Green in homes, “Art in Bloom” and putting the “dog poo” controversy to rest

March 27, 2011

Saving green(backs) on energy is as easy as…well, is it easy?

I think I’m the poster child for a six-week seminar in Rogers Park that starts on Monday, March 28. It’s called Saving Green Together: Weatherizing Your House, Apartment, Condo, or Building for All Seasons. Polyana Wolf, who is one of the organizers behind this workshop series, stops by to explain to me, once and for all, how even I might be able to save money on my heating bills.

Among the topics that will be discussed each week from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. will be weatherization techniques, greening your heating and cooling systems, rebates and financiing, strategies for apartments and condos, and green building legislation.

These sessions are FREE at the United Church of Rogers Park, 1545 W. Morse Avenue (West of the Morse “L”.) Free parking is available on the southwest corner of Morse and Ashland). The series is Sponsored by Alderman Joe Moore’s 49th Ward Green Corps in cooperation with Transition Rogers Park and Loyola University’s Environmental Sustainability Class.

“Art in Bloom” is the BEST horticultural show in the Midwest

There. I said it. And I mean it. It would be difficult for me to over-praise Art in Bloom, which runs this Thursday through Sunday, March 31 to April 3 at the Milwaukee Art Museum. I have been privileged to speak there a couple of times, and I think that is absolutely the BEST horticultural show in the Midwest. Sorry, Chicago Flower & Garden Show. Of course, I was unable to attend FLEUROTICA the other night, which might have given Art in Bloom a run for its money.

I’m not going to say that every floral design at Art in Bloom is fabulous. But the concept of the event is unique and the results are often spectacular. The way it works is that floral designers are charged with the task of creating floral pieces that are inspired by the Museum’s Collection masterworks. Sometimes the interpretations are literal, sometimes abstract and sometimes fanciful. They are rarely boring.

This year’s Art in Bloom debuts Milwaukee’s Calatrava™ rose, a new, fragrant rose with pure white double flowers. Milwaukee native Bill Radler who created this rose, also created the Knock Out® rose, which he tells me is the best selling rose in the world. Let’s take a second to absorb that fact. Okay. Time to move on. Anyway, he stops by my program this morning. By the way, Milwaukee’s Calatrava™ rose is named it in honor of the 10th anniversary of the Santiago Calatrava–designed addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum. If you haven’t been up there to see it, what are you waiting for?

Join me today at at the Naperville Home Showcase™

Today is the final day of the Naperville Home Showcase on the campus of North Central College in the “New” Residential Hall/Recreation Center, 440 S. Brainard Street Naperville, IL. I am speaking there today at 1:00 p.m., after WOWING the crowds there yesterday. Hey, if you weren’t there, you can’t say I DIDN’T. Stop by today to see if I’m as good as my word.

And to think it all started with a question about dog poo

Followers of my show know that the last three weeks have featured a controvery–actually TWO controveries–that started when author and Garden Rant blogger Michele Owens appeared on my show to promote her new book, Grow the Good Life: Why a Vegetable Garden Will Make You Happy, Healthy, Wealthy and Wise.

Michele was drawn slightly–but not completely–off topic when regular listener Santo the bus driver called to ask whether it was possible to plant a vegetable garden where his dogs had been loitering (so to speak) in the backyard. I’m not going to go into detail here about what she said…because so many other people have done that for me. If you want the unadulterated facts, I suggest you go straight to the source: the podcast of that conversation from March 6, 2011. You’ll have to scroll about halfway through the audio file (don’t worry, it’ll take you almost ten or fifteen seconds, depending on how fast your computer downloads the thing) to get to Michele’s appearance on my show.

