Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Working in a community Garden again!

2015 Community Garden plot
In 2015 we moved from our apartment to a house and when we changed communities we had to give up our community garden.  I did put in raised beds in our yard so if you want to see the gardens from the 2016 season, check out my other blog where I posted an update each month:


2016 backyard raised beds
In 2017 however, the village of Villa Park where we now live, is putting in Community Gardens for the first time and the garden club that I belong to is in Villa Park so we are putting in a demonstration plot where we will try techniques and illustrate ideas for other gardeners.  I thought it would be great to document that community garden here.  So follow us in the 2017 season as the Garden Club of Villa Park works in its community garden.  I hope to interview other community gardeners in the plots and see what there experiences are as well.

We will be doing gardening lectures at the Villa Park Library all summer, so I will post information from those lectures and other related information too!

Stay tuned in the next month for plant suggestions, recipes and other things to get you into the gardening spirit.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Watering Plants for Healthy Growth - or what to do if you are not flooding

As I pointed out it rained after I put the plants into the "other Community Garden."  Then it rained the next day and the next, and the next, then on July 15 we received a storm that exceeded the average rainfall for the month.

This week we received 7 to 8 inches of rain.  Five inches fell on June 15.  The locally heavy storm flooded streets where I live so badly it actually made the national news and was mentioned on NPR, most probably because the rain was worst between 4:45 and 5:15 in the midst of rush hour.  Being a Chicago suburb this resulted in stranded motorists on the local freeway.
lots of streets in Elmhurst looked like this.
Last year we had a similar hard rain event, but then it came in late July and was followed by several other heavy rains that eventually resulted in our growing season ending early.

That white sign in the middle  is on the underpass, normally  15 feet from the street, seen here filled with water.
This month at O’Hare Airport  there has been 4.36 inches of rain as of 6/16/15, the average rainfall in the month of June is 3.5 inches, so we are halfway through the month and have exceeded the rainfall for the month and with Tropical storm Bill hitting Texas this week we can expect more rain next week and storms are already predicted for Thursday.
East End Park (near garden plots)
I have not been to the garden.  The roads leading to it were closed this week (Have I mentioned that the City wanted to turn the area around the gardens into flood retention as it already floods terribly?) I suspect there is still some standing water on the gardens, but I guess I do not want to know.  The photo above was taken at the park near the garden plots.

With all this extra water, we have not had to figure out if our hose reaches far enough to allow us to easily water the garden.  We’ve never hooked it up.  But not everyone is having this excess, so I thought I would take a moment to speak about how and when to water your garden. There are a range of factors which determine the best way to water each plant.

Watering your Garden

The Old Farmers Almanac, part of growveg.com, has a short, sweet, informative video on watering your garden. 

Here are the highlights:
You want to encourage plants to produce deeper roots that will seek out water deeper in the soil, however frequent watering causes plants to create shallow roots which are more affected by dry spells. Thorough watering once a week is better than shallow watering every two days.

Seedlings need more water until they can produce their own root systems.

Squashes, cucumbers, beans and peas need a bit more water when they are producing flowers and fruits.
Root vegetable crops like parsnips and carrots need less water as they are the tap root.

Water close to the ground trying to avoid wetting the foliage as this promotes disease.

Never water in the middle of the day as much of the water will quickly evaporate.

Do not be fooled by the dry surface.  Grab a trowel and dig into the soil to see if it is actually wet underneath.  If the soil near the roots still clumps when you squeeze it, put off watering for another day.
Drip irrigation is always best for a garden, but in a community garden this is usually not possible, so instead try deep watering containers

Plastic one pint milk bottles or dry drink mix containers from Aldi make great long time waterers if you poke holes in the bottom and bury them in the ground near plants.  Filled with water, they will slowly drip down into the soil by the roots of plants rather than watering at the surface.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Garden Addition - Another Community

We ran out of room in our Elmhurst Community Patch and after visiting the Community Garden Fest in Berkeley I decided to get a patch there.  The patches are smaller 5 feet by 15 feet and cost less, but the community feel is much larger.  I will share some details of the garden in future posts or you can check out the Garden Fest Post.

I was able to plant the garden on Thursday, June 11 around 4:30.  We went over on Sunday, but the rain the day before made it too muddy, so we did not want to risk compacting the soil. Today we are going to have more heavy rain, so after work I hurried over with a selection of plants and got them into the ground.  When it rains later they will get a nice drink and hopefully will not be beaten into the ground.

not planted

My patch is on the end of a section with about 7 other patches going off to the left.  The water at this location is in rain barrels and I believe the Village of Berkeley takes care of filling them when it doesn't rain.


I did not have room for the three dahlias I got from the Garden Club and last year they did not bloom due to competition, so I brought those over and planted them at the south end of the garden.  I made two hills for squash, then I plated Kohlrabi, broccoli, and a few herbs.

