The Back Forties


For 10 years I have lived in downtown Chicago, and--as my readers have heard me whine--I have craved a garden. Now it’s a new era. I no longer live or work in downtown Chicago. Sure, I’m only in the north ‘burbs, but the quiet and wildlife are welcome. Gone are the endless slabs of concrete and tiny trees in pots and traffic bleets among downtown’s skyscrapers, and now here are large trees in the ground, relentless grass and greenery, and the ability to hear the birds sing.
With the recent weird weather, God smiled down upon northern Illinois and gave us a Saturday in the mid-50s. Since we hadn’t had any serious snow or even hard-cold weather (which would be normal, starting as early October if Mother Nature wants), the ground was spring-soft, the sun peeking out and teasing, and my day free.

I decided to prep my four gardens. Oh, four gardens sounds ambitious, but it’s really not more space than any regular backyard garden. One of my criteria in choosing a house was that it have a sunny space for a garden. This house was perfect, but there wasn’t enough all-light area for a regular garden. There was, however, room to have four small, narrow gardens. It wasn’t really all in the back 40 (the back yard in my case), so I decided to call the gardens “the Back Forties.”
There is a lot to remember from my childhood gardening days, and a lot to learn (which fortunately I can do right here at with articles like Small-Scale Crop Rotation). It is not nearly time to be planting. I haven’t tested the soil for pH balance. I haven’t mapped out which plants will go where. Heck, I haven’t even ordered my seed catalogs! But it is early enough to dream.
All I’ve done so far is dig out plants and weeds and deeply spade the dirt to “prep.” Maybe it was just really an excuse to play in the dirt. One section, what I call Garden 2, was originally part of the yard and the sod had to be removed. Not fun, with a spade. But ambition and a falsely-spring Saturday drove me.

I realize this column is all about food, and has always included a recipe. But food will grow out the Back Forties, and it will end up in my kitchen, on my plate, and in this column.garden4

The dreaming goes on. Time to order the seed catalogs ...
1/15/2013 1:14:58 AM

Chuck, congrats on moving into the Chicago burbs. Your soil has a good color to it which is a good thing. Digging it up early and letting varying temperatures break up the soil is a good thing. I'm a firm believer in mulch. In my humble opinion, you can never have enough mulch. A compost pile is a great asset to the garden as well. It sounds like you are off to a good start on you 100 foot garden. That's a garden that's no more than 100 feet from your door. As you know, I have five raised garden beds within that range at the Urban Ranch. Good luck with your gardening this year. Have a great burb day.

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