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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Saturday, May 18

Gapers Block

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Andrew / March 22, 2005 11:15 AM

We've had a garden for the past three years, and we've found that tomatoes and basil do great, but bell peppers don't grow quickly enough. Then again, it could be just the microclimate of our old backyard -- we moved last fall and don't know what our new plot will do.

Herbs are incredibly easy to grow -- just dirt, water and sun. I recommend hitting Home Depot or Ace and picking up a couple packets of basil, oregano and dill -- maybe some thyme -- and start them in a sunny window indoors until the weather warms up.

emily / March 22, 2005 11:21 AM

I have a love-hate relationship with my indoor basil plant. One day he's thriving and the next he's yellowing. I need to pay more attention to him, and make sure Craig and I aren't watering him double time! Otherwise my snake plants love me, as does my ficus tree. I haven't ventured to garden outside yet, but I may try some tomatoes on the roof this spring.

Ian / March 22, 2005 11:31 AM

Having no outdoor space, we are limited to some indoor herb growing. Our season starts when we pick up some plants from a local farmers market .

Despite the rollercoaster ride of care that Emily describes above, you will get cheaper and far higher quality herbs than any store bought product, even if they only last a few weeks.

Winterfresh / March 22, 2005 11:37 AM

Sure I got a tip. Go to your nearest corner, find the gardener(dealer) on the street, pick up a sack of seeds and buds, then go to your nearest forest preserve, plant your crop, draw a map to your location, and wait.

Tim / March 22, 2005 12:08 PM

We start early from seed with grow lights. Awesome garden every year. We are still using frozen roma tomatoes from last year for sauce, I can't describe how good this sauce is...Oh, about peppers, they need a very early start, we had eight varieties last year. City gardening is one of our small urban decadences. Gardening and outdoor movies in the backyard. Where is that warm weather?

Carrie / March 22, 2005 12:13 PM

Yup, I've got a bright green thumb. I've only done indoor plants, but they always thrive. I've got a bamboo plant that started out a few inches high and it's now close to 4 1/2 feet. Someone gave me a baby aloe plant 4 years ago and she's since sprouted 4 or 5 babies. They just keep appearing. I also have a mini rose plant that doesn't have roses right now, but she has lots of pretty green leaves.

My only tip/secret is that I always say good morning, touch their leaves and tell them how beautiful they are. Sounds weird, but it seems to be working. (ok, maybe having plants that are hard to kill helps me, too)

ljdae / March 22, 2005 12:47 PM

TIP: avoid the wind!!

Michael / March 22, 2005 12:59 PM

I currently have a spider plant and a lucky bamboo plant, and have yet to kill them (although they are two of the hardier plants). This spring though, I'm big on creating my first container garden. I'm attempting to grow basil, parsley and thyme (from plantlings, not seeds), as well as tomatoes. A couple of days ago, I ordered a product off the internet called the topsy-turvy tomato planter--you hang it, and the tomato plant grows from it upside-down, allowing you to grow tomatoes with little or no space. How cool is that?

waleeta / March 22, 2005 1:32 PM

Does anyone have any advice on what kinds of plants/herbs I can grow in an apartment with a mesium amount of light? Especially edible things? Thanks!

waleeta / March 22, 2005 1:33 PM


Michael / March 22, 2005 1:42 PM

waleeta -

You may find this website helpful.

Tim / March 22, 2005 1:50 PM


Also take a look at

eep / March 22, 2005 1:54 PM

No, and no. Everything I don't manage to kill my cat ends up eating. I've given up.

Mike / March 22, 2005 2:01 PM

Two things that you should never plant outdoors: a Japanese plant called Kudzu and bamboo. In a climate like this, they act as an invasive species, completely choking off native plants and growing surprisingly fast (especially the Kudzu).

Usually, when park officials find these things growing in a public park, they have to kill half the plants living there naturally just to contain the problem.

Mo / March 22, 2005 2:25 PM

oh dear, back in NC, the kudzu was everywhere! it covered houses and yards and trees and sidewalks. it was like living in a terrarium.

i kill lots of my plants, but i had success with an indoor mint plant. plus, in the summer you've got fresh mint to put in your iced tea. my violets have held up rather well, too, and my house only gets a little sunlight in the morning.

brian / March 22, 2005 2:29 PM

We grew quite a few herbs last year on our porch with some success. The tomatoes did really well with little effort and brought me great amounts of joy. This year we'll see more tomatoes and flowers!

