My Chicago Home

My Chicago Home
How can we best live as modern, active contemplatives where prairie meets city?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Spinach-planting Time

"Time to plant spinach," a friend reminded me last week while we waited for our kids to finish fitness class. That's all I needed to launch me into hours of gardening frenzy.

Three years ago, I was a shareholder of Angelic Organics Farm in Caledonia, Illinois. How I loved collecting weekly boxes overflowing with familiar and exotic vegetables. (Ever eat kohlrabi or fennel?)

Then my husband suggested we expand our small garden on our suburban lot to sustain our own little "farm."
Planting and weeding organic vegetables was springtime status quo around my house... 

Growing up, my family organic gardened, and I have distinct childhood memories of facing dreaded mounds of zucchini on my dinner plate and bitter, green grapes Mom sweetened and jelled.

Successes were many, however, including sweet, juicy tomatoes, spicy-hot scallions and radishes, piquant swiss chard and tart, pink rhubarb we slathered with sugar and oats for "rhubarb crunch."

Through the years, I've had variable success with my own gardens. I still regret leaving behind nearly a dozen perennial herbs at our previous home, around twenty miles south, in a micro-climate particularly suited to herbs.

We've had years when our tomatoes multiplied and bore heavily on the vine through November, and years when foliage flourished and vegetables played coy (we amended the soil with too much nitrogen.)
"Square Foot Gardening" divides tasks into manageable, bite-sized portions.

Last year, we started "Square Foot Gardening," dividing tasks into manageable, bite-sized portions. I harvested more than 30 varieties of veggies from raspberries and gourmet lettuce to heirloom tomatoes and pumpkins. We paid miniscule produce bills for months.

How do we cram such abundance into a narrow, city-sized lot?

We have three raised beds, each divided into 16 little compartments. We fill each unit with a mix of 1/3 peat, 1/3 compost and 1/3 vermiculite. When I plant, I work just a couple squares a day, until, voila! My garden is seeded.

I admit I groaned when my friend said it was spinach-planting time, because, no matter how much I come to enjoy it each year, gardening is still a lot of work. Also, spring definitely roared in like a lion this year. It was hard to dislodge myself from my nice, warm house, to muck around in the dirt. 

But all I had to do was don my old jeans and beat-up gardening clogs, and put hands to the soil, and my grumbling disappeared. My boys joined me, as we raked up debris, clipped overgrowth and anchored stone pavers to delineate planting beds.

One beautiful spring morning a few days ago, a bird full-throated warbled from a nearby bush and the skies smiled blue upon us. One of my sons planted peas, and then dug up handfuls of worms to relocate to our raised planting beds -- gardening at its best!

It seemed arctic cold today, and yet the planting season has commenced...

Today, temperature highs reached only the lower 40's and it sleeted much of the day. It was blustery and c-o-l-d. But the planting season has commenced, and I couldn't resist a quick dash out to the garden to gauge my seedlings' progress. So far, I have a nice thatch of chives and Egyptian scallions, fragrant spearmint quirling up through the earth, and ten or so spinach seedlings shivering in the breeze.

Of course, I also have dandelion greens, although I have to remind myself these are potential food, not just worthless weeds.

Two weeks ago, my garden patch looked grey and barren, criss-crossed by scraggly skeletons of dried squash vines – a fitting Lenten landscape. As Easter approaches and spring rains pelt, the whole plot is washing clean and furling into life.

It feels good to add my own special touches, to sow and water, and direct my kids’ hands to the earth.

Prayer of the Christian Farmer (or Gardener)

O God, Source and Giver of all things,
Who manifests Your infinite majesty, power and goodness
in the earth about us, we give You honor and glory.
For the sun and rain, for the manifold fruits of our fields,
for the increase of our herds and flocks we thank You.
For the enrichment of our souls with divine grace,
we are grateful.
Supreme Lord of the harvest,
graciously accept us and the fruits of our toil,
in union with Christ Your Son, as atonement for our sins,
for the growth of Your Church,
for peace and charity in our homes,
for salvation to all.

Prayer Source: Novena in Honor of St. Isidore: Patron of Farmers by National Catholic Rural Life Conference

Image courtesy of
Did you know? Amount of trash thrown out by average person annually averages 1,500 pounds. Amount of trash thrown out by person who composts: 375 pounds.

Clip art (except trash can and produce border) courtesy of "Designed to a T""