Saturday, April 25, 2015

Opening Day 2015 Celebration

Welcome sign!
(Katje is learning calligraphy, can you tell?)
The 2015 growing season of the Howard Area Community Garden officially opened today! The weather report gave a dreary forecast of rain, though, which would have made things like handing out papers and seed swapping difficult. Fortunately, the Jewel at Howard and Clark has a FREE public meeting room that was open, and they let us use it on very short notice (thank you, Jewel!).

Katje, the garden coordinator, got there early to set up, and was met by new gardener Arianna, who jumped right in to help out. Once the seeds and snacks were ready, we started getting more members joining us.

Thirteen gardeners in all came to celebrate our opening day… a wonderful turnout considering the weather! It was great to catch up with friends, hear about garden plans, meet some of our newest gardeners, discuss HACG history… four hours flew by.

Of course, we did have a little business to attend to. The new plot maps with a list of all our gardeners and phone numbers was distributed (if you didn't get one, email Katje at to have one mailed or emailed to you). The 2015 plot fees were collected, along with the gardener contracts (you'll only have to sign this once; it signifies that you've read our rules and agree to abide by them).

If you haven't yet paid your plot fee, please either pay using the PayPal button to the right of this post (and then turn in your contract when you see Katje or Gina), OR mail it in with your contract (the address is to the right, as well). Your fee MUST be paid by May 1 to keep your plot! However, nobody will be turned away due to lack of funds… if you can't pay right now, please contact Katje and let her know your situation.

New gardener Arianna helped sort the seed display.
Most of the seeds were taken home by the attendees, but don't worry if you still need some: we have another generous donor who is sending a few hundred more packets to us in the next few days. If you took seeds and do not use all of them, PLEASE reseal the packet and pass them on to other gardeners!

We talked a bit about the new raised beds along the north edge of the garden. Last month, Bob Fuller from the Howard Theater Community Garden told Katje that their garden was going to be shut down due to development, and that the gardeners were understandably upset at the prospect of their garden beds being thrown into dumpsters. We hatched a plan to bring some of those beds to our garden. A college student program that sends volunteers to work for a day of service provided us with about 15 young, eager helpers, and we had two trucks to help with the hauling. After a full day of labor by the volunteers, gardeners from both gardens, friends and family, and a contingent from LEEDA services, we had seven new boxes installed and filled (a few extra boards were available to our gardeners as well, and some folks built more raised beds in their plots).
Snacks, seeds, and socializing.

The current plan is to fill the new boxes with flowers, herbs, and vegetables that are bite-sized and easy to sample, for all of the North of Howard community to enjoy. Remember those delicious little Mexican cucumber-melons that Lupe brought to one of our meetings last year? We'll be growing those up some sunflower stalks. Cherry tomatoes, peppers, potatoes… lots of fun veggies are going in! If you're interested in helping out with this project, please contact Katje.

We also discussed priorities and how to spend some gift cards that have been kindly donated to the garden (from Gethsemane, Chalet, and Home Depot). The biggest need was some kind of tool shed or storage unit, so we can keep garden tools in an accessible but safe space (we also need some garden tools!). Another idea was to install a splitter on the hydrant, so that we can have two hoses available at the same time. And it is clear that we need a source of good compost, so gardeners can build up their soil… since we are an organic garden, we need to constantly replenish the minerals we deplete. The very best way to do that is to mix in good compost and dirt into our plots on a yearly basis, but most of us don't have trucks to haul it in. We will find some and get it delivered to the garden, so we all can beef up our plots. Stay tuned for more info!

Other ideas included adding a fire pit to the seating area on the south side of the garden, building a lending library, adding a Little Free Library, adding another water source, figuring out ways to keep track of tools with a checkout system, doing soil testing, and finding a volunteer Spanish interpreter.

Gina Carpenter answers questions about organic gardening.
Gina gave a presentation on organic gardening, and fielded questions about synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. Remember: our garden is organic, which means you cannot use chemicals in your garden! It kills the vital bacteria and organisms that keep our garden and the food we grow healthy and clean. While those chemicals can kill weeds you don't want or make your tomatoes grow faster, the soil pays by being depleted and sterilized… you might get good results now, but years down the road, the garden will be in much worse shape. If you are unclear on how to garden organically, PLEASE reach out to the garden coordinator or Gina, and we will hook you up with some great resources on how to do it!

