Garden Planning – 2015

Spoiler alert – this is the year I lose my mind. It will be the very first year of our adult lives where we have our own yard and garden space, right where we live. I have big plans for our slightly-less-than-quarter-acre lot. Observe –

For the vegetable/fruit beds –

Jacob’s Cattle beans
Envy edameme
Gonzales mini cabbage
Boston Pickling cucumber
Lacinato kale
Lancelot leeks
Evergreen Bunching onions
Southport Red Globe onions
Valencia onions
Lincoln Garden park
Early Jalapeno peppers
King of the North peppers
Jack Be Little pumpkins
Small Sugar pumpkins
Ronde de Nice squash
Gold Nugget tomatoes
Tiny Tim tomatoes
Jubilee Bush watermelon
Yukon Gold potatoes
Bristol Black raspberries
Mara de Bois strawberries
Friendship blueberries

Herb/flower beds –

Grandpa Otts morning glory
Patriot morning glory
St. John’s Wort
Italian Large Leaf basil
Black cumin
Compatto dill
Citronella lemon balm
Green oregano
Flat Leaf parsley
White sage
French thyme

And if that isn’t enough crazy, I’m adding fruit and nut trees to the mix – as yet undecided varieties of apple, American persimmon and hazelnut. Yes, you read that correctly. I just started reading Grow A Little Fruit Tree: Simple Pruning Techniques for Small-Space, Easy-Harvest Fruit Trees by Ann Ralph. It’s all about keeping standard sized fruit trees at a manageable (around six feet) height with proper pruning and maintenance. Which considerably opens up the varieties one can consider, since only limited varieties are available as dwarf, semi-dwarf or columnar. It’s so good, I can’t put it down. I’m a convert to the method and I haven’t even finished the book yet. So yes – in addition to multiple vegetable, fruit, flower and herb beds, I’ll be adding a tiny orchard this year as well. If I’m going to do something, I do it. 🙂 Only a few weeks and we’ll be getting the first seeds started!

Seedlings & Struggles

We are now well into caring for our first batch of seedlings this “spring” (apparently it’s supposed to snow again this weekend!). The peas are robust, and every one of them germinated. Most of the tomatoes and peppers have germinated, so we’ll have a good showing.

The challenge, however, is in the lighting. Every time I start seedlings, they tend to get really leggy because I never seem to have the lighting set up correctly. I thought I had it figured out this year – I used the top shelf of my kitchen bookshelf, and mounted an under-cabinet grow light to it with those picture hanging strips. They’re supposed to hold 35 pounds, but I swear I never get these wall hooks and strips to work. Ever. The light weighs maybe three pounds, and one day it just came crashing down on the seedlings. But apparently we’re doing a good job with them, because only one of them was damaged. Robust little things, fortunately.

So now they’re sitting on the kitchen table in front of a south window, with a desk lamp supplementing light. So… hopefully they actually keep growing well. Though if all of this snow keeps up who knows when we’ll be able to garden this year!

Almost Time…

It’s supposed to snow again tonight, through tomorrow morning – another six inches. On top of the several feet we already have on the ground. This winter just keeps going on and on… I try to live in the moment and enjoy each season as it comes, but this winter is definitely challenging that.

Someday soon, spring will arrive. It has to. So, in a few short weeks, it will finally be time to put the seed trays to use –




I have been remiss in posting lately – it’s winter here now, so we’re basically waiting for it to end. Nothing too exciting to report – we’ve been using the crockpot a fair bit and eating loads of baked goods. We’ve pretty much had two solid feet of snow on the ground for over a month now, and more keeps coming. Makes imaging springtime fairly difficult, so instead I spend the evenings after Little Man’s bedtime browsing Pinterest for DIY interior design ideas and greenhouses, and things vaguely related to how I can pretend that I live in a manor house in Edwardian England.

