Natives, organics and conservation in McHenry County

May 5, 2013

Taking the show on the road to McHenry County

If you’re a fan of native plants and you’re in the vicinity of Crystal Lake, Illinois on Sunday morning, you might want to consider stopping by McHenry County College at 8900 US Hwy 14 as the Wildflower Preservation and Propagation Committee (WPPC) holds its 2013 Native Plant Sale.

Exactly what is this group with the unwieldy name? They are a non-for-profit organization dedicated to:

  • Promoting the use of native plants in the landscape through preservation, propagation, and education
  • Advocating the conservation of open space, natural landscapes, wildlife habitat, scenic resources, and water in McHenry County and neighboring areas for the benefit of the general public
  • Engaging in and otherwise promoting the scientific study of and educating the public regarding local natural resources

Although the sale doesn’t start until noon, I will be broadcasting my show from the cafeteria of the college, where the action will be happening.

The sale is only three hours long, but what a wealth of plant material is available! In general, prairie plants and grasses will go for $ 2.50, while woodland plants and ferns are $3.00 to $6.00 There are more than 150 species available for every environment–prairie, savanna, woodland and wetland. To get the full list of plants, click here.

In addition, organic heirloom garden vegetables and herbs from W & M Landcorp Organic Nursery, and Native Trees and Shrubs from Ohana Farms are available.

I have to thank the WPPC’s Nancy Gonsiorek for the opportunity to bring The Mike Nowak Show to this venue. Several years ago, I spoke at their Natural Landscaping Seminar, but I have not had the chance to attend the Native Plant Sale.

Nancy will help walk me through the plant sale and the good work of the WPPC. But she has also helped to put together a great line up of guests. Here they are.

Rich Tobiasz
You know things are going to be interesting when your first guest is not only an organic gardener, but has been Fire Chief of nearby Spring Grove for 20 years. Rich Tobiasz and his wife Wendy live on five acres that they call Evergreen Oasis Farm. Though it is zoned for agricultural use, they are surrounded for the most part by a later-developed subdivision.

Along with 56 species of trees (at last count), there are gardens that include a fruit orchard, a small fruit area, grapes (for wine, jam, juice and eating), an herb garden, three vegetable gardens, an English garden, a Japanese contemplative garden, a bulb garden, and some perennial beds…all organic. But that’s not all. They also have a barn with 6 sheep for wool (Wendy spins and knits), 6 goats (milk and I make cheese), a chicken coop with 25 laying hens.

Rich says that the operation is mostly sustainable from the standpoint that they make their own compost, fertilizer and food–and house is passive solar! Even though they import hay, they try to minimize other inputs. They compost their own manure for fertilizer, not to mention growing heirloom plants so they can save the seeds.

Sounds pretty sustainable to me.

Cindy Skrukrud
Cindy Skrukrud is Clean Water Advocate for Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club. She’s been on my show before to talk about issues like the proposal to put an open pit frac sand mine outside of Starved Rock State Park. Today, however, she’ll talk about how native plants can help address the nutrient pollution problem in Illinois rivers, lakes and streams.

That pollution–excess nitrogen and phosphorus–comes primarily from three sources:

  • Agricultural Runoff contributes a significant amount of nutrients to our waters via direct runoff from soils enriched with fertilizers and animal manure.
  • Sewage Discharges and Combined Sewer Overflows: Many sewage treatment plants do not remove nutrients from their treated effluent before it is discharged into waterways. Studies estimate that 47% of the phosphorus in Illinois rivers comes from sewage effluent. In addition, some cities, like Chicago, store runoff in the same system as the city’s sewage, known as a combined sewer. During storms, these sewer systems can become overwhelmed and overflow a mixture of stormwater and untreated sewage.
  • Urban Surface Runoff picks up nutrients from private lawns and gardens, thus introducing more nutrients into our rivers, streams and lakes.

You can find out more about what you can do to keep are lakes and streams cleaner by clicking onto this newsletter from the Illinois Sierra Club that outlines Reduction Strategies for Homeowners.

Cindy is also a founding member of Friends of Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge, which takes us to our next guests:

Nancy Williamson and Steve Byers.
They are also founding members of Friends of Hackmatack. Nancy works for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) and Steve was the long time McHenry County coordinator for the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission.

In case you missed it, the Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge was established in November of 2012 on 11,200 acres of land that straddle Illinois and Wisconsin. A couple of things make the refuge interesting–among them, its proximity to both the Chicago and the Milwaukee metropolitan areas, and that the property is noncontiguous. In fact, if you look at a map, you see that it is basically donut-shaped. However, this land includes tallgrass prairies, wetlands and oak savanna areas.

