Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Whoa-- Where did summer go??

Wow did summer fly by me! There is something about all that sunshine that deters me from going to the gym and updating my blog- woopsy. But as the season is winding down I wanted to give an update on how things are going here in my urban oasis.

I received permission from our apartment management to put a few pots in our courtyard. After all those seeds I started I just couldn't pass up on this one really sun shiny corner of the yard that was just begging for me to "PLEASE! grow veggies here!!". Unfortunately, our spring was really odd this year. We had nights dipping into the 40's all through May, which means I couldn't put my peppers and tomatoes out until almost the first of June, which is too late to be ideal. Because my plants were a little behind they ended up flowering right in the middle of the worst heat wave we have had since I moved here. I only have ONE pepper flower that lived through it and grew to normal size. I'm talking about like at least 10 days in a row of 90+ temperatures and nights hovering in the high 80's. For my plants it was just too hot and they ended up dropping a lot of their flowers, which means the flowers never get a chance to turn into fruit. I think if they had been out a few weeks earlier, and had already developed their fruit, that they wouldn't have been so badly impacted by the lasting heat, but Mother Nature does and Mother Nature pleases... Anyhow, about 2 weeks ago my pepper plants started a new round of flowering, and because the temperatures have cooled off, the flowers have successfully budded into fruit! Now it's a race against the clock to see if they will have enough warm days left to grow to maturity. I really hope so!

My one successful pepper so far this year.
Tell me this thing doesn't make you want to sing
"Chilies! Baaaby back ribs!"

I am out there everyday inspecting my plants to see if they are growing, and it looks like they are really taking off. It also seems like some sort of bug is biting me while i'm poking around over there... Not very fun, but totally worth it lol. Do black ants with wings bite or sting? Speaking of weird bugs-- Has anybody seen the "Cicada killing wasps" that are flying around this year??? Holy Giant Man Eating Bugs Batman!! These babies are like 2 inches long and fly RIGHT AT MY HEAD every time i'm out there. Word from my mom is that they don't sting and are actually very docile, but they still really freak me out. And, I really don't appreciate them killing all of our Cicada bugs, because now my courtyard at night is quiet and not filled with the romantic late summer sounds of the Cicada bugs. What is worse than the silence is that some new bug (maybe the wasps??) is making this really eerie clicking/rattling sound that grosses me out and makes me feel like there are bugs in the house. This wouldn't matter so much if not for the fact that I live on the 3rd floor of my apartment building, directly in line with the branches of the tree in our courtyard. The branches are only like 2 feet from my windows, so whatever is going on in there feels like its IN the living room with me. For some interesting information about these wasps check out these links---

Chicago Tribune -- if you are looking for a good overview for whether or not these are dangerous and what to do about them. Maybe these bugs are old news to other people, but it's the first time I've seen them here in Oak Park.

And thank you to Cicada Hunt for posting this picture of the Cicada Killer Wasp.

And this is just to get the picture of those wasps out of your head...
you can thank my neighbors for growing this beauty!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Urban Forest

One of the many reasons I love my neighborhood is because of all the trees & greenery. Oak Park considers itself an "Urban Forest" and lives up to that title as you can see from the photos below. The trees are planted so thickly on every block that you can't see most of the houses, or in the photo below, the train tracks at the end of the road. I feel like it really creates a peaceful and beautiful respite from the noise and chaos of downtown Chicago. Working downtown every day makes me especially thankful for having such a beautiful place to come home.

Around the Neighborhood

I was inspired while walking the dog to take some pictures of all the beautiful plants that are really starting to take off now that we are having consistently warmer temperatures. The big summer flowers are starting to fill in and the early spring colors are dying out.

Oh the lowly shrub... How under appreciated you are!
Check out that snazzy lime green new growth coming off this thing!
This time of year these actually look pretty cool.

Pretty flowering tree in my courtyard.

I wasn't sure if this purple flower was a part of
the white plant, but it sure makes for pretty contrast.

This persons yard is all English Cottage...

The leaf on this hasta is like 18" across! I could wear it as a shirt or
maybe under wear ala the garden of eden.... lol

So Pretty!

And check out this guy! Very Fancy!

And Pace, looking very angelic. Don't be fooled!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Big Planting Day!!

Today was very exciting! The weather was aaaaaamazing & I had the day off work, which can only mean one thing.....

Planting Day has arrived!!!!

