THE BLOG
05/28/2010 04:18 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Uncommon Ground Rooftop Farm Update: Week 4

To follow-up on the bee drama from last week, there's good news and bad news. The bad news is that, after all that swarm wrangling we either lost or injured the queen. Beekeeper Liam says he looked all over our new hive and couldn't find her. His plan is to combine our two queenless hives with the addition of a mail order queen. Of course, I'll let you know how that goes. The good news, however, is that the mite infestation seems to be a lot better. The particular hive it had infected happened to be a Russian strain with a reputation for fastidiousness. If the bees are keeping it clean in there, we won't bother treating them. No sense in using any chemicals -- even naturally occurring, organically approved chemicals -- unless necessary.

Chicago is heating up. Every day since my last post, we've had above average temperatures, especially considering the roof runs a little warm. This has coaxed the plants out of their spring indolence and into some more energetic growing. The beans and peas are taking off, making grabs at their trellises. While we're still a ways away from harvest of the legumes, we have been including herbs grown on site in our homemade sausages and meatloaf. And man, are they tasty.

However, the harvest that I'm most excited about right now, is our summer crop of interns. This morning was the first day of our intern program and six young folks -- Sam, Joseph, Sebastian, Julia, Mariah, and Josh -- will be joining us this summer to help out on the farm in exchange for hands on experience with urban agriculture. Something that struck me was the variety of their backgrounds: one is an escapee from the corporate world, another grew-up working in the Hawaiian hotel industry.

The warm weather also means that uncommon ground is ready to set up their outdoor patio. Ahh, patio dining: arguably the finest thing about summer in Chicago. But in keeping with uncommon ground's mix of farming and feeding, we're planning some edible plantings into the patio layout.

To wit, the interns dragged up six empty whiskey barrels from the basement to decorate our patio. One of our distributors had dropped them off for us a few months ago. Now, vacated of their Buffalo Trace, we thought we could find a good use for them. The interns drilled a couple drainage holes, filled 'em up with soil from Lake Street Landscape Supply, and then (this is the best part) planted potatoes in them.

And not just any potatoes, mind you. We planted la ratte potatoes. According to journalist Mary Blume in her book "A French Affair", La ratte first appeared in the Vilmorin-Andrieux seed catalog in 1880. As with many heritage varieties, it nearly disappeared in the early part of the 20th century but slowly began making a comeback in recent decades. It's praised for a chestnut-like flavor and the Seed Savers Exchange avers "we cannot recommend this variety highly enough, an absolute delight to cook with."

According to the weather, it's going to stay warm and, just now, as I'm preparing to leave uncommong ground, thunder clouds are brewing. Tune in next week to hear how the summery weather is affecting the crops and what else we've planted to engage the patio area.