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Demonstrating the viability of sustainable concepts and practices in urban environments through research, education, and hands-on projects.

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2613 Garden

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2613 Garden

Four rows, approx. 4 × 40 feet each, turn a typical Chicago backyard into a highly productive garden. Space between rows is just enough to maintain crops to allow for the maximum area for planting. May 4, 2009 (see photos from just two months later!)

YES in my backyard!
Composting: building healthy soil
Food and more
Coldframes, 1st generation
Coldframes, 2nd generation
Learn more

YES in my backyard!

Urban agriculture on a scale we can all relate to - the typical backyard.
This project will demonstrate steps the average homeowner can take to transform their immediate surroundings from a sterile monoculture of grass lawn into a thriving ecosystem that balances sustenance, security, and beauty.

Composting: building healthy soil

Nothing is wasted here.
Rather than place unwanted plant material in bags for pickup in the alley and waste precious nutrients AND resources to truck them far away to a landfill, they are used onsite.

Grass is removed in strips, broken into chunks, set aside in mounds, and placed in the bottom of holes to decay and add organic nutrients for crops.
Weeds and lawn clippings get added to the compost.
Branches and twigs trimmed from along the once wild-and-woolly fence line are even used in composting to to help aid with drainage of the soil and provide a good place for crop roots to spread out and get sufficient aeration.

Methods for the preparation of soil include:
1. trench composting
2. sheet composting
3. compost piles

We do use some commercial organic fertilizers and additional nutrients to boost the productivity of the soil… more on this soon.

Food and more

Crop selection balances plants crops for food with beautiful and fragrant plants to attract beneficial species - pollinators such as bees and wasps.
Learn more about symbiotic crops.

Crops include:

basil, Thai
basil, Genovese
Jerusalem artichoke

bok choy


Site preparation and planting took place over 5 weeks.
Planting and harvesting of fall crops was ongoing through August and September.
Planting of winter crops ongoing through October and November.

Left: Basic structure for coldframes - raised planter bed formed by 2×12 wood reclaimed from an old church and 2×4 framing. Right: North faces will use high thermal mass materials such as a gabion wall to moderate temperature swings and retain heat.

Coldframes, 1st generation

Coldframes are structures which allow the growing season to be extended.
(Very important in Chicago, this means we might get a little more than three weeks of growing time in… ha!).

They take many forms, but the simplest is an enclosed wood box filled with dirt covered by old windows on top, slanted at an angle to let sunlight in and let water drain.

UHC’s plots are larger than most, averaging 4’ × 7’, so our frames are a 4’ high lean-to structure, angled south, and with a high north back. The lean-to with be wrapped with plastic to retain heat and let sunlight in on west, east, and south sides. A hinged top will provide access for harvesting and maintaining produce.
In the northern portion, we plan to stack high thermal mass materials to moderate temperature swings, retain heat and help the plants grow, while reducing heat lost to the night sky and north by radiation.

Second generation coldframes, December 2009. Low tunnel, at left, and lean-to model, at right

Coldframes, 2nd generation

More info to come.

Learn more about other UHC urban agriculture projects

2607 Garden (formerly known as the UHC dinner garden)
UHC Garden at James Park
Rooftop Victory Garden at True Nature Foods

Notes: Special thanks to homeowners John and Andy Valkanis who have generously allowed Urban Habitat Chicago the use of their backyard for this demonstration urban agriculture project.

Materials for coldframes are 80-90% reclaimed materials (by weight) donated by UHC members and Green Cross, LLC.

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