Buy your fall veggies, but watch where you plant them

August 29, 2010

OMG! Somebody’s selling FALL starter vegetables!

A lot of things came out of the Independent Garden Center Show at Navy Pier the other week. One of them was my introduction to the more-or-less national social media types. Yeah, I know. If you’re talking “social media” there aren’t supposed to be any boundaries, national or regional. Welcome to the real world, bunkie. This is not a swipe at anybody in particular, but I’ve discovered that the social media seem to be almost as provincial as the so-called “local” media.

Don’t get me wrong. The Garden Rant women are relevant and a stitch and deserve to be read as often as possible. Especialy since they favored me with a little Internet love last week. However, there is still a distinct lack of interst in the Midwest region that is a tad disturbing.

That being said, one of the things I found to be spot on was when Susan Harris (God, I hope it was her) bemoaned the lack of starter vegetable plants available in local garden centers. I agreed with her at the IGC Show…and then saw a post from one of my Facebook friends, Mary Pendergast, who works in the perennial deparment at Gethsemane Garden Center on the north side of Chicago.

She announced that Gethsemane was selling starter vegetable plants that they had grown themselves, and gave me the name of Victoria Anderson, who manages the Edibles Department at Gethsemane. Victoria says” We have had so many people in the last year, and again this summer, ask if we were going to carry fall crops that I took the plunge and decided that we should just grow them.  We don’t have a big production going.  We are testing the waters a bit and looking to accomodate all the gardening folks that are replacing plants and looking to get some cool season greens in.  Not everyone has the inclination, the time, or the space, to start from seeds.”

This is something that has frustrated me for a number of years. I haven’t been able to figure out why garden centers simply refuse to acknowledge the late summer/early fall growing season. Well, perhaps this is the start of a trend.

in addition to the fully mature hot pepper plants (such as Jalapeno. Habanero. Cayenne and Caribbean Red Hot), Victoria says that Gethsemane has cool season crops of arugula, chard, kale, lettuces galore, and spinach. They will soon have carrots, peas and sorrel, mache and many other varieties of lettuce, spinach and chard. Prices are great–$.99 for a 3.5inch round peat pot, or $1.69 for a 4 pack of lettuce.

Victoria candidly admits that they don’t have “enormous quantities”, because they simply didn’t know if anybody would show up to buy them. Here’s my advice, especially if you live in Chicago. Show up. Buy these vegetables. You just might help to start a trend. Are you listening, other garden centers in Chicago?

Speaking of growing food locally…

There are some people who think that the whole “Locavore” movement is misguided. Let’s start with this article in the New York Times by some jamoke, er, guy named Stephen Budiansky, who says that locavores, basically, don’t know how to put two and two together. Thank goodness for Grist, the environmental site that immediately brought together folks from all over the locavore spectrum to debate the issue. Draw your own conclusions. I’m too busy sticking pins in Stephen Budiansky’s effigy. (Does that hurt? No? How about THIS!)

And speaking of growing food locally (again) . . .

Have you heard the one about the woman in Northbrook who has to stop growing tomatoes in her yard? Sorry, it’s not a joke. I’ll be talking to Alex Lyakhovetsky, whose mother doesn’t have enough sun in her backyard to grow vegetables and therefore planted her organically grown veggies in the front. Someone complained, and the city told her this year would have to be her last. You can read the whole story in the Chicago Tribune.

Once more with feeling . . .

My partner and webmaster, Kathleen Thompson, will join me to talk about life with a CSA (Community Sustained Agriculture). For a flat fee paid at the beginning of the season, we receive a wonderful box of vegetables every week. The cool thing is that we don’t choose what’s in it, so we’ve been learning to cook and eat things we never went near before. I mean, seriously, who eats kohlrabi? I do now, at least in stir-fries. When there were leeks, we learned to make Vichyssoise. You get the idea.We get our CSA from Growing Home, an organization that grows organic produce while it trains new farmers, but there are dozens of choices out there. And most of them are currently selling shares for the fall season–September and October.

