Fall gardening tips, dealing with food waste, and a lot more

August 12, 2012

A little bit of this and a little bit of that…

On this Sunday morning, I’m covering a number of different topics–including gardening, composting, Illinois environmental issues and more. So let’s get started.

…Jennifer Brennan has help for late summer gardens…

It’s always a pleasure to have my co-host from Dig In Chicago join me on my radio show. Jennifer and I just finished shooting our final three TV shows of the season, which included stops at the Peterson Garden Project, Jack Pizzo‘s personal prairie in Clare, Illinois and even a talk with Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, who talked to us about the ever-expanding garden at the Cook County Jail.

As we roll into the final couple months of gardening in the Midwest, Jennifer talks about some things that you need to get your plants to the finish line this year, and ready to start a new race in the spring. Says Jennifer:

Since it has been so hot, the plants have not been metabolizing new roots. We need to tell how to help woody plants catch up on root growth by planning on fertilizing in October and watering until the ground freezes, if we do not get rain. We need to remind people to avoid fertilizing after August 15, which will produce new soft wood that will not harden off before the first frost. (I like the analogy of not giving children chocolate 30 minutes before bedtime. Otherwise, they stay up giggling when the lights go out.)

Of course, your questions are welcomed, whether you call us at 773/763-9278 or send a Tweet to @MikeNow or post a query on my Facebook page.

…The Morton Arboretum figures out how to compost food scraps…

Organic materials–landscape waste, food scraps and other substances–account for about one third of what goes into landfills. In 2010, Illinois passed SB 99, which was supposed to clear the way for composting much of those materials, which would not only remove them from the “waste” stream, but create valuable soil amendments. However, as has been chronicled in numerous articles, it hasn’t exactly created composting nirvana.

Which is why it’s welcome news to hear that, beginning this month, food waste generated through the Morton Arboretum‘s restaurant and catering efforts will be composted at an off-site composting facility, which means it will no longer be taking space in local landfills.  Arboretum food service probably generates an average of 90 to 100 pounds of food waste per day, which equates to about 16-18 tons during the course of a year.  That’s a lot of trash that we’ll keep out of the landfills. Currently, there are fewer than 100 businesses in DuPage County that are composting their food waste, and most of those are Jewel and WalMart stores.

Here’s how Rick Hootman, Director of Visitor Programs at the Morton Arboretum, explains the program.

In our program, which we are starting this week, we can compost virtually all food items, including the vegetable materials that we typically associate with composting, as well as meat and bones, bakery items, tea bags, and paper napkins.  The Arboretum also has compostable paper cups provided in our restaurant and cafe, and we provide serving utensils made from plant-based compostable materials (they have to be “compostable”) in our cafe only.

The Arboretum restaurant and catering service utilizes reusable china and metal silverware, and catering also uses reusable glassware, all of which is returned to the kitchen for cleaning in a dishwasher.  Using reusable items, of course, reduces a lot of waste.  Left-over food, napkins, compostable cups, and other compostables from the used plates are scraped into a 64-gallon “compost container” (which has a compostable collection bag) in our dishwashing area.  Food preparation scraps from the kitchen also are put into the container.  When the container is full, it is moved outside to our waste pick-up area.  We have several containers, and the compost materials will be picked up twice a week.  Our composting facility is operated by Waste Management in Romeoville.

Part of the problem to this point has been that there are no composting sites in DuPage County. However, the Morton Arboretum and Jewel Food Stores use the same waste hauler–Waste Management–and because the Arb is on a route between Jewel stores, it made sense to add it to the route, thus reducing transportation costs.

The Arboretum has also been on a mission to rid itself of as much plastic as possible. I was there last week and was pretty amazed to be be able to buy water in a glass bottle. There was even a bottle refilling station. I’m impressed.

Rick Hootman joins me on the show this morning to talk more about sustainability at the Morton Arboretum.

…the Governor steps to the plate and hits it out of the park…

I was happy to see an email message show up in my inbox on Friday. It was from Josh Mogerman of the Natural Resources Defense Council, and it read, in part:

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn chose to veto a bill today that would have forced natural gas utilities, and ratepayers across the state, to purchase expensive synthetic natural gas derived from coal. Following is a statement from Henry Henderson, director of the Midwest program of the Natural Resources Defense Council and former Commissioner of the Environment for the City of Chicago: “The Governor did the right thing today in standing up to special interests and looking out for communities already choking through some of the worst pollution loads in the country. “The Leucadia bill was not good for anyone in Illinois…aside from Leucadia, which would take in guaranteed profits by foisting overpriced, fake natural gas on almost every utility customer in the state while the real stuff is selling at historic low prices. “This project is the sort of dirty, expensive boondoggle that impacts Illinois’ reputation nationally. Governor Quinn was wise to stop it in its tracks.” More information on the environmental and economic costs of the Leucadia project can be found on NRDC’s Switchboard blog.

Immediately, the Southeast Environmental Task Force put out a jubilant message. And the Illinois chapter of the Sierra Club reminded us that we need to thank the governor, which you can do here.

Now we’re waiting to see if he will veto SB3442, the bad plastic bag recycling bill that led to 12 year-old Abby Goldberg to collect 154,000 signatures against it. Call the governor today and tell him to finish the environmental “hat trick,” including his signing of the landfill ban in Cook County. The number in Chicago is 312-814-2121.

…the City Water Dept. continues to damage trees on my block…

For the past two weeks, I’ve posted photos of the damage to trees on my block caused by the Chicago Department of Water Management, which has been installing new water mains along my Logan Square street. I wish I could say that things have gotten better, but they haven’t. In fact, this work crew inflicted its worst damage on the largest, most impressive tree on the block this week. The photo is on my home page.

I’m done messing around. Next week, I will have have Chicago Bureau of Forestry aborist Joe McCarthy on the show to talk about the ongoing problem of how to protect trees during utility work.

…and it’s the final day of the Renewable Energy Fair

Last week I talked about the 11th annual Illinois Renewable Energy & Sustainable Lifestyle Fair at the Ogle County Fairgrounds in Oregon, IL.. It’s sponsored, of course, by the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA). Today is the final day, and it goes from, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Here are the admission prices:

Adults: $5/1
Youth: $3/1day
Children: (under 12 in the company of a parent) Free
IREA Members: Free