Tag Archives: trees

Saving urban trees and creating a political food agenda

June 17, 2012

Are these Evanston trees in trouble?

A few days ago, I was copied on a letter that was written to Marshall Stern, host of Awakened America on Chicago’s Progressive Talk. Here’s how it read:

This is the story about the trees on Maple St. , Evanston, the block where the Century 21 movie [theater] is located.  A very tough cable has been wound around the trunks of all the trees on this block, both sides of the street.  It is meant for decoration, I think, posssibly electrical lights to be installed in the future.  The cable is very tight, you cannot get your finger under it, and it spirals up the trunk so that the entire surface of the trunk is covered.

The woman, Jane Alexander, said she believed that the trees had been paid for by Church Street Plaza Management, and that she had contected Mark Younger from the City of Evanston Forestry Department about the matter.

I wrote to her and asked whether she could send me some photos. She immediately responded with the pictures on the left side of this page. As you can see, the cable does seem to be wrapped tightly around the trees, and I suspected that the trees would soon be under stress, if not already. So I did what any red-blooded American radio host would do…I got a second, and a third, and a fourth opinion from some of my arborist friends. Here’s how they responded:

As long as the (rope lights?) are loose enough so that the trunk has adequate space to allow for development of the annual growth ring, they should be OK.  Eventually, they will need to be loosened to allow for that expansion.  Being in sidewalk cutouts, the trees may not be putting on a lot of radial growth each year, but that is determined by the size and quality of the soil allocated for them.  If the coils of the cable can slide up or down a bit, there is still some expansion room left.  If they can’t, then they should be removed or at least loosened.
Dr. Rex Bastian, The Care of Trees

Mike, I agree with Rex’s comments. The rope lights can probably stay up for the growing season but for sure check the tightens in the fall and think about loosening them or removing them in the fall.
Doris Taylor, The Morton Arboretum

Mike, they look like hollow tubing with the lights already inside. I’ve seen such things somewhere else but not up close. It’s possible that the tubing has some built-in stretch capacity, which would help. But Ginkgo often grows pretty slowly, especially during the first few years after transplanting, so you probably have a significant grace period for action anyway. Vandals might solve your problem before it becomes critical (!), but if not, be sure someone is aware that the light strings need to be rewound each year. On a more general note, I think it’s a little sad that people think they can improve upon the natural beauty of trees by adding gaudy plastic lights. 
Guy Sternberg, Starhill Forest Arboretum

Tree bondage. Would expect to see this in certain parts of Chicago.  As long as it is loosened each year, OK. If these are LED they emit no heat thus not injuring the bark. The zip tie is likely to cause more damage as it looks pretty tight. Most people forget to loosen, this is what then kills the tree.
Scott Jamieson, Bartlett Tree Experts

I certainly agree w/ what both Rex and Guy said. Over the years I’ve seen plenty of cases where wires (covered w/ rubber hose at the point of contact with the tree’s trunk) used to stake trees after planting, have actually become engulfed by the tree itself. This is especially the case when they are left on too long and not adjusted or loosened to allow for the gradual expansion of the tree’s trunk, as it grows. The same goes for plastic collars left on too long and not adjusted, that were meant to protect a tree’s trunk from damage by string trimmers and deer rubbing.
Although these trees often appear to grow fine with a foreign object stuck beneath its bark/scar tissue, one can certainly conclude that it can’t be good for it in the long run, especially in cases where the wound doesn’t close fully, presenting an opportunity for disease or insects to harm the tree.  And in more severe cases, where a cable, for example, is wrapped very tightly around a tree, it’s certainly easy for such an object to girdle a tree’s vascular system resulting in eventual death.
In general, we recommend that nothing should be left on trees long term, whether it be ropes/wires used for staking, holiday lights, etc…Here at the Arb we take the time to both install and remove all holiday lights used on our trees for both the health of the trees and to recycle/reuse our energy efficient, costly LED lights.  In most cases, nothing should really be allowed to be hung, tied, draped, attached, etc…to a tree in the first place, otherwise it gives some people ideas which can quickly get out of hand, which include the installation of hammocks, garden art, baby swings, tree houses, outdoor lighting, outdoor speakers, bike racks, signage, etc…While bubble lighting in the photos is likely harmless in the short term, it sets a bad precedent for the average Joe who doesn’t fully understand the ramifications of such actions in the long run.
Todd Jacobson, The Morton Arboretum

And then I received a phone call on Friday. It was from City of Evanston Arborist Mark Younger, who said he was checking out the trees to make sure the the lights weren’t wrapped too tightly. He also sent this letter of Jane Alexander:


I wanted to follow up with you regarding the parkway trees located at Church Street Plaza along the 1700 block of Maple Street in Evanston.  I inspected the string lighting attached to the tree trunks again this morning.  As you mentioned they have become snug against the trunks.  I met with the Director of Operations for Church Street Plaza, Mr. Robert Gilbert, and we reviewed the trees together.  Rob is having all the lighting adjusted today, and has assured me that they will adjust the lights regularly as needed in the future.   The attached email from Rob shows the management companies commitment to our urban trees. Thank you for making us aware of this situation.  Please let me know if you have any further questions.

