Monday, July 4, 2011

We're Back! Just in time for hail...

The past two weeks have been busy. Dan's finger has recovered, and we've almost finished the western bed (complete with experiments in bio-swales and herb spirals). Alas, we've also been pelted by hail.

Thursday was a rough day for horticulturists and arboristas (new word) of all sorts. Massive storm clouds, appearing literally out of the blue, pelted the city with 2 -inch (and even baseball sized) hail. The whole affair made for an interesting bike-ride home. (Thankfully that was with the wind rather than against it). The storm was not, however friendly to plants city wide. Our corn, squash and beans seemed to take the heaviest damage, while the strawberries, being low to the ground, escaped relatively unscathed. We're doing our best to nurse the plants back to life, though we're not sure how much success we'll have. (Many thanks to Dan for his diligent horticultural triage). If your own plants were hit by hail, there are some tips here.

Unfortunately Chicago's Garfield Park Conservatory did not escape the hail. Hail shattered a great deal of glass in the greenhouses. Click on the link to find out how you can help.

A random thought: If warmer weather increases the amount of water that evaporates from a given area over a given time period, and warmer air can hold more water, does global warming speed up hydrological cycles? If so, would it also increase the variance and/or magnitude of severe weather events (A skewed distribution more episodes of relatively greater magnitude, perhaps? And let's not even talk about auto-correlations at the moment!) All of which is to say: As the world warms, will we see more events like Thursday's in the future?

In lighter news, check this out: lightning struck the Sears Tower! Put on your best Tesla hat and Mustache and check out this out.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Unplanned Hiatus

Due to a finger-eating fence, we've taken a bit of an unplanned Hiatus this past week, and will probably be extending it into sometime the next week.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Water, Water, everywhere but not a....

We've had plenty of rain over the last month, climaxing in a fine thunderstorm on Sunday. Yet, Chicago summer being what it is, we're now basking in sticky 80+ temperatures. The parking lot and gardens went from swampy muck, to grimy standing water, to cracked and dry earth in no time. What's an urban gardener to do?
Quite a lot to, actually. Like most things, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Failing that, we can still make the best of our situation. Some tips:

Topsoil: Nothing beats good well-mulched topsoil with plenty of humus. Good humus can retain 80% of its weight in water. Don't think mulch is just leaves or wood-chips, many plants can be used similarly. Squash, with nice broad leaves, can create cool damp micro-climates around their base, slowing evaporation from the soil. (Added benefit, mulch keeps the weeds out!)

Water well! The U of I extension office has some great tips. Among them: 1 inch of water a week is sufficient. (It encourages deep rooting). Water early in the morning to avoid water loss from evaporation and damp leaves at night (Watch out fungal diseases!).

But what about all that gravel, and those mosquito breeding grounds, the pools of standing water? Use that rainstorm as a chance to do some practical observation. Where is water pooling? Can we put some hardy pioneer species there? If not, can we catch that water in a rain barrel, or divert it a bit?


A classic permaculture solution is a bio-swale. An undulating mound slows water run-off, allowing it to collect and soak into organic matter rather than spill onto pavement. We've been incorporating this into the design of our herb spirals. The interlinked paisley-spirals sit at the top of a gradient across the parking lot. This way, water won't rush down and flood our low-lying beds. This has the added benefit of creating lots of surface area for planting, and room for lots of intersecting edges; potential zones of maximum species diversity and potentially symbiotic plant interaction. This also keeps our bio-swale from looking like a wall and keeping friendly neighbors out. Of course, we have to watch out so that rain-water doesn't cut deep rivulets between the mounds; another reason for the interlocking pattern we've chosen.

Storm-water runoff is one of the biggest pollution problems cities face. The world-over, freshwater is a precious resource. With a little ingenuity, we can turn that waste into a much needed resource. (Next up- how to re-reverse the Chicago river!)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

New Flier

Here is our new fund-raising flier. Download and plaster at your leisure.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Expanding Gardens

Really good progress with the gardens this week!