Of food, family, hostas and conifers

August 22, 2010

Get out your corks and crayons to benefit Purple Asparagus

Actually, they’ll do it for you, if you show up at the Purple Asparagus Benefit on Sunday, August 29, from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. at Uncommon Ground Restaurant in the Edgewater neighborhood of Chicago. If you want to know about Purple Asparagus, you need to know about its president, Melissa Graham.

I met Melissa earlier this year at the Growing Home Benefit. As host of Chicago’s only gardening radio show, I was asked to host the annual benefit for the third consecutive year. So there I was, working out front, behind a hot microphone. What I soon discovered was that Melissa, who was responsible for the excellent dinner being served at this event, was working back in the kitchen, in front of a hot stove. I think I liked my job better…but I’m not a chef.

But when I was able to drag her out of the kitchen to take a bow, we started talking about Purple Asparagus, the not-for-profit Founded in 2005 and “dedicated to bringing families back to the table by promoting and enjoying all the things associated with good eating.” I’ll drink to that.

Among the programs sponsored by Purple Asparagus are Healthy Snacks Workshop in Schools, which is designed to help Chicago school children learn better eating habits; and Growing Healthy Kids, which is about collaborative efforts to improve the health of Chicago’s children.

By the way, there’s an online silent auction, so even if you can’t make it to the benefit dinner, you can still support a great cause. You might also want to link to Melissa’s blog Little Locavores, which has recipes for family friendly farmers market fare.
Speaking at the Hosta Happening at Rich’s Foxwillow Pines

Oh, those crazy kids! They’re stuck in the 70s. I mean, who does a “happening” anymore? Well, Rich and Susie Eyre do–not to mention Rich’s mom, Margaret Eyre, the Hosta Queen, who coordinates volunteers to help divide and sell the hostas…and there are several hundred varieties on sale. I don’t think there’s any truth to the rumor that she still closes down many Woodstock taverns (actually, I made that up).

But before you get distracted by Margaret’s nighlife, let’s get the relevant information out on the table. The Hosta Happening is at Rich’s Foxwillow Pines Nursery, 11618 McConnell Road in Woodstock on Saturday, August 28th from 9am to 4pm. As always, proceeds go to Heifer International (HI) . Heifer is a non-profit, humanitarian organization dedicated to ending world hunger and poverty by providing livestock, trees, training, and other resources to help struggling families build sustainable futures. I can’t tell you how many thousands of dollars Rich and Susie have donated to this great cause over the years.

And, next Saturday, I get to be a part of it. Here’s the schedule.

11:00 a.m. – Rich and Susan discuss Heifer’s work worldwide

1:00 p.m. – I do my talk “I’m Not Really a Garden Expert, I Just Play One on the Radio”

I don’t know what is more likely to draw people–Rich and Susie, my talk, a chance to meet the legendary Margaret, or the chance to buy 5 hostas and get one hosta of equal value free. I’m not going to bet on myself. Also, refreshments will be served all day.

One more thing, for you conifer geeks. Rich’s Foxwillow Pines is hosting the first ever Illinois Conifer Rendezvous on October 9 for American Conifer Society members and other conifer enthusiasts. Gary Wittenbaugh will talk about ‘ Gardening with Conifers.’  He has been gardening for over 35 years with an emphasis on dwarf, slow growing and unusual conifers.

Jerry Morris , plantsman and expert of the trees of the Rocky Mountains, is coming from Colorado and will discuss tree transplanting.

Other events include a bonsai demonstration, garden tours, and a tour of the Rocky Mountain Trees of Jerry Morris at Foxwillow Pines. Jerry Morris is bringing a collection of his bonsais for sale. Some are more than 100 years old. Of course, I would just kill one and feel awful, so I’m staying away from that sale.

