Of seeds and weeds

February 3, 2013

It’s #SuperSowSunday in America!

Nothing says February like grabbing a big ol’ pack of plant seeds, some potting mix, the containers of your choice and doin’ what comes naturally (to Mother Nature, at least): getting a head start on the growing season by planting seeds and watching your babies grow.

It just so happens that for the past three years, Super Bowl Sunday has come to be known as “Super Sow Sunday,” thanks to the folks at @TheGardenChat, who, I suppose, decided that planting seeds on the most iconic sports day of the year and encouraging their friends on Twitter to do the same was one way to counteract the intense levels of testosterone in households across America. If you’re on Twitter, you can contribute to the conversation simply by typing #SuperSowSunday into the search bar on your Twitter page.

This is the perfect day, of course, to talk about seed starting on my show. The studio is going to be filled with folks who have nothing better to do on a Sunday morning than show up at a radio station and talk about seed starting…which, for me, is a good thing.

I start with the Seed Keeper Company gals, Carol Niec and Kerrie Rosenthal, if only because they seem to be everywhere, all of the time. In a nutshell, they started the company in an attempt to help people like me keep their garden seeds organized. Their basic Seed Keeper kit contains

Tools and Supplies:
A-Z Dividers with a whimsical flower pot design filled with tips, recipes and inspiration
A pair of Garden Gloves
3 inch Seed Sorting Dish
6 inch Planting Ruler
Utility Clip for hanging gloves, seed packs…
5 Wooden Plant Markers
5 Glassine Seed Saving Envelopes
Permanent Marker
7 x 8 inch Accessory Bag for storing all of the seed-starting tools and supplies
Rigid Keeper Card fits behind dividers to keeper seed packs and garden information upright. It moves as your collection grows

You can also get the The Seed Keeper Deluxe® and the The Seed Keeper™ Home Farmer (you know a company is becoming successful when they start trademarking things.

The gals have a lot of stops to make in the next few months, including

Feb 8-10    Wisconsin Garden Expo
Feb 23       Prestige Nursery & Garden Center in West Chicago
March 6     Philadelphia Flower Show (March 2 – 8) – The Art of Seeds – A Wealth of Nutrition and Savings

In March, they are making a special announcement about the Seed Keeper Project, which they started a couple of years ago as an opportunity to recognize school gardens across the country. Each year they award a Seed Keeper and a certificate to a school in every state and the District of Columbia highlighting to their dedication to gardening.

They are joined in studio by two of my favorite people from one of my favorite garden clubs in Illinois, the Wicker Park Garden Club. Each year, Richard Tilley plants hundreds–sometimes thousands–of seeds for his own garden. Considering that he is on the other side of 80, it’s a tribute to his love of gardening…and to his stamina. He will discuss his light set up, soils, time tables, data keeping, germination & transplanting techniques, vegetables, and propagating his popular Brugmansias.

Denise (pronounced “Dennis”) Browning is one of the key players at WPGC. She will address Pre-germination of perennials (stratification), soaking, chipping, starting with cuttings and rooting hormone, and propagating shrubs.

WPGC will hold its annual seminar, “Plant Propagation from Seeds and Cuttings” on Saturday, March 2. There are two sessions: 10am to 12noon or 1:30-3:30pm. Instructors are Richard Tilley and Doug Wood. It’s held in a Wicker Park Home and the address is given to registered students. The seminar costs $15 and Registration is Required. Sessions are limited to 15 students.  RSVP to  wpgarden@aol.com. For more on Wicker Park Garden Club Lecture Series and Events click here.

“Weed Wars”–one lawyer’s battles in the front yard trenches

Here’s the latest on the story I broke on my radio show on December 23, 2012 about Kathy Cummings. She is the Chicago woman whose front yard garden received first place in 2004 from the Mayor’s Landscape Awards Program (which has been discontinued by Mayor Rahm Emanuel) under the category “Most Naturalized City Garden,” and then was hit with a weed ordinance violation last October for the same garden.

She was ordered by an administrative law judge to pay $640 in fines and court feels. But, as she stated on my program, she was going to fight the ticket. So she filed an appeal, which could cost her an additional $317 if she comes out on the wrong end of a judgement.

