Garden Financials

Finally having outdoor space after nearly ten years in the city (and five blogging about it), I was curious as to how much we’ve spent this year getting our deck and potted garden going, and comfortable. Here’s the rough math –

Six seven-gallon plastic planters – $42.00

Four black wire plant stands – $12.00

Two tan resin Adirondack-style deck chairs – $40.00

Various seeds – $20.00 (gotta count the expense, even though they didn’t work out!)

Various vegetable transplants – $30.00

Six bags of potting soil – $15.00

Fiskars garden clippers – $10.00


We also acquired some things for free –

Blue glazed Ikea gallon-sized pot – scavenged from the alley (had some cracks on one side that my husband repaired with epoxy).

Two bags of potting soil – gifted from husband’s Grandpa.

Six strawberry plants and a hops plant – gifted from husband’s Grandpa.

Green plastic watering can – gift from husband’s Mom.


And we already owned the following items –

Wire windowbox planter

Wooden freestanding windowbox planter with storage shelf

Cast iron and copper etagere plant stand

Ikea bistro set

Four hanging baskets

Two metal brackets for hanging baskets (we actually own another two should we ever need them)

Terra cotta strawberry pot

White lantern set

All purpose plant fertilizer

Fiskars plastic soil scoop, cultivator and transplanting trowel

Weber charcoal kettle grill with wire brush, chimney starter and cover

We also own some random things that may come in handy that we keep around in a mini white metal trashcan from Ikea – some plastic plant saucers, metal plant tags, seed starting soil pellets, a cover for the Earthbox, bamboo stakes, twine, and an ornamental bamboo pot with saucer.

If my math is correct (and often it’s not – I’m better with words!) we spent a total of $169.00 on the garden this year. Not bad, since there are “capital” expenses in there, like the large pots and chairs. And we still have plenty of potting soil left over for impromptu planting, and we haven’t filled two of our largest pots yets. So we have room to grow should we want to this season. And we certainly didn’t drop all that cash in one fell swoop – we bought a little here and a little there when we had some ready cash. Next summer, however, I intend to spend considerably less money!

Spring Cleaning

At long last – a gorgeous spring day in Chicago! It’s supposed to get up to 80 today. Nevermind that we’re supposed to have severe thunderstorms starting this evening, there’s plenty of beautiful day ahead between now and then. We started the morning by taking the patio furniture back outside and having breakfast on the deck. Scrambled eggs and bacon never tasted so good.

After breakfast, I tackled the winter clean up. First, I swept the deck and stairs. Then I pulled the dead plants out of both window boxes and cultivated the soil. We lost two of the dwarf firs over the winter in the free-standing window box. The two junipers on the end survived and I just had to clip one dead branch of one of them. Now we have a giant space in the middle of the planter that needs to be filled. I have no idea what will go there, except that it won’t be dwarf firs again.

I also cleaned up the etagere and swept the patio – the landscape rock we have back there freely migrated during the winter storms so that had to be put back into it’s rightful place. I also pulled out some weeds and dead plants from the inch-wide strip of soil on our side of the back fence, and cultivated the soil there. I’m going to plant morning glories on our side in a few weeks when we’re past the frost free date (about April 20th here).

The only things left to do are to hang some brackets for hanging planters, hang the lanterns and actually get things planted in all the pots and boxes. I know the chilly weather probably isn’t completely done yet since this is Chicago, after all – but it’s closer than ever and outdoor space is that much closer for a long summer season of tons of use. Finally!

Brand New Planters!

I didn’t get out to Ikea for the storage boxes I wanted to get, but I did find something just as affordable two blocks from home. This morning when I went grocery shopping, I popped into the dollar store to see what was new. Sometimes I find cute holiday things and craft supplies on the cheap. Lucky for me, they were literally unpacking their boxes of gardening supplies this morning, and one of the first things they had out on the shelves were giant round seven-gallon faux terra cotta planters, in terra cotta and green. Only $7.00 a piece. I made a mental note, and then went across the street to do my grocery shopping at Morse Market.

But I’ve been thinking obsessing about those planters all afternoon. They’re perfect. They’re exactly in my budget. Eight of them would do the job of four of the Ikea boxes. When am I going to have use of a car to trek all the way out to Ikea? What if I can’t go before planting time? God, those round planters would be great. What if they sell out? What if they only have the ugly green ones when I go back?

Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. I explained all of the merits and affordiblity of these wonderful planters to husband and shamelessly begged him to go with me to get them. He was skeptical, but I finally wore him down. So off we went, trotting two blocks in whirling snow back to the dollar store, where I bought every terra cotta colored giant planter they had in stock – all six of them. I want eight, so I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled in the next few weeks and snap up the last two I need when they get more in stock.