Neighbor Space, the organization that owns our property, will be adding its 100th garden to their group this year. In order to celebrate this milestone, Neighbor Space is doing a photo documentary on six of their gardens, sending out a photographer to visit these gardens in the spring, summer, and fall. Guess what? Howard Area Community Garden was selected as one of these six gardens! We're not sure why, but we are honored that Neighbor Space chose us, and are looking forward to seeing what comes of this project.

Katje has been busy with some other things, too. She writes thank-you notes to all our kind donors, attends Neighbor Space and Chicago Community Garden Association meetings, and is working with Anthony Boatman of the Genesis Project at A Just Harvest to create the Howard Urban Garden Group (so local gardens can band together to share resources, purchasing power, volunteers, seeds, etc.).

At this point, we are not 100% certain if we will be doing rototilling this weekend. Stay tuned to the Facebook page, or send an email, to stay in the loop.

Thank you to everyone who showed up today! It's too bad that we couldn't play in our gardens today, but mild weather is coming soon. It looks like we'll be up in the 70s next weekend… see you at the garden!

Welcome to our bees!

The Howard Area Community Garden has officially joined forces with local apiarists Ryan Lee, Mark Bee, and Rosemary Sophia Limoncello to help rebuild dwindling bee populations and create better opportunities for healthy pollination in our own garden by installing our first ever beehive!

The funding for the hive was generously donated by Amanda Johnson via Ryan Lee's Kickstarter project, Rivendell Apiaries. Another hive was also donated in our name by Cathy Cagle, but it turns out that it wasn't a good fit for our space (Ryan will find it a good home, though!). Ryan came to the garden last fall to choose a good spot for the beehive to be placed, but before the season began, he was invited to take a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity by becoming an intern at the Spikenard Farm Honeybee Sanctuary in Vermont for a year. So he passed the bee baton to his friend Mark, who brought Rosemary on board as well.

Mark contacted us to let us know our bees had arrived (most of them were from California, but we have a queen from Hawaii!), and arranged to install the hive and bees on a chilly morning… the cold snap wasn't great for the bees, but it would have been worse to leave them in their tiny wooden travel box. We received three pounds of bees, which amounts to about 1,000 individuals. That's a LOT of bees!

Mark sprayed the 10 panels inside the brand new wooden hive with sugar water to help the bees get settled. Rosemary lit a small smoker filled with local grass, which is another way for the bees to learn the scent and figure out that this was their new home.

There is a bottle of sugar water hung onto the hive that the bees will survive on until the flowers open later this spring. They survived the plunging temperatures that hit two nights in a row after their arrival. So far, they seem to be thriving!

The bees are located in Plot 14 with Megan Wentz, a new gardener who volunteered to share her space with the bees. Please do NOT go into Megan's plot without permission, but do take a moment to walk by and check out the hive. These bees are incredibly docile and gentle… during their installation, they were moved and handled and not one of the four people there were stung.

Here's a link to a set of photos documenting the hive set-up:


One other thing you can do is to plant pollinator-friendly plants and flowers alongside your vegetables. The bees will be visiting our plots to gather nectar from our flowers, and while they do that, they will be carrying pollen from flower to flower, ensuring that our harvests will be fruitful. And bonus! If all goes well, there will be a collection of honey this fall… and there should be enough that we all can have a bit to take home and enjoy!

If you have any questions or concerns about the new hive, please email, and we'll do our best to get answers quickly. Otherwise, enjoy our new garden partners, and know that we are doing a good thing for the earth and our children by growing our food organically (without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers), which will make the soil of our garden able to support life for years and years.

(If you are curious about why it is so vitally important for us to help bees, please read this article about colony collapse disorder.)

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Opening Day is moving indoors!

It looks like Mother Nature is sending a good wet storm our way Saturday, which will be great for the garden... but not for a party.

So we are moving the festivities indoors!

Howard Area Community Garden
Opening Day Celebration
Community Room at Jewel-Osco
Howard and Clark
Saturday, April 25
10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Please bring your signed contract and $15 annual fee, if you haven't turned them in already. (We will have extra copies of the contract on hand if you need one).