That’s what I call a rapid response. Mark Younger joins me on the program this morning to talk about the dangers of “decorating” trees with lights and other objects. We will also chat about an event that takes place this Saturday, June 23 in McHenry County. It’s the Ride for Research to benefit the TREE Fund.

It’s a 35-mile loop through McHenry County with members of Team Illinois (go team!) from the 2012 STIHL Tour des Trees. After the ride, there’s food, fun and music. The donation to ride is $50 and that gets you the post-ride barbeque. Or, if you just want to wave to the riders and eat barbeque, the fee is only $25. For more information, call April Toney at 877/617-8887 or email: iaa@wi.rr.com. Organizers ask that you RSVP by Wednesday, June 20.

I’m also pleased to have Mary DiCarlo, Fund Development Specialist for The TREE Fund on this morning’s show.

Is “food” a campaign issue in 2012?

If there’s a person more passionate about food issues than Debbie Hillman, I can’t tell you who it is. I met her several years ago, when I did the Rooted in Austin broadcast from the Third Unitarian Church of Chicago in the Austin neighborhood.

Debbie is a Chicago native who has lived in Evanston since 1976. For 25 years, she was a professional gardener for 25 years. But it was her work as an community activist that helped her use her horticultural background to become an urban agriculture zealot. In 2005, she co-founded the Evanston Food Council, a grassroots organization.

In 2006, Debbie and the Evanston Food Council began working with Evanston’s State Representative Julie Hamos and a large statewide coalition. They helped alert citizens to the awful truth that a state with some of the richest farm land on the planet was importing 95% of its food. As a result, the Illinois Food, Farms, and Jobs Act. was passed in 2007.

Debbie coordinated the 2-year task force created by IFFJA.  Based on the task force report  (Local Food, Farms, and Jobs: Growing the Illinois Economy , 2009), the Illinois General Assembly created a permanent state body (Illinois Local Food, Farms, and Jobs Council) to create an Illinois-based food and farm economy.

And now she is announcing the first project of her brand new food system consulting business,
D. Hillman Strategies: Food Policy for Voters. Debbie has created an Illinois Food Survey, which will measure just how important food issues are to Illinois voters. The Illinois survey is a pilot for a national survey which will be activated in June, following the June primaries in 15 states

As she explains on her website:

For 60+ years, American voters’ food attention and resources have been over-focused on creating a global food system, to the detriment of every local farm and food economy in the world, including local food economies in the U.S.  Symptoms of local food system disfunction are manifest in every American community, in every sector of community life.

Public health : Reduced lifespan, skyrocketing healthcare costs
Increasing infant mortality
Hunger, malnutrition, over-nutrition, mono-nutrition, eating disorders
Epidemics of obesity, diabetes 2, cardiovascular disease
Suicides and chronic mental health problems of farmers, mothers, and other caretakers who can’t make the $$ and hours add up no matter how hard they work

Education : Loss of basic life skills and cultural heritage
Loss of food literacy (nutrition, health, soil, water, climate, energy, history, culture, biodiversity, farming and food traditions)
Loss of food skills (growing, shopping, storing, cooking, feeding, preserving, composting)
Reduced competency in collective decision-making, especially through government
Confusion about money, banking, basic financial operations

and more.  Can Debbie Hillman help draw attention to food issues in time to make a difference in the 2012 election? We’ll know in a few months. Meanwhile, she stops by to talk to me in studio this morning.

Two bills: Governor Quinn, sign one, veto the other

As the General Assembly in Springfield wrapped up its legislative business at the end of May, one of the victories for Chicago environmentalists was the passage of HB 3881, which will effectively ban landfills in Cook County…assuming that Governor Pat Quinn signs it.

Right now, it sits on his desk, and the Southeast Environmental Task Force (SETF) is urging its supporters to call the governor’s office to tell him to affix his signature to the legislation.That number is 312-814-2121. You can keep track of the progress of the bill by loggin on to the No Chicago Landfills Facebook page.

