CityDiggity

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Archive for Heirloom tomatoes

Progress report: Hey, there’s actual progress to report!

DSC00467DSC00466DSC00471The 4th of July was the kind of day every garden needs — to my mind, at least once a week or so. It rained all day, not a hard, raucous rain, but a soft and gentle one. A rain that caressed the plants — from leaf to root — encouraging them to new heights.

And, of course, it gave the weary container gardener a day’s reprieve from having to hoist the watering vessel.

By Sunday morning the rain was a misty memory, and by the afternoon I was able to get out on the balcony and take advantage of the last day of the three-day hiatus from workers doing their best Spider-man impressions on the south face of our building.

I surveyed the planters and pots and took stock of what needed to be done to fill in the thin spots. I think I’ve mentioned before that I had extra plants in a flat that I held on to in case I needed to replace Read the rest of this entry »

Plants – and temperatures – go from one extreme to another

DSC00437Downtown Chicago’s weather went from zero to 60 seemingly overnight. Or, more accurately, from 60 to 90 — degrees that is. A great time to get my plants back outside, right?

Not necessarily… While sun and heat would appear to be the perfect prescription for perking up plants that had been sentenced to home confinement for days on end, it proved too much of a good thing for some. Here’s a recap:

On the upside, despite their time indoors (after work to the facade of my building forced me to clear my balcony garden), my flowering plants boxes still looked pretty good. [The lobelia pictured is a prime example.]

But, my herb/edibles planters were a different story. The marigold foliage had gone from bright Read the rest of this entry »

Make no small plans: use time inside to enhance time outside

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Lantana is one of the ready and waiting small plants I've bought to go in my balcony boxes.

My sprouts and plants are lined up like soldiers next to the balcony sliders, my cat has taken to staring wistfully through the glass while making his little bird sounds, and the empty terra cotta pots outside are stacked and waiting to fulfill their destiny. But Zone Five summers won’t be rushed, despite the impatient champing at the bit to shift into full garden mode.

Birds shouldn't get to have all the outdoor fun

When the bird sounds start, summer is on the way.

With the sunshine battling the chilly air and bouts of icy rain for dominance, we won’t get the green thumbs up until total victory over the fluctuating elements is claimed in this seasonal smackdown.

Of course, when you don’t have California weather, a good portion of your garden work is spent California dreaming — better known here as Read the rest of this entry »

Mother of all cleanup days: time for dirty job that has to be done

You can only put off cleanup day in the garden for so long before it has to be done.

You can only put off garden cleanup for so long before the day of reckoning arrives.

Those of you in warmer climes probably spent Mother’s Day Sunday winding down colorful garden paths and smelling the early roses, while here on Planet Chicago I tackled the dirty job of cleaning up the debris from last year’s garden.

I promise the garden duck and bird will stand upright when cleanup is done.

I promise the wooden duck and bird will stand proud again.

I know, many people choose to pull out the old plants in late fall, but for me it’s a pretty sad process at that time, since there always are a few flowers struggling to live on — if but for scant days more. I just can’t bear to deprive them of their extended moment of defiance. Cleaning up now, when I know the best Read the rest of this entry »

Four dollars and a dream: is a windowsill lettuce crop possible?

I'm hoping that this lettuce will survive and thrive on my condo windowsill.

Here's hoping this leaf lettuce will survive and thrive on the windowsill of my Chicago condo.

We’ve talked about growing heirloom tomatoes as an entree into recession gardening, well, now dare we dream of cultivating a companion crop of lettuce, too?

I recently read somewhere in cyberspace that it was relatively easy to grow lettuce on your windowsill — and to keep it going! And while I always assumed lettuce required lots of space, who am I to argue with the Worldwide Web.

So today, when glancing at the plant offerings on flats outside my local grocery store I stopped and took notice of the lovely cell packs of lettuce and thought: I have an empty windowsill, so why not Read the rest of this entry »

It’s showtime: pellets and seeds today, tomatoes tomorrow

Peat pellets expand in minutes, so it's not quite like watching paint dry. (See slideshow below.)

Peat pellets expand in minutes, so it's not quite like watching paint dry. (See slideshow below.)

They don’t look like much right now, but the small peat purses I’ve tucked safely away in a mini-greenhouse will, with a few seeds and a little luck, produce a bounty of heirloom tomatoes by mid-summer.

I finally chose four seed varieties to join my two stars (black plum and sun-sugar hybrid) in this year’s garden. Yes, I know I said I was only planting four or five heirlooms total, but I was so intrigued by my options that I decided to try and squeeze in an extra pot. So, drum roll please . . . Read the rest of this entry »

Herbs bring on the freshness – and everyone has a favorite

I get a little crazy when it comes to basil, note the pot of the purple variety (top).

I get a little crazy when it comes to my basil (note the pot of the purple variety, top).

I once extended a hand in greeting when making an acquaintance, only to be rebuked by the suspect non sequitur, “Sorry, I have pickle juice on my hand.” Well, it turns out it wasn’t a case of closeted O.C.D., it was just that the gent in question was serious about his dill. He actually made his own pickles, and, indeed, had pickle juice on his hands!

And while I plant dill for use in salads, dips and, of course, to season salmon, I don’t quite share his level of affection for the herb. Basil, however, is Read the rest of this entry »

The ‘recession garden’ and home-grown tomatoes

A black plum heirloom tomato plant just beginning to fruit a couple summers back.

A black plum heirloom tomato plant just beginning to fruit a couple summers back.

As you’ve doubtless surmised, I’m absolutely passionate about my heirloom tomatoes. What began as a lark and later became a hobby, has blossomed into a full-on obsession. So, when a friend drew my attention to the CNN Web site’s “recession gardens” report, I figured now was the perfect time to pull out my soapbox and extol the virtues of home-grown tomatoes.

The gist of the CNN article is that the recession (and possibly First Lady Michelle Obama) is encouraging an increasing number of Americans to make use of their personal green space to grow Read the rest of this entry »

Picking flowers, part 2: respect your space

A zip tie kept this black plum heirloom tomato secure.

I use zip ties to fasten the metal hoops of my black plum heirloom tomatoes to the railing.

“To thine own ‘exposure’ be true.” Not exactly Shakespeare, but if you follow these simple words when choosing your plants I guarantee you will achieve some level of success in your garden. That means if you have partial shade, don’t pick flowers that need full sun to thrive — no matter how pretty they look on the rack at the nursery.We can extend this concept to mean respecting the complete range of variables that impact your garden.

For instance, my unprotected balcony is in direct sun, which means things can grow pretty quickly but it also means that if I skip watering for even a Read the rest of this entry »

Picking flowers, part 1: decisions, decisions, decisions

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Mixing heights adds dimension.

When I started my first balcony garden several seasons back I admit there was very little method to my madness. I raided the local nursery, home improvement store, grocery store — pretty much any sidewalk that boasted eye-catching plants for sale.

And though I’m still not completely invulnerable to impulse purchases, I am a little more deliberate in my selections. I typically choose a color scheme to work from ahead of time; most of what I pick are annuals (perennials generally don’t flower in the first season and they don’t usually survive Chicago’s Read the rest of this entry »