So even though exactly none of my seeds have sprouted yet, I’m ready. Well, nearly ready. I still need to get drainage materials and loads and loads of soil… but I have someplace to put my lovingly tended homegrown plants once they grow big and strong. Spring is so close I can almost taste it!

The Quest for the Perfect Planting Bed

Well, I wanted to start some seeds today, but upon consulting with my Old Farmer’s Almanac, it seems wise to wait another two weeks. Our frost-free date here in Chicago is around April 20th, but this spring is forecasted to be on the cool side. My tomatoes, onions and strawberries should all be started about eight weeks before the frost-free date, and I usually push it by starting them an additional two to three weeks early. But since tomatoes don’t like cold weather, I’m going to do it by the book this year. I want to make sure I can harden them off properly before getting them transplanted in beds.

Which leads me to my next dilemma. The planting beds. I mentioned in a previous post that I had my eye on the Gardener’s Supply Company Self Watering Planting Bed, which is nine square feet of planting space – at $170.00. With the next generation of Apartment Farmer on the way, it doesn’t seem prudent to drop that much cash on the garden. So I decided we could easily build our own with lumber – until I checked out the prices of cedar. $32.00 a board!? Not likely!

I was starting to feel discouraged. I don’t want a row of ugly five gallon buckets or mismatched random containers. I was sitting on the couch, staring aimlessly at the wooden trunks across the room…  the wooden trunks! We picked them up at Ikea years ago. We have two of them, one stacked on top of the other. They were unfinished pine when we picked them up and husband stained them a beautiful honey color. We store our board games in them. Now I’m not about to haul these lovely trunks out to the garden, but does Ikea still sell them?

As it turns out, they sell some trunks that are remarkably similar –

Ours don’t have the white panels, but it’s basically the same trunk. It’s a little over two feet long by a little over one foot wide, and a little over a foot deep. And they’re only $15.00 a piece. So for $60.00, I can purchase four. $60.00 wouldn’t even get me one bed building it myself. The dimensions will work as a planter, so I figure I can drill some drainage holes in the bottom and line them with landscaping fabric to aid in drainage (so the soil won’t clog the drainage holes) and extend the life of the container.

I plan to grow four tomatoes, two cucumbers, two zucchinis, and a pumpkin in these. Now I just have to get out to Ikea in the next month and stock up on them! The garden plan is coming together…

Garden Dreams Versus Garden Reality

Oddly enough, the first snowfall usually gets me to thinking about spring’s garden plans. I like to start my seeds early, and March always comes around more quickly than I think. Plus, I’m a born planner, and making lists is a specialty of mine. And what better list than one for the garden?

Unfortunately, having a deck has really gone to my head. I sat down recently to make my garden wish list, and ended up with a whopping thirty-one items on it –


Blueberry Bushes

Bok Choi


Brussels Sprouts



Cherry Bushes

Columnar Apple Trees


Drying Beans



Green Beans


Hot Peppers





Onions Peas






Sweet Corn

Sweet Peppers



I know, right? I’ve got some pretty wild stuff on there. Clearly I can’t expect to plant all of that! It also doesn’t take into account that I’d like to plant several varieties of a lot of it. But so far, I can only narrow the list down by half! These are the ones I can’t seem to eliminate (along with my justification on how I can include them) –

Basil – This is easy. I can put a pot of basil on the wrought iron etagere, no problem.

Blueberry Bushes – This sounds insane, considering I still don’t have a yard. But I came across a container-friendly variety called Top Hat a few years back, and if I can still get a couple they can live in a few five-gallon pots on the concrete below the deck.

Columnar Apple Trees – This also sounds insane, since I just fessed up to not having a yard and all. But columnar apple trees, as the name indicates, do not branch – the apples grow off spurs on the main stem. If I get two half whiskey barrels, they can live on the concrete, flanking our steps. I think they’d look quite lovely there.



Hot Peppers



The above “crops” I can grow in a Self Watering Planting Bed that I want to get from Gardener’s Supply Company. It’s a $170, but it’s a self-contained nine foot planting bed with a water reservoir and can easily live on the concrete below the deck. Actually, that might be a lot for nine square feet, so maybe the hot peppers will have to live in a few pots, and the leeks… maybe I’ll cut the leeks this year. If I have to choose between kale and leeks, I’d have to go with kale. I think.

Peas – I have a tiny variety of pea called Tom Thumb that can grow in small pots, which I can find a home for on the etagere with the herbs or just placed around the deck.

