Thursday, August 20, 2009

Sweet Corn, Gardeners Supply, and Slow Food

This week has been an exciting and very busy one. The Bantam Sweet Corn is reaching new heights, towering high above the squash plants underneath them. So it made me start to think, "When do we pick these lovely ears of corn?" and more importantly, "How do we preserve all this corn for use later in the winter?".

After some research I found that you should pick corn when the silk turns dark and starts to shrivel, preferably first thing in the morning. The kernels should be bright, plump, and milky, if they are watery let them be, they're not ready yet! Usually it takes about 20 days for the ear to ripen, from when the silk starts to appear. To harvest, snap off the ears by hand with a quick, firm, downward push; then twist and pull. Corn is at its prime eating quality for only 72 hours before becoming overmature. (Info found on Pick Your Own Veg, )

When it comes to preserving I found great info on the Gardener's Supply blog, written by the staff-owners of the company, one of which is Kathy LaLiberte. Kathy came to visit us this week, along with Cindy (also from Gardeners Supply) and Kathy's husband Henry. What a fantastic group of people, we had wonderful conversations and got all geeky about all things urban farming. It was great to hear their enthusiasm and ideas for what we could do better for the farm, different applications of some of their products and to hear all about their interesting seeds from their own personal gardens. (For those of you who may not know, our raised beds were built with corner brackets from Gardener's Supply) Back to the question at hand though, you can find some great info about corn preservation, written by Kathy, here

We had the pleasure of having Kathy and Henry return again in the evening on Tuesday to join us for the Slow Food benefit dinner that we held. The dinner went very well, with cocktail hour on the rooftop farm and then a great pork dinner made with Slagel Family Farms pork that our kitchen staff helped slaughter the week before. Overall it was a fantastic garden geek day and a lovely evening full of cucumber agua fresca and super fresh local foods. If you don't know about the Slow Food Organization, please visit the local chapter's website here,

Happy corn picking!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Red Corn Husks and Purple Beans

We are finally in the hot humid Chicago summer we all know and (rarely) love. But it is so good for all those edibles!

This week we have had huge growth at the farm...the squash and pumpkin blossoms have been prolific and the bees are doing their job well, pollinating like crazy. The corn is so high that it now has the tendency to strike emotions along the lines of, "wow, nature is so incredible" and "us humans sure are small on an earthly scale". Not only are the stalks super tall, but the Bantam Sweet Corn is producing lovely red husk hairs! So striking in a sea of green foliage.

The beans have started producing from their well established vines; Cascade Giant Pole, Purple Podded Snap and Haricot Vert are a few of the varieties that you will find on our menu these days. We have had a special this week that featured our Italian Relleno Sweet Peppers, which also have been growing fast!

Update on the blight from a few weeks ago: We are holding it at bay (thank goodness), by trimming back any infected leaves and fruit and then spraying them down with Serenade copper spray. We have been able to stave the spreading of it at least. The copper spray is organic, but is still a fungicide so it's best not to eat the tomatoes without washing them off first. The spray is available at some of the local garden centers, if you know your plants are at the beginning stages of blight, catch it before it spreads! If you think your plants are infected but aren't quite sure, please feel free to email me photos and I'll take a look to see if it is indeed blight.

Happy Harvesting!!

Thursday, August 6, 2009


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The heat is on

It is warm and muggy!! I know this isn't always something to quite so ecstatic about, but when you have gone through the coldest summer in decades, hot and muggy feels so good. The funny thing that I have noticed is that everyone is complaining. I guess you truly can't win. If it's cool out it's too cool and if it's hot out it's too hot. For us humans the cool breezy May-like summer we have been having is a blessing. But for farmers, and consequently all the food we enjoy everyday, the cool weather has been torture. It has come with the evidence of diseases that strike only when wet and cool and the slow take of warm weather veggies, like squash and tomatoes. I have hope that this year will be a long, moderate season, allowing us to dine on squash well through October.

The advantage to the sudden heat is that the cantaloupe are going crazy and so are the Italian Trombetta di Albenga Summer Squash. They are both taking over their respective beds, and starting to flower! (I promise I will post pictures soon!!) We have new ears of corn starting to form and the beans are flowering in bunches.

We have been planting out the beds like mad lately, adding new varieties of lettuce (Mascara and Sweet Valentine!) and new varieties of carrots and radishes too. I think that the addition of squash on the roof is going to prove to be a nice wind barrier, they are not minding the fact that I have them tied to the trellis system. I also love the shade they create and am planting all those new lettuces underneath their broad leaves. Just the answer to the dessert environment of the rooftop farm. As soon as the beans get a little taller on some of the other beds I'll be planting more head lettuces underneath them!

Recently I ordered some new seeds, hoping to transfer parts of the ground level beds into winter growing spaces. This year we'll try a few onions, garlic, kale, cabbages, rutabaga, turnips and parsnips down there to see how they fare come December and January. These beds are right against the building, so they should get some residual heat off the building, regulating the temperature in the soil a little more than we can upstairs. We will still be putting cold frames on some of the beds on the rooftop too, to see what we can grow throughout the winter season. Always an experiment, always fun! Let me know if you have any good winter growing tips for us!