Tag Archives: Chicago Gardening

Before the Planting Begins

    

The Peterson Garden Project has rapidly come to  life. The interesting thing is: we haven’t even planted yet. So what’s going on?        

I joined the project for a few reasons. I love fresh food, and want to learn to grow my own. Plus the benefits of growing food locally have a significant impact on a city’s sustainable development, and that’s important to me. I also love gardening—it’s swiftly becoming my favorite hobby.        

What I didn’t see coming was the incredible community impact of the garden.     
While helping to plan and promote the project, I’ve met an amazing group of people, all drawn to the community garden project for different reasons. From LaManda, the project’s founder, I’ve learned about Chicago’s Victory Garden legacy. But more importantly: I’ve seen the catalytic affect her inspiration and leadership have on a project. This isn’t just a garden for LaManda: it’s a life mission. And she’s looking for accomplices.        

From there, the cast of gardeners grows. From the young dancer who has a passion for baking pastries, to the ice-skating grant-writer looking to share her incredible knowledge of growing and cooking food, this garden is bringing people together.        

Entrepreneurs. Artists. People looking for a new career path—they’re all here. And: they’re mainly my neighbors. I had the pleasure of meeting John and Eileen, who have lived in my neighborhood—Arcadia Terrace, for the record—for 50 years. They’ve never grown vegetables before, but when they got the flyer for the Peterson Garden Project, they figured: why not?     
It’s never too late to learn to grow your own vegetables. And it’s not too late to plant them this year, either. Come on over and join in on the fun; volunteers are always welcome at The Peterson Garden Project.  

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The Dirt

Box Number One, at the back of my house. Square foot garden #2, along my garage, on top of the sidewalk.

 

At long last, after many weeks of toil, construction, dirt-mixing and planting, here are my raised bed gardens. It’s official: I am an urban farmer. 

The second square foot garden, along my garage, on top of a sidewalk.

 

I’ve faced a few surprises. First, mixing a bunch of dirt is hard, in terms of the physical effort. Don’t let the books fool you. And then, the agonizing part: waiting for seeds to sprout. In my case, the subject of much staring, worrying, and even blaming wonton, seed-eating birds has been the situation with my peas. I planted eight. I have two sprouts. 

When do I give up and plant a few more? What’s the right timeframe? How do I fend off the marauding robins and squirrels who are the likely culprits of my struggling pea crop? I’ll be thinking about all of this for a few more days. 

Two peas sprouting in a square. Where are the other two?

 

The lettuce, on the other hand, is marching on. Don’t know what’s going on with the head lettuce, but the leaf lettuce is a great source of hope for me. 

Lettuce sprouting!

The Garden Plan II

This is the second of my two square foot gardens, which I'll build & plant this year.

 

The truth about my backyard is simple: it’s not glamorous. When we first moved into our place, we had a yard. It didn’t have any flowers, bushes, or plants. In fact, it didn’t even have grass. It did, however, have lots of crabgrass. Oh, and a fence that the previous owners’ Pit Bulls had gnawed through. There was that.     

In any event, in the four years that we’ve lived in our place, we’ve done lots of work… but you can’t necessarily tell. Unless, of course, you knew it when the previous owners were here.     

This is a long way of getting to my point: my yard still isn’t lovely. Or even actually pretty. But here’s what we do have: a yard. And full sun. And too much concrete. But square foot gardening is helping me in this regard: I can build a raised bed over my hideous sidewalk, next to my unnecessarily large garage. So there you have it. While I look forward to a day when I can talk about the aesthetics of my back yard, right now, I’m hoping I can get it to offer a crop, and maybe, just maybe, look okay-ish. That’s where I am now. 

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The Garden Plan

Here’s the plan for the first of two square foot gardens I will build this year. If you’ve done a Square Foot Garden in the past yourself, I’d love any comments or feedback.  

This is the first of two raised beds I'll be making.

 

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Cities Are What We Eat

I do quite a bit of reading on the future of cities, and the factors influencing change. Since 2008, more people live in cities than in rural areas. That trend is expected to accelerate.

There is another trend, less talked about, that I think I personally exemplify. Cities foster foodies. Here in Chicago, I have resources I never had growing up. In my own neighborhood, I can eat outstanding Indian, Korean, Japanese, Thai, Pakistani or Israeli food. And that’s before I take a long walk. In the years I’ve lived here, I’ve come to believe that if you pay for a meal in this city, it had darn well better be great. There are too many fabulous things to eat here–at every price point–to settle for anything less.

So for me, living in a city has enabled me to have new ideas about food. And along with questions of quality in restaurants have come questions about fresh ingredients. My favorite meals at home are cooked by my husband (who cooks much, much better than I, and for that matter much better than most people or chefs), and his best meals are sourced carefully. They’re best in the summer, when we have access to local produce from farmers’ markets, and our favorite meat and seafood vendors: Zier’s, or The Fish Guy.

This year, I hope to take things a step further. I hope to cultivate an urban garden that is both beautiful and edible. I’ve been reading like mad, and my favorite resources are books including All New Square Foot Gardening and Edible Gardening in the Midwest. Gardeners.com has a fantastic garden planning tool that I’ve put to good use.

My idea is simple: I want to put my yard to better use than I have in the past. I really don’t see why I need grass, and planting annual flowers seems frivolous. Can I plant flowers and veggies that are edible and beautiful? Can I manage to grow a crop of vegetables that will feed my family this summer? And: can I contribute to a more sustainable city by using water from a rain barrel, compost from my own heap, and reducing my trips to the market by cultivating our own food?

This year, I’m determined. I’m going to grow my garden and eat it, too.

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