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Garden in the City: Here We Go Again

 Follow the ongoing adventures of DNAinfo Chicago's resident urban gardener Patty Wetli.
The Return of Garden in the City
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ALBANY PARK — We're back!

Back for another year of pill bug killing. Back for another year of tomato wrangling. Back for another year of trying to find a use for chives.

Plants and seeds are finally in the ground at our community garden bed — our 32-square-foot urban micro-farm — marking the official start of gardening season.

Patty joins DNAinfo Radio each week to discuss Garden in the City:

It's my third year at Peterson Garden Project's Global Garden on Lawrence Avenue and the second for my husband Dave. We're slightly less stupid than we were last summer, but are still mostly a pair of bunglers: "Can worms be green?" I found myself asking him the other day.

As if he would know.

Yet we've made some strides.

We now understand the importance of soil quality, which we took steps to improve last fall when we put our bed to bed, and topped it off with a 35-pound bag of compost over the weekend.

And it finally dawned on me that gardening books contain valuable information if you bother to crack them open. I picked up a copy of PGP's "Fearless Food Gardening" and used it to help plan our bed's layout — i.e., put the lettuce where you, and the sun, can reach it, not tucked in the middle of towering pepper and tomato plants.

I'm not sure if this is progress or not, but I've also started to think more like Big Agriculture. This year, I'm dialing back on the whimsy and cranking up the productivity. Sure, it was fun watching broccoli and brussels sprouts in action, but fun doesn't put food on the table. We didn't harvest a single edible sprout, which, if you're keeping score, was zero return on six months of investment.

This year, it's all about high yields — or "more bang for your buck" as "Fearless Food Gardening" puts it — so we planted lots of greens, bush beans and several varieties of onions. We're also focused on growing stuff we regularly eat, factoring in the limitations of a Midwestern growing season and the size of our plot. I mean, to grow what I really eat, I'd need a rice paddy, apple orchard and sugar plantation.

As you follow this column over the next several months, you'll learn which of our changes paid off, and you'll also get to see us make lots of mistakes.

Already I bought — and planted — corn seed that according to its packaging expired in 2013.

Dave would like to insert here: "Tell them you're still whimsical. Hence, the corn. Even if every plant is productive, we're going to have like five mini corn cobs."

Oh, and also, we have an infestation of something called curl grubs. Everything we've Googled on these super gross creatures sends us to Australian websites, so hurray for us for singlehandedly diversifying Chicago's pest population.

New this year: I'll also be writing about what's going on in my flower beds. That's right, I'm a landscape gardener, too, and, true confession, this is where my real passion lies.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy my vegetable garden, I respect my vegetable garden, but I am crazy in love with my flowers. Come spring, every time we leave our condo to walk anywhere east, we take the long way around our building so I can survey my plants, no matter whether it's the second, third or fourth outing of the day.

That's how I discovered last week that someone had taken a weed whacker to a cluster of just-sprouted perennials.

I called Dave at work — half-sobbing, half-hyperventilating — to report the carnage. I ranted for a good five minutes, skipping the denial stage of grief and heading straight to anger, where I stayed.

I cursed the unidentified culprits (I've since interrogated a pair of likely suspects to no avail) and mourned the untimely death of plants that had managed to survive the worst winter ever, only to have their heads decapitated before they had a chance to truly live.

I stopped to take a breath, at which point Dave interjected, "I'm in a meeting."

"Well why did you answer your phone?" I asked, hoping he hadn't put me on speaker.

"I figured it must be really important."

Well it was. Someone killed my flowers. Epic tragedy.

Yeah, we're off to a roaring start.