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Farm Report: Starting The Year From Seed

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Whether you're a farmer, a gardener, or an apartment dweller with a window box, all growers are beholden to the weather gods. In Chicago, those gods can be fickle and, on occasion, cruel. 2010 hasn't been too bad but we're still one day out from Chicago's official frost free date: May 15.

Don't giggle at this, either. It's dropped down to 34 degrees on May 15th before (1937), in recent memory it's snowed (2003), and most Chicago growers have ended up on the weather gods' bad side before. All that said, up here at the rooftop farm at uncommon ground, we're trying to get ahead of the game.

Some plants are sowed directly into the ground. Snow peas, for instance, can be planted before the last frost date as they're pretty hardy. Beans don't take too well to transplanting but aren't as cold-friendly as peas, so we'll plant these from seed in a few days.

Other plants do a bit better with being moved around. We started tomatoes, peppers, kale, basil, cilantro and parsley inside from seed in special starter trays under fluorescent lights in our basement (since we're a restaurant, these are kept separate from our pantry and food storage). Once they're big enough that they start looking like real plants, we pot them up into larger containers and, soon after, begin hardening them off. Once you're past the frost free date, you're clear to start transplanting your seedlings outside.

Well, we couldn't handle it. We already started transplanting a few days early. Tempting fate, we transplanted a bunch of tomatoes and a few flats of kale on Wednesday. And in the next couple days, we'll start moving out the rest of our seedlings. Before long, our rooftop will start looking green again.

Also this week, our friend Liam Ford (Chicago Tribune reporter and blogger at Chicago Bee Blog)stopped by to show me some beekeeping skills. The good news? We added a super (an extra hive box for honey storage) atop the southmost hive, which was already packed with bees. The bad? We've discovered that another hive is afflicted with a parasitic mite with the terrifying name Varroa destructor Next week we plan to treat them with formic acid, an organic chemical control.

Lastly, a few toasts are in order. First to our comrade-in-arms up at Growing Power, Will Allen, who was named one of Time magazine's Time 100: The World's Most Influential People. His category? Heroes. Congrats, Will, we couldn't agree more.

Also, I'm proud to say that Uncommon Ground was awarded the 3 Star Green Restaurant Certification designation by the Green Restaurant Association. Kudos go to the owners Helen and Michael Cameron for their long-term commitment to being a green business.

Tune in to the Farm Report next week to find out how planting went, how we're dealing with our Varroa problem, and more. Things should be warming up by then.