Tag Archives: Chicagoland Gardening Magazine

Voting for the environment and evergreens

November 4, 2012

Who are the candidates who will fight for the environment?

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for about two years, you know that the 2012 election finishes this Tuesday, November 6…no matter what kind of disinformation you might have received from your local or state officials. I don’t usually focus on politics on my show but this, in the words of Vice President Joe Biden, is a “big effing deal.”

And considering what’s at stake in this election, it’s absolutely mind boggling to me that the words “climate change” have barely been uttered on the national stage. Heck, in the literal and figurative wake of Superstorm Sandy, even Bloomberg Businessweek published a story this week titled It’s Global Warming, Stupid.

Even if you think that the lack of a national conversation about this issue is an indicator that both parties are equally to blame for inaction, you might want to look at this interview with Bill Nye (the Science Guy) at the Huffington Post. Esquire weighs in, too, in an article called 2012′s Incredible Disappearing Issue: Climate Change…and that was BEFORE Sandy slammed into the east coast.

It’s enough to send you running into the arms of the Green Party Candidate Jill Stein. At least she articulates a clear policy for dealing with climate change. It doesn’t get any clearer than this:

Jill Stein supports an annual fund of several hundred billion dollars to invest in clean renewable energy (wind, solar, geothermal, tidal), public transportation and organic agriculture. It will be funded via taxes on the windfall profits of fossil fuel companies, major cuts in the military budget, a rising fee on carbon emissions, and an end to subsidies on fossil fuels and nuclear power plants.

Stein and the Green Party will shut all oil, coal and nuclear plants by 2025. Dr. Stein will ban mountaintop removal coal mining, the hydrofracking of natural gas and the development of the tar sands oil and Keystone XL. Jill Stein will stop oil drilling off shore, on public lands, under the Great Lakes and in the Arctic.

Of course, while many politicians are dodging the issue, there are those who are actively in the business of disinformation. Popsci reports that

Ken Mampel, an unemployed, 56-year-old Floridian, is in large part the creator of the massive Hurricane Sandy Wikipedia page. He’s also the reason that, for nearly a week, the page had no mention of climate change.

As of this writing, there is a very short section called “Connection with global warming,” which is tagged with the disclaimer: ” The neutrality of this section is disputed . Relevant discussion may be found on Talk:Hurricane Sandy . Please do not remove this message until the dispute is resolved.” Gosh, I wonder who put THAT there?

Of course, climate change (or “climate variability,” as meteorologist Rick DiMaio likes to call it) is not the only enviromental issue out there. And there are several organizations keeping track of where candidates stand on various issues. One organization is Sierra Club, which has a Voter Guide for many states, including featured races in Illinois.

The League of Conservation Voters is another organization that has endorsed candidates based on their environmental positions. They even have a “Dirty Dozen” list of particularly bad candidates. And guess who from Illinois is on that list? None other than the despicable Joe Walsh, candidate in the 8th District. Good riddance to that poor excuse for a human being, let alone U.S. Congressman.

I’m pleased to have Jeff Gohringer, National Press Secretary for the League of Conservation Voters on the program this morning to help us walk through the good, the bad, and the bought-and-paid-for by oil, gas and coal interests.

Send me photos of your volunteer junipers!

In the latest issue of Chicagoland Gardening Magazine (if you don’t have a subscription, you should get one!) the featured writer for My Favorite Plant is none other than moi. If you read the article, you’ll know that I write about a juniper that self-seeded in my yard a few years ago. I let it grow, and now it’s…well, you can see the photo on the left. As I state in the article, the reason it’s my favorite is because it chose me, not the other way around.

I’m about 99% certain that it’s the relative common Juniperus virginiana. How did it get in my yard? As Susan Eyre from Rich’s Foxwillow Pines wrote to me, “The birds eat the berries and then poop out the seeds in your backyard! Good for bird food or bathtub gin.”

