Countdown to Dig In® Chicago

March 25, 2012

My thanks to all of the folks who have sent their congratulations to me following the announcement that I will be involved in a TV gardening and cooking show called Dig In Chicago, which will premiere on April 21 at 10:00 a.m. on Comcast/Xfinity Channel 102. My co-host for the new venture, Jennifer Brennan, joined me in the studio last week, where we snapped a few photos to mark the occasion.

Jennifer and Mike on the radio, soon to be on TV.

This week, which marks one month before the premiere of the show, we are please to say that we now have more specifics about program. It will reach approximately 1.3 million households in the Chicago area. The viewing area will stretch from the Wisconsin border to Kankakee and from DeKalb, Illinois to Michigan City, Indiana.

Of course, as a number of people have informed me, they don’t have cable. Or they’re on Dish Network (losers). Not to worry. If you can’t watch the program as it airs live, there will be other options. Episodes will be online at as well as YouTube, so there will be plenty of opportunities to view our show.

Needless to say, we are psyched. As we said last week, please don’t hesitate to Like us on Facebook. And, of course, please watch the show, beginning on April 21, which also features chef Dave Esau of Dave’s Specialty Foods in Mount Prospect,

Introducing…the FloraTube™ (it’s really a compost sock)

In July of last year, David Gravel stopped by the show to talk about Green Organics, Inc., a company that has been composting yard waste from waste companies, garden centers and landscapers since 1999. Some of our most interesting conversation took place outside of the WCPT studios after the show, when he took me to his truck to show me something he called compost socks.

They were basically a fabric filled with high quality compost (not to be confused with top soil). As he explained to me, the compost socks had various uses, including erosion control and urban gardening. You can plant right into them, either with seeds or starter plants. They can be watered or even fertilized, and the compost can be emptied and replaced when necessary.

Fast forward to last week, when Gravel showed up at Green on McLean, the community garden on my block, to unload a few of these socks, officially known as FloraTubes™, which are manufactured by Soil Control, Inc. and are filled with compost from Green Organics, Inc. As you can see in the photos on the left, we used them to frame one of our garden beds. We’re not exactly sure what we want to plant in the socks, but we’ll keep you posted.

Dave Gravel, Kathleen and the "compost tube socks" at Green on McLean

The FloraTube™, according to the website, consists of a tubular mesh material filled with with a high quality yard waste compost listed by OMRI for use in Organic production. Plants are grown in the tube material and are supplemental with irrigation and fertilizers as needed.

David Gravel stops by again today to extol the virtues of the FloraTube on today’s show.

What the heck is going on this spring? Part Deux

Last week, Jennifer Brennan and I spent pretty much the whole show talking about the crazy spring weather we’ve experienced in the past two weeks. Before temperatures dropped off a couple of days ago, Chicagoans witnessed nine straight days of record-breaking weather.

In my own garden, I’ve watched almost all of my bulbs bloom and fade in a matter of days, when that usually happens over the course of a couple of months. I’ve never seen so many different kinds of plants–bulbs, perennials, trees and shrubs–blooming at the same time. Seriously, folks, I don’t think this is healthy.

Which is why I’m continuing the discussion this week with Abigail Rea, Manager of Horticulture at the Morton Arboretum. She’ll let us know the good, the bad and the impossible to predict about what has been unprecedented weather in the Midwest this late winter and early spring.

Seriously, folks, here he really is…Paul Tukey

If you caught the show last week (and if you can’t listen live, you should avail yourself of The Mike Nowak Show podcasts that I post each week), you know that I thought Paul Tukey was going to be on board to talk about early season lawn care. Of course, when producer Bidalia Tejada couldn’t track him down on the phone, I wondered what had happened.

Well, nothing to worry about, kids. Just a classic case of miscommunication. But there are still plenty of lawn care questions to answer, so Paul, who is the owner/operator of, will be with me this morning. I promise. That will give me another chance to plug next week’s conference at the Chicago Botanic Garden called Lawn and Landscape Summit: Chicago 2012

The first day, Friday, March 30, is for lawn care professionals. The second day, Saturday, March 31 is for the rest of us, who want a green lawn but who don’t want to be pumping a boat load of chemicals into the environment. The first 100 attendees each day will receive a free goody bag that includes a new book, product samples & discounts as well as information.

Even better, if you use the special code “Nowak” you get $5 off either day! Go buy a Starbuck’s on me.

