June 20 Check-Up

Two weeks after planting our crops, Jeanne Nolan and two of her coworkers, Adrienne Detanico and Audrey Todd, stopped by to check on our garden.

While the humidity and rain of the week may have been unwelcome to Chicago area residents, the week’s weather allowed for our plants to flourish.

“It’s really good for plants,” Nolan said of the weather. “The drip irrigation is a good thing to have, but there’s energy that happens through natural rain and thunderstorms. Plants get turned on by it.”

Basil was one of the many plants thriving in our garden. It was doing so well that we were able to harvest a substantial amount of its leaves to keep the plant from becoming “leggy.”

“Basil has a tendency to get tall,” Nolan explained. “We want it to be bushy. The way you harvest herbs help define the shape the plant grows.”

To train the plant to grow horizontally, Nolan harvested the plant’s tallest leaves, cutting the stem right above the new leaves. In addition to harvesting basil, Nolan and her team thinned some of our crops.

“Thinning is the hardest thing for home growers to do,” Nolan said as she thinned beets. “People are hesitant to do it. But if they don’t, their crops will compete for water, nutrients, and space.”

“You can eat thinnings,”said Adrienne Detanico, The Organic Gardener Ltd. lead gardener. “I sprinkle them on salads, and I don’t feel as bad. I struggle with thinning, too.”

While Nolan and Detanico worked on thinning, Todd, a maintenance crew member, added a thin layer of coconut coir mulch to our four tomato plants in order to prevent soil-borne diseases from spreading up tomato plants.

Coconut coir mulch is created from the discarded husks of coconuts, Detanico said, adding mulch composed of soft wood, straw, or hay could be used as well in vegetable gardens.

“Don’t use hard wood mulch because that will leach nutrients from the vegetables,” she said.

Additional maintenance items included adding bamboo stakes to the tomato plants and cages around our eggplant and pepper crops to help stabilize them and protect the crops as they continue to grow.

While many of our plants were thriving, one was struggling a bit due to a neighboring plant. Our nasturtiums in the north planting bed were growing into the space where our Haricot Vert seeds were planted.

To give the Haricot Vert seeds room to grow, Detanico was going to train the nasturtiums to grow along the fence. This would be accomplished by using “plant Velcro” to loosely attach the stems of the nasturtiums to the fence.

After checking our crops for weeds and insects, Nolan tested our irrigation systems to make sure there weren’t any leaks. Since our crops are doing so well, and the majority of our seeds are up, Nolan turned off the emitters we installed in the garden beds.

Once all of the maintenance was completed, the crops were sprayed with a liquid garlic extract as well as a fish emulsion and seaweed concentrate.

“We put on bug spray to keep bugs away. This doesn’t hurt bugs, but it’ll keep them away,” Nolan said of the garlic extract. “It helps minimize bug damage in front and other critters, like chipmunks.”

The fish emulsion and seaweed concentrate was added at the roots of the crops to provide them an extra boost of nutrients.

“These are optional,” Nolan said of the garlic spray and fish emulsion and seaweed concentrate. “They are extra things to do to maximize garden health. We’re demonstrating best practices in this garden.”