The arts of Bonsai and answering gardening questions

September 23, 2012

Sarah, Dan and Bon-saiiiii!!!

Please note that I didn’t write “Bonzai!” As my buddy Dan Kosta, from Vern Goers Greenhouse in Hinsdale has often reminded me, bonsai is the art growing miniature trees in containers. “Bonzai” is something you yell when you jump out of an airplane. I suppose you could use it for bungee jumping, too. Whatever. Please note that Wikipedia calls it an art–not horticulture. Although, as I have discovered the hard way, it is a little of both.

When I say “the hard way,” I mean that I have managed to kill both of the bonsai plants that I have owned. But then, I’ve been known to kill orchids, too. Just sayin’.

Anyway, Dan joins Sarah Batka and me in the studio today to talk about the Annual Prairie State Bonsai Show next week at the Morton Arboretum. The show runs from 10am to 4pm on Saturday, September 29 and Sunday, September 30.

But we’re not going to spend the whole show talking about bonsai, as much as that would make Dan the happiest man on the planet.

Part of the reason I invite him to share air time with me is because he knows so much about plants of all shapes, sizes and genuses. We’ll open the phones and and see how good my listeners are at “stump the horticultural experts.” Some people tell me that’s what makes good radio. I’m dubious.

Meanwhile, some other events of interest

Event #1 – Green Town Valparaiso

I’ll bet you didn’t know that Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett was the 2010 Public Official of the Year, in part because he decided he was fat and so was his city. So, according to the United States Conference of Mayors, Cornett decided to “remake Oklahoma City as a walkable urban center. His ambitious $777 million plan included an extensive new downtown streetcar system, sidewalks throughout the city, a 60-mile network of bicycle trails and walking paths, a new convention center and a new 70-acre park downtown.”

As a result, Cornett was named a “Champion of Health and Fitness” by Fitness Magazine in 2010 for his work in transforming Oklahoma City into a healthier community, Mick Cornett has garnered national and international attention for his leadership in creating an effective model for addressing America’s obesity epidemic. Today, Oklahoma City is off the list of fattest cities and comes in at number 23 on the list of America’s fittest cities.

This Friday, September 28th, he speaks at Green Town Valparaiso on the campus of Valparaiso University in Indiana. Green Town attemps to bring the public sector together with the private sector to foster the development of sustainable cities

Event #2 Global Citizenship Green Apple Day of Service

A couple of years ago, I interviewed Dan Schnitzer, Director of Sustainability and Operations at the
Academy for Global Citizenship (AGC) on Chicago’s south side. First, how many schools have a “Director of Sustainability and Operations”? And exactly how many of them do you think are on Chicago’s south side? Yeah, I thought so.

Next Saturday, the Illinois Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council is partnering with the AGC and the national Center for Green Schools  to host the first annual Green Apple Day of Service . On Satirday. September 29th, AGC students, teachers and administrators will take action in their community with support from parents, volunteers and local sponsors.  Participants will rotate stations around campus and work on projects that extend from gardening to education and eco-art.  Sign up to volunteer at AGC today, OR find a project near you.

Event #3Gibson Woods Wild Ones 4th Biennial Native Plant Symposium

Gibson Woods Wild Ones will sponsor their 4th Biennial Symposium on Saturday, September 29, 2012, from 8:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m., at the St. John Township Center, located at 1515 W. Lincoln Highway (US 30) Schererville, IN. Continental Breakfast from 8:00-9:00 a.m. and a box lunch will be provided.

I’ve spoken to these great folks and, if you’re in the area, take advantage of this opportunity to learn about natives. Marti Brennan, who has served as Director of Community Gardening Programs for the late, lamented Chicago Department of the Environment, teaches you how to bring natives into the city with her talk, “Natives on a Small City Lot”

Then, Marianne Hahn from Wayne State University speaks on “How to Feed Birds Using ONLY Native Plants.” She has served as President of Thorn Creek Audubon Society and as President of
Midewin Tallgrass Prairie Alliance. Marianne currently owns and manages Sweet
Fern Savanna Land and Water Reserve, about 100 acres of high quality black oak savanna and
sand prairie located in the Kankakee Sands ecoregion.

