Tag Archives: gardening

Spring renewal, a net-positive energy campus and a landfill that won’t die

April 14, 2013

Here she is–star of radio,TV and print: Melinda Myers

For a lot of gardeners in the Midwest, 2012 is a year we’d like to forget. The heat and drought took their toll on our annuals, perennials, vegetables and lawns. It’s kind of a blessing that the 2013 growing season is off to such a slow start. It’s giving us a chance to slowly ease into the processes that came all too quickly last year.

So it’s a pleasure to welcome gardening expert Melinda Myers back to the show to talk about garden renewal in 2013. Since she hails from just north of here, in Milwaukee, Myers knows the problems that northern Midwest gardeners have experienced and how to fix them. In fact, she’s traveling all around this part of the country to spread the gospel of Garden Revitalization.

She also happens to be a TV and radio host, author & columnist, with more than 30 years of horticulture experience. That includes more than 20 gardening books, including Can’t Miss Small Space Gardening, The Birds & Blooms’ Ultimate Gardening Guide , and Jackson and Perkins’ Beautiful Roses Made Easy: Midwestern Edition.

Melinda hosted “The Plant Doctor” radio program for over 20 years as well as seven seasons of Great Lakes Gardener on PBS. She hosts the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment segments which air on 115 TV and radio stations throughout the U.S. If you want to get some great tips for early April, just click here.

Melinda and I also want to tell you about the Milorganite Community Garden Giveaway. On Earth Day (April 22 nd , 2013) Milorganite will reward five community gardens that are having the greatest impact in their communities. Those gardens will receive a one year supply of Milorganite organic nitrogen fertilizer, which amounts to 56 bags, each weighing 36 pounds.

All entries must be submitted by April 15 th, so get thee to it! You can find details for the contest here.

Can AGC become the first Illinois “net-positive” energy campus?

It was almost exactly three years ago that I talked to Dan Schnitzer, the Director of Sustainability and Operations for a Chicago charter school called the Academy for Global Citizenship, located on the City’s southwest side near 47th Street and Cicero.

This time around, I’m pleased to have Sarah Elizabeth Ippel with me in the studio. She is is the founder and executive director of AGC and recently was named to Huffington Post’s 50 people “who are changing the world” and GOOD’s “100 people pushing the world forward.” Not bad for somebody who started out at 23 by riding her bicycle to the Board of Education with request: to reimagine what is possible in public education today.

She has followed through on that idea, creating a school that opened in 2008 and now has 300 kindergarten through fifth grade students, 90% of whom are minorities and 83% from low-income families. It is now on track to add one grade level per year to create the first southwest side pre-K to 12th grade International Baccalaureate Education institution in the Chicago Public School district.

Among its accomplishments:

• AGC has been internationally recognized for our progressive environmental, global and academic programs.
• AGC has raised literacy rates by 62% in three years.
• 93% of AGC’s Third Grade & Fourth Grade students are meeting or exceeding math standards.
• 100% of AGC’s K-5th Grade students are learning a second or third language.
• AGC has presented to the United States Department of Education on fostering systemic change.
• AGC was recognized by the Obama administration as a Green Ribbon School, part of the first award in U.S. history.
• AGC was invited to the White House by Mrs. Obama to be recognized the Midwest’s first and the nation’s second recipient of the USDA’s highest honor in its Healthier US School Challenge Gold with Distinction Award, presented in conjunction with Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative.
• In our 4 years of operation, AGC has welcomed over 5,000 visitors from as far as Japan, Sweden and Nigeria.
• AGC has published a Sustainable Schools Handbook: The Key to Greening Your School that has been utilized by schools locally and across the globe.

Now, the school is looking to break ground on an Illinois first: a net-positive energy campus, which will be in Chicago.

And on May 16th, a group of renowned chefs are coming together for an event at Terzo Piano that will benefit AGC and their net-positive campus. Here’s the list: Tony Mantuano (Spiaggia, Bar Toma and Terzo Piano), Jimmy Bannos and Jimmy Bannos, Jr. (The Purple Pig), Rick Bayless (Frontera Grill, Topolobampo and Xoco) Iron Chef Jose Garces (Mercat/Garces Group), Paul Kahan (Avec, Big Star, Blackbird, The Publican and Publican Quality Meats), Bill Kim (bellyQ, Urbanbelly, Belly Shack), Jeff Mauro (Food Network’s “Sandwich King”), Giuseppe Tentori (Boka and GT Fish & Oyster), Marcela Valladolid (Author and Host, Food Network’s “Mexican Made Easy”), and Takashi Yagihashi (Takashi and Slurping Turtle).