Meanwhile, Paul has some great advice about how to deal with your lawn in this weird weather. He put together a blog post called Your Lawn and this March Heat: 10 Do’s and Don’ts, which you will probably find useful. Another post is called Consider Low Mow Grasses This Spring, which will point you in the direction of grass seed that is eco-friendly because it requires less care than “traditional” turf.

Last but not least, if you’re going to have a lawn, and it’s healthy and organic, you might as well play in it. To that end, Paul has a new book out called Tag, Toss & Run: 40 Classic Lawn Games. Tukey wrote this with Victoria Rowell. You might recognize herfrom her role as Drucilla Winters on CBS’s highly-rated daytime series”The Young and the Restless.” She has been nominated twice for a Daytime Emmy and awarded 12 NAACP Image Awards. She also co-starred in the CBS hit primetime television series “Diagnosis Murder” with Dick Van Dyke for eight seasons while simultaneously continuing her role in daytime. She also founded the Rowell Foster Children’s Positive Plan (RFCPP) in 1990 and has since almost single-handedly made foster care a nationally recognized cause.

There are the classics like Capture the Flag, Croquet, Badminton, and Bocce. Then are the ones that leave you scratching your head like Cherokee Marbles, Cornhole, and Kubb. Never fear, however, Tukey and Rowell explain the games, if you don’t already know how to play them. Please don’t cheat and, as always, no wagering.



Dig In® Chicago premieres on April 21, 2012

March 18, 2012

Mike and Jennifer Brennan announce Dig In® Chicago!

I’m pleased to welcome Jennifer Brennan back to the show as this week’s co-host, especially because we have a HUGE (to quote Donald Trump) announcement to make. Jennifer is horticulture information specialist at The Chalet in Wilmette and is a frequent guest on my radio show.

She is also my co-host for a brand new television show called Dig In Chicago, which will premiere on Saturday, April 21 in the Chicago area.

(Pause, as fireworks explode in the background.)

Dig In Chicago is a local show that will explore earth-friendly gardening and cooking for 24 weeks this year. It will air on Comcast cable television, on a channel and at a time to be announced soon. However, I can reliably say that you should expect it to be aired at or around 10:00 a.m. every Saturday until the end of September. Whoo-hoo! It will also feature chef Dave Esau of Dave’s Specialty Foods in Mount Prospect, who will handle the cooking duties, because I’m sure as hell not going to.

Meanwhile, go to our Facebook Page and Like Dig In Chicago!!!

Okay, on to the real world. Like a prelude to spring that has featured warm temperatures unlike anything we’ve seen…pretty much ever. I asked some horticultural friends on Facebook at a page called Soiled Again what they advise average gardeners to do. Here are some of their responses:

  • Mulch!
  • Beware a late frost!
  • Use native plants to conserve water!
  • Wait to plant annuals. Shrubs and trees are most likely ok to plant now, but blooms could get nipped by a cold snap or frost. We could still have frosts up until around Mother’s Day in Northern Illinois.
  • Cover for frost/freeze warnings with paper or cloth (blankets, towels etc.) not plastic. Plastic doesn’t provide enough insulation and can transmit the cold to the plant instead of preventing it

Great advice. Jennifer and I will attempt to steer you to the right decisions on Sunday. Tune in and Facebook, Tweet or call in your questions at 773/763-9278.

If we’re talking about lawn care this early, it might as well be natural

In any normal year, a discussion about lawns at this time of year would be a primer on what to do a month from now. This year? Well, it’s weird. I’m looking out my window and watching the grass green up even as I write. And it because of the crazy weather, which I mentioned above.

So if you’re going to start working on your lawns now, I’m going to try to steer you down the natural road. That’s why I welcome back Paul Tukey, founder of, who is promoting a conference called Lawn and Landscape Summit: Chicago 2012 which takes place He is joined by Brian Milam of Calcium Products, Inc., one of the sponsors of the event, which also include Natural Industries, Milorganite and Bradfield Organics.

Here’s a look at the lineup:

  • Paul Cushing, deputy director for San Diego’s golf courses, including Torrey Pines
  • Dr. George Snyder, distinguished emeritus professor of soil and water science from the University of Florida
  • Peter Wild, CEO of ArborJet and owner of Boston Tree Preservation. He is the world’s leading expert on emerald ash borer, Asian longhorned beetle, hemlock wooly adelgid and mountain pine bark beetles
  • Howard Garrett, landscape architect, arborist, author of 14 books and consultant on turf projects such as the Frito-Lay campus and Dallas Cowboys practice fields

The first day, Friday, March 30, is for lawn care professionals. The second day, Saturday, March 31 is for the rest of us, who want a green lawn but who don’t want to be pumping a boat load of chemicals into the environment. The first 100 attendees each day will receive a free goody bag that includes a new book, product samples & discounts as well as information.

