Tag Archives: compost

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 MyDigInChicago.com 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 SafeLawns.org, 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.



Putting gardens to bed, waking up recycling in Chicago, and promoting WCPT’s food drive

November 13, 2011

Dr. Wally helps you put your garden to bed for the winter

A gardener’s work is never done, it seems. Even as we roll, kicking and screaming, into the holiday season (at least some of us), it’s important to remember that a little attention paid to your garden’s soil at this time of year will reap huge benefits in the spring.

That’s why I welcome “Dr.” Wally Schmidtke, manager at Pesche’s Garden Center in Des Plaines, back to the show for some advice on how to get a head start on spring…as odd as that sounds in the days just before Thanksgiving. Wally has put together a very helpful page of tips that I think you will find useful, especially if you like to grow vegetables.

Speaking of Pesche’s, I want to personally thank Chris Pesche for helping Green on McLean, the community garden on my block in the Logan Square neighborhood. Thanks to a generous donation of Back to Nature Cotton Burr Compost, we have been renewing our planting beds–just as Wally suggests–in anticipation of an even more productive 2012 growing season.

America Recycles…can Chicago?

This Tuesday marks the 14th annual America Recycles Day, the only national day dedicated to recycling in America. And once again, Mike Mitchell, Executive Director of the Illinois Recycling Association, joins me to talk about the state of recycling in the state of Illinois.

Of course, that means Chicago, too. So, I gird my loins once again as I prepare to talk about recycling in the Windy City. (Full disclosure, I am the volunteer president of the all-volunteer Chicago Recycling Coalition) However, as many of you know, things have begun to change under the Rahm Emanuel Administration.

On October 3, Emanuel’s “managed competition” program began. Now and for the next half year or so, public and private employees are engaged in a three-way fight for the right to run all or part of Chicago’s recycling program. Those workers are represented by the city’s Department of Streets and Sanitation, and private companies Waste Management and Sims Metal Management Municipal Recycling.

At the outset, it seemed a foregone conclusion that city workers would never be competitive enough to hold onto their recycling jobs. However, a couple of weeks into the competition, the Sun-Times reported that city union workers were “holding their own” by working more efficiently and, remarkably, reducing the absenteeism rate to zero. It does make one wonder why that couldn’t have been done when those workers weren’t under the gun. But I digress.

Under Mayor Emanuel’s plan, the city has been divided into six areas, two served by city workers, three by Waste Management and one by Sims Metal Management. I’m pleased to be able to talk today to Tom Outerbridge, General Manager of the Municipal Recycling Division. We’ll see what the state of curbside recycling is a little more than a month since the start of managed competition.

Tomorrow, Monday, November 14th, the day beforef America Recycles Day, Sims will be doing an e-waste pick up and a full day of recycling education at Wadsworth School, at 6420 S University Avenue in Chicago. Given that education is such a vital part of any recycling program, it’s good to see Sims reaching out to this south side community.

Last but certainly not least, plastic bags have gotten back into the news, thanks to Alderman Proco Joe Moreno of the 1st Ward. He has proposed an ordinance that would outright ban them in the City of Chicago. In 2008, the City Council passed an ordinance that called for plastic bag recycling containers in retail or wholesale businesses other than food service establishments where 25% or more of gross sales include medicines (I never understood that part) and/or food.

Since its inception, the ordinance has been marked by confusion as to which businesses must recycle, and a general reluctance on the part of smaller companies to comply. In The 2010 Annual Plastic Bag Recycling Report Update, two items caught my eye:

The biggest difference from 2009 to 2010 is the increase in number of businesses reporting that they did not recycle any plastic bags, which went from 95 to 486. Based on phone calls and report entries, the primary reason for this was that although businesses placed a container in their store, customers did not return plastic bags.


The maximum amount reported in 2010 (Jewel Foods) is a business with multiple store locations across Chicago and accounts for 47% of the total weight reported. In addition, almost 90% of the plastic reported as recycled was from only five companies (Dominick’s, Jewel Foods, Trader Joe’s, Walgreens, and GM Warehouse), all of which were either large-footprint stores and/or have multiple
locations in Chicago.

We’ll see just how much traction Alderman Moreno’s proposed ordinance has. Already, the dark side is making its voice heard.

