Tag Archives: Illinois Extension

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.

Of pride parades, shifting hardiness zones and vulnerable honey bees

June 19, 2011

Mike and Heather broadcast with Pride next week

If you like fun and you like parades, there’s no better place to be on the final Sunday in June than on Halsted, Broadway, or one of the neighboring streets in Boys Town. Of course, Chicagoans know that I’m talking about the annual Chicago Pride Parade, celebrated in the Lakeview East neighborhood. This year’s event is the 42nd edition and, for some reason, I find myself and my show in the middle of it.

Of course, that’s partly because Chicago’s Progressive Talk will be covering the parade, in a special broadcast from the Center on Halsted featuring Stephanie Miller, Hal Sparks and John Fugelsang. The Mike Nowak Show will also broadcast from the center, at its usual time of 9:00 to 11:00 am CDT. However, things get even more interesting at that point.

Producer Heather Frey and I are going to dive into the masses as on-the-street reporters for Stephanie, Hal and John during their show. We’ll be checking out the floats, interviewing parade participants and spectators and generally looking for anything interesting…and I’m sure there will be a lot. TUNE IN NEXT WEEK!

Are gardening zones changing…and how quickly?

If you’re even halfway serious about being a gardener, you’ve at least heard of the USDA Hardiness Zones. First published in 1960, they divide the country into 11 regions, based on the average minimum temperature for an area. I recently received a newsletter from Diane Blazek at the National Garden Bureau about this very subject and I thought it would be a good idea to pass along this information.

Explains NGB board member Janis Kieft:

Each zone is determined by a 10-degree Fahrenheit difference in the average minimum temperature. Zone 1 is the coldest and Zone 11 has the warmest winter temperatures.

A plant listed as hardy in Zone 4 indicates it should survive winter temperatures as low as 30 degrees below zero F. which is the average minimum winter temperature according to the USDA map. A Zone 9 plant is hardy only to 20 degrees F. Some references provide a range of zones in which the plant will grow. A plant listed as hardy in Zones 4-9 means it will grow in all of those zones. However, there are many factors that affect a plant’s ability to grow in a particular climate including exposure, altitude, moisture, soil type and even snow cover. These conditions create variations between and within zones.

If you’ve never checked your hardiness zone, you can do it at this National Gardening Association site by typing in your zip code. There’s even a U.S. Heat Zone map (pdf) that divides the U.S. into 12 heat areas. It was created in 1997 by the American Horticultural Society and it’s based on the number of days that are greater than 86 degrees F., the temperature at which plants start to suffer damage from high temperatures.

That’s the basic stuff. Where all of this gets controversial is when climate change is figured in. As the Chicago Climate Action Plan states: “Since 1980, Chicago’s average temperature has increased approximately 2.6 degrees.” How much higher will it go? Meterologist Rick DiMaio and I have talked about the issue recently, as some reports say that our climate will be like that of the deep south by the end of this century. Rick, for one, isn’t buying it.

He and Janis and I will talk about how this applies to hardiness and heat zones on Sunday’s show.

Sustainable Food Fundamentals:
Celebrate the Summer Solstice at Chicago Honey Co-op

Where, in the City of Chicago, can you find 60 chemical-free hives representing perhaps as many as three million honey bees? I must be talking about the Chicago Honey Co-op in the city’s North Lawndale community. It started in the winter of 2004, when three urban beekeepers decided that they wanted to create a job training program. That evolved into a long-term relationship with the community with emphasis on education, healthy eating and awareness of the natural environment. You can call it an apiary or you can call it a bee farm, as its organizers do.

One of the things they are trying to do is raise queen bees on site. If you saw the film documentary Queen of the Sun, you know that raising queens on “farms” results in less vigorous royalty, so to speak. Which is why Chicago Honey Co-op is trying a different model. But it takes time and money. The Co-op wants to raise $10,000 to get the program up and running. You can donate by going to their website.

Even though their honey became Certified Naturally Grown in 2010 (which is a grass roots alternative to organic certification), and you can find their products at Chicago’s Green City Market and Logan Square Farmers Market, storm clouds are brewing.