There is a $10 fee for lectures and lunch.  Email for more information.

Hitching my wagon to the social media star

August 15, 2010

Welcome to Your Garden Show!

Wait. I didn’t get that quite right.

While I like to think of my program as your garden show, I’m actually talking about a new website called “Your Garden Show.” Are we clear? It’s the brainchild of Tom and Lisa Marini Finerty, a couple of ex-patriate Chicagoans who were looking for a way for gardeners of all shapes and sizes to be able to connect with each other online. Of course, that’s been done before, but not with the unique vision that the Finertys have brought to their project.

Tom and Lisa enlisted the aid of a group of smart, techno-savvy and accomplished folks and the result is a website–actually, more of a web-community–that allows gardeners to post slide shows and videos of their gardens; share information about their plants, themselves and their pet projects; and even GLOG (funny…I thought that was a Scandanavian wine drink…go figure) They say that a GLOG is a fully searchable garden log that allows you to look back over past growing seasons, or set reminders for gardening events in the future.

It’s all easier to figure out when you go to the website. There you’ll see scores of thumbnail photos, some of individual gardens, some of community gardens, some of conservatories and more from all over the world. Just click on one and it will take to to a slide show, video or both of that particular garden, along with comments by the gardener and even comments from other gardeners. And then there are the bells and whistles–check out how you can “tag” photos in your slide show with plant names, much the way you can tag people on Facebook.

Is this the future of online gardening? It might very well be.

Gardeners, start your ranting!

As long as we’re on the subject of social media of various sorts, I pose the question: Do you think gardeners rant more than other people? Regardless of what you think, there are four women out there who rant more than…well, than just about anybody.

They are the creators and perpetrators of one of the (THE?) most popular sites in the blogosphere: Garden Rant. The primary authors are Susan Harris, Elizabeth Licata, Michele Owens and Amy Stewart and the best way to describe what they do is to present their own Manifesto:

We Are:
Convinced that gardening MATTERS.
Bored with perfect magazine gardens.
In love with real, rambling, chaotic, dirty, bug-ridden gardens.
Suspicious of the “horticultural industry.”
Delighted by people with a passion for plants.
Appalled by chemical warfare in the garden.
Turned off by any activities that involve “landscaping” with “plant materials.”
Flabbergasted at the idea of a “no maintenance garden.”
Gardening our asses off.
Having a hell of a lot of fun.

And these four riders of the Gardening Apocalypse are in Chicago this week to speak (and, presumably, to rant) at the annual Independent Garden Center Show (IGC) at Navy Pier. As a matter of fact, they’re going to be all over the area this week, so if you trip over one of them, at least apologize. By the way, Amy Stewart has been on my program once before, to talk about her excellent book Flower Confidential. She has written several other books and is already an important garden writer.

If you’ve ever wondered what gardeners could possibly rant about ad infinitum, I advise you to stop by the Garden Rant website. But I’ll give you an example. One of the more recent conversations arose from a new book by Eric Grissel called Bees, Wasps, and Ants: The Indispensable Role of Hymenoptera in Gardens (Grissel is a terrific writer, by the way–I interviewed him a few years ago). So the ranters challenged their readers to come up with limericks about bee, wasp and ant sex. Ahem. You can read the best of the best here. They even got the staff at Timber Press, which published the book, to read some of the limericks on tape. I don’t think that bribes were involved. Hey, I’m still trying to get the powers-that-be at WCPT to install a version of Adobe Reader that isn’t more than five years old on the station computers. I need to get some tips from the gals.

There’s no point in my trying to explain their own rants, guest rants, book and other reviews, and how they generally suck you into their edgy web of gardening and related issues. The best way to appreciate their talents is by visiting the website. Unfortunately, only three of the four are on the program today (Michele is out of the country attending an 80th birthday party for her favorite aunt). So it’s merely three against one. Oh, dear. I don’t stand a chance.