The November/December issue just came out, but already I have heard from people who have had similar experiences. One is the one-of-a-kind Christy Webber of Christy Webber Landscapes and Christy Webber Landscapes Farm & Garden Center, a great sponsor on my radio show. She told me that she has TWO volunteer junipers growing on her rooftop garden.

Then, two days ago, I received the photo under mine, on the left, from one of my favorite lawyers (is that an oxymoron?), Stephen Marcus, who is also a gardening buddy. He wrote:

I laughed out loud on seeing your article and pictures in Chicagoland Gardening.

As you’ll see, I also have been found by one of those creepy junipers. I have, somewhat guiltily, been harboring this little critter in my front yard for a number of years, not knowing its name or origin. Its deceptive appearance of fuzziness won me over, so I decided to live and let live.

But that’s when I thought I was the only one, and that my neighbors wouldn’t notice a juniper growing out of a silver maple. As a result of your article, I’m beginning to see a pattern. Perhaps they’ve hacked into the Master Gardener data base and deposited their progeny among those with the softest hearts for anything green. In any event, I’m going to be sleeping with one eye open.

Thanks for alerting the community to the insidious possibilities.

So I’ve decided to see how many other people have had the same thing happen to them. If you unexpectedly had a juniper show up in your landscape, send me a photo, preferably with you in it, too. It doesn’t count if you planted the shrub–it needs to have arrived on its own. As I receive the photos, I’ll create a “rogues’ gallery” of junipers on my website.

Speaking of evergreens, do you want a live one for the holidays?

I received an email from the Land Conservancy of McHenry County the other day, asking the musical question:

Do you love the idea of a fresh tree, but hate the mess and the thought of cutting down a perfectly good tree only to throw it away in a few weeks?

Can I see a show of hand? Now, I have been under the impression for a few years that this is an impractical solution to the problem of growing Christmas trees for ten years just to cut them down and–if all goes well–turning them into mulch.

But The Land Conservancy says that Glacier Oaks Nursery in Harvard is featuring holiday evergreens that can be planted in your landscape in the spring. Propagator Mary T. McClelland, who joins me on the show today, says they have White Pines and White Cedars, which are natives, as well as Blue and Green Spruce. They’re small enough to load into a car and you decorate them like a cut tree, keeping them well watered. After the holidays, move them into an unheated garage or enclosed porch until spring. Or you can heel them in the ground with hefty mulch layer around them.

Instructions for Care, Storage and Planting will be included with each evergreen, and McClellan says it’s a lot easier than it seems. Even better, Glacier Oaks Nursery donates 25% of each EVERGREEN to support land conservation in McHenry County.

You can get more information on the offer here. But be aware that the evergreens will be wrapped and ready for pick up on November 16 & 17 from 10am – 2pm at The Land Conservancy office in Woodstock. Click here to get a map of the area.

And speaking of native plants…

I headed over to Northerly Island on Saturday to pick up some natives for my community garden, Green on McLean (and probably a few for my own lot…shhhh.) You might be aware that an ecological restoration of the island is beginning this fall. In anticipation of that, the Chicago Park District, with the help of Greencorps Chicago, invited folks to come to a “Plant Rescue.”

I ended up with a car full of Little Bluestem, New England Aster, Gray Headed Coneflower, and a few other goodies.

In the future, I plan to do a show segment about the ecological work happening on a piece of ground that has the potential to be an environmental showplace in the City of Chicago.

Prairies, rivers, veggies and bonsai

July 10, 2011

10,000 native wildflower plugs seeking a good time, er, home

That headline is just a tiny bit misleading. It implies that those native plants don’t have a place to be planted. They do, actually, and it’s at one of the great restoration projects of the 21st Century. If you are not familiar with Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, you should be. And If you believe in returning at least part of the prairie to “The Prairie State,” you might want to stop by next weekend and help put those plants in the ground.