And while you’re on the phone to the governor, you should tell him to veto another bill that is on his desk. That one is SB 3766, which, according the SETF, would force Ameren, People’s Gas and Nicor to purchase more expensive synthetic gas produced by Leucadia’s proposed coal gasification plant on the southeast side. In addition to being bad for Illinois gas customers, it’s yet another environmental slap in the face to the southeast side of Chicago.

Repeat after me: There is No Such Thing as Clean Coal.

The Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club agrees and you can log in here to voice your concerns to the governor. In the words of the Sierra Club, “SB3766 would not only force NICOR and Ameren ratepayers to buy the dirty synthetic gas produced by Leucadia, it also forces themto finance 100% of the construction costs for the scuzzy coal-to-gas plant!”

This sweetheart deal is bad for our pocketbooks and bad for the environment. The plant is planned for the heart of Chicago’s southeast side, just two blocks from Washington High School. The project’s pollution will impact more than 10,000 students and the many families who live nearby over the 30-year project life.”

You know what to do. Let’s get it done.

Food, Farms, Trees and Holiday Decorations

November 21, 2010

The Holidays Loom…

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” according to the song. In my opinion, the jury is still out. However, most of us don’t have the choice of opting out of the madness, so I guess we should make the best of it. For instance, if you’re going to put Christmas lights on your outdoor trees, you should know what you’re doing. And I can’t think of a better source of tree knowledge than The Care of Trees.

Thom Kraak is Senior Designer for The Care of Trees, which means he’s the go-to guy for outdoor decorating. If you’re interested in having your lights hung professionally, you can always check out the services offered by The Care of Trees. However, Thom is also on the program today to offer some simple wisdom for doing the job yourself. Don’t forget that if you miss today’s live broadcast, you can always listen to podcasts of The Mike Nowak Show.

Shawn Kingzette is District Manager of the Chicago Office for The Care of Trees, and a long-time friend of this show. I dragged him into this discussion because I wanted to get an arborist’s advice about preparing your outdoor trees and shrubs for the coming winter. In addition, I’ve been harping on how little rain we’ve had in the past several months. My view is corroborated by the Morton Arboretum, which sent out this advisory this week.

…but there’s no need to panic if you need a beautiful display

Are you one of those people who can grow practically anything if it’s in your garden bed, but is completely baffled when it comes to containers? Fear not–Marni Wilson, garden designer at Mariani Landscape, is here to offer some great advice on creating attractive holiday scenes. Wilson says that you don’t necessarily need to get everything done at once–it’s possible to start a landscape and add to it later. Of course, she has tips on quick and easy holiday decorating–especially containers, which can be very rewarding, if you get it right. And, something that makes me happy, Wilson has information about how to reuse some of your decorations (mostly greens and boughs), when you’re ready to take down the display.

Good Growing: Illinois Local Food, Farms and Jobs Council

“Illinois consumers spend $48 billion annually on food. Nearly all of this money leaves the state.”
All I can say is “Mind boggling.” That quote (the first one, not mine) is from the Executive Summary of a report called “Local Food, Farms & Jobs: Growing the Illinois Economy,” written just about a year and a half ago as an introduction to the creation of the Illinois Local Food, Farms and Jobs Council. Its work–to keep a larger share of Illinois food dollars in Illinois–has really just begun.

Tom Spaulding, is Director of the council, and Executive Director for Angelic Organics Learning Center. He’s on the show to talk about what has been accomplished so far and what can be expected from this important public act. An important part of the mission is to train new farmers, agriculture laborers and food entrepreneurs over the next decade, in an attempt to keep food dollars in Illinois.

He’s provided me with some good links about farming and related issues:

Spooky trees, a spooky election and Mr. Brown Thumb on “Good Growing” in Chicago

October 31, 2010

Spooky trees in spooky places

Now, I don’t want to SCARE you…even on Halloween…or maybe I do, but there’s something a little, um off-center about my friend Guy Sternberg. It’s not just that he stands about six-foot-six and has the deepest voice in horticulture (I’m going to make him say “You raaang?” on the show), but he has this fascination with trees. Of course, a lot of people like trees. Some even hug them (you can include me in that group.) But Guy is the kind of, er, guy who starts his own arboretum by planting as many trees as he can possibly get his hands on. It’s called Starhill Forest Arboretum and it’s located in Petersburg, Illinois, just down the road a piece from New Salem, where Abraham Lincoln hung his legal shingle for awhile.

But that’s not the only thing that sets him apart. Sternberg wants to tell you all about creepy but cool trees that grow in cemeteries. Heck, I didn’t even know that was a category! He’s teaching a course called Cemetery Botany at the Morton Arboretum on Halloween Day from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. in the Vistor Center.