Cook County landfills rising from the bathtub like Glenn Close?

Never underestimate the power of money to affect public policy in a bad way.

Last year, I stood across from the River Bend Prairie Landfill at 138th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue and watched as Governor Pat Quinn signed into law a General Assembly-approved measure that banned the operation of landfills in Cook County.

End of story, right? Not so fast.

According the organization No Chicago Landfills, Land and Lakes Co., which operated the River Bend Prairie site, “now say they want to “mine” their landfill for scrap metal and recyclables so that they can continue to make a profit. This process involves digging up decades-old, rotting waste and extends the life of the landfill.”

So the Cook County Board of Commissioners is planning a vote that could put this matter to bed for good. After all, the State of Illinois has already passed a law banning landfills in Cook County and the City of Chicago has a ban that will last at least until 2025. No brainer, right?

Ah, but something is amiss, though it’s hard to tell exactly what that might be. For some reason, some of the commissioners, including those pesky “good government” types, do not seem to have the backs of the good citizens of Cook County.

This is making environmental and community leaders nervous and rightly so. Commissioner John Fritchey has stepped into the fray and has introduced an ordinance to ban new and expanded landfills in unincorporated Cook County. Community residents on the south side and south suburbs have battled with operators to stop plans to reopen a landfill on unincorporated land between Dolton and the southern border of Chicago.

Without such a ban, they say, waste companies will once again be able to pursue landfills anywhere in Cook County, including areas that have been designated for environmental restoration – such as the Lake Calumet region. According to Fritchey, “This legislation will protect communities that have long suffered from dump sites and landfills and will also protect millions of taxpayers’ dollars in preservation and restoration work across Cook County.”

On Monday, Aprill 15 at 10:30 a.m., Commissioner Fritchey, People for Community Recovery, Golden Gate Community Recover and the Southeast Environmental Task Force will hold a news conference on the 5th floor of the Cook County Building, 118 N. Clark Street in Chicago. They will urge the Cook County Board to pass Fritchey’s ban on landfills.

Tom Shepherd from the Southeast Environmental Task Force joins me this morning to talk about why this issue just won’t go away.

For the love of gardens and wolves

March 31, 2013

Dr. Allan Armitage is “Going Crazy”

It’s a pleasure to welcome Dr. Allan Armitage back to the show. I know that we chatted sometime in the past five years but I can’t remember exactly when. Not that it matters. The point is that he will be speaking at “Going Garden Crazy,” the 2013 Spring Symposium for the La Porte County Master Gardener Association. Appropriately enough, his talk (at 9:45 a.m.) is called “Crazy Plants for Crazy Gardeners.”

Among his accomplishments, Armitage is Professor Emeritus of Horticulture at the University of Georgia, and is the Josiah Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professor Liberty Hyde Bailey Recipient from the American Horticultural Society. He is the author of 13 books (the latest, as of 2011, is the 2nd edition of Armitage’s Garden Perennials), and he writes a monthly column in Greenhouse Grower.

His latest ventures include an online course which he describes as “The Greatest Perennial Course on Earth !” Of course, he says that tongue in cheek, but it’s obvious that he is proud of Perennials for the Sun. It’s his first Internet course for gardeners and landscapers, and it features 20 genera, with oral presentations, photos, videos and yes, tests on each one.  A section on Nomenclature and Taxonomy is also included.  It is, as he explains, “For those who always wanted to learn more but did not have the opportunity, no more excuses.”

Not only that, but his horticultural app is about to hit the market–that is, as soon as it gets released from Apple prison (the review process). It is called Armitage’s Greatest Perennials & Annuals and here are some of the features:

•  Over 70 genera, over 300 different selections, and over 350 photos
•  Search by Plant Type, Sun, Shade and USDA Climate Zone. Information easily found on heights and flowering times
•  Opinions by Dr. Armitage on why we should be growing certain plants
•  Pithy information in Dr. Armitage’s no nonsense style
•  Works on all tablets and smartphones.
•  For more info, email amarmitage@earthlink.net.

