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Urban Garden Goddess


Fall Season Canning of Garden Vegetables

Canning is an activity I do during fall harvest of my vegetable garden in Chicago.  It is the processing of food in glass jars at high temperatures to prevent spoilage;  water bath canning is best for high acid foods while pressure canning is for low acid foods. Although it is time consuming, I fit it into my schedule of my urban homestead priorities during the fall season to ensure I have preserved vegetables for the winter. This kind of food preservation may not be popular in these modern times but I find it necessary for my sustainable living.  I have noticed that some of my fellow Chicago urban growers enjoy cultivating their fresh produce but fail to preserve them. I choose to can during the fall season in Chicago to practice sustainability and have access to garden vegetables when I want and need them.

So what can be canned?  Any and everything. I have found that fresh garden vegetable and fruit crops serve different purposes once they go through the canning process.  Eating canned homemade soups, broths, stews made of fresh garden vegetables is popular in my home during the winters for meals, warm snacks as well as nursing colds or the flu.  Canned fruits such as apples, cherries, peaches and grapes are great for making jars of jam, jelly or preserves that complement breads and pastries; I make homemade jam to give as gifts during the holidays and special occasions any time of the year.  Canning is a great way to salvage the surplus yields of green tomatoes, okra and summer squash I discover when putting my home garden to bed in autumn. Almost every crop I grow during the growing months is canned by the end of the season.

Canning provides a host of benefits and I am reaping them.  The shelf life of my canned food is more than a year. Having preserved vegetables prepares my household in times of uncertainty and disaster (i.e. financial crisis, tornados, snow storms).  The hard work put into the process and seeing all the canned jars after it shows the effort and yield from the growing season. Growing and conserving my garden vegetables gives me security and freedom of knowing where my food comes from and that I have access to it whenever it is needed.  This is a means of food security during Chicago’s harsh winters so I can have vegetables when I cannot cultivate them in the soil. Creating and taking advantage of these benefits of canning are favorable for my urban homestead.

I encourage you to can your own food.  Whether it is for a hobby or necessity it is a good skill to have and can come in handy when you least expect it.  You can learn from elders, homesteaders or avid canners that have been doing it for years. If these people are not within your reach search on Google or your local Craigslist site for food preservation classes.  Can for your security and pleasure.

canned salsa1grape jam

 

 

 

 

Benefits of Chickens in My Urban Garden

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Chickens are amazing! Their daily activities of laying eggs, scratching and pooping contribute to life in my urban vegetable garden space. These feathered beings do some much, who knew! I certainly did not. I am a year into backyard chicken raising, initially it was intimidating but now I see it was one of the best decisions I made as a sustainable urban gardener.  I find that chickens are better than a bag of organic MiracleGro fertilizer or any eggs I can get at the pancake house for breakfast. I write this blog piece to share all the benefits I receive from my flock of birds in my urban garden space.

Fresh Eggs, the “In-eggspensive” Choice

There is nothing like having fresh eggs in the morning.  I like hearing the hens “sing” before lay an egg letting everyone know (humans and birds alike) they are about to provide incredible nutrition.  My flock is made diverse breeds of fourteen birds ten of which lay so my daily harvest is of eggs contains different colors and sizes but they all provide a great food source.  In addition, these chickens have contributed to the reduction in my food bill; the local grocery stores provide free range, non-GMO, non-antibiotic chicken eggs at $4.50 to $5.00 a dozen.  I appreciate that grocery store option but not at that those prices, my appreciation goes to my chickens that provide better quality eggs paces from my back door- for LESS. Harvesting swiss chard and dino kale from my keyhole garden bed to go in fresh egg omelettes are a part of my morning routine.    

