t touch vintage Golden Books for that price on Ebay. And they’re all in near-perfect condition. There are a lot left, so if I were you I’d head up there today or tomorrow! They are my favorite used bookstore of all time, and this is an unbeatable deal.

Once we got home from our Evanston adventure, we had some leftover Cincinnati chili for lunch and then I rearranged the deck and potted up the last few plants we’ve acquired in the last week – have a dozen strawberry plants and some hops. (Stay tuned for the pics of the deck, in it’s “finished” state). And then it started raining, even though all the weather reports called for a sunny, warm afternoon. I spent some time relaxing and reading and listening to the rain until it got to cool to sit out (even with a blanket) and then retreated indoors, where I now sit. It’s relatively quiet for a Saturday in the city – it’s still raining a bit, and the birds are chirping outside and it’s nice. I might work up the motivation to hit up the grocery store in a bit, but we’ll see.

Tomorrow I plan to make a big brunch – barbecued pork with jalapeno corn bread and breakfast potatoes – I’ve been craving something different. It’ll be the home version of what I usually get at our favorite brunch spot. Then we may head over to Andersonville to do a little thrifting – I’m always on the lookout for canning jars this time of year, and books and Saveur magazines as always, and now – baby things. Plus I’ve got a bag or two of things to donate myself. If it continues to be cool, I’ll bake some bread and do up a coffee cake or muffins. And I’m going to work with a whole duck this weekend – rendering the fat, confiting the legs/thighs, freezing the breasts for a later dinner and making a stock out of the carcass. Keep your eyes peeled for that post before the weekend is out.

And Monday, just relaxing at home. Spending some time outdoors as much as possible – hopefully the weather turns around! We’re going to grill some kabobs for Monday dinner. I might get started on cutting the quilt blocks for my son’s baby quilt too, especially if it remains gloomy and cool. All in all, a perfect weekend.

Deck Veggies – Part One

This weekend, we got all of the veggies into soil. Not all in the permanent homes since we ran out of potting soil (we still need enough to fill four seven-gallon pots), but we’ve got them all in some kind of dirt at least.

That’s our brand new rosemary and the window box. Oregano is in the center, flanked by thyme, cucumbers and chard. I know typically that cucumbers and chard need a lot more space to grow, but I’m going to give it a try here – after working at the rooftop garden last summer I’m amazed by what can grow in very little soil. So we’ll see what happens. The biggest challenge will be keeping it watered and fertilized.

An alternate shot of the deck railing, with the hanging baskets visible. Sweet peppers in one, hot peppers in the other. They’re super crowded with four plants each – when we get more soil, only one will be in each pot, with the remaining three getting transferred to larger quarters.

The spot below our deck railing on the patio houses the tomatoes on the left and cabbages on the right. I’ve got four plants per container right now due to the soil shortage, but I’ve got another four of these pots, so they’ll end up being two to a container. All six pots will be lined up here, in the sunniest spot. Still slightly tighter space than is ideal, but I’ve successfully grown produce in much smaller pots totally indoors in an east-facing window for many years, so to me this is like the Garden of Eden. I think I can make it work.

This is our one planter of non-edibles – a false spiria in between two creeping junipers. It provides a nice flash of color in front of our bedroom window. And you can see the spare pots just waiting eagerly for soil just off to the side.

Stay tuned for Deck Veggies – Part Two when we get our next batch of potting soil and get everything into its proper space.  We still need to hang our white summer lanterns (in between the hanging planters) and maybe get a few pots of flowers for our etagere (which lives to the left of the white planter above and is currently mostly empty) and then the deck will be “complete” for this season.

Plan C: The Transplants Have Arrived

Yesterday my husband surprised me with two new plants – a false spiria (the one with the lovely pale pink flowers) and a new rosemary for my first Mother’s Day. Excited by the new greenery, we decided to head over to Gethsemane, despite the rain and chill, to get the rest of the plants we wanted for the garden. Needing copious amounts of dirt, my husband also muscled home over 60 pounds of potting soil on a hand cart – a walk of over a mile and a half!

Our plant haul included –

1 Italian oregano

2 French thymes

4 ‘Red Express’ cabbage

4 ‘Bush Pickle’ cucumbers

4 ‘Rhubarb’ chard

4 ‘Gypsy’ sweet peppers

4 ‘Anaheim hot peppers

4 ‘La Roma’ tomatoes

1 purple mini African violet (for my desk at work – we finally moved into a room with a window)

If the weather ever warms up today, we hope to have at least half of it planted into containers this afternoon – we’re probably going to need another 40-60 pounds of potting soil, and after yesterday’s tiring jaunt, a return trip is likely going to have to wait until next weekend. But at long last, we’ve got some real live plants at Apartment Farm this season.

Seedlings Don’t Thrive on Neglect…

Well. Here I am on April 16th with exactly ZERO seedlings ready for planting. Why’s that? Well apparently, you need to water them daily and make sure their sunlight needs are being met. Now clearly, I know this. I’ve been starting seeds successfully for years, but this year’s pregnancy brain has really gotten the best of me. It’s a miracle I can get out of the house each day with my keys, wallet and transit card. Remembering to stop in the kitchen and open the curtain and water the seedlings… evidently that was asking too much of myself.

But, being the middle of April yet with another potential week of hard frosts outside still, all hope is not lost. I’m just back at square one. Wouldn’t be the first time. 🙂 I clearly need to modify my seed starting routine to ensure success. I’m going to direct seed my scallions, cucumbers, zucchini and such outside. So the only ones I’m going to start at this late date are tomatoes and strawberries. Yes, I’m stubbornly going to try to grow alpine strawberries from seeds still.

The seedling tray can’t live in the kitchen. Space-wise, it’s the pefect spot, but I just don’t go in there in the mornings more than grabbing my packed lunch and breakfast from the fridge. I’m going to set them up on my sewing table in the living room, with a spray bottle of water sitting right next to it – I just won’t be able to overlook them sitting there.

I WILL have seed-started tomatoes this year! Stay tuned… again.

Powdery Mildew!?

Spring has barely sprung, and already plant disease has arrived. The rosemary has developed powdery mildew. It’s basically what it sounds like – a powdery white fungus that grows on the leaves of plants. It occurs most often in plants that don’t get good air circulation and are in humid, stagnant conditions. Which is why I am completely stumped as to why the rosemary has it – just a few weeks ago I pruned it, so it was getting more than enough circulation. And we don’t over water it, so who knows.

I’m trying to doctor it back to health. Since it was so warm outside today, I took it out on the back patio for some fresh air and the breeze. But that’s not enough to get rid of the fungus, so it was time for a treatment. There are apparently a lot of things you can do to treat it, including spraying the plant with diluted milk or chamomile tea, or rubbing the leaves with jojoba oil. Another method I’ve read about it spraying it down with a baking soda and water solution. Since that’s what I have on hand, it’s what I decided to try. So after the plant sat outside for a few hours, I sprayed it liberally with the baking soda solution and let it sit for a couple of hours. Then I sprayed it again, and tried to wipe down the leaves the best that I could. I then left it out to air dry for a few more hours.

It’s back inside now, isolated from my bay tree since powdery mildew can spread, and it looks okay. It’s a little wilted, likely because it was so hot out today, but no way am I going to water it. If the mildew looks like it’s still under control in the morning, I’ll give it a little drink then. Hopefully I can save the poor thing from this mystery affliction!