The refuge will be a home for 109 species of animals — including birds, fish, mussels, reptiles and one amphibian — and 47 plants, and will also proviide outdoor recreation opportunities. What began as a dream among forward-thinking environmentalists in 2004, is now moving forward.

Lisa Haderlein
Lisa is the Executive Director of The Land Conservancy of McHenry County. Since 1991, The Land Conservancy has helped protect over 1900 acres of McHenry County’s prairies, wetlands and woodlands by working with private landowners, communities and other partners. They do this by direct acquisition of property (through purchase or donation), or the establishment of conservation easements. When these sites are taken under care, it is with the intention that they will be protected on behalf of the community in perpetuity.

One of the initiatives of The Land Conservancy is Project Quercus. Project Quercus was to explore options to protect, preserve and regenerate the oak woods. Project Quercus is a diverse coalition that brings together public and private, government, corporate and non-profit interests, working collaboratively to create solutions to the problem of oak woodland loss.

A little more than four years ago, TLC also began the Oak Keepers. The vast majority (83%) of the county’s remaining oaks are on private land. If these trees are going to continue to be a significant part of the landscape, maintaining them on private land will be essential. The idea for the Oak Keepers ® program arose from recognition that there is a need to understand what the condition of the remaining oak woods are today, to begin building relationships with oak woodland landowners, and to give more local residents the skills they need to evaluate oak woods.

Speaking of spring plant sales…

Just because you can’t get out to McHenry County doesn’t mean that you can’t still pick up some spring plants for your garden. Doug Wood from the Wicker Park Garden Club sent out a list of area plant sales that are happening over the next couple of weeks:

May 11 & 12, 10am – 2pm – Paseo Prairie Garden Plant Sale 2614 N. Milwaukee, Chicago, IL Perennials, Organic Vegetables and Herbs, Native Plants Native Illinois/Midwest plants are eligible for the on-site 50% rebate from the City of Chicago Sustainable Backyards Program FOR CHICAGO RESIDENTS

May 11, 10am – 3pm Lurie Garden Plant Sale – A variety of perennials and grasses to provide interest throughout the seasons, as well as food and shelter for local fauna. All proceeds support Lurie Garden public programs.  The event also includes tours, hands-on gardening tips, plant-based crafts for kids, face painting, activities by local organizations and more. Quart size plants cost $5 and gallons cost $10. Please bring your own bags or boxes to transport your plants Here’s the PlantList

May 11 and May 18, 9am-1pm – Perennial Divide Plant Sale  – P. Holt (773) 412-1232 2260 W. 108thPlace, Chicago Epimedium, Monarda, Black Cohosh, Hosta Varieties, Solomon’s Seal Sundrops, Brunnera, Pulmonaria, Bearded & Japanese Iris, Lamium, Wild Ginger, Sweet Woodruff, Stella del Oro Daylily, Archangel, Coneflower, Rose Campion, Hakone Grass, Ribbon Grass, Cupflower and more

May 17 (9am – 6pm) & 18 (9am – 4pm)
Hyde Park Garden Fair – Chicago’s Oldest Community Garden Sale – Annuals, Container Plants, Groundcover, Hanging Baskets, Herbs, House Plants, Perennials, Shrubs-Vines-Roses, Vegetables, Wildflowers, Fall Fair – Sale Held at Hyde Park Shopping Center, 55th Street and South Lake Park, Chicago, IL 60615

May 18 & 19, 10am to 2pm each day – Kilbourn Park Organic Green House Plant Sale. More than 150 varieties of organically grown vegetables, herbs, and flowers. Cash only. Help them recycle/reuse:  Please bring your own plastic flats or cardboard boxes to hold your plants. If you have extras from last year, bring them to share with other shoppers. Here’s the plant list.

May is Illinois Invasive Species Awareness Month

And while we’re on the subject of keeping our natural areas healthy, I just want to remind you that May is Illinois Invasive Species Awareness Month. Educational events, field days, hay-wagon tours, workshops, presentations, volunteer workdays, ‘Garlic Mustard Challenges’, training events, and interpretive hikes are just some of the different types of events that have been held as part of ISAM in the past.

If you are planning to host work days and garlic pulls, please contact Cathy McGlynn, coordinator for the Northeast Illinois Invasive Plant Partnership, at 847-242-6423 or so that she can post your events on the NIIPP website.