Fertilizer and Compost: Odorifically Wonderful

Chicken poop is smelly but it is liquid gold for my vegetable crops.  Because my chickens eat non GMO feed of grains and seeds along with food scraps of vegetable and fruits from my kitchen their feces is nutritious for my garden soil.  It provides a source of side dressing compost for my tomatoes, brassica patch of collards and kale during the growing season; it also amends the soil at the end of harvest so the soil will be ready for planting the next spring.  I have yet to spend money on a bag of fertilizer, harvesting their poop from DIY catching boards under their roosting bars provides an immediate source of manure. Collecting chicken poop is a smelly job but I do not mind when it gives a great medium for my soils and garden crops.

Insect Control: My Own Personal Orkin Squad

My chickens eat the unwanted bugs in my garden.  The bugs are a source of food protein which turns into egg protein for me.  When they scratch for them in the soil, it helps cultivate and turn the soil so I will not have to. I just drop seeds for the next crop. Chicken eating bugs are a great asset.

My chickens’ activities of eating bugs, giving eggs and providing compost make them great benefits in my urban vegetable garden.

Preparing for Spring Vegetable Gardening

March is here, this is the month of hope for me as an urban grower in Chicago.  I have endured subzero temperatures most of January, over two feet of snow in February and nursed my family through the flu while experiencing these challenges of winter weather.  Gardening bliss cannot come quick enough for me.  While experiencing the typical challenges of a Chicago winter, I have been envisioning a fruitful growing season of tasty nutritious vegetables.  My seed catalogs give me inspiration to do another annual garden of determinate cherry tomatoes, straight eight cucumbers, luscious leafy greens and a variety of culinary herbs. My permaculture practice provokes me to enhance polycultures of my backyard with more perennial vegetables that can produce for many seasons to come.  All my ideas have been put on graphing paper for plotting and designing a better backyard garden this year.  March is the time when I make those ideas a reality as I begin to start the seedlings that will soon turn into abundant crops of food lasting well into the next Chicago winter.

planting

Preparing for Spring Gardening

Before I can enjoy my vegetable garden haven I must get ready in advance.  After many seasons of food cultivation, I have found that preparation is key to a successful growing season.  There are many things to consider before I can enjoy the fruits of my labor and celebrate the numerous harvest to come.  Soil, water, compost and pest management are vital to my productive seasons.  Although the initial steps can be daunting, they do make things easier as the growing season progresses. Preparing in advance has made my previous growing seasons of food cultivation fruitful ones.

Here are some useful tips maintenance related to soil, water, compost and pest management for vegetable spring gardening preparation.

Soil

 • Use grass clippings, raked leaves, kitchen scraps (such as egg shells, produce rinds or coffee grinds) or mulch to amend your soil at the beginning of the spring season.

 • Chop and drop old vegetable crops at the end of the growing to encourage the creation of rich fertile soil over the winter. This can help you avoid the cost of store bought fertilizer in the spring.

Water

 • Using water catchment systems like rain barrels is a great way to collect water in the spring (and throughout the season); April showers bring nourished vegetables.  This a sustainable way to water your crops and save money on your water bill.

 • Placing straw or mulch at the base of plants helps to retain water in the soil so root systems to obtain optimum nutrients. It also reduces water waste making a garden sustainable and resilient in times of drought.

Compost

 • Prepare spring seedlings with red wiggler worm compost.  Living in a vermiculture bin of kitchen scraps is all the worms need to create compost that starts a vegetable garden in the spring.

 • Freeze kitchen compost for outdoor compost amendment in veggie garden beds at the start of the season. An abundance of growing medium by the spring as well as amendments is likely if this is practiced frequently.

Pest Management

 • Applying a protective layer of fall leaves and or straw on gardens early in fall can deter harmful insects from being established over the winter.  This can also prevent unwanted weeds from growing with new spring crops.

 • Practicing companion planting of spring crops is an organic pest management method that reduces insect infestation. This good practice during the season that interrupts the life cycle of potential adversary insects that can damage crops later in the growing season.  

Garden preparation in or before March is beneficial to spring food cultivation.  It is a benefit to getting spring crops off to good start and producing fruitful harvests.  Taking advantage of the winter months to plan a vegetable garden helps to deter some unfavorable issues.  Consider helpful prep tips to encourage a productive vegetable garden in the spring and all season long.