We are in the midst of spring, the time where gardens are blooming and menus change from the heavier, winter stews to lighter fare. Many restaurants begin to take a farm-to-table approach, sourcing their food from local farms and continuing their sustainability efforts. One Chicago legend is taking this approach to the next level with a garden in his own backyard. From his restaurants on Clark Street to his line of salsas at the grocery store, Rick Bayless’ name has become synonymous with delicious, fresh Mexican food. When I was able to attend the Bayless Organic Garden Tour, I knew I was going to witness food innovation at its finest, but I didn't know I would leave with inspiration for my own home garden.
As I entered through the wood-paneled doors, I entered into a garden oasis. My head was turning from side to side, up and down; every inch of the garden was used purposefully and beautifully. There I stood in Rick Bayless’ garden that spanned three Chicago city lots as the tour began. The tour was led by Bill Shores, a professional gardener who has worked with Rick Bayless for ten years and has had a career growing food for chefs for 18 years. He explained that we were standing in a small-space ornamental and urban planning garden. Everything from the raised beds, patio boxes, and potted plants all served a purpose in the garden and there was no inch of land that was wasted. This was a garden where the chefs could collaborate openly with the gardener and interact with the crops. Many of the plants in this backyard garden actually are harvested and sent to Rick Bayless’ restaurants less than four miles away! Talk about locally produced.
Bill Shores is brimming with knowledge and dedication to this detailed garden. Here are a few of the biggest takeaways I learned about gardening from one of the best in the business:
1. Many of the plants lining the raised beds are succession crops. These crops are also known as quick-growing crops. Once harvested it can take as little as four weeks for another harvest; examples include spinach and leafy greens.
2. The question was raised, how do you avoid squirrels, birds, and rabbits from entering the garden? The Bayless Organic Farm partners with a Chicago working cat program. There are two cats that roam around the garden area (I didn’t spot them when I was there). Ever since the cats arrived, a rabbit has not been seen in the garden in 2 years. Thus, to keep the rabbits away from your garden, consider a cat.
3. Potted plants are great as decoration, but also can be used as a waiting area until space in the garden is available at the right time of the season.
4. You do not need a lot of space to start your own garden. You can plant in pots or begin with a small garden space and try vertical gardening.
5. Enjoy the fruits of your labor and be proud! The freshness you get from growing your own crops is unlike anything you will eat. Although you have to be patient in the beginning of the season, the outcome is well worth the wait.
You can learn more about the Bayless Garden Tour and about Bill Shores on their website. They even have their own blog filled with gardening knowledge and tips and tricks to get you through the unpredictable Chicago weather. Go ahead and start developing your green thumb and have fun!
You can find Jessica Ang in the kitchen experimenting with a new ingredient, replicating a recipe, or eating the last cookie in the jar. Much of her love for cooking comes from her curiosity to explore different cultures. Being able to share what she learns through cooking, tasting, and traveling is what keeps her palate adventurous. Also an avid runner, Jessica loves being outdoors and can be seen running through her neighborhood day or night. She always appreciates a good patio for dinner and drinks and is willing to bake birthday cakes for anyone.
Do you have any urban gardening tips or tricks? We would love to hear them! Post a comment below or send them our way on any of our social networks. Don't forget to tag @Foodseum and use the hashtag #FeedYourCuriosity