Potatoes – I intend to grow some fingerlings in a metal trash can (a nice looking one!). It can sit on the concrete with the blueberries. 

Scallions – I can squeeze these onto the perimeter of the planting beds, or in with the pots of tomatoes.

Strawberries – I have a terra cotta strawberry pot that has been vacant for two seasons now. What better home for strawberries than a whole strawberry pot?

Sweet Corn – This is the problem child of the garden this year. The earth box failed to produce anything real (and now houses a few creeping junipers and dwarf spruces anyway). It only accommodates about a dozen plants, which isn’t enough for good pollination. From my reading on the subject, sweet corn in small plantings does the best in a stand of at least four rows deep. I really want to see how my Blue Jade can perform outdoors, because I really think it would be tasty and look great in the garden. If I get a second self-watering planting bed, I can do a whole stand of corn, but since these beds aren’t cheap, if might have to wait until next season. And for those of you that are wondering why I don’t just build my own planting beds, I need something self-contained and really good looking since I plan to plunk it down on what is technically common space on a concrete pad in our apartment complex.

Sweet Peppers – I’m thinking about putting some in the window box that hangs from the deck railing. I could do small bushy ones in the back, and some put some vines and short flowers in the front – decorative, yet half edible (or all the way edible, if I choose the right flower). But if I decide to use that window box for more decorative purposes, I do have room to add another two hanging baskets to our real estate; more if I ask our neighbor to the east if I can use his deck railing, since he doesn’t put plants out – wait! See how quickly I get out of control!? I cannot take over Bill’s deck too. One deck at a time, here…

Thyme – Easy enough to find some small pots for a few different varieties to live on the etagere with the basil.

Tomatoes – I have four hanging baskets that will hang from the deck – I already have the brackets; we just need to install them.

So out of all that, leeks and sweet corn might not make the cut. And I already have a pot of chives, rosemary and a bay tree that will want to live outdoors when the weather gets warm. Fourteen to sixteen new things should be no problem, right? And I’ve certainly got time to agonize over which varieties to settle on, as well as see if I can find some more good deals on planting pots, and watch for a sale on the self watering planting bed.

Winter-Proofing the Great Outdoors

We had our first storm this week. No, no snow yet, but we did have a fairly severe windstorm. Wind is almost worse than snow and cold temps because you really have to make sure things are battened down tight so they don’t get destroyed and potentially hurt anyone.

Patio Furniture – It’s highly unlikely that you’ll be dining al fresco during the winter months so if you have indoor storage space where you can stow your furniture, such as a shed, garage or basement, that’s ideal. If you have to leave it out over the winter, make sure it’s secure – we have our bistro set chained to the deck railing. Our deck is also fairly sheltered, so high winds and snow accumulation won’t be that much of an issue. If you have a cover for your set, that will certainly improve it’s lifespan from winter wear and tear.

Grills – How you’ll keep your grill depends on whether or not you’ll want to use it during cold weather. If you don’t intend to use it, just put it away along with your patio furniture after you empty it of ash and coals and clean it out. We like to grill on the milder days in the winter, so we’ll leave our grill out. It’s good to have it in a sheltered location and chained down if necessary. And since grills have lots of pieces, it’s imperative to have a cover on it. That will prevent anything from blowing away and minimize the chances that the grill will become damaged or weather-worn.

Window Boxes – If you’re like me, you’ll want to leave your window boxes and some of your planters out during the winter months. For window boxes, make sure they are securely attached to your home or deck railing. You’ll also want to make sure that you have something sturdy and hardy planted in them (such as ornamental kale). Or, if you go in for evergreen boughs and such, make sure they’re laid in well so they don’t blow away – you can use wire hooks to secure the greens horizontally into the planter. What ever you decide, as long as you’re leaving them up, you’ll need to have something covering your potting soil so it doesn’t all blow off in a strong wind.

Planters and Pots – Some planters you’ll want to bring inside. I always bring in my herb pots, so I have to get some plastic pot coasters for drainage so I can water them indoors without a giant mess. You’ll want to bring in or put away any pottery or terra cotta planters you’re using as ice can damage them fairly easily – the freeze and thaw of water that can get inside can cause the pot to crack. For planters you’re leaving outside, make sure they’re winter proofed. I have a wooden free-standing window box planter, with an earth box nested inside. I’ve got dwarf spruce and creeping juniper planted in it, so I’ll leave it outdoors. However, to protect both the planter and help out the plants, I’m going to insulate the space between the earth box and wood planter box with bubble wrap from packages that are sent into my office – I do love to reuse useless items! In the same vein, you’ll want to think of any plants that need some protection – young fruit trees, roses and some shrubs may need to be wrapped in burlap to protect them from windburn and below zero temperatures.