I wasn’t even finished interviewing Michele when Twitter began to heat up like a compost pile on steroids. (By the way, I wouldn’t advise adding steroids to your compost pile. And chances are I’ve just made a controversial statement.) A number of people took issue with the way she handled the dog poo question, claiming that she was giving out bad information or being cavalier about the subject or both. I alerted Ms. Owens to the Twitter explosion even before she left the studio that morning, and a few days later she posted a blog entry called “My First Media Screw Up,” about her baptism of fire on the book promotion circuit. In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that immediately after the show that morning, I fired off a few tweets of my own that were probably ill-advised. I was feeling a little beleaguered and perhaps a bit protective of my guest. I have now imposed a 24-hour Tweet Moratorium on myself for anything controversial. I figure that it’s safer to have a few drinks and THEN have at it on the Internets. Feel free to advise me if that doesn’t seem like a solid strategy.

In a subsequent blog titled “Chicagoans Don’t Fear Soil, Just Bad Gardening Advice,” Chicago’s very own, and friend of The Mike Nowak Show, Mr. Brown Thumb, agreed with the tweeters and… well…went after Michele. In addition to the dog poo response, MBT took issue with her advice about using wood chip mulch in the garden. Again, my advice on this is to listen to the podcast and decide for yourself what the controversy is all about.

It started to get weird when Christopher C., a fellow in North Carolina who blogs by the name “Outside Clyde,” responded to Mr. Brown Thumb in a post called “Creating A Vegetable Garden From A Pile Of Wood Chips.” Christopher had already responded to MBT’s post in the “comments’ section. (In fact, if you’re following all of this, the comments after each blog are much more revealing that the actual posts.)

The one big problem I had with this is that another friend of the show, Wally Schmidtke from Pesche’s in Des Plaines, got dragged into the fray, mainly because he called the program during the interview with Michele in an effort to clarify how he thought wood chip mulch should be used. That is to say, it is fine to use wood chip mulch on top of the soil, but not good practice to bury it in the soil, where it can rob nitrogen from plants.

Wally is a good guy and he knows his stuff. Period. End of story. Say anything about Wally and I’ll come a-callin’ with a shovel sandwich. We clear on that? Fortunately, Wally thought the whole thing was pretty amusing. He said he had customers telling him that he was all over the Internet…which was true for a few days.

This is where we get to the good that has come out of all of this. I’m an Illinois Master Gardener and one of the things that you learn when you study to be a Master Gardener is that it’s more important to know where to find answers than to know everything yourself–because you’re never going to know everything about horticulture. Trust me. And folks have been sending me links left and right that you might find helpful if you’re confused about either dog poo or wood chip mulch.

The first bit of good information I received was from The Dig-It-Yourself Gardener, who, because she had been following the controversy, asked this very question of a University of Illinois soil expert who was at FamilyFarmed Expo last week. I wish she had posted the name of the expert but, nevertheless, she blogs some advice in a post called “The Dog Poo Answer.”

Then, Ellen Phillips, who is an Crop Systems Educator with University of Illinois Extension, wrote to say that she had heard the conversation about dog poo and forwarded this link from the University of Minnesota Extension Service called USING DOG & CAT MANURE ON HOME GARDENS. Gee, I love it when my smart extension friends are listening to the show! (By the way, the short synopsis of that article is “Don’t!”)

Then another friend of the show, Tom Shepard, sent me a link to two books. They take this one step further, into the world of human waste. Hubboy. The first is The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters, by Rose George, and Poop Happened! A History of the World from the Bottom Up by Sarah Albee.

Finally, Wally Schmidtke passed along a couple of websites that shed some clarity on the subject of wood chip mulch. The first is an article from Colorado State University Extension called Mulching with Wood/Bark Chips, Grass Clippings, and Rock. (My personal opinion: Rock SUCKS! But that’s just me.) The other article is from the Sustainable Urban Landscapes series produced by Iowa State University Extension. It’s called “Using Mulches in Managed Landscapes” (pdf). Its basic recommendation to reduce the chance of nitrogen depletion when using wood chip mulches?

• Use composted mulches.
• Avoid mulches with high C:N ratios.
• Do not incorporate mulch into soil.

Hmm. Maybe Wally doesn’t need me to protect him. Enjoy all of the reading, everyone! Get back to me when you’ve figured it all out.