Sydney Barton and Michael Thompson point out they will probably lose their space at the end of the year. If they hope to keep their operation the same size, they will require an area no smaller than 6 city lots. Which is why their annual potluck event, sponsored by Slow Food Chicago, takes on extra urgency this year.

The event is this Friday, June 24 from 6:00-9:00 p.m. at Chicago Honey Co-op, 3740 W. Fillmore in Chicago. Rain date is Sunday, June 26th / 4:00-7:00 p.m. Cost: $10.00 for Slow Food and Honey Coop members + side dish or dessert. But don’t worry. Even if you’re not a member, it’s only $15.00 for non-members + side dish or dessert. Children are free

Meanwhile, Chicago Honey Co-op is looking for money and for a developer to help them continue on their remarkable journey. I hope that many of you can pitch in.

As always, Sustainable Food Fundamentals is sponsored by Pearl Valley Organix. They produce HEALTHY GRO™ products for your lawn and garden, as well as Pearl Valley Eggs. And they do it in a way that is sustainable, turning their chicken manure into several OMRI listed fertilizers, and even recycling their waste water on site at the Pearl Valley Farm. I’m proud to have them as a sponsor on The Mike Nowak Show.
Keeping your plants healthy

I’ve mentioned these two resources before but I want to remind you that they are out there if you have gardening questions about plant insects and diseases.

The University of Illinois Extenstion sends out a newsletter during the growing season called the Home, Yard and Garden Pest Newsletter. In it you will find information about seasonal insect and pest problems. It’s a good way to check up on problems, if you’ve spotted something and you’re wondering if anybody else has the same issue. Or you might want to see what the Extension experts are keeping their eyes on. Extension used to charge $20 a year for this excellent publication, but you can get it for free just by signing up.

Two great articles that have been in the HY&G newsletter in recent weeks both have to do with stress caused to trees not by insects or diseases but by site stress:

Another excellent resource is the Plant Health Care Report of The Morton Arboretum. A link to this report can be found on the home page of the Morton Arboretum. Like the HY&G, this report looks at current insectand disease problems. However, it also has a table of accumulated growing degree days throughout Illinois, precipitation, and plant phenology indicators to help predict pest emergence.

These are two extremely useful publications and, if you garden in Illinois, I hope you take advantage of them.

Speaking next Saturday at the Growing Place “Gardener’s Art Fest”

What are you doing next Saturday at 1:00 p.m.? If you said that you’ll be listening to me speak at the Gardener’s Art Fest at the Growing Place in Naperville, THAT’S THE RIGHT ANSWER!

This is the Growing Place’s 75th Anniversary (heck, they’re almost as old as I am), and their filling it with great events and, of course, great plants and products. Of course, if you shop there regularly, or even if you don’t, you should know that it is truly one of the great garden centers in a metropolitan area just filled with great garden centers. My talk next Saturday, June 25, will be “Good Planets Are Hard to Find.” (Sound familiar?) Here’s the full line up of the day’s activities.

See you there!

Changing the world one community garden at a time

June 5, 2011

“Green on McLean” changes the world

As I sit here writing this entry, I’m trying to come up with the right words for what happened last Monday at the corner of McLean and St. Louis in my little neck of the city. And I’m tempted to use words like “remarkable” and “gratifying” and “heart-warming” and even “miracle.” I know, I know, it’s a bit much. But then, most of you don’t know what it’s been like to live on this block for ten years. (For that information, read last week’s post at Past Shows on this website.)

Let me just say that the Green on McLean community garden got off to a spectacular start on Memorial Day. Despite a brutally hot day, about twenty-five neighborhood folks showed up to lay down cardboard, shovel mulch and soil, pick up debris, lay down lead-blocking fabric, remove junk trees and cut fallen branches, and generally work together to change the neighborhood for the better. Click here to see the YouTube slide show of the work day.

On my radio show last week, I said that I wanted to do nothing less than “change the world.” I qualified that statement, however, telling Seamus Ford and Amy Beltemacchi from Root Riot Urban Garden Network that by “world” I meant “my block.” I didn’t know who was going to show up to create this garden. But it turns out that I needn’t have worried. We got a steady stream of volunteers, including Seamus and friends of mine who don’t even live in the neighborhood.

