Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Plastic on the cold frames

Our cold frames have donned their winter coats and are keeping toasty. Today, with the help of some willing volunteers and my intern Breanna, the row cover fabric that was covering them has been replaced with a thick plastic. The plastic will help keep temperatures inside the tunnels a good 10 degrees warmer, ensuring a good growing environment. We chose today to put on the plastic when the forecast called for -10 to -20 temperatures tonite. Yikes. Bundle up everyone, here comes the deep chill.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

First snow of the year

Ahhh...the true onset of winter has come, snow flurries are twirling around outside. As much as winter makes us grumble and forces us to take cover under many layers of wool, I love it. I love the down time. The warm stews and hearty breads, casseroles and hot tea. Lots of hot tea. It's the best time of year for baking. Which means that breads and cookies and pies all get made often, with the residual benefit of heating the house. I love watching quiet snow. It's meditative and reminds me to take my time when completing tasks. And I love blizzards. Which help remind me that sometimes to you just have stay inside and take advantage of all the benefits of home.

Maybe it is because I was raised in the mountains of Colorado, where winter starts in September and doesn't end until June, and where snow coming 3 feet deep over night qualifies as a reason to rejoice. (And where the Fourth of July parade is commonly snowed upon.) Whatever the reason, I think snow is fantastic.

Needless to say winter is here and the farm is feeling the chill. I had two great volunteers today who helped me mulch the rooftop beds with hay (generously donated by Kilbourn Park Organic Greenhouse!). And they helped finish mulching the downstairs beds too, with wood chips. We mulched our cold frames, now that temperatures are reaching below freezing (28 degrees tonight!) and the lettuces will soon need a plastic cover instead of the row fabric that is over them now.

I hope all of you are loving the seasons as much as I am. I know it's hard in Chicago when everyone gets all miserable over a little cold weather, but take the time to enjoy the season with warm activities and hot tea.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


We still have FREE MULCH available in the Uncommon Ground parking lot. Come with buckets or wheelbarrows and take some to cover your ground for the winter!

Waiting for the freeze

I hope that all of you are finishing with raking leaves and prepping your beds for winter. I hope that as we come to the very end of the growing season that you, like me, are evaluating all the great and wonderfuls that happened this summer, along with all the things we can do better next year.

I am in the process of inputting all the data from the summer, taking a hard look at how our intern and volunteer programs worked and starting to dream about what to plant next year.

If you have volunteered with us, I thank you deeply. We cannot do the work without you, whether it is shoveling compost or mulch or helping to build our cold frames. I am so grateful for all of those that came with smiles to help us make the farm this year. I am looking for feedback for how your experience at the farm was, and am very open to any ideas or suggestions you may have for me.

If you have the chance come by and see our cold frames that are at ground level. Take a peek underneath them, they are getting green and gorgeous under that row cover fabric!!

Thanks again for all your hard work and I hope to see you next season!!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Prepping for winter growing

We are getting our selves ready for the winter at the farm these days. Taking out all the growth from this summer (those amazing corn stalks and leafy tomato plants), turning under the last of the lettuce leftovers into the soil and building cold frames for some winter planting. We had a great team of volunteers this past week, who helped us construct 2 cold frames on our ground level beds. The day we built them was cold and very much an autumn afternoon, but we managed to build both cold frames in record time. The cover will provide some added warmth for our garlic, onions, spinach, kale and chard, as we move swiftly into the winter season. We will be starting our cold frames with a cover of row cloth, a fabric that lets light and air and water through, but still provides a blanket of warmth, and then we will move into plastic sheeting when the weather gets real cold. As usual, this is an experiment, so I'll keep you up to date with how the results turn out.

Thankfully for us the weather this week is warmer, in the 60's!, and is providing us with perfect cover cropping days! We will be spreading a cover crop mix of vetch, winter rye and a few other cold hardy varietals in all of our ground level and rooftop beds. I am hoping this helps to fix some of the nitrogen loss from this season and that we are able to build healthy soil for next year. The cover crop mix we are using is from Peaceful Valley Farm Supply, it's their Soil Builder Mix. I have had great success with their products, and I am looking forward to the tall grains fortifying our soil throughout the winter.

Next week we put our garlic and onions into the raised beds, so stay tuned for some how-to photos!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

October showers bring November flowers? Why spring has arrived again.

It is rainy. Big surprise there. But it almost feels like spring showers to me today. Maybe it's just the peas, radishes and lettuces we have growing on the roof right now. That's right, we have new rounds of peas shooting up and lots of radishes and even some pac choi. The weather is perfect for them, so I figure why not! Last year we got a pretty good fall harvest of peas and this year is looking good so far.

It has only started to feel like fall because the leaves are gracing us with their gorgeous yellows and reds, apples are all over the farmers markets and we had to take out all the dying sunflowers. I love fall though, with it's crisp mornings and showers of leaves. This fall is falling in suit with the summer and continues to be rainy, but I feel that is almost appropriate. The grey weather is forcing me to stay indoors, make hot apple cider, can this seasons best produce and dehydrate the rest, stocking up for the cold winter ahead.

We are hosting a few volunteer days this month, if you'd like to join us please email me at

Refreshments will be provided. Come for part or all of the workday!
Our farm needs help with late season and overwinter growing! We will be constructing
new cold frames to cover some of our planting beds at ground level. These
cold frames will help to extend the growing season into the winter. Techniques for
building a cold frame will be covered, as well as the knowledge behind
how to use a cold frame in your own backyard. Come help us and learn
how to grow in a Chicago winter outdoors!

Refreshments will be provided. Come for part or all of the workday!
We will be planting in the hoop houses at ground level for early winter salad greens.
We will also be planting garlic in our other raised beds at ground level. This workday includes
a primer on winter growing, both covered and uncovered, and will help you know what to
get started now for next springs harvest!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

And there goes September...

Sorry for the delay in posting, September seems to have passed me by.

Lucky for us this month showed some warmer temperatures, still cool in the evenings, but nice and consistently warm during the days. This has provided us with over 100 pounds of tomatoes this month alone!! I finally breathed a sigh of relief that we are actually going to get a decent harvest this year, of something. I thought I would share some photos of what we have been harvesting lately, including yard long pole beans (their as long as my arm!), striped roman tomatoes, daikon radishes, and our lovely intern Shantell hugging our Bantam corn harvest!

We celebrated this month with our Harvest Party on September 18th, if you didn't make it you should come next year! It was a blast! Live music from 4-10pm, a farmers market, roasting pigs and beer! What more could one ask for in a Friday evening? It marked the kick-off for the World Music Festival, which occurs at several venues throughout town. If you have the chance to catch some of the acts, it's well worth it.

Stay tuned for a call for volunteers! As we move in the fall we will be building hoop houses over our ground level beds. We will also be planting garlic, onions and spinach soon and will need extra hands!