For more information, call 219-844-3188 or Pat at 219-865-2679.

Chicken tours and lawn cures

September 16, 2012

Ladies and Gentlemen, start your chickens!

I don’t care how seriously other people take them, I still think that chickens are funny. And the best part of covering the annual Windy City Coop Tour is that I get to play the Looney Tunes “chicken song” on my radio show.

But don’t get me wrong. I fully understand why people in urban and suburban areas would choose to raise chickens. And, to be sure, keeping backyard chickens is legal in Chicago and some surrounding suburbs, including Evanston and Oak Park. As the good folks at Chicago Chicken Enthusiasts point out, not only can you get fresh eggs from your chickens, but their eggs and manure can contribute to the fertility of your soil

They also note that there’s a strong connection between people who raise chickens and those who have backyard gardens, compost systems, beehives, and other elements of urban food production. Heck, the mayor of Portland, Oregon, raises chickens! Are ya listening, Rahm? By the way, if you’re thinking about raising your own chickens, you might want to check out Chicago Chicken Keeping Recommended Practices, as compiled by Chicago Chicken Enthusiasts.

Martha Boyd from Angelic Organics Learning Center stops by today to talk about the 2012 Windy City Coop Tour, which occurs next Saturday and Sunday, September 22 and 23. There about 20 Chicago area coops on the map–some hosting Visitors on Sat 9/22, some on Sun 9/23, and some on both days. Here’s a map of tour locations. The event starts at 10am and ends at 2pm each day…so don’t get pushy about hounding the chickens.

Of course, if you’re on the tour, you get to meet the chickens and their people, and learn how city dwellers are incorporating chickens and more into their yards and lifestyles. Visitors can ask Tour hosts about coops, feed, breeds, costs, and their experiences raising healthy chickens in the city and suburbs.

September is lawn care time

Let’s face it. This hasn’t been the easiest summer to be obsessed with your lawn. Between the heat and drought, most lawns took a real beating. But, here in what is sometimes called the “Upper Midwest,” we finally got some rain accompanied by cool temperatures and…voila! The lawns bounced back! It’s a lesson that many folks would be wise to learn. Of course, sadly, they won’t, and the next time we have these conditions (next year?), they will again panic about their beloved lawns.

But I digress.

The point I want to make is this is absolutely the best time of the year to work on your lawn. Do I need to say that twice? I don’t have to because Illinois Extension has my back. I’m talking about the month of December, when the temps get more reasonable and our cool season grasses (like Kentucky blue grass, fescues, etc.) get a lot happier.

The reason is in the descriptive phrase, “cool season grasses.” Simply put, they are turf plants that do well in the cool weather of the spring and fall, but not so much in summer. Which means that you can work on your lawn in the spring, when it’s cool, but the problem is that we soon get into summer, which is stressful for these plants–especially if you just planted seed.

On the other hand, if you plant seed at this time of year, it has time to germinate, and it will grow as long into the fall, often into the winter, if the ground doesn’t freeze.

So, if you want to rejuvenate your lawn, do it now. As you know, I’m not a fan of the chemical method. Which is why I’m encouraged by a new campaign by the Espoma Company. Take a look at the video they recently released, heralding the arrival of their new Organic Lawn Care Program. If you were watching the Super Bowl in 1984, the theme might seem familiar.

Paul Tukey, founder of SafeLawns.org and author of The Organic Lawn Care Manual, recently penned a great post called Organic Lawn Care: Step by Step. I highly recommend this article as a way to get started on your lawns.

Today, I welcome Melinda Myers back to the show to discuss fall lawn care. In addition to being an author and columnist with more than 30 years of horticulture experience, Melinda is host of the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moments, which airs on more than 110 TV and radio stations througout the country.

