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Monday, June 1, 2009

5 Things I Loved About The Rick Bayless Garden

I'll be honest, I'd never heard of Rick Bayless until a fellow garden blogger mentioned wanting to dine at his Chicago restaurant during the Garden Blogger's Spring Fling.

After a little research, we were delighted to learn that Rick grows a lot of his own produce in his home kitchen garden and even more delighted when we secured a tour of his garden for our group.

Rick's garden is tended by full time gardeners. Bill Shores and his wife Lori (pictured) specialize in small-scale urban gardening. Take a look at those beds (1st picture abov).

During our tour, Bill gave us the blow-by-blow of how he makes the most efficient use of Ricks urban garden space which produced about $20,000 worth of food for Rick's restaurant last year.

Here's what I found most interesting about Rick's kitchen garden:
  1. He does not rotate crops. Instead, he uses lots and lots of compost which he adds before every planting.
  2. His single compost bin produced 40 wheel barrows of compost last year. We all agreed that that is kind of hard to believe. He adds red wiggler worms. (If those worms will up my compost production to 40 wheel barrows per season, I'm ordering some. Like today!)
  3. He plants a new bed of salad greens every 3 weeks through the entire summer. (I had no idea that you could grow salad greens in the late summer here, but if he can do it, I can do it!)
  4. He's got a heated greenhouse on-site (pictured below) and between that and the fluorescent lights he uses to start his seeds, his set-up has all the components needed to start and grow all that wonderful food on-site.
  5. Bill says they spend about $3000 on seeds every year. $3000! They get most of them from Johnny's. (I will look at my basket-o-seeds in a different way from now on)

Bill says that over the years he's gotten to know the many micro-climates that exist on the Bayless property and he plants accordingly.

They even plant on the roof of the garage and said that the south facing wall that borders the kitchen garden (1st picture above, currently covered with ivy) is the next project. I can't wait to see what they grow there!

I also really loved that, even though Rick is probably pretty darn well-off, he still chooses to live in the city in a rather modest house for somebody like him.

I was so inspired by Rick Bayless' kitchen garden that I wanted to jump in a cab and go right home to finish working on mine. In the end, I'm glad I didn't because I would have missed another great raised bed kitchen garden on the tour.


  1. Hi Gina, great post! I loved our visit to Rick Bayless' garden. I found so much inspiration in what he's accomplishing in his gardens. I loved the accessibility of the ideas they're using there, and Bill Shores' guided tour was fascinating.

    Thank you for everything you did to help make Spring Fling possible. I'll never forget what a pleasure it was working with such a fine group of people organizing SF, and I treasure the bond we now share.

  2. I really wanted to eat at Frontera Grill when I was interning in downtown Chicago last summer. Every day, I was *this* close to going, but for some reason I never made it.

    I love hearing about restaurant gardens. $3000 worth of seed to produce $20,000 worth of food (even factoring in labor and water) sounds pretty economical.

    Glad to see the Spring Fling was a success!

  3. Gina,

    First, let me say thank you for everything you Lina, Carolyn & Lake Chicago Shores did on organizing Chicago Spring Fling. I'm glad to have gotten a chance to have met you all and proud to have worked on the organizing committee with you. This garden was pretty awesome.

    MrBrownThumb @ Chicago Garden

  4. $3000 on seeds?! Now I feel a lot better about spending $20 on a hibiscus. His garden looks pretty amazing, a model of efficiency, and I'm a little bit sorry I skipped that part of the weekend.

    Thanks to you and the rest of the committee for such a fantastic weekend! It was great meeting you all and being able to put faces with names and blogs.

  5. My favorite part was the micro-climate awareness. Even a few feet can make a difference in the success and productivity.

    Still, this all seemed to me to be a "boutique" garden. I hope that Bill and his wife are making more than $17K on this effort, which wipes out any profit motive.

  6. $20,000 worth of food? Wow, that's a lot! Just told my cynical spouse and he questioned how they came up with that number. But in any case, it looks like a very productive and beautiful garden.

    I'm having a great time reading the Spring Fling writeups :-)

  7. Excellent post and very informative. Wish I could have been there to see it myself.

  8. Very cool, I really wanted to go, but alas I had to work. Oh well. Thanks for the photos for those of us that couldn't make it.

  9. I also had no idea who he was (which was met with a few stares of disbelief by some, but, whatever!). I also don't rotate crops, though my veggie space is much smaller. Compost is the cure for many evils. $3000? Man, am I glad I collect my own seeds and host a (snail mail) seed swap in February! ;-)

  10. Gina, Thank you for sharing this! I had never heard of Rick Bayless before either and opted not to take this tour--big mistake! Next year I will be sure to sign up for everything:) It was great to meet you at Spring Fling. Thank you for all your hard work in helping to organize it; it was an unforgettable weekend!

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