We can't rototill in the rain, but we will take signups at the Opening Day party and then Donald will do the tilling on Sunday (the rain should be gone by then). 

At noon, Gina Carpenter will present a workshop on the basics of organic gardening.

We will also have:
• Many packets of seeds to share and swap
• Snacks and drinks
• Keys for the new west gate lock
• The 2015 Plot Map and member contact info sheet
• An update on what's been happening in the garden (hint: LOTS!)
• A chance to visit with old friends and meet our new gardeners

A little rain won't stop our fun... see you on Saturday!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Best Buddies: Notes on Companion Planting

Tomatoes and basil play well together in the garden as well as on bruschetta
Companion planting is the idea that certain crops can help each other by repelling pests or enriching the soil for each other. And some plants really don't play well with others. After a few years of playing around, I've noticed this concept isn't just a new-age, hippy-dippy fantasy. In fact, the practice of planting corn, beans, and squash together was developed centuries ago by Native Americans, who called them the Three Sisters… and it turns out that this particular threesome is validated by science as well as tradition.

And so I will share with you a list of companion planting ideas to try in your own garden. Not all of these are backed by research studies, though, and I can't personally vouch for every single pairing… but in my experience, mixing things up a little bit not only makes for a prettier garden, it really does help your plants grow stronger and better.

Basil gets along with everyone, but I like to mix it in with my tomato plants (as my husband said: "your one-stop bruschetta stop")

Beans like root veggies (carrots, potatoes, beets) and the brassicas (cabbage, cauliflower), but they don't like the alliums (garlic, onion, leeks).  Pole beans (a member of the aforementioned Three Sisters) like to clamber up cornstalks.

Beets like the brassicas and alliums, but not beans.

Borage is rumored to repel tomato worms.

The brassicas (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and kale) do not play well with strawberries. Certain flowers will help repel their pests, like calendula/marigolds (they have natural pyrethrums, which bugs hate) and nasturtiums. They like herbs too, such as chamomile, dill, mint, rosemary, sage, and thyme (which deters cabbage moths).

Carrots like onions, which repel carrot flies.

Corn likes beans and curcurbits (melons, cucumbers, and squashes).

Cucumbers like beans, corn, and sunflowers (a natural trellis!). Radishes can repel cucumber beetles. But cukes are not good around potatoes.

Eggplants, being a member of the nightshade family, like to hang out with other nightshades like peppers, potatoes, and tomatoes.

Garlic can help keep aphids away from tomatoes.

Lettuce like to live with the root veggies like carrots and radishes, as well as strawberries… but it does not like the brassicas.

Oregano deters many garden pests.

Peppers like to be around basil, carrots, parsley, and tomatoes. But they are not friends with fennel.

Potatoes like basil (which deters potato beetles), beans, and brassicas, but does not grow so well with  melons, squash, tomatoes, or sunflowers. Marigolds might help deter nematodes.

Radishes are good with cucurbits like cucumbers and melons, as well as other root crops like carrots. If you like spicy radishes, plant some chervil with them.

Rosemary like to hang out with most things, and is a good pest repellant.

Sage is another good all-around pest deterrent, especially for the brassicas and nightshades (tomatoes, peppers), but does not do well with cucumbers.

Spinach is a good neighbor with most plants, especially brassicas, nightshades, and strawberries.

Strawberries are good with beans, lettuce, and spinach, but are not friends of the brassicas.

Sunflowers like the cucurbits (cucumbers, melons) but not nightshades (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers).

Tomatoes play nicely with basil (big surprise!), brassicas, carrots, alliums, rosemary and sage, but should not be planted near potatoes.

Did I leave something out? Add your experience in the comments!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

You're Invited: Garden Opening Day Celebration!

The Howard Area Community Garden's 2015 Spring Opening Party is scheduled for Earth Day (Saturday, April 25), at 10 a.m. We will be doing some cleanup, share some snacks, give away lots of seeds, and rent a rototiller to share. 

Long-time gardener Gina Carpenter will be offering a workshop at noon on Organic Gardening Basics. (HACG is an organic garden; if you're not quite sure what gardening organically means, please do join us for this FREE class!)

Bring a snack to share, your gardening gloves and tools (we have some loaners if you don't have any), your $15 annual plot fee and gardener's contract, and a smile!

See you soon!