Sustainable Food Fundamentals
The latest on WCPT’s Holiday Harvest

Last week, Mike Sanders of Our Town joined me in studio to announce the WCPT Holiday Harvest, which we are doing in partnership with Faith in Place. Our goal is to do a drive that is “healthy, local and sustainable,” at least to the extent possible and practical. The drive will be from December 1 to December 11 of this year. On December 4, Mike Sanders and I will have a joint broadcast of Our Town and The Mike Nowak Show from 8:00 to 11:00 a.m., when we will talk to food experts, our listeners, and perhaps even welcome people to the WCPT Studios parking lot to drop off their goodies.

Last week, on the Holiday Harvest page on this website, we discussed the importance of non-perishable protein. This week, the subject is preserved foods–dried and canned.

As I said last week, I’ve taken on this challenge as a chance to teach folks about the kinds of foods–and other goods–that can and should be donated to food pantries. It’s not simple, and I hope my listeners and followers on this site and on Facebook and Twitter will help me figure things out.

We are continuing to update the Holiday Harvest page, and I hope I hope you’ll check it out from time to time and begin gathering food to donate during our drive. We will have a number of drop off locations in the Chicago area, which we hope will make it easy for you to contribute to the cause. Our motto: Feed the Need. Thanks for whatever you can do.

Green in homes, “Art in Bloom” and putting the “dog poo” controversy to rest

March 27, 2011

Saving green(backs) on energy is as easy as…well, is it easy?

I think I’m the poster child for a six-week seminar in Rogers Park that starts on Monday, March 28. It’s called Saving Green Together: Weatherizing Your House, Apartment, Condo, or Building for All Seasons. Polyana Wolf, who is one of the organizers behind this workshop series, stops by to explain to me, once and for all, how even I might be able to save money on my heating bills.

Among the topics that will be discussed each week from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. will be weatherization techniques, greening your heating and cooling systems, rebates and financiing, strategies for apartments and condos, and green building legislation.

These sessions are FREE at the United Church of Rogers Park, 1545 W. Morse Avenue (West of the Morse “L”.) Free parking is available on the southwest corner of Morse and Ashland). The series is Sponsored by Alderman Joe Moore’s 49th Ward Green Corps in cooperation with Transition Rogers Park and Loyola University’s Environmental Sustainability Class.

“Art in Bloom” is the BEST horticultural show in the Midwest

There. I said it. And I mean it. It would be difficult for me to over-praise Art in Bloom, which runs this Thursday through Sunday, March 31 to April 3 at the Milwaukee Art Museum. I have been privileged to speak there a couple of times, and I think that is absolutely the BEST horticultural show in the Midwest. Sorry, Chicago Flower & Garden Show. Of course, I was unable to attend FLEUROTICA the other night, which might have given Art in Bloom a run for its money.

I’m not going to say that every floral design at Art in Bloom is fabulous. But the concept of the event is unique and the results are often spectacular. The way it works is that floral designers are charged with the task of creating floral pieces that are inspired by the Museum’s Collection masterworks. Sometimes the interpretations are literal, sometimes abstract and sometimes fanciful. They are rarely boring.

This year’s Art in Bloom debuts Milwaukee’s Calatrava™ rose, a new, fragrant rose with pure white double flowers. Milwaukee native Bill Radler who created this rose, also created the Knock Out® rose, which he tells me is the best selling rose in the world. Let’s take a second to absorb that fact. Okay. Time to move on. Anyway, he stops by my program this morning. By the way, Milwaukee’s Calatrava™ rose is named it in honor of the 10th anniversary of the Santiago Calatrava–designed addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum. If you haven’t been up there to see it, what are you waiting for?

Join me today at at the Naperville Home Showcase™

Today is the final day of the Naperville Home Showcase on the campus of North Central College in the “New” Residential Hall/Recreation Center, 440 S. Brainard Street Naperville, IL. I am speaking there today at 1:00 p.m., after WOWING the crowds there yesterday. Hey, if you weren’t there, you can’t say I DIDN’T. Stop by today to see if I’m as good as my word.

And to think it all started with a question about dog poo

Followers of my show know that the last three weeks have featured a controvery–actually TWO controveries–that started when author and Garden Rant blogger Michele Owens appeared on my show to promote her new book, Grow the Good Life: Why a Vegetable Garden Will Make You Happy, Healthy, Wealthy and Wise.

Michele was drawn slightly–but not completely–off topic when regular listener Santo the bus driver called to ask whether it was possible to plant a vegetable garden where his dogs had been loitering (so to speak) in the backyard. I’m not going to go into detail here about what she said…because so many other people have done that for me. If you want the unadulterated facts, I suggest you go straight to the source: the podcast of that conversation from March 6, 2011. You’ll have to scroll about halfway through the audio file (don’t worry, it’ll take you almost ten or fifteen seconds, depending on how fast your computer downloads the thing) to get to Michele’s appearance on my show.