I also have an accidental pumpkin vine: I toss an older pumpkin into the compost pile after Halloween and missed. Next June, I found a plant growing, and I got some great pumpkins out of it!

Fil / March 22, 2005 3:49 PM

The garfield park will be having an organic gardening workshop series this summer (the class isn't listed on their site yet). They're also having a summer veggie container gardening workshop in 6/25. I've taken classes there before & they're great. check it out!

Another tip: grow stuff at least 6ft from your house, building, or roads. Not to be an alarmist, but there is a scary amount of lead in chicago dirt!! If you can, do raised beds or go w/ containers. Also, try starting a worm compost. I have one in my apartment. They don't stink, nor take up too much space, and it's a great natural fertilizer.

Mister C / March 22, 2005 4:14 PM

I've a bit of a green thumb, but my wife is an ex-farmgirl and has uncanny nurturing powers. We live in an apartment so we can only do back porch window boxes and pots (but compensate by doing tons of them).

Advice: If you're doing back porch window boxes and the like- Resist the temptation to get them out and planted during the inevitable warm spell in early May, as there always seems to be an equally inevitable nasty spell in late May. Wait until the first week of June or so, no need to hurry since the freeze doesn't happen until late late Autumn 'round these parts.

If you're lucky enough to have an actual back yard to plant in- be real careful about what you eat from your garden*. Recent studies have found tremendous lead levels in Chicago backyard gardens, especially those next to streets and alleys.

Apparently things like tomatoes and cucumbers aren't too bad to consume, but root vegetables (carrots and taters) and herbs like basil and dill supposedly really suck up the toxins (which blows if you love homemade pesto).

*Unless you put down a protective layer of clay (or a plastic liner or something) and then put in new fresh clean topsoil.

Mike-TS / March 22, 2005 6:57 PM

The link above tells you why you need to seriously consider soil testing. $30, results in a couple of weeks to a month, and if it's bad news, just pluck your starter plants and reseed grass.

Unless you are in a subdivision in the burbs that you know for sure was agricultural before your garden plot (yard) was created, then you can have anything, from kreosote railroad ties, to junker cars, to a Barrie Park Nightmare, in the history.

I built a 4x4 foot above-ground box garden, and brought in soil and peat from an Amish farmers' market that luckily is only 20 miles away. Landscape fabric keeps the soil from escaping the box (I have one inch gaps between bottom boards for drainage). Avoid treated lumber (poison) - so your untreated box rots in 5 years, you build a new one and transfer the dirt.

Know which veggies and herbs are compatable, and which are enemies. Last year was my first garden, and it was terrific. Fresh basil and parsley makes the bottled flakes taste like dust by comparison. Tomatoes that don't mush if you drop them as you carry them in, and that actually crunch when you slice them. Califlower and cabbage hate each other - that was my only boo boo.

I just tilled the other day - I can't wait for another year of yum.

Jen / March 22, 2005 9:00 PM

We've got a two green thumb houshold. My hub tends to the veggies. I do herbs, berries and all the flowers. Every year we've had bumper crops of tomatoes and peppers. The tomatoes are hierloom varieties from France. And the peppers he grows make it hard to suffer through the expensive, sad store-bought versions in the winter. He starts the seeds indoors on a radiator and nutures them under a grow light until they're hardy enough to plant outdoors. Works great.

Except last year we got corn smut and now we can't grow corn for a decade or so.

ron / March 22, 2005 10:47 PM

Funny you should mention it.
I just picked up the latest issue of Corn Smut.
Hot Nebraskan chicks galore.

chris / March 22, 2005 11:07 PM

Dog piss burns the grass

Katie / March 23, 2005 9:45 AM

Anyone have any suggestions on how to protect veggies from the squirrels?

Michael / March 23, 2005 9:54 AM

Katie -

I would suggest taking down two or three of those thievin' squirrels with a pellet gun. Then impale their little heads on spikes placed strategically around the perimeter of your garden. That should send a stern warning to the rest.

Katie / March 23, 2005 11:05 AM


Bwhahahahahhahahha (doing Mr. Burns finger twidling) Excellent!

