This is what my veggie bed looks like on June 5, 2012..
I was lucky enough to score a plot with the Monarch Community Garden in Humboldt Park this year. I’m super excited to grow vegetables just a few blocks from the Thomas Street Garden, where I first started community gardening ten years ago this very summer. It’s a big year for me, as it was just last week that I graduated along with the 2012 class of Master Gardeners in Cook County. Amazingly, this is only the second year that I’ve attempted my own veggie plot. We have had vegetable beds in the Thomas Street Garden since at least 2005, but for the most part I’ve let others do the fun work while I did the heavy lifting — and I’m not speaking metaphorically. The last year that I grew vegetables was in 2010, and for a first attempt, I learned quite a lot that year. I’ve managed to pick up quite a lot more just by paying attention — to other gardeners, to all the podcasts and garden bloggers that I follow, and of course to my Master Gardener training. I’m excited to see what I manage to come up with this year, although I’m already wishing I’d rented at least twice as large of a plot.
I’ve got quite an assortment of plants started already. There are Red Wine sweet potatoes, obtained through the Chicago Honey Co-Op, and a Koch pepper which I purchased from the Garfield Park Conservatory. It’s their own hybrid variety, which is supposed to be both hot and sweet. One of my Master Gardener classmates set me up with my own marshmallow plant. Yes, there is such a thing, and I’m going to grow one! It’s a perennial medicinal plant, and the roots of the plant are where marshmallows originally came from. Another friend has some Green Zebra tomato starts which I have yet to get a hold of, and I’m filling in the rest of the bed with all sorts of assorted greens. You can see collards coming up in the back of the bed, and a few rows of radishes peeking out on the right. There’s a mosquito geranium tucked away in the corner — it’s supposed to keep the bugs away, but we’ll see whether it turns out to be hype. I started some bronze fennel from seeds which yet another Master Gardener gave me. That one is supposed to attract beneficial insects. I’m sort of curious what happens when you plant a mosquito repellent next to a plant which attracts bugs. The chocolate colored mulch you see on top of the bed is just that — cocoa shell mulch which I picked up this afternoon at Christy Webber Farm & Garden Center. I don’t even know if this is going to be the best idea, but I just couldn’t pass up a bag of mulch that smelled like chocolate. I’ve also planted chocolate flowers, Berlandiera lyrata, as a decorative border outside the vegetable bed, but those seeds are very slow to germinate. There’s Thai basil sown in there somewhere and cilantro seeds as well. I’ll have to make sure to plant some chamomile so that all of this year’s One Seed Chicago nominees are represented!
There’s one more thing I want to mention here, just because I feel like bragging. I built my bed frame out of pine boards with a hammer, some nails, and my steel-toed boots, and eyeballed it for square and level because I felt I ought to be good enough to build a vegetable bed without using measuring tools. Fifteen years of being a carpenter, and all. Just because I wanted to see how good I was, I borrowed another gardener’s tape measure after I’d filled my bed in with soil and checked it for square. Had I built the frame in the shop out of the finest hardwoods, it would not have been any more square. Exactly perfect. That is how it turned out. It hardly matters, as it’s only a vegetable bed, made from untreated pine which has been filled in with wet soil, and has already warped and twisted itself into a more relaxed configuration, but I was very pleased to find out what I’m capable of when I hardly even try. Hopefully it will be an omen for the success I’ll have growing tomatoes and other tasty green things this summer.