Other than that, only a few more weeks and I can justify getting some seeds started. 🙂

Spring Stockpiling

Seeds are germinating, so it’s the time of year when I start getting really anxious about pots. I never seem to have enough. If you recall, last season I was really excited to acquire six 14-inch planters (we only used four) at the dollar store for $7.00 a piece. We definitely plan to use all six of them this season, and then some. I’ve been watching the dollar store for a few weeks now for this season’s gardening supplies, and today I finally hit gold. I popped in to check out the situation on my way to the grocer for the week’s meat and veg and lo and behold – two aisles of garden supplies. After grocery shopping, I returned to purchase what I’m estimating we’ll need for this season. I know from experience that the dollar store is going to sell out of the planters fast – they went like hotcakes last year.

I thought about getting two more of the largest planters so we’d have a total of eight, but the real estate on the common patio is getting kind of tight. There’s a communal table and chairs (that no one uses ever, so it’s kind of annoying that it’s taking up space) out there, and I know a couple more grills in addition to ours are going to make an appearance as the weather gets warmer. And that’s okay, it is a shared space. So instead of the largest planters, I decided to expand our growing space with a collection of smaller pots, that can be easily moved around and tucked into small spots.

I purchased four 12-inch pots at $5.00 each, four 10-inch pots at $2.00 each and two 6-inch pots for $1.00 each. I also picked up two 3-packs of plastic drainage pans for the smaller pots at $1.00 each. I figure the 10- and 6-inch pots will be good for the assortment of herbs we’re growing this year, and will be much easier to bring indoors in the fall for overwintering. So for $32.00 I think I got a pretty good deal. We also acquired a blue glazed pot (I think it’s around 12 inches) last fall when we received some planted mums as a gift.

So the total inventory of plant pots currently is –

6 14-inch pots

4 12-inch pots (new)

4 12-inch hanging baskets

4 10-inch pots (new)

2 6-inch pots (new)

1 12-inch glazed pot (new)

1 10-inch (I think) glazed pot (permanent home for the hops)

1 8-inch glazed pot

1 6-inch glazed pot (permanent home for the bamboo)

2 square glazed pots (permanent homes for the bay tree and oregano)

1 strawberry pot

1 window box

1 freestanding window box shelf with Earthbox “insert” (permanent home for the dwarf junipers)


Think it will be enough? Likely not, but at least we’re closer! And it’s a good thing, because we have dichondra, jalapeno and cayenne peppers sprouted, as well as some herbs. Which herbs, we don’t know yet. The mini greenhouse had a little accident on the patio on a windy day recently, so things got a bit mixed up. I think basil and thyme, but we’ll find out for sure once the seedlings get a little bigger and put out more true leaves. And this weekend we’re going to do some more planting – more peppers (the germination rate wasn’t too great – I got the seeds in trade, so you can never be sure of the quality), peas, chard, more herbs – lots of other stuff. My planting list and schedule have gone out the window… but that’s okay. My husband is really involved this year so I’m excited about that. So if he says he wants to plant something, we just do it. So we may need to go buy more pots yet!

Could It Really Be Spring?

I don’t want to get too excited, because it is still March in Chicago, but is it possible that spring has really arrived? It sure feels like it, with the flurry of activity around here lately. And the weather – we’ve had a couple of really nice days recently where we could open the back door and a few windows. You can feel the sun and the breeze is warm, in the upper sixties. And the forecast for the next two weeks even includes a couple of seventy degree days! Very exciting developments indeed.

Starting the garden has been keeping us busy. We’ve got Ring O Fire cayenne, Early jalapeno, Tabasco hot pepper, Emerald Falls dichondra, Red Rocket snapdragon, and an assortment of herbs planted already. I have been terrible at taking photos lately, so hopefully I can describe our seed starting station in a way that makes sense. I mounted a fluorescent light fixture underneath one of our kitchen cabinets. The light is plugged in to a programmable timer so that it comes on and off automatically so we don’t have to worry about it. Our seeds our planted in one of our windowsill greenhouses, with herbs in a smaller model. To elevate the planters under the light (since it’s not movable on a chain) I have two of my stacking baking racks set up underneath it, with the planters on top. This puts the seedlings at the perfect height. As they grow taller, I can remove one of the two racks so they’re got more vertical room to grow. I’m hoping that my seedlings will be robust and not leggy and lethargic this way.

