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Dreams take root...

As May unfolds I turn forward and begin looking at the challenges ahead. High on my "to do" list is getting unpacked and settled into a new apartment...

I recently moved to the northeast side of Chicago, into what was marketed as a "green" apartment. The owners, two amazing folks who are the life force behind the Eco-Justice Collaborative, purchased the building (which had been gutted I believe) and worked to create a space that was in line with their values.

To do this, they avoided buying things new and did a lot of searching for reclaimed hardwood flooring, fixtures and appliances. They also installed energy efficient windows and dual-flush toilets. They've used CFL's in every light source and have painted solely with no-VOC paints.

While our space is small (I'm in a two-bedroom with stellar roommate, tarirocks), and while I don't love that part of it is garden level...the eco aspects were simply too alluring, particularly building-wide recycling and composting and...wait for it...here it comes...oh yes....GARDENS!

Working together, we are creating a food garden behind the house, and a rain garden in front (speaking of rain gardens, I attended an amazing presentation on a local sustainable water project: 168 Elm Ave. Great web site...I hope you'll check it out.)

We're doing a jig with time, and have (perhaps) larger dreams than can be manifested in the first year, but it is terribly exciting to be working in a small community to make this happen at any level.

Embracing permaculture, we're planning and planting the garden holistically (rather than splitting into plots based on apartment units), using stacking and companion planting. There are three units in the building, but one tenant says she's not a gardener (just wait until we seduce her with homegrown tomatoes!). Therefore there will be four of us working the land (a vast improvement to my former solo gardening efforts), and we plan to invite some friends to share the space/work/harvest, thus feeding that vital connection between food and community. We've got plans for raised and vertical beds...though again, time is a determining factor.

To begin, we're going to employ lasagna gardening to create two spheres which contain clusters of key hole beds. Since we all just moved in, we have lots of saved newspaper and cardboard, and we're jazzed about folding all of our resources back into the homestead. These beds will flow with the shape of the yard and will compliment a gathering area (with a pergola, fire pit and water feature). We'll be supplementing with lots of container gardening (especially in this first year where we may not have time to build a lot structures), and are following the "house-shoe rule" of permaculture, planting our favorite edibles close to the porch so that they can be gathered quickly, easily and often. T and I are even working out wacky ways to capture some of our gray water (if you shower at our place, be ready to share your splash with some pitchers and bowls!).

Because we are who we are, we've begun to recognize the potential of this project and are thinking of ways to use it as a learning tool. We are planting extra seeds, and hope to have abundant seedlings which we can share with the neighbors. We're thinking of offering open houses to the neighborhood; inviting folks in to see what we're doing and sending them home with a free seedling, informational materials - and hopefully, inspiration.

With that in mind - I snapped some photos of the back yard as it is so that we can look back at summer's end to see how far we've come. Nothing had been done when I took these, so things aren't very lovely or exciting yet...but this will give you an idea of what we're working with. I took these in the evening (around 5:00 PM CST), so the light is a bit low. If you're interested...

from NW corner, facing garage

from SW corner, facing house

also from SW corner...but vertical this time!

from SW corner facing east...the spot with all the mulch does not get good light. That is where the pergola will go,

from SE corner

from NE corner

overlooking our patio - west facing

overlooking our patio - east facing

Even if you don't check out the other photos, I wanted you to see our baby brussels sprouts.

Won't you tell them that they're beautiful; that you love them and want them to grow, grow, grow!


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
May. 6th, 2008 06:21 pm (UTC)
Aren't they too cute! I'm so excited. We've got lots of baby butterhead lettuce sprouts from our first "seeding" as well. I spent a couple of hours last Sunday doing another round of stuff...so hopefully lots of little green shoots will be joining the brussels soon!

I can't wait to share this garden with you. If you and K want to get in on the action - let's talk about that. I asked P and L (landlords) and they'd love to have the help and community.
May. 6th, 2008 05:46 pm (UTC)
Jen, this is ultimately wicked cool and marvelous. I would love for you and C to get your heads together about gardening some time. I see potential everywhere in your lovely yard! Yum.
May. 6th, 2008 06:30 pm (UTC)
Thank you darlin'.

I would LOVE to get time to talk gardening with lovely C. I know she'll be busy in June when I visit - but perhaps I can barter some KP time for a tour of her garden(s). I'm hoping to get some time to help in the kitchen anyway so that C, MMG and I can talk about a possible food workshop next year.

Mmmm...so many tasty possibilities on the horizon!
May. 6th, 2008 09:54 pm (UTC)
Your garden is beautiful!!! I am so happy for you and T. (: *hugs*
May. 14th, 2008 03:46 pm (UTC)
Thank you lovely one...I hope you are feeling better and healing quickly. Love to you! - Jen
May. 6th, 2008 11:14 pm (UTC)
Hooray for the small green plant babies! I hope they grow up big and strong. :)

I am envious of your garden -- haven't yet gotten up the nerve to ask the landlady if she might be willing to share her tiny patch of ground in our (mostly paved over) back yard.
May. 14th, 2008 03:48 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much...I hope the landlady will share...I find gardening to be so rewarding and happy-making and I'm an advocate for everyone getting their fingers in the dirt! Blessings to you - J
May. 6th, 2008 11:50 pm (UTC)
O wow am I envious! Grow grow little plants!
May. 14th, 2008 03:46 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the plant blessings! And you know if you want to talk about container gardening...I've done quite a bit of it and would be happy to be a resource for you. I also think that the book All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew might be handy for you. I've also seen Container Gardening for The Midwest by William Aldrich, Don Williamson, Alison Beck, and Laura Peters, which looks interesting to me, but I've not read it.

Much love to you - J

( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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