There is really no more room here, but I have one tomato plant left and I may bring that over to try and fit it in.

The soil has a good amount of compost and a nice dark richness, however there is a high concentration of clay.  You can see in the image of the soil by one of the holes for the kohlrabi.

Kohlrabi is a cool season plant and it may bee too late to get a good crop from it as the days have turned rather hot, but I think they will be okay until July and we will see about harvesting the roots (like a turnip) and maybe also the leaves for a salad.

Here are the dahlias, three different varieties three different colors, but they are pinkish, I think.  I have the names but will have to look them up again to know for certain.

I planted an oregano, a common sage, some chives and flat leaf parsley.  I just could not have a garden with no herbs in it, so I chose a few duplicates.

Chives                                                   Oregano                                               Parsley                              
My only fear is that as I pulled up to plant there was a bunny running through the yard toward the back, so I may lose the parsley.

It will be interesting to see how this garden fares versus the one in Elmhurst.  I will continue to post a weekly update and if I need to another day of the week to update the second garden.  However, the second garden is between the Elmhurst garden and my apartment, so I can stop at both on the same day with out too much trouble.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Weekly Update - June 8, 2015

The excessive rain has destroyed the plan.  We did not have the ability to craft the different raised beds we wanted.  We are just trying to get the plants into the ground so they do not get root bound and die on the porch.  When the rain let up for several days this week allowing the soil to dry enough to plan, so we got up early Sunday morning to go out to the Garden and plant the herbs.

We left the south side of the garden for herbs when planting last week. We checked the weather when we got up at 6 am and it said the rain was going in but not until 10 AM, so we loaded up the plants and went over getting to the garden around 6:45 AM.

We had to remove the weeds from the garden space as we did not weed this section previously.  We used the soil twister to pull out the larger weeds and loosen them so they could be easily raked out.  It was not that time consuming.

Since I want to be able to lift out some of herbs from the garden at the end of the season, I decided to bury plastic containers and place the plants inside.  They can grow in the container, yet still be removed at the end of the year, reducing the root shock which killed the herbs I removed from the garden last year.

I used plastic cat litter containers.  They are thin flexible plastic, easily cut with a box cutter.  We made them deep for all but the thyme plants which we cut the container slight more shallow for.  We cut holes in the bottom for drainage.

I then dug out the dirt in various holes slightly larger but not deeper than the containers.

Placing the container in the ground I packed dirt around it, then filled it part way and added the plants.  We added water before and after plating the plants.

The spaces we planted back in May had a fair amount of weeds, that were in some cases taller than the plants.  It had been two weeks since we had been there, so this was to be expected.

The excessive rain was not loved by all the plants and resulted in one plant death. These are the cucumber plants.  I have yet to plant any bean seeds, but I will take care of that this week.

 The peppers are doing okay, but the hot peppers that had a few peppers forming have lost those peppers, probably again a product of the extra rain.

Hot pepper with damaged fruit

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Planting Tomatoes and Peppers

We used the same method for planting both the tomatoes and peppers. We did not grow the plants from seed, rather we bought seedlings at a plant sale at the beginning of May.  As someone who lives in an apartment I do not start plants from seed indoors.

The Technique

The best way to plant vegetables is first to lay them out with the proper spacing.  Tomatoes need between 18 ans 24 inches of space.  Peppers need only 18 to 20 inches of space around the plants.


A hole is dug twice as large and twice as deep as the root ball of the plant.  I fill the hole with water and allow it to percolate into the soil, This tells me if the soil drains well and also wets the soil so that the root is not dried out when buried.

Before placing the plant in the hole I toss in a handful of compost to give the plant a bit of a boost to off set the shock of being planted.  The finally the plant is placed in the hole and the soil firmed around the plant.  It is then water thoroughly.

Once all the plants were planted I gave them a top dressing of more compost.

We could have waited a couple of weeks to put up the cages, as the plants hardly need them now, but we decided to just stake and cage them now in case we had warm nights that would cause rapid growth.

We would have watered them one more time before leaving the garden, but rain was predicted that night so we did not.  Good thing, as it rained for several hours that night.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Planted Community Garden - Sunday May 24, 2015

This year we suffered from over-purchase syndrome.  That affliction where you buy more plants than will fit in your space.  That linked with the fact the plot at the end is actually smaller than it is supposed to be, something I had not planned for, made our original plan will not work out quite right.

Here is the plot, a bit weedy due to the fact we did not come out until May 24, due to the days of rain. We first removed the grass and used the hand tiller to break up the soil and remove the large weeds from the garden edge.

You can see the hand tiller to the left in this picture.  It is a pole with three curved claws at the bottom.  You place it in the ground and twist and it brings out weeds and breaks up soil.  You can see the original plan I posted back on May. I put in the paths and measured off the garden and that was when I discovered the the plan was not going to work.