Tickets to day 1 cost $75. Tickets for day 2 cost $40. They are available HERE. And if you use the special code “Nowak” you get $5 off either day! Do I have pull or what?

It all happens at the Chicago Botanic Garden on Friday, March 30 and Saturday March 31. Regardless of which day you attend, the first 100 attendees each day will receive a take-away bag of samples, information and a copy of Tukey’s newest book. Tickets to day 1 cost $75. Tickets for day 2 cost $40. They are available here, and the special code “Nowak” saves $5 off either day! Geez, I hate that kind of pressure to sell tickets.

However, if you can’t attend that conference but you’re still interested in doing the right thing for your lawn, you might want to consider Safer Pest Control Project’s Natural Lawn Care workshop in Northwestern Indiana on Wednesday, March 21st and Thursday, March 22nd.

I know what you’re saying. You can’t drive out to Indiana for that, either. So, guess what? You can watch part of that workshop on your computer. ” It’s All About the Soil,” a special webinar that features nationally recognized organic turf expert Chip Osborne, founder and President of Osborne Organics, LLC. Chip has over fifteen years of experience in creating safe, sustainable, and healthy landscapes. He also has over 35 years of experience as a professional horticulturist. I’ve seen him in action, and he’s terrific. You can sign up for it here.

The weather is crazy, but there’s no reason why you should be crazy, too, by using the same old synthetic lawn fertilizers and pesticides. Go natural, folks.

Fleurotica returns to aid the Garfield Park Conservatory

If you’ve visit the Dig In Chicago page on this website, you will see our TV show “pilot,” which was shot at the iconic Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago. What you don’t see in that video are the remnants of the catastrophic hail storm that hit the conservatory and its greenhouses last June. As of January, The Desert House and Aroid House have temporarily reopened to the public. All display houses are now open to the public until permanent repairs begin.

However, there there is still much to be done, and a lot of money to be raised. A few months ago, the “One Pane At A Time” campaign was launched to allow the public to help rebuild the Garfield Park Conservatory’s damaged roofs by making a donation towards replacement panes of glass. Some of the shattered glass is being turned into art, with some of the proceeds going to the conservatory.

And now, the fourth annual FLEUROTICA runway fashion show returns, with all proceeds benefitting the recovery efforts. Of course, because the restoration work is ongoing, it isn’t possible for FLEUROTICA to be held at the conservatory. That’s why this fabulous event is being held at Venue One, 1044 W. Randolph. The date is this Friday, March 23. Tickets are $225 for VIP spots and $175 for general seating. She show runs from 6:30 to 11:00 pm.

This is a fantastic way to help the healing process of this great institution, which provides educational programs and events in a lush tropical environment in the middle of the city. At the same time, you can transport yourself to the center of an utterly unique fashion show.

The “Fightin’ 49th” Ward fights for blue cart recycling

Just because I haven’t said much about recycling lately doesn’t mean that I’m not still concerned that most people in Chicago do not have access to an efficient, convenient recycling system. The City may or may not release its study soon on the “managed competition” that it started back in October. The last we heard about this issue was when Mayor Rahm Emanuel bragged how the competition has already saved the City a million dollars.

Perhaps it has and perhaps it hasn’t. Still, there are too many neighborhoods where blue carts are a fond wish rather than a reality. One of those is the “Fightin’ 49th” Ward. Alderman Joe Moore, who has been a champion of the environment throughout his career, has announced that his constituents are tired of waiting.

Today, Sunday, March 18th at noon, with the help of Alderman Joe Moore’s 49th Ward Green Corps, they are holding a kickoff event for circulating petitions to expand the blue bin recycling program to the 49th Ward. The kickoff will take place at the far north side recycling drop off center at 6441 N. Ravenswood (just north of Devon). The petition is intended to send a message to Mayor Emanuel that the current recycling system isn’t enough and residents of those north side neighborhood demand better recycling options.

People are welcome to bring their recyclables with them to help demonstrate that the drop off center isn’t enough for a neighborhood committed to environmental stewardship.

As always, it’s a pleasure to have Alderman Moore on the show to talk about an issue that is near and dear to me.

Flower and food festivals come to Chicago

March 11, 2012

“Hort Couture” sashays into the Chicago Flower & Garden Show

Hokey smoke, Bullwinkle, it must be spring!