And so far, so good. Most of the herbs have sprouted, as well as the dichondra. It’s so nice to see fresh green in the house! Next up to get in the ground in a week or so is the chard and Compatto dill. And we really need to figure out some more planters, because as usual, I cannot stick to a list and end up planting at my whim as soon as I get my hands in some dirt. And the best part is, my husband is really interested again this season and Baby Apartment Farmer is soaking up all the goodness. He gets really excited every morning when we check the planters to see what’s sprouted. Got to start them early on the good stuff!

In existing plants, I think I mentioned awhile back that we lost both of the big, beautiful thyme plants. Sigh. I finally got around to clearing out the last pot the other day. But the oregano made it through, and actually seemed to thrive on borderline neglect. And the bay tree is putting out new spring growth like I’ve never seen it do before – it’s actually branching out at the top! It’s gotten so big that we’ve got to find a half barrel sized planter to put it in… now where will I find something suitable? And where on earth am I going to put the poor thing in the cooler months when it has to live indoors? It’s outgrowing it’s spot in the windowsill for sure. But we have all spring and summer to figure that one out.

So, busy busy at planting time. Good things the days are getting warmer and longer!

2012 Planting Schedule

Time flies when you’re having fun! Or just to busy to keep track of what day it is… you know how it goes. But some things don’t wait, and the spring garden is certainly one of them. It’s high time I get the planting schedule hammered down – the peppers and tomatoes need to be started in a few weeks, and some of the flowers too.

Determining when to plant is pretty easy, especially if you’re doing a single sowing of plants. Take the average frost free date for your area, and count backwards from the transplant date for the variety in question. Take tomatoes, for example. Most varieties should be started 8-10 weeks prior to the frost free date. Here in Chicago, that date is around May 3rd. I always like to start my seeds on the longer end of the range, usually just because I can’t wait to get my hands in the dirt. But really, you should be taking the weather patterns into account. This year has been mild, so starting on the long end makes sense. But for a harsh winter that might stick around  for a good while, you might err on the side of 8 weeks. That way your plants haven’t outgrown the pots and started to become leggy and weak from hanging around in the nursery too long. Make sense?

That’s the most basic way to determine a planting schedule. You should also think about when you’d like to eat your produce. If you’re going to plant 10 heads of lettuce, you don’t want all 10 maturing in the same week. You’d probably like to have 2 heads a week. So every week for 5 weeks, you’d plant 2 seeds. That way you have just the right amount of lettuce when you want it.

But for me, I’m planting a limited amount of things in containers. I’m planting four or less of each plant, so I’m not really worried about everything coming to fruition at the same time. I’m just growing for fresh eating when ever it’s ready, so I’m only doing one sowing of each variety. This is what I’ve figured out based on our average frost free date –

Tom Thumb Pea                                               4/15/2012
Compatto Dill                                                    4/1/2012
Patriot Mix Morning Glory                          4/1/2012
Early Jalapano                                                  3/18/2012
Tobasco Pepper                                                3/18/2012
Swiss Chard                                                         3/18/2012
Red Rocket Snapdragon                                3/4/2012
Emerald Falls Dichondra                              2/19/2012
We Be Little Pumpkin                                     July 1st

So, a couple more weeks and the seed starting will begin in earnest! I’ve got some scallions in a pot at the moment – just eight or so. They’re not doing so hot since I haven’t rigged up the lights yet, but they’re holding their own. Time to start scouting deals on T5 fluorescents for real!