Urban Farming

My first-ever “real” garden is finally producing!

In the four years I’ve been in the house, I’ve dabbled in growing various herbs in big planters lined up along the sunny driveway. (Eventually, I think I want to remove some of the asphalt in my extra-extra wide driveway and revert it to soil.) I’ve had luck with cherry tomatoes, basil, cilantro, various flowers – and that’s about it. My pepper plants have never actually produced peppers, and the dill and oregano drowned.

One of my reasons for wanting a backyard was to create a garden, but mine has always been too shady – the giant mulberry tree hulking along the fenceline prevented even grass from growing.

Last fall, as I replaced the fence, I finally cut off large parts of the tree.  (I wanted to remove the whole thing, but it would have been really expensive, so my neighbor-with-a-chainsaw removed several of the offending branches.) Late winter, I watched the daily sunlight as it passed through the backyard, and finally decided that I had enough light to try a garden.

First, I dug up a small patch – about 3×6 feet – and pulled out the sparse grass and weeds. I brought in about 200 lbs of new soil, mixed it all together, and planted some tomato, pepper and eggplant seedlings, plus a small Swiss chard plant I got free from the Burpee folks at Union Station. Meanwhile, in egg cartons, I started seeds for more peppers, beans, onions, carrots, squash, cucumbers, lettuce and basil.

I was shocked by how many of my seeds actually took. I quickly realized that my little patch – which was already overcrowded – wasn’t nearly big enough, so I doubled the space and planted everything in early June. I put the basil in pots lining the driveway again, as the backyard patch only gets 4-5 hours of sun a day. That’s still better than nothing, but not the “full sun” that basil really needs.

I waited too long to get tomato cages and had to fight with the four foot tall plants to lean them up against the supports. And I definitely learned that I should have followed the spacing guidelines. I had assumed that half of them wouldn’t take, anyway, so why waste precious space? Weeding has been a challenge, as the patch attracts veritable swarms of mosquitoes in the evenings, and weekends it has rained or I’ve been busy with other chores.

But now, I’ve had one small pepper (that fell to the ground before entirely ripe – very sad), and have a whole bunch of tomatoes just about ready to harvest. The Swiss chard is doing well, and yesterday, I noticed a couple baby eggplants where there were small blossoms last week.

It may only be a baby, but gee willickers, that's an eggplant!

The carrot tops look good, though I’m not quite sure I’ll know when they’re ripe, and it quickly got too hot for the lettuce. (Again, I should have followed directions! I think the beans are suffering from the same “too hot” fate.) The basil on the driveway is doing very well – a bumper crop – and the cilantro drowned with the recent downpours and doesn’t appear to be recovering.

I can’t wait to make a salad of vegetables grown entirely on my land.

Should I be starting a “fall crop” now? If so, what works well in northern Illinois?


2 responses to “Urban Farming

  1. Pingback: Gardening Fail | The Adventures of Elginista

  2. Pingback: Low-Hanging Fruit | The Adventures of Elginista

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