We started building herb spirals with all of the rubble still being generated in the plant. We've built up 3 foot high mounds in the shape of paisleys on which we will plant a variety of different herbs. The mounds provide us with a great surface area for both planting and water retention. Once the plants grow and their roots take hold, the structure, made of fragments of bricks, concrete and terra cotta, will only be made stronger with the roots of the herbs winding their way down through the soil, mulch and into the foundation structure. And the paisleys? They just look cool. Never underestimate the power of design and symbols to capture the minds of people just as much as concepts and ideas.

We have also finished planting the 3 Sisters bed. The corn is approximately 4 inches tall, which meant it was time to put the beans and squash in the ground. We planted 320 bean plants and about 100 squash plants. If the health and abundance of the corn is any sign, we should be in for heaps of beans and squash this summer. Check out a time lapse of the process here: Completing the 3 Sisters.

We also had some more herbs, flowers and squash go in the North and East Front Gardens thanks to our friends Nick and Alex who are working on their own endeavors inside the plant. Thanks guys!

We also discovered more growing efforts taking place right around the corner from us and just an hour and half away in Woodstock, IL.

At 1809 W. 51st St., the Nto-Otong Association - United Human Services Center, who have been running a food shelf since 2003, giving food to over 150 families and 1,000 people on Chicago's Southside every Tuesday, have started the first of a series of community gardens. They hope to grow lots of fruits and veggies to be able to give even more back to the community they inhabit. They're always looking for help with their wonderful efforts in the community.

In Woodstock, IL this past weekend, the beginnings of a community garden on an old Superfund site was started by the Environmental Defenders of McHenry County. They have big plans for the site including lots of produce, wetland revitalization, an on-site well and solar powered irrigation, all while incorporating the principles of permaculture, molding them for their specific location to get the most out of their land. Check out some of their ground break photos on flickr here.

Also check out the McHenry County Transition.

We'll leave you this time with some good words from the Environmental Defenders:

"One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself, 'What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?'" ~Rachel Carson

More On Permaculture: Gaia's Garden

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Onions and Carrots and Sprouts, Oh My!

The weather's finally gotten nicer. From Saturday afternoon to Sunday evening we went from raincoats and heavy jackets to shorts and t-shirts. (The clever, gear carrying ends we put those jackets to on the 8 mile bike ride home will be the subject of another post, so stay tuned).

With the nicer weather we've had plenty of planting to catch up on, as the rain delayed the delivery of soil, and what few sprouts were outside in the cold didn't do so hot. Nonetheless a hearty Basil Plant stood like a sentry over our Northeast bed on Saturday, and out we went to marshall her friends in orderly rows.

We'd learned our lessons from planting carrots about a week prior; hard soil and the hardware store seed grab-bag had combined to produce an anarchic array of carrots, despite our best efforts to clean up the rows. (Ok, maybe not our best, eventually we gave into the second law of thermodynamics and let the seeds fall randomly).

Saturday, however, was different. We inter-planted carrots, lettuce and onions together. The three are complementary in leaves and root structure: The tall, narrow onion stalks don't obstruct the sun too much, while the carrot tops shade the letuce a touch (hopefully keeping it from getting too hot and bolting). The root structures are similarly complementary; onions are bulbs, carrots tap-root like, and lettuce has diffuse roots. This little system, with the lettuce in between the carrots, allows us to plant more densely than sowing each plant in a separate bed.

It will be fun to compare the bed of scattered carrots to the ordered inter-planting. Maybe it will turn out the random method was good after all. Perhaps the random carrots will better shade, and therefore out-compete, the weeds. Only time will tell. (Read that ominously if you like, either Alan Rickman or little-house-on the prairi-drought-approaching style).

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

H20 & Some Foraging

So we've got a lot of stuff planted and are designing a simple drip-irrigation system so we can capture and store storm water, since its free (!) and it is the biggest infrastructure and environmental problem in America right now. Hopefully we can come up with and build a cool little system that we will be able to eventually share on here so you can do it at your house too, modifying to fit your needs of course.

In the meantime we are learning more about native plants and edibles by doing some foraging on the Northwest edge of the city in the Caldwell forest preserve. We hope to get up a foraging page with photos and information on forageable edibles in our area, and where you can share info on whats in your area too. In the meantime, here are some photos from the adventure: Urban Forage Adventure!

Here is the link for Nance Klehm's website 'Spontaneous Vegetation', which is loaded with info on many things. You can contact her to do some urban foraging yourself as she is an urban forager extraordinaire.

