One of the best things about moving to Chicago has been having enough outdoor space to have a garden. When I was in sixth grade my class had small plots at school, and I liked it so much that I started a small vegetable patch in my yard at home. Ironically enough, since I was a super picky eater, I refused to eat most of what I grew – but I loved checking on the plants every day and watching them basically make something from nothing.
There are a lot of different neighborhood-based gardening clubs around Chicago. One that’s near us, the Peterson Garden Project, helps transform vacant lots into community gardens and teaches people everything they would need to know to take full advantage of the space, from starting seeds and building planter boxes all the way to cooking with the literal fruits of their labor. I went the PGP seed swap back in February and got dozens of seed pouches *for free*, and ever since I’ve been working on what has turned into a thriving herb and vegetable garden.
There have been a couple of hurdles along the way, most having to do with finding the right space. Our only south-facing window is in Kyle’s office/indoor workshop, so I had to commandeer an increasingly large stretch for my seedlings. I waaaaaayyyyy overestimated how many seeds I should sow, and I think now I’m up to probably 200 plants (!). Watering them, especially when they were tiny and delicate, was a lengthy procedure with a spray bottle that would make my hand cramp up. Eventually when the weather warmed up, Kyle built me two large cold frames using reclaimed windows and a planter box with a trellis made out of an old box spring. I wanted them to have bottoms, because we will likely move to a different house this summer and I didn’t want to leave my garden behind. I’ve also been using an assortment of pots that I’ve gathered from around the neighborhood – I’ll never get over how many perfectly useful things people throw away! Now that the plants have gotten bigger, they’re beginning to look a bit cramped and I’ve been battling off mold that gathers when we have a few damp days in a row – it’ll be so nice to have everything in the ground instead next year.
I’m just now starting to see things flower, and I can’t wait until we can begin harvesting in a few weeks. Gardening has connected me back to working with my hands in a way that I didn’t realize I’d been craving – when you’re covered in dirt, there’s no emails to check or feeds to scroll through. You stop worrying. You stop thinking about your crazy schedule and all of the things you haven’t gotten to. Even though nature’s doing the hard work, you get to cheer on a plant for climbing another rung up the trellis or sprouting a new leaf. And at the end of the day, you know that you made it all happen, basically from nothing.