Benjy / March 23, 2005 11:09 AM

I'm hoping I can develop a green thumb. Inspired by a visit to the Flower & Garden Show 10 days ago, I've bought a number of new plants, including a new 6 ft. plant for my living room, a basil plant, a mint plant and a some potted tulips. I've dropped something like $75 on plants and pots, etc. in the past week or so.

In the past, I've mostly stuck with the $5.99 houseplants from Home Depot, which when I killed them I'd just replace. Wasn't even worth taking them up on the 1-year replacement...

Brenda / March 23, 2005 11:18 AM

Tulip lovers who've been defeated by hungry squirrels, take heart! There's a new product made of crushed shells which, if planted around the bulbs, keeps both "tree rats" and moles/voles away from these flowering delicacies! This process seems much easier than planting bulbs encased in a chicken-wire mesh ball. You just might have some blooms next year where you intended them to grow!
Happy urban gardening from Virginia !!

Brenda / March 23, 2005 11:32 AM

Try putting "deer cloth" over veggies to foil squirrels. In our suburban neighborhoods, deer are a worse menace than groundhogs! The deer cloth is available at any gardening/hardware shop.
Indoor plant lovers: have you tried using "shade plants" inside?? There's a wide variety - they need some sun, and a good misting each day, but they don't require 8 hours of full sun to make nice blooms. Hostas, Japanese toad lilies (cool spotted blooms), lots of ferns - I especially like the Japanese painted fern -- silvery green leaves, very hardy! Even survived outside thru our very cold winter.
Best inside plants are mints. Yummy in iced tea, or dry them in a microwave oven for dried "mint tea" leaves. Italian parseley is another great little plant to grow. It's a biennial so let it go to seed.
You also might like those scented geraniums. Be careful NOT to overwater.

Lisa / March 23, 2005 11:36 AM

First, if you're planting in the ground within 50 feet of an "old" Chicago (especially frame) building, PLEASE test your soil for lead first! This is a serious issue, especially if children and women of childbearing age will eat your produce. Leafy greens/herbs absorb the most lead. Sunflowers are apparently good at helping remove the lead, and everyone loves them.

If you think you might have contaminated soil but don't want to test, just plant in containers, or raised beds of clean soil/compost.

See: Northwestern study :

City Dept of Public Health soil testing methods:

In between gardening spurts, get involved in your local planning/zoning issues so that no more backyards are paved over for parking pads/garages, then get rid of your stupid car so that no more public space is paved for parking, either! This is a CITY people --do we want gardens, or traffic?

Got no space, but live near an empty lot? Find out who owns it, ask if you can plant there, get some neighbors and friends to help, voila!

lisa / March 23, 2005 11:40 AM

BTW, don't be dissing bamboo just yet. It will very likely be used in the near future to absorb a bunch of nasty toxic shit from 'brown'fields so they may be redeveloped without harming sentient life forms like us. It can be contained, and can be made into flooring and other goods, it looks good, too.

Lisa / March 23, 2005 11:42 AM

Grass? Anyone who grows the suburban kind instead of the smoking kind, in the city, is just l-a-z-y and l-a-m-e.

Lisa / March 23, 2005 11:46 AM

Grass? As in for "lawns"? Yawn...Anyone who grows the suburban kind instead of the smoking kind in this city is just l-a-z-y and l-a-m-e. If I see one more condo developer rip out a perfectly fine, practically maintenance-free patch of perennials and put down rolls of grass and a few scrubby shrubs, I'm going to make my own guillotine, put it in a public square...

Leah / March 23, 2005 12:42 PM

In colorado I had quite the indoor garden, but I didn't have space in the U-Haul to bring any of my beloved plants with me.

Does anyone have a Creeping Charlie that I could have a starter from? He was my favorite. I miss him a lot.

LisaMay / March 23, 2005 12:50 PM

I too have cats who will eat any green thing they can get their chompers on. I finally won out by either hanging the plants from the ceiling or placing them in bird cages. I get some weird looks, but I also get to have green stuff without all the cat puke.

katie / March 23, 2005 1:03 PM

LisaMay the bird cage suggestion is a great idea for the plants. I never thought of that. I have the same problem with my cats. No matter what the plant is, they have to try to have a nibble.

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