Now go find some plants and eat them! (But make sure they aren't poisonous first)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Planting Has Begun

On Tuesday May 17th, we planted our first stuff in the north garden. We got in 3 different varieties of carrots and some melons on the western edge of the bed. On Wednesday we got in some tomatoes, and on Thursday we planted 160 corn plants, of 2 different varieties. We will continue to plant more and more fruits, veggies and other plants to help turn the old parking lot from an expanse of gravel and trash into a space of sustainable permaculture, learning from our mistakes and letting you know what we learn, so you can experiment too.

Where we planted our carrots we learned that transferring ideas from paper to dirt is not always as straight forward and easy as we imagined it would be. We intended to plant carrots, onions and lettuce together in successive rows, as a companion planting. However what seemed like proper spacing on paper, just didn't turn out when we went to actually apply that to the garden. Now we are redesigning the other two 15 foot sections of that middle row of the north bed to properly fit what we want to experiment with there. Now we will have some trials in both companion planting and what we are now calling our "Carrot Chaos" bed, to see how the different varieties of carrots do in comparison to the ones that are planted along side the onions and the lettuce. Do the companion plantings really have a substantial advantage to an area of mono crop? Only time will tell!

Here are some good downloadable PDFs on companion planting from ATTRA, The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service: Companion Planting Downloads

Also, here are some time lapses of our planting and planting preparations:

3 Sisters Mound Building

First Planting
Midnight Melons
Candy Corn Plant

Monday, May 16, 2011


We just got our soil last week and have been feverishly spreading the dark, dense dirt across the beds we have been building. About to start planting this week, now that the chance of frost has dropped below 10%... though, we're not sure how much we trust that statistic given the weather we've been experiencing in Chicago even in this 3rd week of May. Here are a couple of drawings showing what we will be planting in two of the four beds we have designed and built. Any questions on why we are planting what we are, where we are? Or why certain plants will be inter-planted with each other? Fell free to email us at We'll also be posting more info on the process as we grow with it.

Fund Raising on Indie Gogo Up & on it's Way!

Hey all! We have our fund raising call on the website Indie Gogo up and on its way to the amount we need to make this whole experiment a reality. We already have some help from friends, family and members of the community and appreciate any help at all. In giving to our project you become a part of it, being a vital resource in both sharing what is going on and in information, which is the most important part of our garden and film adventures. Sharing the information helps people sustain themselves, the ones they love and the people in their community. Depending on what you give too, you'll receive a certain prize package, ranging from screen printed tote bags to photography lessons to helping to create the space our garden resides in. We wish to share this experience with as many people as possible. Lets make this happen together!

Thank you in advance for your interest and help.

To view our fundraising page go to this link: Haymarket Gardens

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Hello World!

This blog:

With this blog we plan to document the progress of our garden, making note of various mundane and unexpected difficulties with the hope of providing useful information to our readers, and maybe even offering a useful urban gardening template. (Though we are by no means so vain as to expect perfection. Thus the Open Source portion of our title).

Our first dilemma:

As we are attempting to apply principles of permaculture and local sustainability, we find ourselves running into the problems one usually encounters in applying universal notions to messy local circumstances: On the one hand there are plenty of resources on broad principles and exciting ideas, and on the other, lots of hyper-local bits of knowledge. We're looking for that sweet spot somewhere between the wonderful science of optimal nutrient balances , the great design principles of Eric Toensmeier , and the "here's what my really cool garden looks like!" blog. (Nothing wrong with any of those, by the way). Things like, "what are city policies on compost as waste", or "what are supposed to do with all this gravel in the driveway?" What are regulations and liabilities for pricing and selling vegetables? Found some good local companion plantings? Fun wild edibles? Good row sizes for gardens? While many of these are invariably local, we think they apply, generally, to the process of building an urban garden from scratch. (And if you're in Chicago, so much the better). As we're sharing the experience in "real time" hopefully you can learn from our mistakes as well as our successes. As we're always learning, we'd love your input. Let's start a conversation.

Our first tip?
Two great books we've been reading. (That navigate well the local/generalist divide).

The New Organic Grower
Gaia's Garden