How do I know? It’s not just the crocuses popping up in my yard, about three weeks early. It’s also the annual arrival of the Chicago Flower & Garden Show at Navy Pier. This event, now through Sunday, March 18, shows off some of the best and brightest in Chicago’s horticultural world–and beyond. More than 32 exhibits highlight not only plants, ornamental and edible, but hardscapes (you know, the bricks and pavers and trellises and containers that contribute to a landscape), water features, lights, and a few things you just don’t see in a garden every day.

The theme is “Hort Couture,” which is probably fitting, because I’ve always described garden shows as about 80% show biz and 20% horticulture, give or take a few percentage points in either direction.

You can get at least a little flavor for this year’s edition by checking out some of the photos I took at the opening night gala preview benefit “Evening in Bloom” (hey, there have to be SOME perks in this profession.) Of course, there’s much, much to the show than just the garden. Here are some of the other features that are part of the nine-day extravaganza:

  • Seminars and Workshops – This is where the real horticultural learnin’ takes place. Experts and professionals from academia, business and garden centers cover just about every gardening topic that you can imagine.
  • Garden Gourmet – 36 top Chicago chefs show you how it’s done in the kitchen. There are at least three daily demonstrations–and you might just get a chance to sample some of that culinary goodness.
  • Potting Parties – They’re back by popular demand. Four times each day–11:00a, 1:00p, 3:00p, 5:30p—you can be part of a hands-on workshop where industry professionals teach you techniques and insight on creating your own containers.  Yes, there is a $20 fee, but you get to take your creation home with you.
  • The Marketplace – C’mon, you know you can’t resist the bulbs and the containers and the seeds and the colorful chotchkies.

And, new to the Flower & Garden Show this year, is the “Great Chicago Seed Swap.” It happens today, March 11, from 3PM until…”they kick us out,” it says on the Garden Show website. Mr. Brown Thumb will be there and he’s on my show this morning to talk about how it will all come together. There will be a table for annual seeds, perennial seeds and edibles. Backyard gardeners, community gardeners, school gardeners are all welcomed.

Here are some tips to help you participate:

Package your home saved seeds in paper coin envelopes or plastic baggies. Print (as clearly as possible) the name of the plant and any other information you think a gardener would need to grow it successfully. Part of the appeal for me of swapping seeds is passing on their history and my experience with them.

By the way, the Chicago Flower & Garden Show is still a great bargain–and even better if you purchase your tickets online. Here are the prices:

$15 Weekday tickets purchased online
$17 Weekday tickets purchased at the Navy Pier Box Office
$17 Weekend tickets purchased online
$19 Weekend tickets purchased at the Navy Pier Box Office
$  5 Children 4-12 years old

Hours are Monday – Saturday  10:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m., and Sundays  10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.

FamilyFarmed Expo is now the Good Food Festival

Speaking of great events, the FamilyFarmed Expo is back with a name change, but it’s still working to change the way we think about food. Now called the Good Food Festival and Conference, the three day event is about growing, cooking, selling, and celebrating healthy, nutritious food. It takes place at the UIC Forum, 725 West Roosevelt Road, Chicago, IL

Over three days, farmers, educators, business people, cooks, policy wonks and others gather together in a sort of “state of the local food movement” celebration. The three days are organized this way:

  • Financing Conference, Thursday, March 15
    This is for food producers and farmers looking to expand their businesses and make them more profitable. They can learn about about funding opportunities and connect with banks and investors interested in financing growth. Seminars feature success stories, alternative funding, finding solutions to urban food deserts and more.
  • Tradeshow Conference & Policy Summit, Friday, March 16
    Some of the most difficult questions regarding food policy and its consequences will be discussed on this day. Obviously, policy makers will be there, along with food advocates representing varied programs and organizations. Seminars will look at how to affect the laws that affect local food, scaling up urban agriculture, food hubs and local procurement, and much more.
  • Good Food Festival, Saturday, March 17
    This is the grand finale of the three days, when the doors are opened wide to anybody who loves good, sustainable food. There are educational seminars and workshops all day along about growing and making food, along with chef demos, family-friendly activities, and plenty of vendors to keep you engaged. It’s usually noisy, busy, fun and charged with great energy.

As a matter of fact, I will be moderating one of the seminars on Saturday. Seneca Kern from WeFarm America, Jeanne Pinsof Nolan of The Organic Gardener and I will do a talk called “Small Space Gardening” from 3:30 to 4:45 in Room F. For a full schedule of seminars, click here.