Here’s the story. I received a message the other week from Allison Cisneros, Volunteer Coordinator for The Nature Conservancy at Midewin. She said that they had received a grant from the National Forest Foundation to purchase these plants. The problem, as you can see, is that there are 10,000 of them and they need to get in the ground quickly. Midewin relies on its volunteers to help with many projects, and they make a huge difference.

The planting dates are

Saturday, July 16
Sunday, July 17 (only if the July 16 date is rained out)
Monday, July 18
Tuesday, July 19

RSVP to Gemma Guenther at 815.423.2148 or gguenther@fs.fed.us

Work starts at 9am and ends at 2:30pm. Meet at the River Road Seedbeds/Trailhead (directions here). Allison says she’ll take a half-day if that’s all you can spare. Her goal is to get at least 50 people ages 7 and up.The plugs will be planted near the beginning of the Prairie Creek Woods Trail where they can be enjoyed by hundreds of visitors each year.

Midewin will provide tools, safety gear and water.  Remember to wear layers, field boots and a hat. Bring your own lunch if you plan to stay. After the workday, you can reward yourself by hopping on your bike or grabbing your binoculars to explore their trails or hike through a woodland or prairie restoration.

Last but not least, if you’re intererested in keeping up with what’s going on at Midewin, you can subscribe to the Meadowlark Newsletter.

Mike and Heather paddle the Chicago River…and live to tell the tale

It didn’t hurt that yesterday might have been a perfect summer day. Temps in the mid-eighties, brilliant sunshine, a little cooling breeze. And with that as confidence-builder, Heather and I lauched our canoe into the Chicago River and paddled from roughly Lane Tech High School to Dearborn and…um, the river.

Upon finishing the several-mile journey, I heard a couple of interesting reports. One was from Margaret Frisbie, Executive Director of Friends of the Chicago River, who was on my radio show last week. Her report? “I haven’t seen it that dirty in years.” Whoa. Another comment came from Jake Leinenkugel, whose company is behind Canoes for a Cause, which organized the “Friendly Float” event. Said Jake, “That river needs a lot of help.” Ouch.

And, you know what, they’re right.

After all, the Chicago River was recently called one of the “most endangered rivers” in the country, due to high levels of pollutants in the waterway. You might have heard me interview the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Josh Mogerman about their lawsuit to stop the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District from dumping raw sewage mixed with stormwater, as well as algae-fueling pollution, into the Chicago River system. Fortunately, after pressure from NGOs like NRDC and Friends of the Chicago River, as well a ruling from the U.S. EPA, which demanded more stringent pollution controls, the MWRD finally saw the light. Just how long a clean up will take is anybody’s guess at the moment–perhaps years–but it will happen…and not a moment too soon.

There are parts of the stretch we canoed that don’t seem too bad, but others that are covered in debris, scum, and dead fish. I even spotted a whole pinapple floating among the flotsam and jetsam of a major midwestern city. And, of course, much of the shoreline simply does not exist anymore. It has been replaced by iron pilings. Heather and I noticed one barge that looked as though it had been parked in its spot for half a century or more. We were warned before the trip that

“Should you fall in, do not ingest river water. If you do there is a chance that you will suffer an intestinal upset within the next 24 hours. Take a shower when you get home. Put antibacterial ointment on any open cuts.”

That pretty much put the fear of God into Heather and me. NO WAY were we going to risk capsizing.

I think it’s crucial that businesses like Leinenkugel’s to get on board with cleaning up the river. Leinie’s already has a history of protecting waterways in the Midwest, and now they’ve teamed with Friends of the Chicago River to create Canoes for a Cause, an online resource that encourages Chicagoans to join Leinenkugel’s in improving the Chicago River. For every new “like” on the Leinenkugel’s Facebook page, Leinenkugel’s and its partners will make a monetary donation to Friends of the Chicago River up to $15,000. But you can also donate to the cause individually via a Friends of the Chicago River donation link.

Jake is on the show today to say that the dealine for participating in this fundraising effort has been extended until the end of July, even though the original conclusion date was July 9. So get online, click the “Friend” button on the Leinie’s page and help leave the Chicago River for our children in better shape than we found it.

