Tag Archives: Illinois Master Gardeners

The arts of Bonsai and answering gardening questions

September 23, 2012

Sarah, Dan and Bon-saiiiii!!!

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, some other events of interest

Event #1 – Green Town Valparaiso

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

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

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

Event #2 Global Citizenship Green Apple Day of Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The future of impatiens and nuclear reactors

September 9, 2012

I’m baaaaaack…didja miss me?

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

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

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

Impatiens under attack from downy mildew

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another reason why nuclear power is not the answer: drought

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding funding for Cook County Extension

May 13, 2012

Another year, another Cook County Extension crisis

Here we go again. I received an email last week from my friend Ron Wolford, Cook County Extension Educator, under the subject line “It’s Back!! Another Cook County Extension Budget Crisis.” It seems that every year, some governmental body or another decides that Illinois Extension is some kind of frivolous expense and needs to be trimmed.

Sigh. So we’ll try to explain it one more time. Legislators and policy makers everywhere, this time please pay attention. I’ll start with an excellent post by Beth Botts, who is co-hosting the show this morning. She titles it Cook County Extension needs your help telling its story to fight new funding threat. From the post:

In the Chicago area, if people have heard about the Extension at all, they may have some dim sense that it has something to do with farmers or 4-H. It seems like a vestige of the agricultural past. In a time when county staffers and commissioners are trying to close to close an estimated $427 million shortfall in the county budget, they see funding for what they think is an anachronism as an expendable frill.

So board president Toni Preckwinkle is planning to eliminate Cook County’s entire $411,000 contribution to the Extension budget. Since state and federal matching funds and grants are based on local funding, Cook County Extension director Willene Buffett estimates that this would end up costing more than $740,000, or about 65 percent of the Extension budget in Cook County. It could end Extension programs in the county. “How can you say that the largest populated county in the state will not have an Extension program? How can you say that?” asks Buffet.

Indeed, how can you say that? Especially when Cook County Extension, in one way or another benefits these institutions and programs:

• Garfield Park Conservatory
• Oak Park Conservatory
• Forest Park Community Garden
• Wicker Park Garden Club
• Cheney Mansion
• St John’s Lutheran Church
• Polaris Charter Academy
• PAEC Elementary
• Chicago Talent Development Charter High School
• Pritzker Elementary
• WestSide Youth Tech Entrepreneurial Center
• New Birth Christian Center
• Westside Health Authority
• Museum of Science and Industry
• CEDA PLCCA Maywood Head Start
• CEDA Resurrection Health PRO CARE
• Head Start –Bellwood
• Nobel Elementary
• Ryerson Elementary
• Morton Elementary
• Orr Community Academy High School
• Cease Fire
• Chicago Talent Development Charter High School
• Garfield Elementary School
• First Congressional Baptist Church of Chicago
• Children’s Health Clinic
• Maywood Youth Mentoring Program
• John Hay Academy
• Hope Institute Learning Academy
• Neighborhood Recovery Initiative

And that’s just in District 1. There are 16 other districts!. Furthermore, There are 5.5 million Cook County residents, and Extension has reached nearly 1 million residents since January 2011 through face-to-face teaching by staff and volunteers, and web-based outreach. 60,000 volunteer hours were contributed by Extension volunteers – a program value estimated at $1,307,400.00

Given those fact, it’s impossible to say that Cook County Extension isn’t efficient or cost effective. Joining me today to talk about this issue is Julie Emerick, a member of the Cook County Extension Advisory Council since 2007. Julie, Beth and I are all Master Gardeners, so you can understand our concern.

How can you help? The Cook County Board is meeting Monday, May 14, and this is a good time to contact your commissioner and tell him or her how important Extension is for the well-being of Cook County.

Send your message to:

Toni Preckwinkle, President, Cook County Board
118 N. Clark St., Room. 537
Chicago, IL 60602
Phone: (312) 603-6400
Fax:  (312) 603-4397

Commissioner Robert Steele
3936 W. Roosevelt Rd., 1st Floor
Chicago, IL 60624
Phone: (773) 722-0140
Fax: (773) 722-0145

Commissioner Bridget Gainer
5533 N. Broadway
Chicago, IL 60640
Phone: (773) 561-1010
Fax: (773) 561-1025

To find your local county commissioner’s name and address, click here .

Got organic veggies? Kilbourn Park Greenhouse does!

Well, if you’re planning on getting your vegetable garden started, I would certainly advise doing it in the next few weeks. The weather has been absolutely fabulous and you don’t want to get too far behind. And if you haven’t had a chance to plant seeds, I have good news. The annual Kilbourn Park Organic Greenhouse Plant Sale is next Saturday and Sunday, May 19 and 20.

Kilbourn Park floraculturist Kirsten Akre once again stops by to preview the 2-day event that features more than 150 varieties of organically-grown vegetable, herb, and flower seedlings.The admission is free and plant prices vary. In fact, if you to see the full spectrum of what’s available, check out the Catalogue of Seedlings for sale.

The sale features a wide variety of open-pollinated and heirloom tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.  Other highlights include an assortment of greens and onions.  These seedlings are grown with the support of a team of dedicated volunteers who make this Plant Sale possible.  This yearly fundraiser supports the greenhouse and our work to connect kids to nature and healthy foods.

Here’s the info:

Kilbourn Park Organic Greenhouse
3501 N. Kilbourn Avenue
Chicago, IL , 60064

More on the fate of Chicago’s landfill ban

Last week, Tom Shepherd from the Southeast Environmental Task Force and Mel Nickerson from the Environmental Law and Policy Center appeared on the show to talk about three possibilties:

1) That waste hauler Land and Lakes might legally grab Chicago property that was once an active landfill. The property is on the Chicago-Dolton border along 138th Street and the waste company wants it annexed to a neighborhing Dolton site, which is still an active landfil.


2) That an ordinance proposed by 9th Ward Alderman Anthony Beale that would lift a moratorium on landfill dumping within the city limits of Chicago would be passed.


3) That the state would get involved and pass legislation banning landfill dumping in all of Cook County. State Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) introduced Senate Bill 3728, which would prohibit new or expanded Cook County landfills. But just as quickly, the bill was pulled from the Senate Environmental Committee hearing, which was cancelled and the vote delayed.

The first two possibilities are unacceptable. Which leaves option #3.

Where are we a week later?

That legislation continues to be debated. On Wednesday, an Illinois Senate Committee unanimously approved legislation to prevent new or expanded landfills in Chicago and Cook County. The legislation, HB 3881, introduced by Sen. Harmon and supported by dozens of community and environmental groups, will preserve Chicago’s 30-year-old landfill moratorium.Without a landfill ban, waste companies will once again be able to ship garbage into the area.

This is where all of you come in. HB 3881 will be voted on by the full Senate next week and my environmentalist friends tell me that the waste industry will be fiercely opposing it. You can find out more about the issue by going to the No Chicago Landfills website or their Facebook page.

Meawnhile, it’s important that you write to your state legislator to demand that the ban be preserved. Log onto No Chicago Landfills page to send a message today!