I wasn’t even finished interviewing Michele when Twitter began to heat up like a compost pile on steroids. (By the way, I wouldn’t advise adding steroids to your compost pile. And chances are I’ve just made a controversial statement.) A number of people took issue with the way she handled the dog poo question, claiming that she was giving out bad information or being cavalier about the subject or both. I alerted Ms. Owens to the Twitter explosion even before she left the studio that morning, and a few days later she posted a blog entry called “My First Media Screw Up,” about her baptism of fire on the book promotion circuit. In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that immediately after the show that morning, I fired off a few tweets of my own that were probably ill-advised. I was feeling a little beleaguered and perhaps a bit protective of my guest. I have now imposed a 24-hour Tweet Moratorium on myself for anything controversial. I figure that it’s safer to have a few drinks and THEN have at it on the Internets. Feel free to advise me if that doesn’t seem like a solid strategy.

In a subsequent blog titled “Chicagoans Don’t Fear Soil, Just Bad Gardening Advice,” Chicago’s very own, and friend of The Mike Nowak Show, Mr. Brown Thumb, agreed with the tweeters and… well…went after Michele. In addition to the dog poo response, MBT took issue with her advice about using wood chip mulch in the garden. Again, my advice on this is to listen to the podcast and decide for yourself what the controversy is all about.

It started to get weird when Christopher C., a fellow in North Carolina who blogs by the name “Outside Clyde,” responded to Mr. Brown Thumb in a post called “Creating A Vegetable Garden From A Pile Of Wood Chips.” Christopher had already responded to MBT’s post in the “comments’ section. (In fact, if you’re following all of this, the comments after each blog are much more revealing that the actual posts.)

The one big problem I had with this is that another friend of the show, Wally Schmidtke from Pesche’s in Des Plaines, got dragged into the fray, mainly because he called the program during the interview with Michele in an effort to clarify how he thought wood chip mulch should be used. That is to say, it is fine to use wood chip mulch on top of the soil, but not good practice to bury it in the soil, where it can rob nitrogen from plants.

Wally is a good guy and he knows his stuff. Period. End of story. Say anything about Wally and I’ll come a-callin’ with a shovel sandwich. We clear on that? Fortunately, Wally thought the whole thing was pretty amusing. He said he had customers telling him that he was all over the Internet…which was true for a few days.

This is where we get to the good that has come out of all of this. I’m an Illinois Master Gardener and one of the things that you learn when you study to be a Master Gardener is that it’s more important to know where to find answers than to know everything yourself–because you’re never going to know everything about horticulture. Trust me. And folks have been sending me links left and right that you might find helpful if you’re confused about either dog poo or wood chip mulch.

The first bit of good information I received was from The Dig-It-Yourself Gardener, who, because she had been following the controversy, asked this very question of a University of Illinois soil expert who was at FamilyFarmed Expo last week. I wish she had posted the name of the expert but, nevertheless, she blogs some advice in a post called “The Dog Poo Answer.”

Then, Ellen Phillips, who is an Crop Systems Educator with University of Illinois Extension, wrote to say that she had heard the conversation about dog poo and forwarded this link from the University of Minnesota Extension Service called USING DOG & CAT MANURE ON HOME GARDENS. Gee, I love it when my smart extension friends are listening to the show! (By the way, the short synopsis of that article is “Don’t!”)

Then another friend of the show, Tom Shepard, sent me a link to two books. They take this one step further, into the world of human waste. Hubboy. The first is The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters, by Rose George, and Poop Happened! A History of the World from the Bottom Up by Sarah Albee.

Finally, Wally Schmidtke passed along a couple of websites that shed some clarity on the subject of wood chip mulch. The first is an article from Colorado State University Extension called Mulching with Wood/Bark Chips, Grass Clippings, and Rock. (My personal opinion: Rock SUCKS! But that’s just me.) The other article is from the Sustainable Urban Landscapes series produced by Iowa State University Extension. It’s called “Using Mulches in Managed Landscapes” (pdf). Its basic recommendation to reduce the chance of nitrogen depletion when using wood chip mulches?

• Use composted mulches.
• Avoid mulches with high C:N ratios.
• Do not incorporate mulch into soil.

Hmm. Maybe Wally doesn’t need me to protect him. Enjoy all of the reading, everyone! Get back to me when you’ve figured it all out.