The irrepressible Bill Aldrich

If it weren’t for Bill Aldrich, I wouldn’t be torturing people in Chicagoland Gardening Magazine. I don’t mean that I’m torturing the people who write for the magazine. I mean it’s possible that I’m torturing people who read it. And you can blame Bill Alrich, who, some eight and a half years ago, hired me to write my column.

He also started Chicagoland Gardening Magazine, and is the author of a number of books. Here’s what Amazon.com has to say about Bill.

WILLIAM ALDRICH is publisher of Chicagoland Gardening, a magazine he founded in 1995 to provide regionally focused gardening information. He is a certified Master Gardener and has been a garden writer for more than 20 years, mostly with the Chicago Tribune. Bill, a past-president of the Garden Writers Association, has written six Lone Pine gardening books designed for Midwest gardeners.

More recently, Bill has been Seminar coordinator at Chicago Flower & Garden Show. I like to have him stop by my show from time to time, if only because he always has interesting things to say about horticulture and the people who practice it.

Bonsai and gardening tips for the week…from Dan Kosta

If you listen to my show long enough you will hear a phone call from Dan Kosta. Dan works at Vern Goers Greenhouse in Hinsdale and, I am happy to say, is a friend fo the show. Of course, that doesn’t stop him from correcting me when I get something wrong, or just offering what is usually excellent gardening advice.

He is also a serious collector of bonsai and a member of the Prairie State Bonsai Society. He’s here today to talk about Prairie State’s annual show at the Morton Arboretum on July 16 & 17. . Hours are 10am – 6pm on Saturday and 10am – 4pm on Sunday. There will be bonsai demonstrations, workshops, vendors, and a display of members’ trees. The show is free but you must pay for admission to the Arboretum. The show is located in the Arboretum visitor’s center. You can register for workshops 630-719-2468 or registrar@mortonarb.org

Dan says this a great event for anyone who wants to learn more about the art of bonsai as well as those who are experienced in growing bonsai, or just curious of what bonsai all about. Of course, he will be making a presentation himself–a workshop on Dawn Redwood trees on Saturday morning and another demonstration on Sunday.

Okay, that’s the bonsai stuff. Dan has also written to me lately about other matters, including the hail storm that hit the squash plants in the Green on McLean community garden on my block. His advice, per the subject line of his email, is to “toss the squash.” Here’s why.

Rip out the damaged squash. Do not save them. Replant seed. This is when I always plant my squash seed and this is not just because I am crazy. The squash borer female is out in June laying her eggs. By the first of July she is gone (aka dead) and so you avoid getting borers. This is something I got from the extension service a few years ago and it works. You will still get plenty and no borers killing the vines. I have even told this to customers and it works for them. The warm soil will make the seeds germinate quickly and the vines grow fast as well.

He also commented on other plants:

One of my customers said he has plenty of flowers on his tomatoes but only 2 fruits. Most flowers fall off. I am guessing a pollination problem, lack of bees. There have been other unusual problems brought in as well. Apple scab seems to be big this year and lots of verticillium problems on tomatoes, especially heirloom types. Just another one of our usual strange years.

He added this in another email:

More garden problems are being brought in. One woman brought in a bunch of aphids of a real pretty red color. Don’t recall seeing that color aphids before. A lot of leaves that have torn themselves up as well. That’s due to fluctuating temperatures. Its an easy one to spot if you know what to look for.

Since Dan has so much good information for me, I am happy to say that I was able to return the favor. You might recall that last week I had Robert Nevel of KAM Isaiah Israel on the show. While he was in the studio, he happened to mention that his cucumbers were not growing up to expectations. I commented that we had experienced the same thing on McLean. LaManda Joy, who was also on the show, confirmed our complaint.

And then, this week, Kathleen and friend Mac stopped in at the Green City Market in Lincoln Park. They just happened to mention the cucumber problem to an organic farmer…who immediately knew what they were talking about. We’re embarrassed that we didn’t get this farmer’s name, because her advice makes lots of sense.

