Monday, March 23, 2009

Soil Turning Day

Thank you thank you thank you to all our volunteers that came and turned some soil this past Saturday!!!

This past Saturday 30 volunteers showed up to help regenerate the soil for the new season of growing. They tilled and shoveled the soil (some of which was frozen!) and then added a thin top layer of compost, to bring new nutrients into the beds. Our compost is coming from Vermont Compost and is hearty to help supplement the minerals that were taken out by our crops last year.

We will be rotating our crops through the beds to maximize the nutrients left (or taken) by the previous crop. For example, tomatoes like to follow peas, it gives them needed nitrogen that the peas leave behind in their roots, and thus in the soil. There are all kinds of plants that can be rotated to help the soil be healthier and more productive and this is especially helpful if you are planting directly in the ground. When we plant in the beds we have the opportunity to always add more soil and it is easy to do so. This is not so easy in the ground, as it takes digging down those 12-14 inches and replacing dirt with soil or compost.

Another good way to get your soil healty and happy is to companion plant. This is where you plant two or three different plants together, all of which feed off of one another underground. Tomatoes, garlic and basil love to be planted together because the garlic and basil feed off the phosphorous that the tomatoes produce. It helps all the plants produce more and be stronger plants, which means they taste better too! Rodale's Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening has great resources for finding out more information on all of this.

After the soil was turned, we set out to build new trellis systems for all the beds. Each bed got a new framework of 1/2 inch conduit piping and then was completed with reusable plastic netting, ziptied on to stay secure through the Chicago winds. This trellis system will allow us to grow a lot of vertical vegetables, helping to increase the production of a small amount of soil. Vertical gardening is described really well in Square Foot Gardening, by Mel Bartholomew. It increases your production by giving space for vining plants (tomatoes/snap peas/cucumbers) to go up, instead of out (side to side), when you have only a small space to work with (like us!).

I hope that if you weren't able to join us for last Saturday that you get a chance to come help out at the farm in the future!

Happy Spring!

Monday, March 16, 2009

And the race is on...

We have planted the first round of indoor plants!

We are beginning with 6 varieties of tomatoes, 3 peppers, Udumalapet Eggplant and Charentais Canteloupe. And, most of them have already sprouted!
The melons are winning so far, they're huge!

We are using heat mats to keep the ambient temperature around 75 degrees and have them domed for now, until they get a little bigger. The seed germinating soil we are using comes from Vermont Compost, it's their Fort Vee mix. (And obviously the seeds love it.)
You can find it here:

Please let me know if anyone has questions regarding the indoor seed system!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Stepanie asked some very good questions about the growing system, and here are the answers:

All the shelving and light fixtures are from Costco. The shelves are great because you can hang the lights from the rungs above and they are on casters, makes it easy for moving around!

For the lights, I would recommend using one "cool" (blue-ish light) and one "hot" light (yellow-ish light) in each fixture. This allows for a more realistic interpretation of sunlight. The bulbs can be bought at Home Depot and it's easy to tell the difference.

Let me know what other questions you may have. When the planting trays arrive I'll post with all that info too!

I plan on being a little more organized and proactive about including how-to's as we go along, that is what we are here for anyway; sharing! Thanks Stephanie!

Monday, March 2, 2009

indoor growing!

We have begun the indoor growing process! This is our new shelving system, with grow lights. The rest of the system should be arriving today, including our seed starting soil and the domed trays!

I can't wait to start the tomatoes. I'm hoping it will make it feel a little closer to spring, even though it snowed all day yesterday.