She is also a spokesperson for Milorganite, a great sponsor on my own radio show, and a great product for getting your lawn back in shape this fall. Here’s what Melinda has to say about Milorganite:

“Whether you are an experienced or beginner gardener consider using Milorganite organic nitrogen fertilizer. I like it for several reasons. The low nitrogen slow release formulation makes it goof proof. Independent research results found the phosphorous is non-leaching, so it won’t pollute our waterways. And most importantly, it is safe for you, your children, pets and the environment.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

The future of impatiens and nuclear reactors

September 9, 2012

I’m baaaaaack…didja miss me?

It seems like a lot longer than two weeks since I was at the controls of my own radio show. My thanks to Beth Botts, the irrepressible Heather Frey, and the ever-steady Denny Schetter for so capably filling in while I was traipsing through the mountains of South Dakota, Colorado, Nebraska (yes, Nebraska) and Wyoming.

Today, I have a special guest, who will sit in for the whole show. Sarah Batka is Extension Program Coordinator for Horticulture for Illinois Extension in Cook County. Basically, she’s the go-to person for keeping the Master Gardeners informed about volunteer and educational opportunities. She has also volunteered for Inspiration Kitchens, a food service training program providing skill-specific job training and employment placement in an atmosphere of dignity and respect for people facing barriers to self-sufficiency (the food is also terrific).

If you want to write to Sarah today during the show, here is her Facebook page, and her Twitter handle is @frugalfoodgal.

Impatiens under attack from downy mildew

I received an email last week from Jim Clesen, Vice-President at Ron Clesen’s Ornamental Plants, Inc. (RCOP) in Maple Park, Illinois (hmm, think they’re related somehow?) His message read, in part:

I am sure that you have been aware but a disease outbreak has just occurred on mass scale. The industry needs your help in helping facilitate the education of Downy Mildew on impatiens, to the public.  This week we have been consumed with phone calls, from our landscapers, about the disease in their beds.  From Lake Geneva to Navy Pier the effects are being seen.  The consumer needs to know why impatiens will be disappearing from the landscapes, and garden centers.

Actually, I had been aware of this outbreak, thanks to an article in the Home, Yard and Garden Pest Newsletter from Illinois Extension. In it, Stephanie Porter writes:

This week, the U of I Plant Clinic has confirmed downy mildew of impatiens (Impatiens walleriana ) in Cook County. It is apparent that the recent rains and cooler night temperatures provided the perfect environment for disease infection. Earlier this year, in HYG issue #3 I warned readers to watch out for this unbelievably destructive disease .

This disease has sporadically been reported in the US since 2004 in greenhouses. However, many regional outbreaks of impatiens downy mildew occurred for the first time in landscape beds and container plantings in 2011. In 2012 (as of July 31st), there have been confirmed reports of impatiens downy mildew in most of the states in the eastern half of the United States as well as Texas and Oregon. Sadly, it appears that this disease may be here to stay.

Scout your impatiens and look for leaves curling downward on newer growth. Soon, white to light-gray fuzz may show on leaf undersides. New leaves may appear as stunted or discolored (yellow or pale green). Unfortunately, this disease can infect very quickly and cause complete leaf defoliation or plant collapse to occur.

Other institutions have been warning of arrival of this disease, including the University of Minnesota Extension, and companies like Ball Horticultural Company, which has done stories, which you can find here (Adobe PDF), here and here.

What does that mean for gardeners? For one, it might mean growing shade plants other than Impatiens walleriana. For instance, New Guinea impatiens are resistant to the disease. You might plant begonias, which are also not susceptible. You might have to use fungicides. However, as Stephanie Porter points out in her article, fungicides only prevent the disease–they do not cure it.

I’m pleased to have Jim Clesen and my Dig In Chicago co-host Jennifer Brennan join me on the phone today to talk about this problem and possible solutions for your own yard.