After four hours of steady work, we had four 8×4 garden beds laid out and planted with tomatoes, cabbages, brussel sprouts, squash, cucumbers and even a few ornamental flowers. Several days later we added some onions. Swiss chard (Go Team Chard!) seeds and pole bean seedlings are ready to go. Given the ethnic makeup of my neighborhood, it’s almost a sin that there are no peppers planted yet. But we’ll get to them.

This Sunday, we will add two more planting beds. The lawn has been mowed. Two neighbors attacked the huge mulberry branch that fell into the empty lot months ago with chain saws. (Who knew that so many Chicagoans owned chainsaws?) One of the volunteers has promised to turn those wood blocks into benches for the garden. We can’t believe the number of people who stop and tell us how beautiful the garden is and then tell us that they want to come to a work day.

Not that everything is perfect. Since we need to water the garden, the Chicago Water Department gave us a wrench to use to open the hydrant across the street. Unfortunately, after a couple of days of running around the city to pick up permits and the wrench, we discovered that the hydrant had been fitted with a special lock. When we asked if we could have a key, the city told us that, instead, the Water Department was going to have to come out and change the lock. How long will that take? We don’t know. So, yesterday, we ran a length of three hoses from my house (five doors down and across the street) to the garden. Neighbors have volunteered their own water spigots for the garden’s use.

And if you thought that getting people to work together in a garden would immediately remediate the gang problem, guess again. While the gang bangers have not disrupted our work in the garden, and have even paid us compliments about our accomplishment, they seem to multiply in the June sun. Just the other day, I noticed a couple of police cars stopped in the street next to the garden. Several gang members were spread eagle against the cars. Of course, they will be detained for a few hours or a day and then be back on the street–probably our block. Ah, some things never change.

Some people ask us whether we’re going to fence in the garden. We don’t think so. The neighborhood children love the garden and we don’t want to keep them out. They help us plant and water–even if they have to use their squirt guns. It’s good karma. Does that mean nothing will ever be stolen or vandalized? Hey, I’m optimistic but I’m not insane. For now, we’re going to tempt fate and keep the garden open to everybody at any time.

All we know is that Green on McLean has already “changed the world.” People in our neighborhood are talking to each other, offering help and whatever–chainsaws and shovels and sweat equity–they are capable of providing. It’s a good feeling. Oh, yeah, I almost forgot. We’re going to be rewarded with fresh, healthy vegetables in a couple of months. On the other hand, we’ve already been rewarded.

You know what? Even in a tough neighborhood life can be good.

Protecting our resources, Part I:
Help is on the way for Chicago’s “endangered” river

Last week, the Natural Resources Defense Council‘s Josh Mogerman joined me to talk about how the Chicago River had become one of the “most endangered rivers” in the country, due to high levels of pollutants in the waterway. NRDC has been one of the chief supporters of disinfection, going so far as to join in a 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.

Lo and behold, I receive a message from NRDC on Tuesday:

The Metropolitan Water reclamation District and the Illinois Pollution control board made it clear today that a cleanup of the Chicago river is likely to commence quickly, just weeks after the U.S. EPA sent a letter demanding that water treatment plants end the practice of dumping undisinfected sewage into the Chicago River and adjoining waterways.

This morning a veto-proof majority of Commissioners for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicagoland (MWRD) said they would vote in favor of a policy position that supports disinfecting sewage dumped from their water treatment plants into the Chicago River, where the effluent makes up 70% of the waterway. Commissioners Michael Alvarez, Patricia Horton, Kathleen Therese Meany, Cynthia Santos, Debra Shore and Mariyana Spyropoulos said that they would vote in favor of the change. The vote was deferred and until the June 16 MWRD meeting.  Also, this afternoon, the Illinois Pollution Control Board, which has been the venue for a marathon legal battle over disinfection, issued a proposed decision that largely reinforces the policies put forth by USEPA. The Pollution Control Board will take public comments for a week before issuing their final decision on June 16.

Ah, the power of The Mike Nowak Show.

By the way, in case you didn’t get a look at the video of the post-apocalyptic Asian carp fighters on the Illinois River, you need to take a look at this.