Garden Tchotchkes – Really, I just like to find a way to use the word ‘tchotchke’ from time to time. But you know the kind of things I mean – wind chimes, lanterns, patio cushions, lawn gnomes. For the most part these types of items should be taken down and put away indoors during the window. If nothing else, getting it out of the elements will prolong it’s useful life. We have a string of white lanterns that we’ll likely take down after Halloween, though in all honesty, we should’ve taken them down prior to the windstorm this week. It was ten o’clock at night when we realized how nasty it was going to get though, and taking down lanterns didn’t seem appealing at that late hour. But we don’t want to tempt fate more than once per season, so we’ll take them down this weekend when we take down our string our of ghost lights that we also have on the back deck – and you should take your lanterns and lights down too! The exception here is outdoor-rated holiday lights – just make you’ve got them safely secured to your deck or whatever. We just staple ours onto the wood railing using hardware staples (being super careful to staple around the wires, not through them – electrocution is bad) but they also sell fancy plastic or metal clips that you can permanently affix to your dwelling, and then string the lights to those. But if you’re careful, really the staples work just fine.

And while you’re at it, you’ll want to have a can of salt or sand by the back and front doors, as well as a shovel. With a little foresight and planning, your outdoor space and garden will do just fine through the winter months.

The Fall Garden

It’s never to late to plant. This weekend the family came out for our semi-annual trip to Gethsemane Garden Center, and we loaded up with things for our little deck. And we chose a perfect weekend for it – not only was the weather warm and sunny, but Gethsemane was highly motivated to move the last of this season’s glazed pottery pots and planters.

We got some serious deals for two-thirds off the original price. We came home with two large square green-glazed planters that are perfect for the bay tree and rosemary that needed to be potted up. We also got a wire window box that Jeremy’s grandpa purchased for us. And to round out the pots on the deck, we were also given a wood planter with a shelf underneath handmade by grandpa – it’s got lovely finials on the corners and heart cutouts in the box, and the workmanship is just gorgeous.

We also loaded up on plants. We picked out a bamboo plant for the bedroom (and it ended up being the only plant we were allowed to pay for ourselves – Jeremy’s mom generously picking up the tab for the rest) which we potted into the round glazed pot that the bay tree used to live in. For the wooden planter, we got two creeping junipers and two dwarf blue spruces. We tucked the earth box right into the planter and put the junipers on either side of the spruces, with a mini pumpkin tucked in front. When winter sets in, we’re going to add some red dogwood branches and white lights.

And we went pretty crazy with the window box – there are two small burgundy mums, about ten lettuces, two baby bok chois, and three beets. We also tucked in some gourds. It’s looking full and beautiful. I also put my handkerchief ghosts in along the front, so it’s very autumnal. I’m looking forward to a few fall salads, if the blasted squirrels don’t eat them all – but that’s another story (or rather, another post). We also overzealously got two small yellow mums which we couldn’t fit in, so we planted one in a red tin bucket that I had laying around, and the other we tucked into a white planter painted with garden flowers that belonged to Jeremy’s late grandmother. We put both of those and some more mini pumpkins on the etagere. And since we bought so many lettuces, we received two chive plants for free – they’re a little worse for wear, but I plan to nurse them back to robustness in the kitchen window (partly because the neighbor cat Maybe discovered them instantly and apparently thinks chives are delicious). We planted them in the round green glazed pot that the rosemary was previously living in.

So, we’ve the full window box on the deck rail in front of the bistro set and underneath the white lantern and ghost lights. Opposite it along the brick wall of the building is the etagere and next to that in front of our bedroom window is the planter box with the evergreens. The green pots with the rosemary and bay tree are flanking the planter box, but we’ll have to bring them in before long for the season – I think they’ll just fit in the kitchen windowsill. On the other side of the etagere under the bathroom window are the two metal cans that store the potting soil and miscellaneous garden supplies. And that’s the whole deck, in a nutshell (I know, I really need to post some pictures, and I will – we ran out of daylight today to take any that would be any good).

I’m hoping the mums and things last for another month or so, but when those go we’ll lay in some evergreen boughs and holly branches and maybe some red dogwood branches. And of course I’d like to do an evergreen garland around the decking as well, but I might be getting ahead of myself a bit. At any rate, we’ve got some nice plantings out for autumn – no need to wait for spring to put in a little greenery!