Since then, she

  • received her hearing date, Tuesday, May 21st, 2013, 2 p.m. in room 1109 at the Daley Center.
  • filed FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests to the Department of Streets and Sanitation and, subsequently, the Chicago Department of Revenue, requesting answers to the following questions:

    1. The history of how and why  “RULES AND REGULATIONS FOR WEED CONTROL” Sections, 2-28-010, 2-30-030, 7-28-120 became law.
    2. How many homeowners have been fined with these regulations beginning on May 29, 2008, in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and so far in 2013?
    3. What is the total amount of fines received since the regulations’ adoption in May 2008?
    4. What amendments have been added to these regulations since May 2008?

As far as I know, Cummings is still awaiting a response. However, she did tell me that Streets and San ” said they have no record of any complaints about my property!”

She also alerted me to a talk that will be held this Tuesday, February 5 in Mundelein at the Fremont Public Library, 1170 North Midlothian Road, Mundelein, IL 60060. Click Here for a Map.

The person giving the talk is attorney Bret Rappaport, an Adjunct English Professor at Dominican University and a partner with the Chicago law firm of Hardt Stern & Kayne. He is nationally recognized for his knowledge of and commitment to the preservation of our natural heritage by educating about and advocating for native landscapes, wildflowers, and prairies.

Here’s a blurb about his talk on Tuesday from the Lake-to-Prairie Chapter of Wild Ones:

One person’s weed is another person’s wildflower: that difference in perception has led to “weed wars” as natural landscapers strive to convince others to go natural and go native. Far too often, efforts to create a more natural landscape have met with resistance rooted in ignorance or misinformation. The weapon most often used to try to bring natural landscapers into conformity with the American lawn ethic is the local weed ordinance. What are weed ordinances and why are they applied to natural landscapes? In a suburban culture in which a lush carpet of green grass is the norm, ambiguous weed laws have been used by neighbors and village officials to prosecute those who choose to “grow” versus those who argue that all in the town must “mow.” A big difference exists, however, between a yard full of noxious, invasive weeds and an intentionally planted natural landscape.

Weed laws are generally “complaint-driven” statutes; that is, someone must file a complaint to activate them… and nearly all weed ordinance prosecutions are rooted in neighbor-to-neighbor disputes that often are initially unrelated to natural landscaping.

The first step is to educate yourself so you can tell your neighbor the difference between monarda and chicory. Remember that although you have a right to your purple coneflowers and little bluestem grass, your neighbor has the right to a clipped lawn, plastic pink flamingoes, and tidy rows of color spots. Yard by yard, the face of suburbia is changing. Even neighbors who choose to have traditional lawns accept what we are doing. They appreciate and respect what we are doing and understand why we’re doing it. That’s what being neighborly is all about.

I decided that this was the guy I wanted on my radio show. I gave him a call and found out that he has been litigating “weed” laws for twenty years and has written a number of articles, including this one for the John Marshall Law Review, which is now on the the US EPA Greenacres site. He also sent me two articles that he contributed to, though they were written more than fourteen years ago: Weeding Out Bad Vegetation Control Ordinances and Clarissa’s Prairie.

As far as Kathy Cummings’ case is concerned, Rappaport did a little research into the Chicago laws. Here’s what he wrote:

Mike here is the link to the current ordinance.  It was amended in 2011 but not in any material way.  The operative language remains:

(a) Any person who owns or controls property within the city must cut or otherwise control all weeds on such property so that the average height of such weeds does not exceed ten inches. Any person who violates this subsection shall be subject to a fine of not less than $600 nor more than $1,200. Each day that such violation continues shall be considered a separate offense to which a separate fine shall apply.

(b) All weeds which have not been cut or otherwise controlled, and which exceed an average height of ten inches, are hereby declared to be a public nuisance. If any person has been convicted of violating subsection (a) and has not cut or otherwise controlled any weeds as required by this section within ten days after the date of the conviction or finding of liability or judgement, , the city may cause any such weeds to be cut at any time. In such event, the person who owns or controls the property on which the weeds are situated shall be liable to the city for any and all costs and expenses incurred by the city in cutting the weeds, plus a penalty of up to three times the amount of the costs and expenses incurred by the city. Such monies may be recovered in an appropriate action instituted by the corporation counselor or in a proceeding initiated by the department of streets and sanitation or the department of health at the department of administrative hearings. The penalties imposed by this subsection shall be in addition to any other penalty provided by law.