It was around 80* today and sunny so Will & I headed out to Gethsemane Garden Center to pick out flowers for my empty lonely flower beds. I am really happy that we decided to head up to the north side and visit a local garden supply center rather than going with Lowes this year. I think Lowes has a lot to offer, and I generally like the store, but when I have the option of supporting a small local business it feels good to do so. Gethsemane's was awesome. The store is all outdoors and is organized into subcategories. There was a whole section on statuary that was like walking right into The Secret Garden. We browsed through the perennial section but didn't find many plants that looked like they would grow well in little window boxes. I ended up getting all of my flowers from the annual section. I love the variety that comes with annuals, and the low-risk in case one doesn't work out or ends up diseased. For example, last year my impatiens all ended up with some sort of weird mold problem, but since impatiens are annuals and don't grow back on their own every year, I don't have to worry about dealing with this problem again. However, perennials are a great value because you only have to buy them once, and it is fun in the early spring to peak your head out and see if anything is coming back to life yet. Watching my fern and clematis turn from brown nothing to green something was exciting this spring. But anyways, with out further ado let me introduce you to my new summer line up!

Mystery Flower!!
The plant tag fell off of this one and
I can't remember what it is called... Any one know??
It smells really wonderful and the flowers are teeny tiny.

A view of those together in their box.
Box also includes a 'Valentine Rose' Begonia,
another Coleus, and Goldilocks Lysimachia

This is my Carnaby Clematis, Wizard Rose Coleus,
and Valentine Rose Begonia

The middle box is a pink theme with Valentine Rose Begonia

This thing is crazy pink.
It reminds me of those fake plants you put in a fish tank haha.
I haven't decided yet if I think it's tacky or if I like it.
All I know if I couldn't resist it's hot pink temptation for my dark and shady garden...

Look at my poor Japanese Painted Fern... stuck with the ladies this year!
He will bring some calming vibes to my vibrant center window box.

This is a Charmed Velvet Shamrock!
I dedicate this adorable Irish beauty to me Mum!
When the sun isn't shining on it, it's actually deep purple and
when the leaves open into full maturity
they look just like four leaf clovers.
Each clover is about the size of a silver dollar.

More Wizard Rose Coleus

And Goldilocks Lysimachia, which I'm hoping will
eventually drape over the edges of the box

Coleus who's variety is unknown... this tag must be off with
that mystery purple flower....

The whole gang...

I think that today is one of the best days I will have with my garden because everything is healthy and brand new. Soon the aphids, mold, and birds will find my plants and create my next blog entry :)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

By these photos you'd think it was warm out...

Yesterday morning was gorgeous out! Silly me, I thought we were in for a beautiful day. Shortly after taking these pictures though it clouded completely up and dropped like 10 degrees. I think we maxed out at like 48 degrees. Oh well... maybe today will be better!

My fern looks a little rough right now as it starts to fill in for the summer, but in a few weeks it will be beautiful! I always think its weird how the new growth uncurls from the bottom.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Whats blooming in the neighborhood?

All over the neighborhood new & beautiful things are starting to bloom! Here are some pictures I took this week:

I noticed this pretty tree while walking Pace...

Pace wanted a sniff!

This picture is from when we first got him 3 years ago.
I guess he has a thing for sniffing flowers :)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

False Tarragon Conspiracy!

Much to my dismay I recently discovered that I had been sold Russian Tarragon. I was suspicious of my tarragon because I noticed that unlike my basil and chives, which had flavor from the time they were wee little sprouts, my tarragon tasted like nothing at all. I thought maybe it just needed some time to grow, so for the last several weeks I have nurtured and loved it along with my other plants. When it was about 5 inches tall and still had no flavor I started to get suspicious & turned to google for answers. This is where I discovered that there are two types of tarragon. The one we all know and love, French Tarragon, is a very finicky plant and does not seed or reproduce well. However, its flavorless but visually identical cousin, Russian Tarragon, seeds like a weed. So, when you buy seed packets of Tarragon, 99% of the time it's the wrong variety. Burpee doesn't care that it's selling you a weed, it's just happy to turn a profit. So this is my warning to anyone hoping to grow this herb at home. Only buy transplants, not seeds. Before you buy the transplant, tear a piece of the leaf off and taste it! If it tastes like nothing, don't buy it! My beautiful well loved little weeds ended up in the garbage. So sad.

