At Chicago Gateway Green we are dreaming of Springtime! We are looking forward to warmer weather when our Expressway Gardens, Tree Planting and Community Clean-Up programs will be in full effect to create a greener Chicago. In looking forward to Spring we sat down with “The Organic Gardener” and learned about how to create our own organic gardens in Chicago.
View our full interview below:
1. What is the Organic Gardener?
The Organic Gardener Ltd. (TOG) creates beautiful and productive organic edible gardens. TOG has several gardens in the city ranging from small-scale urban rooftops to the expansive space of The Edible Gardens at the Lincoln Park Zoo.
2. What advice would you give to a novice gardener trying to create a garden at home?
I would say gardening is all about experimenting. It’s meant to be an enjoyable experience. If you are doing it yourself, then you might want to think about starting small and building on success. Here are some of my tips for planning a garden:
- Before you even plant a seed, make sure your potential garden spot has plenty of sunlight, at least six hours.
- Plants also need a lot of room to root, so aim for twelve to eighteen inches of well-aerated soil.
- Create paths to prevent soil compaction and for easy harvesting.
- Unless you are growing on a rooftop, you need fencing to keep rabbits and deer away from your vegetables (even in a very urban environment!). You can create a beautiful, productive garden, and not get a bite of it because of grazing by rabbits and deer.
- Install simple irrigation. Drip-line tubing can help you save time and water resources.
One of the best ways to choose seeds is to grow what you really like to eat. However, if you are having trouble putting together a crop list, these 10 vegetables are great for novices: arugula and lettuce, beans, beets, broccoli, carrots, cucumbers, greens (kale, collards, Swiss chard), peas, potatoes, and tomatoes.
3. When is the best time to start growing a garden in Chicago?
How early you plant your garden depends on the hardiness of the crops you want to grow. You can plant your cool-season spring crops like spinach, beets, carrots, peas, and lettuce at the beginning of April. At the start of June, once the danger of frost has long since passed and the soil has fully warmed up, then you can plant your hot weather crops like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant (which will need to be started indoors or purchased from a nursery).
4. What are the three most important items for new gardeners to have?
New gardeners should invest in these three items: 1) a good set of hand tools, which may include a trowel soil knife, a hand cultivator, and a set of good pruners; 2) a reliable source of non-GMO, organic seed; and 3) a sense of adventure, some patience, and self-forgiveness for when things inevitably turn out differently than you had hoped.
5. What are some of the challenges of growing a garden in Chicago?
It’s more likely in a city garden that you will have less space. You have to come up with creative solutions for utilizing growing space in a more vertical matter or pick crops that take up less room.
6. Why grow organic?
Organic doesn’t rely on the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers to grow food. For most of human history, we have grown food in an organic fashion. We use organic practices to mimic more natural systems and restore healthy soil. Soil is the building block for a thriving ecosystem. In an organic system, you replenish the resources taken from soil during the growing process by adding amendments like organic matter or compost. The healthier an ecosystem is, the more people can benefit from the nutrient dense food it produces. Growing organically is a more holistic approach to food production that is safer for you, your family and our environment.