Speaking of rivers, this year’s heavy rainfall in the Mississippi valley is going to have more consequences than just flooded towns and fields. It is also about to produce the largest “dead zone” ever recorded in the Gulf of Mexico. In case you don’t kinow what that is, a dead zone is where nutrients like nitrogen, fertilizer and even river silt dump into a body of water, causing massive algae blooms that suck most of the oxygen out of the water. That is causing even more problems for gulf fishermen, who haven’t exactly had an easy time of it in the past year.

By the way, we’re not the only country that creates dead zones in its bordering waters. Scientists say there are more than 400 dead zones worldwide. Which is just another reason to go easy on the lawn fertilizer. Four-step, Schmore-step, I say!

Protecting our resources, Part II:
Gun club gets the boot from Cook County Forest Preserves

Organizations like Friend of the Forest Preserves work hard every day to see that this precious and vulnerable land is restored, restocked, protected and preserved–along with its flora and fauna–for the education, pleasure, and recreation of the public. Sometimes, short-sighted policies and financial arrangements result in the degradation or neglect of these parcels.

But sometimes, the voice of the people is heard. That’s what happened this week when a request by the Blue Park Gun Club for a permit that would have allowed it to shoot onto forest preserve land was sent back to committee, where it will probably not be seen again. The land is located near Oak Forest in the Tinley Park Preserves.

FOTFP Executive Director Benjamin Cox reports that Commissioner Jeffrey Tobolski (D-16th), who opposed the permit request, sent a strong letter to President Toni Preckwinkle urging a veto if the permit was approved by the board. She responded that she would, indeed, veto the measure, which seems to be the final nail in the coffin for the request. Cox is on the show this morning to report on how the phone calls, letters and messages probably made the difference. So I join Cox in congratulating all those folks who fought to protect that land.

Sustainable Food Fundamentals:
49th Ward farmers markets gear up for the season

The first question that has to be answered is how exactly to spell that phrase. Is it farmers market, farmer’s market, or even farmers’ market (all of which I have seen on the various Internets). For the sake of simplicity, I am going with choice #1: farmers market.

That being said, every year, more and more farmers markets appear around Chicago (and all over the country) each year, as consumers discover the myriad benefits of fresh, local food. As blogger Rob Gardner reported a few weeks ago on the show, The Local Beet has just unveiled its new, improved Farmer’s Market Locator. I tell you that because I can’t possible report on every market out there.

However, when something interesting pops up, like the Loyola Farmers Market, which opens on Monday, June 6, I’m your guy. Loyola University Chicago is unveiling the 49th Ward’s second farmers market (more on the other one in a second): the Loyola Farmers Market, at 6556 N. Sheridan Road, near the University’s Lake Shore Campus in the Rogers Park neighborhood.

What’s so interesting about this market is that it’s the first one in the area (please correct me if I’m wrong) that is sponsored by a university. Students in the University’s Solutions to Environmental Problems (STEP) class came up with the idea, in an effort to promote the benefits of locally grown food. The market will be managed by Gina Lettiere, coordinator of the University’s Center for Urban Environmental Research and Policy (CUERP), and student assistants and volunteers.

Market hours are Mondays from 3 to 7 pm through October 17.

Meanwhile, it’s the second season for The Glenwood Sunday Market, which was voted the most popular farmers’ market in Illinois for 2010 in the America’s Farmland Trust farmers’ market contest. This market in the heart of Rogers Park  strives to be one the greenest markets in the City of Chicago, featuring organic and sustainably locally grown produce. They define locally grown as within 200 miles of Rogers Park.

And it’s definitely a city destination–you can step off the Red Line at Morse Avenue and walk down the stairs to the market.at the intersection of Glenwood & Morse Avenue.It’s open every Sunday 9am -2pm  through October. (The Winter Market is located at 6956-58 N. Glenwood on second Sundays Nov.-May.)

As always, Sustainable Food Fundamentals is sponsored by Pearl Valley Organix. They produce HEALTHY GRO™ products for your lawn and garden, as well as Pearl Valley Eggs. And they do it in a way that is sustainable, turning their chicken manure into several OMRI listed fertilizers, and even recycling their waste water on site at the Pearl Valley Farm. I’m proud to have them as a sponsor on The Mike Nowak Show.

Illinois legislators wrap up and go home (for now)

Last week, I reported on how the immediate future of Illinois Extension might be linked to the expansion of casinos in Illinois. While lobbyists and supporters of agricultural and horticultural programs worked to get the agricultural bill passed, at least some of that might be funded through gaming revenues.

