Sunday, August 17, 2014

Urban Gardening / Farming - Tour of Rick Bayless Property, Chicago

In August I toured the Chicago urban farm and garden owned by Rick Bayless - chef and restaurateur. The garden features a mix of traditional beds, raised beds, containers and vertical garden space.  It hosts annuals (Tropical), herbs, vegetables, Citrus, fruit, succulents, and "farm" animals.

The garden was started over 15 years ago - as a hobby, but also as a demonstration of urban agriculture and to support organic greens and vegetables for his culinary needs. Since then it's grown to cover three city lots.  The vegetable growing space is over 1,000 square feet and includes indoor and "alternative growing spaces."  By alternative I'm referencing porch grow-box, vertical gardens, as well as indoor space utilizing grow lights.

Chicago Urban Garden (see the beehive)
At the start of the tour the guide and full-time gardener stated "don't try this at home" indicating that the garden has evolved overtime and is a business with nearly 6-8 part time
gardeners supporting the production effort. His direction given was "to always have the garden looking nice." To that point - there were hardly any weeds (I counted three,) no mess of dirt around the containers, and no dried up or yellowed leaves. This crew is meticulous and busy!

Rick Bayless Chicago Garden

Naturally as celebrity chef owner - there is a very well equipped outdoor kitchen and dining area.  One table area seats four or five and another can fit up to 20. Here is an overview of the layout of the gardens and agriculture area.  The space to the left of the cooking area and right of the dining area is largely planted with tropics an low light plants. It includes a small pond with coy. This is a relaxing and inviting space. The panoramas immediately above are  taken here. 

Overview of property and garden

By the numbers:
  • Over 1000 ft2 of vegetable/herb growing space 
  • Production of over 500 pounds of salad greens, micro-greens, herbs and edible flowers annually - that's $30,000 value
  • 4 crops of greens outside each year
  • 1 beehive producing 60 pounds of honey a year
  • 3 chickens (the coop recommended by Martha Stewart)
  • 100's if not thousands of worms (red)
  • 2 feral cats that help keep the rabbits and other critters at by (outside year round)
  • Spend over $3750 on seed each year
  • Over 40 wheelbarrows of compost per year (no including compost from the chickens)
  • $25 - the cost of the tour :)
Rick Bayless Urban Garden - Chicago, Aug 2014

A key piece of advice from Bill Shores the properties gardener was to observe the garden.  While that sounds a bit silly - it has helped him cultivate and reap rewards from understanding and leveraging the garden's micro-climates.  For example he knows exactly where the sun will start to hit the ground in the spring and how to warm it up faster to speed the first crop of lettuce.  He knows  at what height the sum will reach in the middle of the plot which is largely shady - here structural elements enable full fun plants to thrive. He capitalizes on the full sun balcony to grow peppers.  He knows how the water flows when it rains and what that means for the crops.  He even knows where the ants like to play. 
If you look at other bloggers updates on tours of this same garden - you will see many similar photos. I mean - really similar, as in practically the same plants in the same pots in the exact same spot. I guess when you hit on what works - you stick with it. 

In comparing photos to a 2009 tour - I notice that there were no raised beds and less vertical gardening. 

  • These beds were put in shortly thereafter to improve soil management, harvesting, warming up the beds in spring too.  The aisles between the beds alternate between 13-17" to enable both wheelbarrows and kneeling down - without losing too much valuable space to pathways.  The sides of the raised beds are 6" strips of metal - deep enough to manage but not wide so no loss of productive space either. Attention to details and perhaps trial and error. 
  • The vertical space at the west end of the garden and along the north side provide space to grow items which would normally require large amounts of space. These are beans and squash. 
  • The roof over the larger dining area seems to have switched from vines to grapes. Moving from decorative to productive crops/plants. Very pretty to see the grapes there too!
Vegetable raised beds and grape arbor

Greens in raised beds

Deck garden and indoor garden

Covered Seed Starting Area

Beans growing vertically

Vertical Squash Production

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