Meanwhile, Rappaport isn’t the only person working on trying to make these kinds of laws more sensible. After Kathy Cummings was on the show, I received this message from listener Steve Sass in Indiana:

Hi Mike, I’m the president of the North Chapter of the Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society. Earlier in 2012, we formed a committee to study the various county and municipal weed ordinances, and we’ve determined that almost all of the several dozen ordinances that we studied were horribly written, and left no provision for the protection or acceptance of indigenous vegetation. With respect to your guest, we believe that vague and poorly written ordinances are to blame for most of the problems that people like Kathy have experienced. Had that ordinance contained a specific provision that exempted native plant gardens as being “weeds,” this case would have been easily defensible, and wouldn’t require an expensive appeal. Several of our members have also experienced similar battles with their municipalities, and one of our members went as far as to write a documentation about her experience with the city of Indianapolis for our state journal. Our committee has taken our initiative to the state wide level, and we are currently in discussion with the commissioners from one northern Indiana county that is considering adopting a weed ordinance to allow us to work with them in the wording of the ordinance so that situations like Kathy’s don’t continue to be a problem. As such, we have written a draft of what we believe to be a “good ordinance”, which we’re hoping will serve as a template for other legislatures to follow. Thank you for bringing attention to this situation.

Sass forwarded a couple of articles to me about efforts in Indiana to make sense of weed laws, including this one, called Weed Ordinances: The Good, The Bad and the Downright Ugly. He noted that the River Falls Wisconsin ordinance includes a section about managed natural landscaping in their municipal code that states the following:

“It shall be lawful to grow native and naturalized plants to any heights, including ferns, wildflowers, grasses, forbs, shrubs and trees, in accordance with an approved land management plan when said plants were obtained not in violation of local, state, or federal laws.”

Sass noted that the River Falls ordinance seems to be taken from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center sample ordinance found here:

There’s a lot of information here. I hope we can sort it out on Sunday.

Moving forward on the “Big Commie Garden Fabcon”

Last week I talked to Julie Samuels, Community Garden Organizer for Openlands, about their new GardenKeepers Program. It’s an interactive, hands-on class focusing on gardening without chemicals, using designs that depend on nature and not technology, conserving natural resources, and recruiting members who will use and “own” their garden.

As we discussed then, It is designed for groups, not individuals. A minimum of 4 people from each garden is suggested. The fee is $300 per garden ($75 per person in a group of 4) for the entire series of 6 classes. However, individuals may be able to attend horticulture-focused classes 3-6 if space allows. Contact, Julie to register for GardenKeepers. Write her at jsamuels@openlands.org if you have questions, or just go to the GardenKeepers page for more information.

We also talked about what Rob Kartholl (a.k.a. @Copedog on Twitter) and I called The Big Commie Garden Fabcon, otherwise known as Connecting Chicago Community Gardeners. It’s a conference on February 23 at the Chicago Center for Green Technology (CCGT) that will attempt to pull together community gardeners and their organizations from all over the City.

I now have a link to the Eventbrite page where you can register for the event. The conference is free but the suggested donation at the door is $5.00. Pretty darned reasonable.

Registration begins at 9:00am and the event will run from 10am-3pm. It features a panel discussion, workshops and a chance to network with gardeners from your region. A light breakfast and lunch will be included.

There’s still time to donate to Farmer John’s KickStarter Campaign

Last week, I interviewed legendary local farmer John Peterson about his KickStarter Campaign called Barns Are For People, Too, He’s the guy who is behind Angelic Organics in Caledonia, Illinois, a farm that has been in his family for generations. That story was told in the 2005 documentary The Real Dirt on Farmer John, which has received just about every award imaginable, and which I can’t recommend highly enough.

The KickStarter is all about completing the work of transforming the old dairy barn and corn crib into community spaces, as Farmer John says, “filled with light and vibrant colors and breathtaking views of the Midwestern prairie.” He says he has about half the work done and he needs $150,000 to finish the project. Yeah, that’s a lot of loot, but who told you that running a farm and not-for-profit organization was cheap?

Unfortunately, there are 12 days to go and they’ve only hit $24,000+. You can still help by making a contribution today.