RIP Russian Tarragon

Possible Edema on Tomatoes

I am having an unusual issue with some of my tomato plants. I have noticed some small spots showing up on the leaves that look like tiny blisters. After a few days the blisters get more numerous and eventually the leaf gets dry & crunchy and falls off. This problem seems to be specific to certain varieties of my tomatoes, and although they are all growing in close proximity it is not spreading. My first worry was that I had Septoria leaf spot or something similar to that, but when I started googling images of that it didn't look the same. I eventually found my way to some postings about Edema. In short, this is caused when the roots take up more water than the leaves can use, causing blisters on the leaves.

The most common cause of edema is the presence of abundant, warm soil water and a cool, moist atmosphere. Under these conditions the roots absorb water at a rate faster than is lost through transpiration. Excess water accumulates in the leaf, some parenchyma cells enlarge and block the stomatal openings through which water vapor is normally released from the plant; thereby contributing to further water retention in the leaf. If this condition persists, the enlarged cells divide, differentiate a cork cambium, and develop elongate cork cells externally to form a periderm. The rupture of the epidermis by the enlarged inner cells and the periderm account for the raised, crusty appearance of older edema spots."
Plant Pathology Extension of North Carolina State University

So I have tried to cut back on my watering in hopes that things will get better. I also need to increase the amount of airflow around the plants. Now I am trying to find a medium between dry wilted plants and over watering... Wish me luck!

Can you see the small white spots?
The leaves at the tip have been more severely effected
and have started to dry out and curl.
Eventually they will fall off.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Seed Starting

Today I started some seeds for the community garden that Jody and I will be starting this summer. I planted some basil, tarragon, and chives. Tomorrow I will get my tomatoes, melons, and peppers started.

My set up is limited because our apartment is so small, but where there's a will there's a way!

This window is south facing, and I was able to clip on that little light, so I really hope it will be enough to get some transplants going.

My BGFF Kendra introduced me to these little peat pellets. Thanks Kendra! These were super easy.

I am also going to direct sow a few of these seeds just to see what happens. Maybe I will get lucky and they will grow okay without being started indoors first. I will run a little trial of transplants vs. direct sow and see what differences there are.

My first sprouts should be up in about a week, so check back soon!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Wonderful Worms

Worm Composting 101

Worm humus is the end-product of the breakdown of organic matter by Eisenia fetida Vermicompost is a nutrient-rich, natural fertilizer and soil conditioner. The process of producing vermicompost is called vermicomposting .

My WCFFL (worm-composting-friend-for-life, duh) Kendra and I set out last week with the plan of starting worm compost bins for her NHNG (New-House/New-Garden) and my NHPG (No-House/Porch-Garden... get with it guys) and the ultimate goal of WPCoLTGH (worm-poop-circle-of-life-total-garden-happiness!) On 2/24 our worms came in the mail! Kendra ordered our worms from Uncle Jims Worm Farm and I give them a thumbs up for fast delivery and for all of the worms still being alive when we opened them up. Way to go Uncle Jim! It is important to get your worms into their new home ASAP so without further delay we dove into the process of setting up our worm bins. The steps are as follows:

Order the right worms. You will need Red Wrigglers, not earth worms from your garden. Our worms arrived in an adorable and totally random tiny white fire hydrant....

You will need to set up the worm boxes before you bust those worms out of their tiny mobile hotel room. Start with about a 10 gallon opaque Tupperware bin. You could spend lots of money on a fancy worm bin but it isn't totally necessary for the average home gardener. Drill air holes in your bin, no larger than 1/4th on an inch. We put maybe 30 holes? Then fill your bin with torn up news paper.

Next, you will need to thoroughly wet down the news paper. It should feel uniformly like a wrung out sponge. Damp, but not dripping. Moist enough for worms to slide through without dry spots they will get stuck in.

Next add some food scraps. This can be things like banana peels, apple cores, broccoli stems, wilted lettuce, etc. Almost any fruit/veggie is fine. We used expired portabella mushrooms, stale bread, and some cooked rice. DO NOT put meat, dairy, spicy, or citrus foods in your bin.

Next you need to add a small scoop of garden soil to the bin to help the worms grind and digest their food.

Here comes the fun part!


Each bin should get about 1lb of worms.

Don't leave any stuck to the bag!

Now give the soil a good soaking. Ours were packaged in extra dry peat that needed to be rehydrated.

Once they are moist go ahead and cover them with the newspaper.

Ta-Da!! Now you have a worm bin! In a few weeks I'll be sprinkling compost in my NHPG with my WCFFL! :)