Pam Weber from Extension Partners wrote at the end of hte week:

The Department of Agriculture’s budget was in House Bill 124 (HB124), and contained the amounts that Extension Partners had supported: County Board Match $10,800,000 – Youth Educator $994,700 – Cook County $2,749,200

That was a clear victory, because the Cook County provision had almost been cut completely, which would have wiped out a lot of good urban Extension programs. The problem, as I explained last week, is that those expenditures are tied to passage of a gambling bill, as Weber explains.

A huge expansion in gaming passed the House on Monday and in the Senate Tuesday afternoon.  Senate Bill 744 (SB744) with House Amendments provides for five additional casinos, slots at horse tracks, expanded gaming stations at existing casinos, money for depressed areas, money for the horse racing industry, money for foreclosure prevention, money for agriculture related programs including Soil and Water Districts, County Fairs, U of I Extension, forestry and historic sites.  The sponsors also assured their colleagues that extra money would be available for education as well.  I would caution that while the recipients of these funds are giddy right now, these funds will not be forth coming for some time.

I, for one, am not giddy about relying on gambling for any state revenues. Nor is Governor Pat Quinn. Nor is 47th Ward Alderman Ameya Pawar. Nor is Congressman Mike Quigley or Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer. I know that these decisions are not easy, and anybody who listens to my show or reads my posts knows how important I think Illinois Extension is, but I also believe that gambling preys upon the people who can least afford it–even those who would benefit from Extension. I wish that there had been another way to fund these vital programs. I will hold my nose and hope for the best. Final words from Pam Weber:

[T]he… measures that have gone to the Governor await an unknown fate.  The budget is not his, and with his pen he can make numerous adjustments to the numbers or totally veto the budget. The Governor’s response to the budget could have us back in Springfield in June. The buzz around the Capitol in the waning hours was “special session”!

Get ready for another “Hosta Happening”

The good folks at Rich’s Foxwillow Pines are getting ready for another “Hosta Happening” next Saturday, June 11 at their location at 11618 McConnell Road in Woodstock. Even though Rich’s place specializes in rare and unusual conifers, they hold a couple of these events each year to benefit the Heifer International Foundation.This event goes from 9am to 4pm.

Once again, you can say hello to 93-year-old “Hosta Queen” Margaret Eyre, who has not actually been dividing the plants this year, but directed the volunteers who did the work and will be around as the good will ambassador. The Hosta Happening has several hundred varieties of hostas for sale–all at $5.00 a pop! Among the highlights:

  • 12:30 p.m. – CEO of Heifer Foundation, Domingo Barrios, will discuss Heifer Foundation gifts in endowments, wills, trusts, and estate planning.
  • 1:30 pm – Mark Zilis of Q&Z Nursery in Rochelle, Illinois will give a talk on ‘Hostas of Distinction’. Mark will also have his newest book for sale: The Hostapedia: An Encyclopedia of Hostas by Mark Zilis. This new book describes every hosta that Mark has encountered over the past 30 years.

For more information, call 815-338-7442 or write to coniflora@richsfoxwillowpines.com

My thanks to Spring Bluff Nursery for their hospitality

Thanks to Tim and Ken Norris and the whole staff at Spring Bluff Nursery in Sugar Grove for being such great hosts yesterday. The heat and humidity were stiflingt, so I was glad that I was able to present my talk in air conditioned comfort. If you haven’t been out to this lovely, secluded gem in beautiful Kane County, you need to plan a field trip.

The 1800s farm house is the most prominent feature on the property, but there are also lovely display gardens and even a community garden that provides fresh produce for people in the area. There are a number of events coming up, among them, Photographing Your Garden, led by Donnell Collins, photojournalist & Waubonsee Community College instructor. It’s a seminar on how to get the most from your digital camera…in your garden,, of course. Saturday, June 25, 11am-1pm – Cost $35. Register and pay in advance.

The other one is Girls’ Night Out! on July 21.It’san evening of great plant sales (beginning at 3:00
pm) and a fun night for the ladies! Gourmet tastings and a free perennial with registration begin at 6:00. No charge, but bring canned food item donations.