We were not able to put in three long beds and two short, instead we got two long beds on the sides and three short beds down the middle  We planted tomatoes in one long bed as planned but it was shorter than it should have been so all the plants did not fit and we had to put the plants a bit closer together.

We purchased too many peppers and planted them into two beds leaving us with only one small bed for everything else and one long bed for the herbs.  I think I am going to have to sacrifice at least part of the herb bed for more vegetables, as the kohlrabi, broccoli, beans and squash cannot possibly fit in the last bed.  We lost the time for growing lettuce because of the heavy rains in May so we will try that experiment later in the season.

I will be growing some of the herbs in containers and will be planting onions and shallots in between the peppers. I will need to wait until the first week of June as it rained for five days straight starting with the evening of the day we planted these plants.  That rain and the effect of cold weather on the plants will be covered next week.

Why to get or use a Community Garden or a Patio Garden?

This year the drought in California is becoming acute.  80% of the water in California is used for agriculture.  That means if the shortages continue, our food prices for produce, almonds, strawberries, citrus and vegetables will continue to increase.  We cannot do anything about some food which we cannot grow easily in the Midwest, but there is no reason we cannot grow vegetables and herbs for our own use and perhaps enough surplus to can and preserve for winter use.

In fact it is possible that even if we are just buying produce from local farmers at the farmer’s market we can extend our food budget and improve the quality of our daily meals.  This blog will give recipes for using and preserving your produce as well as ideas for growing your own food, even if it is only one plant in a pot on the patio.

Let’s start with patio containers

If you want a quick garden use a container.  You can use any size container and just about anything as the container.  Some people with an outdoor patio use a half barrel.

Herbs in a cement container
Others use a wash tub or terracotta pots or other decorative containers one can get at the hardware store or home center. However you can also use coffee cans, milk cartons, salvaged containers that were never originally intended to be used for gardening.

Strawberry Pot
One of the best containers to use for herbs if you are short on space is a strawberry planter.  You can find these at your local gardening center. They are usually made of terra cotta and have many small openings around the sides for your smaller herbs. You can plant the larger herbs at the top.

It is possible to keep an entire culinary herb garden conveniently located right outside your door in one strawberry planter. Some good choices of herbs for this would be: oregano, thyme, curly parsley, lemon verbena, chives, and basil.

The key with any container is a good potting soil and great drainage.  Before adding soil to your chosen container, you will need to provide a layer of rocks, gravel or Styrofoam pellets to the bottom quarter of the container to help with the drainage process. Broken chips from terra cotta pots also work nicely for this. If you are planning on bringing an outdoor container of herbs indoors during the winter months, I would suggest the use of the Styrofoam pellets to keep the weight down.

Use a good quality potting soil mix to fill your container to within two inches from the top to allow plenty of space for watering. Few herbs require a large amount of fertilization, but nearly all vegetables will require some fertilizer during the growing season, especially if kept in pots.

Keep your container garden well-watered, as they will dry out more rapidly than those that have been planted directly into the garden.

raised beds
Having a Garden Plot

Many communities have plots available for rental and sometimes even for free or for volunteer service. Near me there are garden plots available from the Elmhurst Park District, which is where I rent mine.  In nearby Berkeley, IL they just started a Community Garden Club in 2013. They rent plots and offer information for beginning gardeners.  I found a listing on the DuPage County website pulled together for the Cool Cities Initiative that lists all the public gardens and the rent-able plots in the county.  You can find it HERE.

The nice thing about a community plot is you have a set space, prepared soil and access to water most of the time. The bad thing about a community garden is that the soil can be depleted and the instance of diseases can be increased. But for those like me, who live in an apartment or a condo it is a great place to grow vegetables when you only have a small patio space.

In some cases community gardens are just prepared soil and in other cases they are raised beds.

Elmhurst Garden Plots
These are the Elmhurst plots, three rows about 300 feet long, each 20 feet wide with two shorter rows at the far end of this picture about  100 feet long, again 20 feet wide. They have grass inbetween the rows and two well attachment areas.

This is a raised bed garden in Sheboygan, WI built into a small corner lot that has a strong slope.  Populated with several raised beds, it takes advantage of the land in ways not much else could.  They have water and a tool box provided.  There are two compost bins making soil from last years leavings  I was amused, rather than numbering the beds, they named them after flowers, like bluebell, lily, etc.

Raised bed garden
 You can tell they are allowed to keep the same plots year after year and unlike Elmhurst, where nothing can remain from one season to another, they have customized them with art and perennial plantings.  These photos were taken in May so not many new plants have been added as it was too early.

Compost bins

water and tool chest and benches
These small bins no more than 8 feet by 4 feet.  Enough for a a dozen plants which can produce produce for a small family easily and not require too much work.  We also found other rented plots in Sheboygan with slightly larger spaces.  Fenced and also including a compost bin.  That is something lacking at our gardens in Elmhurst.