She said that she was experiencing the same problem on her farm. She blamed it on the cool weather that occurred while the cucumbers should have been growing vines. The temperatures caused the vines to be slow in developing. Then, suddenly, hot weather hit, which sent a signal to the plants to start producing fruit. The problem was that because the plants were so small, there was no way that they could sustain fruit growth.

The farmer said that she hit her plants with a a double dose of nitrogen-rich fish emulsion, to immediately stimulate plant growth. She suggests that it should be done a week later, to insure that the plants get up to speed. It makes sense to me, and I suspect that it will work on other cucurbits and perhaps even other plants that have been lagging because of our inconsistent weather. If you happen to try this approach, drop me a line and let me know how your veggies respond.

Earth Day and lots, lots more

April 17, 2011

Poo Free Parks™ is coming to Elmhurst

I just can’t seem to stop talking about dog poo. Perhaps I need to talk to my shrink about that. But it’s not entirely my fault. Dog poo stories keep dropping in my lap…so to speak. Like this one about a business called Poo Free Parks ® , the brainchild of a guy named Bill Airy in Denver, Colorado. He figured that most people who walk their dogs in public parks would be more likely to clean up after their pets if there were a way to make it a little easier.

And just like that, he created a business that supplies, installs and maintains Earth-Friendly Pet Poo Bag Dispensers providing free Pet Poo Bags to dog owners. Not only that, but the service is set up to provide public education as well as waste bags. The dispensers are made of 100% recycled aluminum and the bags themselves are biodegradable. Even better, the program is designed to be administered at no cost to the public by giving businesses the opportunity to sponsor dispensers and bags.

But the best thing on the Poo Free Parks ® website is this nugget:

The American Pet association estimates that this country’s seventy-one million pet dogs produce over 4.4 billion pounds of waste per year. That’s enough to cover 900 football fields with 12 inches of dog waste!

See? I TOLD you dog poo was an important story.

Madam Editor stops by to plug a great benefit

Many of you know that I write a column–and an occasional article–for Chicagoland Gardening Magazine. The person who holds the blue pencil over my works of genius is Carolyn Ulrich, who is the editor of the magazine. Once a year or so, I bring her onto the radio show to let her plug an event, which earns me a little leverage for the next time she sends me an email starting with “Did you really mean to say…?” FYI, no writer likes being corrected.

It does help that she usually wants me to say something good about Growing Home, which helps homeless and disadvantaged folks gain employment through learning about organic agriculture. What I really mean to say is that they grow stuff–in the city and out of it–and 100% of the proceeds from their sales of organic produce are used to improve their training program and pay for upkeep of their farm sites.

Growing Home is holding its 9th Annual Benefit on Thursday, April 28 in Preston Bradley Hall at the Chicago Cultural Center. It all starts about 5:30 p.m. The keynote this year is being provided by some guy named Bill Kurtis. I’ll do a little research and see who he is. Also, the event will honor Kathy Dickhut, Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Housing and Economic Development, for her long-time support of Growing Home, and the groundwork she has helped to lay for urban agriculture in Chicago.

Dinner will be provided by some of Chicago’s best chefs. Vegetarian appetizersare courtesy of Chef David Rosenthall of Inspiration Kitchens . Meat and vegetarian entrees will be presented by Chef Paul Virant of Vie. Dessert will be served by local social enterprise Sweet Miss Giving’s. And, of course, there is the silent auction, where you can bid on all kinds of goodies.

Take the Garlic Mustard Challenge

Cathy McGlynn is back on the program today to talk about fighting one of the most pernicious invaders in America: garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata). Cathy is Coordinator of the Northeast Illinois Invasive Plant Partnership (NIIPP) , which works to prevent and control new and current plant invasions and raise public awareness concerning the threat posed by invasive plants. May is Illinois Invasive Species Awareness Month, but NIIPP is getting a head start by participating in the United States Forest Service’s Garlic Mustard Challenge. Garlic mustard grows in the understory of forests and woodlands and displaces native plants and perhaps the best way of combatting it is to pull it out by hand.