Another reason why nuclear power is not the answer: drought

If you watched President Barack Obama‘s acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention (YouTube) on Thursday, you might not have noticed that there was something missing when he talked about energy options for the future:

We’re offering a better path, a future where we keep investing in wind and solar and clean coal; where farmers and scientists harness new biofuels to power our cars and trucks; where construction workers build homes and factories that waste less energy; where — where we develop a hundred year supply of natural gas that’s right beneath our feet.

This was the part, I must admit, that had me talking to the television. With all due respect, Mr. President, there is no such thing as “clean coal.” And if you’re talking about fracking being the solution to our energy woes, you better have a plan that includes closely examining the environmental impacts of that strategy well before you employ it.

But the one word that was conspicuously absent from the speech was the one that so many people have difficulty pronouncing: nuclear. As Gregg Levine writes in an article at Firedoglake:

But notice what is not there–not in this section, not in the paragraph about the climate, not anywhere in the entire 38-minute speech.

President Obama no longer promises to “safely harness nuclear power”–that likely would have sounded like a cruel joke in a world now contaminated by the ongoing Fukushima disaster–but beyond that, he does not promise anything about nuclear power at all. There was no platitude, no carefully crafted signal to the industry that has subsidized much of Obama’s political career, no mention of nuclear power

And while the tragedy at Fukushima has caused people to re-examine energy policies based on nuclear fission, there is another force of nature at play right here in the United States that should give one pause as well–the drought. As Bloomberg notes in an article from this summer:

Nuclear-power production in the U.S. is at the lowest seasonal levels in nine years as drought and heat force reactors from Ohio to Vermont to slow output.

The New York Times also weighed in with an article titled Will Drought Cause the Next Blackout?

And then, just a couple of weeks ago, the Chicago Tribune came out with this story: Power plants releasing hotter water. From the story:

As fish die in record numbers across Illinois this summer because of the intense heat and drought, state officials are granting power plants special exemptions to flush massive amounts of hot water into already stressed lakes and rivers.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency is allowing power plants to dump hundreds of millions of gallons of water per day at temperatures approaching 100 degrees into the state’s waterways, the Tribune has learned.

Enter David A. Kraft, Director of the Nuclear Energy Information Service, whose mission is pretty simple, if not daunting: “Through the application of nonviolent and democratic principles NEIS is determined to end nuclear power in Illinois, in the Great Lakes Bioregion, and on Planet Earth.” Kraft responded to the article with a letter to the editor. Among his points:

…Over 80% of Illinois’ surface water is utilized by electric powerplants, an astonishing number given that Illinois is also a large agricultural state. Competition between water for drinking and agriculture versus air conditioning will only worsen in an increasingly climate disrupted world.

While the article focused on thermal pollution of waterways caused by powerplants, it did not mention an important difference between nuclear reactors and fossil-fueled plants. While both contribute to thermal pollution, nuclear must also deal with the effects of radioactive discharges into waterways of lower volumes and flow rates, and higher temperatures — a matter more serious than mere fish kills…

The article also did not mention that the very physics of dealing with hotter water decreases the power output of nuclear plants, in some cases as much as 5%. When hotter water becomes the norm, the ability of nuclear power to crank out electrons will decrease – precisely when needed most.

These are not future prognostications; these things actually occurred in Illinois during the 1988 drought. Over 100 days of ComEd reactor operation were curtailed, partially or completely, by the lower volumes and flow rates of rivers. This also occurred in Europe during the deadly heatwave of 2003.

The solution is not beyond reach; nor does it lay [sic] with building larger cooling structures for reactors. Solar will be available as “peaking power” precisely when it is needed most – hot sunny afternoons. And unlike nuclear plants, it will not kill our waterways. This will require planning and added costs – but so would additional cooling retrofits to nuclear plants. The solution is to PLAN a migration away from steam-cycle produced electricity. The time to start is NOW.

Dave Kraft joins me in the studio today to talk about the future of nuclear power in the United States and on the rest of the planet.