Finally, he has more awards and honors than your cable system has channels. However, that doesn’t stop him from having a very down-to-earth approach to gardening:

I bet if I asked 500 gardeners today to describe in a single word why they garden, I would hear the same three words that gardeners used 20 years ago: creativity, excitement, and therapeutic. Wouldn’t you agree? Creativity occurs every time you place a couple of plants in the soil, and playing in that soil is therapeutic, especially when the stress of work, kids, and spouse may drive you to drink. And yes, gardening is exciting. Maybe not NASCAR exciting, but we are a simple lot, and prefer to watch plants succeed than to smell cars going around in circles for 500 miles.

Nonetheless, there are a number of gardeners I have found best to avoid. Heaven help you when you meet someone who wants to correct your plant pronunciation. Truly, does it really matter if you say pan-ic-ew-lay’ ta or pan-ic-ew-lah’ ta? And who really cares if you say clem’ a-tis instead of cle-mat’ is? Simply tell them that Armitage says: “Get the syllables in the right order and fire away!” Such frustrated people have too much time on their hands. They should garden more.

I also run for the hills when plant snobs show up: people who won’t grow annuals, or live only for a certain genus, or those who believe that only native plants should be in gardens. There are places for all these things. Even though I dislike rose gardens, I love roses and simply believe that they are best combined with other plants. Let’s be gardeners, not associations.

Neither do I have patience with people who advise me that my garden is not well designed. Long ago I learned I don’t have the discipline to stay with any plant or any garden design – there are simply too many things to try. My design philosophy finds me with a plant in one hand and a shovel in the other, looking for a place to plant the sucker. Although I am not capable of practicing it, I love good design. Like the famous comment about pornography, “I can’t define it, but I recognize it when I see it,” such are my comments about garden design. And my garden is just fine, thank you.

The Going Garden Crazy 2013 Spring Symposium is Saturday, April 13, 8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. CDT at the Heston Hills Conference Center, 1933 East 800 North, LaPorte, Indiana 46350. Just $35 gets you the conference AND lunch. How can you go wrong? Click here to register online.
Or call 219-324-9407.

Jim and Jamie Dutcher work in defense of wolves

We have entered an era of not just misguided but stupid politics and policy. This past week, President Barack Obama signed into law H.R. 933, a continuing resolution spending bill approved by Congress. But the kick in the shins is a provision buried 78 pages within the bill that protects biotech corporations such as the Monsanto Company from litigation. In fact, you’ve probably already heard of the “Monsanto Protection Act,” which opponents have come to call this bill.

Did Obama know that this provision was in the bill? Of course he did. But it has become so difficult in Washington to get any budget bill passed that he really had no choice but to sign it, or risk another round of brinkmanship with the dysfunctional Congress. The repulsive and indefensible clause was sneaked in by legislators bought and sold by industry. The silver lining is that the bill expires in six months, and hundreds of thousands of people have voiced their opposition and are calling on Obama to issue an executive order to call for the mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods.

Flash back to almost exactly two years ago, when a very similar thing happened, again because of stupid politics:

On April 14, 2011, the United States Congress made a radical and unprecedented move. For the first time in the 37-year history of the Endangered Species Act, the legislative body removed an animal from that list. That animal was the gray wolf. Until then, delisting was a laborious process, requiring lengthy scientific review and a consensus of government agencies. The wolf now stands as the lone exception. It’s a stretch even to say that Congress voted on the issue; the delisting itself never came up for a vote. Instead the fatal bit of legislation was intentionally buried deep within the federal budget bill: It was attached as an unrelated rider. While furious debate and news coverage focused on the debt ceiling, the wolf quietly lost its federal protection in Idaho and Montana. The new law paved the way for further state-by-state delisting. There was no debate, no consensus, no input from scientists. There was only politics.

That passage is taken from a fabuous and important new book, The Hidden Life of Wolves by Jim and Jamie Dutcher, who join me on the program this morning. They just spent some time in Chicago, where their exhibit, Living with Wolves, just opened at The Field Museum. It runs through July 7 of this year. Living with Wolves is also not so coincientally the name of their website.