They tell me you’ll discover why particular trees are found in cemeteries, what different trees on headstones symbolize, and how cemeteries can contain botanical history. The class will show photos from cemeteries all over the country.

Of course, while I have him in the studio, I’ll ask him about the status of the Kewanee Osage-Orange tree, which was one of the stops on the 2010 Stihl Tour des Trees in July. Guy and I and about sixty cyclists spent a couple of hours with this historic tree, which pre-dates the Civil War. That very day, it was pruned by another superb arborist–and another Guy–Guy Meilleur. As of now, the tree is still standing and healthy…thanks to the work of many people, including the two Guys.

Voting for the environment in Illinois

Voting isn’t what it used to be…and that’s not a bad thing. What I mean is that, in the past, this would be the day when I urged people to get out to the polls next Tuesday, and hoped that rain wouldn’t be forecast because it would hold the numbers down. Well, I’m still urging people to vote on Tuesday, but I know that many (including me) have already cast their ballots. So this kind of last minute information post has less of an effect than it once did.

Nevertheless, many of you haven’t voted yet, and since my passion is the environment, I’m talking today about green issues and which candidates are most likely to support them. That’s why Jack Darin, Director of the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club, and Max Muller, Program Director for Environment Illinois are stopping by to talk about their respective organizations’ political endorsements for 2010.

Click here for Illinois political endorsements from Illinois Sierra Club.
Click here for Illinois political endorsements from Environment Illinois.

Introducing “Good Growing” on The Mike Nowak Show!

Starting with today’s show, I will be featuring correspondents who stop by once a week for a short segment I call “Good Growing.” I can’t possibly cover everything that’s going on in the gardening/horticulture/urban farming world, so I’ve enlisted the aid of some pretty impressive friends to talk with me about a wide range of topics. For instance:

  • the “new” gardening, with an emphasis on environmental sanity
  • the people who are growing our food, including urban/rural farmers and farmers in training
  • community gardens of all kinds
  • news stories about urban policies, breakthroughs in growing techniques, weather and more
  • tips for gardeners and farmers, whether they grow crops, flowers or both
  • horticultural and environmental events that are of interest to growers

Some of the correspondents will be people like Martha Boyd, Program Director of the Chicago Urban Initiative for Angelic Organics Learning Center and her colleagues Tom Spaulding and Sheri Doyel.

Today, we kick off with Mr. Brown Thumb, who is ubiquitous on blogs, Twitter and Facebook. Here are some of the subjects we will try to get through (probably not all of them…but that’s why you can always go to some of these links.)

Mr. Brown Thumb writes:

Urban Gardening

Now is the time of year when you prepare your garden for next year. Gather fallen leaves and use them as leaf mulch or add them to your compost pile. Plant ornamental bulbs like tulips and edibles like garlic. If you’re too busy to get everything in the ground now, pre-dig holes so you can plop your bulbs into the ground in case we get a hard freeze before you’re finished. Save seeds from your garden to plant next year. You can also sow seeds for perennials that need a cold treatment now directly into the soil.


70-foot blue spruce from McHenry has been chosen to be Chicago’s Christmas tree.

Chicago Wilderness Congress 2010.

Thursday, November 4 9AM-4:30PM . Program covers Chicago Wilderness strategic initiatives: to restore the health of local nature, implement the Chicago Wilderness Green Infrastructure Vision, combat climate change, and leave no child inside. Registration Fee: Registration is $50 at the door student rate $20 more info at www.Chicagowilderness.org/congress.php

Black Farmers & Urban Gardeners Conference

November 19-21 Brooklyn College, Brooklyn, NY. In the 1920 over 14% of U.S farmers were African American. By 2007 that number was less than 2%. The Black Farmers & Urban Gardeners Conference will focus on green jobs and food-related issues that contribute to inequality. Will Allen, Growing Power Founder & CEO will be the keynote speaker on November 20, 2010. More info at http://www.blackfarmersconf.org/home-1


3rd Annual Bioneers at MCC Conference. Saturday November 6th, 2010 Topics include how to make Local Food Happen, Becoming a Locovore, and Healthy Food and Schools. There will be a Green Living Expo added to the event this year that will showcase green services and products.  More info at http://www.mcbioneers.com/

Frontera Farmer Foundation

Midwest family farms that practice sustainable farming can apply for the capital grant from Frontera Farmer Foundation. http://www.rickbayless.com/foundation/downloadapp.html

MrBrownThumb is the screen name of an urban gardener in Chicago. He can be found at his eponymous blog MrBrownThumb and Chicago Garden at ChicagoNow.