The Ample Bites vegetable “farm” is ready for planting.
After seeing Thomas Keller’s garden plot directly across the street from The French Laundry in Yountville, California, his iconic Napa Valley restaurant, Sandy and I were impressed by the value of having an abundance of high-quality fresh produce ready to go from the ground to the kitchen and onto the table the same day.
Sandy has had a garden – or as she has called it a “farm” – for years. Initially her “farm” was next to our home. After a home addition made it difficult to find a place in the yard with enough space and suitable sunlight, the “farm” is now located in the communal garden plots that are operated by the St. Charles Park District. The basic plot of about 20 feet x 20 feet is rented for $25.00 from about the 1st week in April until October 31st. The James O. Breen Community Park, where the Ample Bites plot is located, is divided into a total of 233 plots. Many of the gardeners rent more than one plot and a handful of the regulars have had the same plots for more than a decade.
The Park District does an initial pass with a roto-tiller in late March or early April, which is enough to churn under the weeds that have grown up during the late fall and early spring. We have found that a couple hours of roto-tilling is necessary to get the soil ready for planting. Once the soil is tilled and weed barrier is in place, all we need is some warmer weather to start some of the heartier items like onions, potatoes, spinach, lettuce, peas, and beans.
The vegetable garden will, as always, be organic. No herbicides or pesticides will be used. Weed control is done initially by the weed barrier and then later by hand-pulling and mulching the weeds and grasses.
Next month the summer vegetables such as tomatoes, bell peppers, jalapeno peppers, Anaheim peppers will be planted once we are fairly certain we will not have any more frost. Frost can occur in the Chicago area as late as mid-May.
The initial photos of the “farm” are far from exciting. Once we have vegetables sprouting, blooming and producing fruit, you will see much more compelling images and, of course, dishes being prepared using the bounty of the “farm“.