There you’ll see some of the remarkable photographs taken by Jim (already an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker and cinematographer) and Jamie. They lived for six years in a tented camp at the edge of Idaho’s Sawtooth Wilderness, where they not only introduced and observed the Sawtooth Wolf Pack, but became close enough to it to become trusted by the wolves, which allowed them to observe their most intimate behavior. Their experiences became the source of a series of films that garnered them three Emmys. To get just a taste of the world in which they lived, take a look at this short video.

Their goal is daunting: to dispel centuries of deep distrust that humans have for this most misunderstood of animals, most of it stemming from superstition and fear. It is that ignorance of the true nature of wolves that is behind the slaughter of eleven hundred of them in the U.S. in the two years since they were removed from the Endangered Species list. This is despite studies that show that where they have been allowed to repopulate, wolves are helping to restore balance to ecosystems.

Among the groups concerned with the irrational assault on wolves is Defenders of Wildlife, which even has a Wolf Weekly Wrap-up to detail the advances and setbacks in the cause of these mysterious animals.

Jim and Jamie Dutcher address the human hatred of wolves in their book, where they debunk as many myths as they can, starting with the idea that wolves are dangerous to people:

Reality: Wild wolves are generally afraid of people and avoid them. Along with other large animals like moose, cougars, and bears, wolves can be dangerous to people. However, incidents involving wolves are exceedingly rare. Over the past 100 years in North America, there have been only two cases in which wild wolves reportedly killed a human being. To put this statistic in contrast, also in North America, bears have killed at least 35 people since 2000, and, since 1990, cougars have killed nine. In the United States, domestic dogs kill approximately 30 people every year.

They do the same with the myth that wolves kill many cattle and sheep:

Reality: According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than six milllion head of cattle live in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, the three states where the vast majority of wolves in the West live. U.S. Fish and Wildlife reports for those states show that in 2011, wolves killed 180 head of cattle, or 1 cow out of every 33,666. In the same three states, 835,000 sheep live. U.S. Fish and Wildlife reports show that in 2011, wolves killed 162 sheep, or 1 in every 5,154. However because these losses are unevenly distributed, they can take a toll on a single producer.

But the most impressive case for wolves is made by the way this duo describes their interactions with the wolves. Jim and Jamie make a case for the notion that wolves aren’t really that different from human beings. They live in families, sometimes nuclear, sometimes extended. They have distinct personalities. They show loyalty, playfulness, fear and courage. They are, in short, worthy travelers on our planet, and it’s about time we gave up our superstitious notions of these creatures and began accepting them as part of a grander plan for nature.

Bringing Nature to DuPage County

October 14, 2012

Welcome to “Home Grown National Park”

Has it really been four years since author Doug Tallamy was on my show? He and I were both pretty flabbergasted when we realized that was indeed the case. Regardless of how long it’s been, I’m thrilled to have him back.

In fact, I might ask him to write me a check. That’s because Tallamy is the author of a book that I have been promoting ever since I got my hands on it: Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens. He is also Professor and Chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware in Newark, Delaware, where he has written more than 65 research articles and has taught insect taxonomy, behavioral ecology, and other subjects.

He will be in town next Saturday to speak to the Greater DuPage Chapter of Wild Ones. They teamed with the Illinois Native Plant Society, Forest Preserve District DuPage County, The Conservation Foundation, Sierra Club – River Prairie Group and Forest Preserve District of Will County to make this appearance happen. However, if you’re thinking about attending the talk, you can pretty much forget about it, because all of the seats have been reserved. If you feel like taking a chance, walk-ins will be seated without advanced reservation only if seats are available 15 minutes after the start of the event. It will be held at the Holiday Inn, 205 Remington Boulevard in Bolingbrook.

If you miss this event, never fear. If you’re near Bloomington, Illinois, tomorrow, October 15, he will be making a presentation for the Wild Ones Illinois Prairie Chapter. That will be at 7:00 pm at Heartland Community College, Astroth Community Education Center Auditorium. Professor Tallamy will also be appearing at the Wild Things 2013 Conference on Saturday, February 2, 2013 at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

So why is Tallamy’s book such a big deal and why has it sold more than 45,000 copies? (It was updated and expanded in 2009.) It’s because he offers an entirely new way of looking at why native plants are important. Tallamy explains in his book that when we use “alien” plants in our landscapes–that is to say, plants that come from other continents–we are failing to provide nourishment for our own native insects. Why? Because insects have spent tens of millions of years evolving with the plants around them and are either incapable of or not interested in consuming the alien species. As a result, birds, amphibians, lizards, fish and mammals who rely on insect populations to thrive have less food and see their populations decline.

