Buy your fall veggies, but watch where you plant them

August 29, 2010

OMG! Somebody’s selling FALL starter vegetables!

A lot of things came out of the Independent Garden Center Show at Navy Pier the other week. One of them was my introduction to the more-or-less national social media types. Yeah, I know. If you’re talking “social media” there aren’t supposed to be any boundaries, national or regional. Welcome to the real world, bunkie. This is not a swipe at anybody in particular, but I’ve discovered that the social media seem to be almost as provincial as the so-called “local” media.

Don’t get me wrong. The Garden Rant women are relevant and a stitch and deserve to be read as often as possible. Especialy since they favored me with a little Internet love last week. However, there is still a distinct lack of interst in the Midwest region that is a tad disturbing.

That being said, one of the things I found to be spot on was when Susan Harris (God, I hope it was her) bemoaned the lack of starter vegetable plants available in local garden centers. I agreed with her at the IGC Show…and then saw a post from one of my Facebook friends, Mary Pendergast, who works in the perennial deparment at Gethsemane Garden Center on the north side of Chicago.

She announced that Gethsemane was selling starter vegetable plants that they had grown themselves, and gave me the name of Victoria Anderson, who manages the Edibles Department at Gethsemane. Victoria says” We have had so many people in the last year, and again this summer, ask if we were going to carry fall crops that I took the plunge and decided that we should just grow them.  We don’t have a big production going.  We are testing the waters a bit and looking to accomodate all the gardening folks that are replacing plants and looking to get some cool season greens in.  Not everyone has the inclination, the time, or the space, to start from seeds.”

This is something that has frustrated me for a number of years. I haven’t been able to figure out why garden centers simply refuse to acknowledge the late summer/early fall growing season. Well, perhaps this is the start of a trend.

in addition to the fully mature hot pepper plants (such as Jalapeno. Habanero. Cayenne and Caribbean Red Hot), Victoria says that Gethsemane has cool season crops of arugula, chard, kale, lettuces galore, and spinach. They will soon have carrots, peas and sorrel, mache and many other varieties of lettuce, spinach and chard. Prices are great–$.99 for a 3.5inch round peat pot, or $1.69 for a 4 pack of lettuce.

Victoria candidly admits that they don’t have “enormous quantities”, because they simply didn’t know if anybody would show up to buy them. Here’s my advice, especially if you live in Chicago. Show up. Buy these vegetables. You just might help to start a trend. Are you listening, other garden centers in Chicago?

Speaking of growing food locally…

There are some people who think that the whole “Locavore” movement is misguided. Let’s start with this article in the New York Times by some jamoke, er, guy named Stephen Budiansky, who says that locavores, basically, don’t know how to put two and two together. Thank goodness for Grist, the environmental site that immediately brought together folks from all over the locavore spectrum to debate the issue. Draw your own conclusions. I’m too busy sticking pins in Stephen Budiansky’s effigy. (Does that hurt? No? How about THIS!)

And speaking of growing food locally (again) . . .

Have you heard the one about the woman in Northbrook who has to stop growing tomatoes in her yard? Sorry, it’s not a joke. I’ll be talking to Alex Lyakhovetsky, whose mother doesn’t have enough sun in her backyard to grow vegetables and therefore planted her organically grown veggies in the front. Someone complained, and the city told her this year would have to be her last. You can read the whole story in the Chicago Tribune.

Once more with feeling . . .

My partner and webmaster, Kathleen Thompson, will join me to talk about life with a CSA (Community Sustained Agriculture). For a flat fee paid at the beginning of the season, we receive a wonderful box of vegetables every week. The cool thing is that we don’t choose what’s in it, so we’ve been learning to cook and eat things we never went near before. I mean, seriously, who eats kohlrabi? I do now, at least in stir-fries. When there were leeks, we learned to make Vichyssoise. You get the idea.We get our CSA from Growing Home, an organization that grows organic produce while it trains new farmers, but there are dozens of choices out there. And most of them are currently selling shares for the fall season–September and October.