The man behind the plan is Jim Slama, founder and president of, which encourages the production, marketing and distribution of locally grown and responsibly produced food. Earlier this year, has partnered with DCEO, Illinois Department of Agriculture, and the University of Illinois’ Business Innovation Services to create the guidebook, Building Successful Food Hubs: A Business Planning Guide for Aggregating and Processing Local Food in Illinois.

The guide serves as a resource for communities, businesses, not-for-profits and others interested in establishing food hubs. The guide includes descriptions of key functions, best practices, and “how-to” strategies for establishing and operating food hubs that are based on successful food hubs operating in other regions, specifically adapted for application in Illinois’ food system.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one more part of the Good Food Festival and Conference– Localicious on March 16th from 7:00pm to 9:30pm at UIC Forum. It’s a celebration of the farmers and chefs and it features fabulous food and drinks, live music, and an opportunity to connect with other good food enthusiasts.

Ag-Gag laws and the threat to free speech

I don’t even remember how I stumbled upon the article in the Chicago Tribune last week titled CAFO protection law passes in Iowa, Illinois hearings held Wednesday. Written by the excellent reporter Monica Eng, it detailed how Iowa Governor Terry Brandstad had just signed a bill that would outlaw undercover investigations at concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in that state. The Des Moines Register says that the bill could stifle free speech. However, those in favor of the legislation say it prevents photos and videos of CAFOs from being release “out of context.”

What alarmed me as much as this dangerous law was that I hadn’t heard about this effort to stifle documentation of illegal actions at factory farms, even though an earlier version had been introduced in Illinois in 2002. Fortunately, the word got out about how bad this legislation is and the Illinois version never made it out of committee.

Predictably, aligned on the side of transparency are groups like Illinois Citizens for Clean Air and Water, Mercy for Animals, the Humane Society of the U.S and Food & Water Watch. On the other side of the fence Illinois Farm Bureau, Monsanto and other agri-business interests.

The agri-business types like to point at people like me as examples of whistleblowers who don’t know anything about farming. Actually, I don’t know much about farming. But I do recognize the argument that “by exposing health and pollution problems, reporters are putting responsible farmers out of business” for what it is–old, tired and untrue.

That’s why I pleased to have Karen Hudson on the show today. Not only is she an Illinois farmer, but she is with Illinois Citizens for Clean Air and Water and Socially Responsible Agricultural Project and has been fighting factory farms since 1996, as you can see in this video of a presentation she did at TEDxManhattan last year. Karen knows, as do I, that the businesses interested in covering up abuses on factory farms will continue their efforts to pass laws all over the country. And, yes, they will be back in Illinois, too. A reason to be ever vigilant.

Starved Rock Update: Will there be IDNR public hearings?

It’s been awhile since I talked about the dire situation at Starved Rock State Park. And, to be clear, it IS dire. There’s a pretty darned good chance that an open pit sand mine will be dug just outside of the east entrance to the jewel of the Illinois State Park system. It will cause untold environmental damage near–and even in–the park.

Why? Because the LaSalle County Board, in its infinite wisdom, caved to short term interests in allowing Mississippi Sand LLC to transform farm land into mining land where it can do tremendous harm.

Since that unfortunate vote, local residents, aided by groups like Illinois Sierra Club and Openlands have been clinging to a public dissent strategy to slow down the mining juggernaut that is about to descend upon LaSalle County. On Monday March 12, the county board will decide whether or not to request that the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) hold a public hearing on Mississippi Sand’s proposed sand mine next to Starved Rock State Park.

There’s a question about whether the board will be voting only on whether the conservation and reclamation plan for the site should be the subject of a public hearing. From information I’ve received, the “Surface-Mined Land Conservation and Reclamation Act requires the IDNR determine the adequacy of the conservation and reclamation plan based on a number of criteria. Specifically the Act states: The Department shall consider the short and long term impact of the proposed mining on vegetation, wildlife, fish, land use, land values, local tax base, the economy of the region and the State, employment opportunities, air pollution, water pollution, soil contamination, noise pollution and drainage.”

The way I look at it, the LaSalle County Board is meeting on Monday to decide whether they’re interested in democracy.

If you love Starved Rock State Park, it would be a good idea for you to contact members of the LaSalle County board and tell them they should vote YES to ask IDNR to hold a public hearing.
If you can show up at the meeting, even better. It will be held at Festivities Unlimited, 1504 Poplar at Route 6 & Poplar in Ottawa, Illinois.

John McKee, President of the Starved Rock Audubon Society, joins me again to talk about this latest effort to save this important Illinois natural resource.

I hope that Governor Quinn is listening.