Look at the landscapes around you and you might get some understanding of what I’m talking about. Plants like Norway Maples, Bradford Pears, privet, oriental bittersweet, burning bush, English ivy, Japanese maple and even daylilies are not native to North America, and are not valuable food sources for insects.

So individual land owners really play a huge role in maintaining insect populations. Tallamy says that the way you landcape your yard is going to determine how much life you have in your yard.

For instance, he has been studying Carolina chickadees on his own property as a way of determining how much food is needed to support certain foodwebs. From personal observation, he has determined that to feed a chickadee from hatching to the point where they can leave the nest, it takes 4800 caterpillars.

Should I let that sink in? 4800 caterpillars to bring one chickadee clutch (around six eggs) to independence–and a chickadee weighs 1/3 ounce! A chickadee takes about sixteen days to leave from the nest. If you do the math, that’s an average of 300 caterpillars per day, or one every three minutes! Not only that, but the chickadees generall forage within 50 meters of the nest (that’s about 164 feet, in case you don’t have your handy “convert meters to feet” tool handy).

The point here is that if you have a lawn–which some people consider a “biological desert”–you’re probably not providing enough habitat for even one chickadee chick to survive.

So Tallamy has hatched an idea called “Home Grown National Park.” He posits that if we all convereted 50% of our lawns to biological corridors, we would create 20,000,000 acres of viable habitat–more than three times the size of Denali National Park in Alaska. As you can see, he’s not talking about abandoning “traditional” landscaping altogether–just making room for wildlife other than your neighbor’s teenage son.

Meanwhile, Tallamy wants people to get on board with his citizen science project to determine exactly which birds are eating which insects. If you take photos of your prized backyard birds–especially if they’re in the process of eating insects–consider sending them to Doug Tallamy at dtallamy@udel.edu. Tallamy would like to establish a website based on those photos that would help entomologists determine the feeding habits of birds.

This week’s items of interest

  • Here’s a short note from friend of the show Jessica Rinks (a.k.a. SnappyJDog):

The Forest Park Community Garden (which I am involved in) is having a fundraiser on Sunday October 21st from 2 to 5pm. We’ve tried to think outside the box as far as fundraisers go so we’ll be having an apple pie bake-off being held at Molly Malone’s pub in Forest Park and will also include a silent auction (Troy-bilt snowblower, bulls opening game tickets, for example) and door / raffle prizes. We need pie baker contestants and we need people to buy tickets to attend the event (and we’re always delighted to accept more raffle/silent auction item donations). Proceeds from the event will go to help us pay for garden maintenance for 2013.

  • The City of Durango, Colorado is in the middle of a battle about using pesticides on its public lands. It led to parents canceling yesterday’s entire slate of youth soccer games because the playing fields had been sprayed with synthetic chemicals. You go, Durango!
  • Who likes organic and non-GMO foods? Rich and powerful people, that’s who.
  • Don’t forget that Green Town Highland Park, a zero waste, carbon neutral event, is later this week, October 18-19 at The Art Center in Downtown Highland Park, Illinois.
  • CitiesAlive: 10th Annual Green Roof and Wall Conference, is being held from October 17 to 20 in Chicago. And why not? The Windy City has more completed green roof projects than any North American city.
  • The Southeast Environmental Task Force and Friends of the Parks invite you to explore the Millennium Resrve/Calumet Core on their Open Spaces/Green Places Tour on Saturday, October 20.
  • Cermak Road in Chicago seems an unlikely place to show off green technology, yet Grist reports that the The Cermak/Blue Island Sustainable Street Scape is blazing a green trail.
  • Hubboy, just when you thought it was safe to raise chickens in the city, there’s a new concern…lead in eggs.
  • Tweet of the week from @MaryAnn DeSantis. Who knew that LBJ was capable of such a statement?
  • And, for you astronomy fans, how about a planet that contains a thick layer of diamonds? You can’t make this stuff up, folks. Actually, you can but this appears to be the real deal.