Cities, agencies and organizations are all pulling together (get it?) to participate in the Illinois version of the Garlic Mustard Challenge. Click onto the link to find out where you can volunteer between now and the end of May to help eradicate this particularly nasty plant. Believe me, you’ll be getting some pretty good exercise, too.

Play “Where’s My Walderman?”(#chicoal) at Chicago City Council

Could it be possible that the Clean Power Ordinance might actually come to a vote in the Chicago City Council this week? Well, if you know anything about Chicago politics, you probably don’t want to hold your breath. You might turn blue.

To back up a little bit, 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore introduced the ordinance last year, an effort to force the Fisk and Crawford coal-fired plants to reduce their emissions or shut down permanently. The measure, which in early February was co-sponsored by 16 aldermen, now has 26 aldermen on board as co-sponsors.

Do the math. There are 50 aldermen. If you need half of 50 to pass a law, and 26 aldermen have already signed on as co-sponsors…uh…50 minus 26 equals…end of story, right? But like I said, you need to understand Chicago politics. You can go to the Chicago Clean Power Coalition website to see that a committee hearing on the Clean Power Ordinance will be held this Thursday, April 21. So all it has to do is pass out of committee and onto the floor for a vote. Right?

That’s where Lan Richard and the Eco-Justic Collaborative come into the picture. Lan says that all kinds of goofy (and I mean that in the way I mean “corrupt”) things can happen to thwart the passage of good legislation–especially in Chicago. Aldermen have a way of “disappearing” just before important votes. Which is why the Eco-Justice Collaborative and the Chicago Clean Power Coalition will be keeping tabs on ALL aldermen with a program they call “WHERE’S MY WALDERMAN?”

They will be utilizing the internet and Twitter (which is the Internet, too, but let’s not quibble) , in an attempt to keep track of aldermen and get some questions answered. If an alderman leaves the room at vote time, here’s what they say they’ll do:

We’ll embarrass them with tweets as we search for them in the restroom, under the chair, down the drain or wherever. These tweets will be captured on a dynamic website, which will include their photo if present OR a “Waldo” photo with a big MISSING if they are not. Sleeping? Hiding behind Mayor Daley? Playing games on a smart phone? In the restroom? If missing …. we’ll poke fun and take note for posterity.

I know I’ll be Tweeting on Thursday. If you do, too, remember to use the hashtag #chicoal. If you don’t Tweet and you don’t know what a hashtag is, don’t worry. On the day of the hearing Eco-Justice will reveal a website where they will be posting the committee proceedings in real time. Encourage friends and family to watch! They’ll also post a second hashtag to use for each alderman the day of the hearing. You can then use TWO hashtags: “#chicoal” to direct all tweets to the website and a second hashtag comment on specific aldermen.

See? Good, clean fun. I can hardly wait.

Good Growing: Working towards zoning to help urban farming

If you think policy can be difficult when it comes to clean air, just try to figure out the laws regarding urban farming. The problem is that the very concept of urban farming is so new that many legislators and city administrators are having a hard time wrapping their heads around it. And, yup, that’s exactly the story in Chicago.

Angelic Organic Learning Center‘s Martha Boyd is also a member of a group called Advocates for Urban Agriculture, which has been tackling this issue. They have a special urgency because the Chicago City Council is considering a new ordinance that would affect the legal circumstances and permitted practices of urban agriculture in Chicago. AUA prepared a collection of responses to frequently asked questions and concerns in an effort to help make sense of the ordinance and clarify its potential implications for urban ag practice in Chicago. You can get plenty of background information at this AUA web page.

If a lot of it seems dense and indecipherable, well, that’s the way city government works…or not. Martha and I will continue to try to unravel some of the mystery of all of this on today’s show.