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Garden in the City: Back to Square One

By Patty Wetli | September 3, 2013 10:33am
 Fall spells the start of a new round of garden plantings.
Hortus in Urbe: Back to Square One
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LINCOLN SQUARE — The astronomers might not agree, but Labor Day signals the end of summer to most people.

Raise your hand if over the past holiday the words "one last" something or other — day at the beach, cookout with family or outing of your white shoes — crossed your lips. Me, I always remember Labor Day as the weekend my grandpa would put his pool "to bed," a large blue tarp sealing over months of raft races and cannonball contests.

It's natural to think of gardens in a similar winding-down mode, especially up north, but that's not so much the case.

We still have the bulk of our carrots and onions to harvest and the kale and chard are still going strong. (Dave commiserated with a fellow gardener who confessed, "I'm sick of lettuce.") Our peppers have just begun to flower, though we'll see if there's enough sun, warm weather or pollinators left to produce any fruit.

We're still waiting ... and waiting ... on our Brussels sprouts, which clearly could give elephants a run for their money in terms of gestational length. Now I see why the sprouts typically only appear in stores around Thanksgiving — that's about the time when I think ours will finally mature, at which point, they'd better blow my mind.

In Chicago, we've still got a good 60 days left in the growing season, which means now's the time to plant cool-weather crops like spinach, beets and rutabagas.

Actually, as I researched "fall plantings" I discovered that I am once again behind the curve. I should have had seeds in the ground in July, or mid-August to give plants a prayer of ripening by the first frost.


Yet I remained undeterred — seriously, why start paying attention to conventional wisdom now? So we spent Saturday preparing our bed for new plants by pulling the old.

See ya later strawberries, sorry about the pill bugs.

Bye-bye broccoli, we'll meet again in February when we thaw your stalks for soup.

Adios tomatoes. Maybe next year you won't get socked with blight — which spread through the garden like pink eye in a nursery school. (Turns out, I'm not the worst gardener ever, after all.)

We wound up with about a dozen empty square feet to fill. On Sunday, I headed out to pick up seeds for spinach, beans, peas and turnips, which we weren't even sure we wanted until I read a description that said "potato-like." Sold.

Three garden centers later, I returned home empty-handed. That whole flaunting conventional wisdom thing becomes exponentially more difficult when no one else is in on the joke.

"It's kind of late for vegetables," one employee told me, as I twirled her shop's empty carousel of non-existent seed packets.

"Not for fall plants," I snapped back, all evidence to the contrary.

Thank God the internet exists to feed every possible ridiculous obsession. That's right, in just three short months I've gone from mocking people who order from seed catalogs to becoming that person.

My USPS delivery of seeds should turn up any day now, unlike my Brussels sprouts.