Purple Cows, Orange Butterflies and Glorious Sleep

September 12 , 2010

Welcome to our new time–9:00 to 11:00 a.m.!

Did you enjoy that extra hour of sleep? I sure did. Boy, I feel refreshed and ready to go! Just so we have everything straight, here’s the new early Sunday schedule for Chicago’s Progressive Talk:

If you’re wondering what happened to Mighty House, it’s now on Saturday morning at 7:00 a.m.. So if you were waiting to hear from Ron Cowgill, Joe Builder and Robbie Ehrhardt, you need to go to their website and listen to the podcast of yesterday’s show…and then tune in at 7am next Saturday.

I never saw a purple cow, I never…oh, you know how it goes

But have you ever seen a Purple Cow Organics? Now that’s a cow of exactly the same color. I’ve been running into Purple Cow’s Sandy Syburg for several years now at various gardening shows. He always impresses me with his knowledge of organic soil amendments, and not just those from his own company. He’s also a fan of organic lawn care, which gives him a lot of brownie points as far as I’m concerned.

One of the things we’ve chatted about over the years is the idea of how to create a potting mix that doesn’t use peat moss, which some people (aside from those in the sphagnum moss industry), don’t believe is a sustainable resource. Syburg tells me that there are technologies that can create “peat alternatives” that work just as well and won’t result in environmental degradation.

Are butterflies really free? (Depends on how hard you work)

Here’s an email from a satisfied customer:

I’m a mama!!!!  Elmer was ‘born’ around 9:30 this morning, and he hung around until about 2:30.  Then it was getting ‘frisky’.  So we took him outside, he kissed my cheek, and flew off.  It was so fun!!

I can’t wait for the other 4 to emerge – I bet they’re going to be girls because they’re smaller!

Thanks for sharing your knowledge with me, Bob.  I love learning!


You have probably already figured out what we’re talking about here–people who collect Monarch eggs or larvae (caterpillars) and raise them until they emerge from their chrysalises as butterflies. They then release them for their impossible journey to overwinter in the mountains of Mexico.

Bob Erlich is one of those people. In fact, the email above was written to him by one of the folks he is teaching to raise these wonderful insects. He is a member of Monarch Watch, an educational outreach program based at the University of Kansas that engages citizen scientists in large-scale research projects.

Bob says that he has released 850 monarchs already this year, with more to be set loose. He’s also recruited teachers and others to help him, including a woman over 70 who has released 95 monarchs herself. In his tireless effort to help monarchs, Bob has passed out more than 300 caterpillars and built three “monarch way station gardens” for organizations in his area.

But it hasn’t all been a bed of, er, milkweed for monarchs this year. Some of the same weather conditions that have plagued plants have affected monarchs as well. Diseases brought on by high heat and humidity have taken their toll. Bob gives us the straight dope on today’s show.

Horticulture or Politics? The Cook County Jail 2010 MG Class

On Thursday, it was graduation day at the Cook County Jail. Non-violent detainees who have been gardening on the grounds of the jail and studying horticulture received their Illinois Master Gardener certificates. I wasn’t there, but blogger Mr. Brown Thumb did an excellent post on the zoo that the ceremony became once Mayor Richard M. Daley announced that he would not be running for reelection as Mayor of Chicago.

The reason? Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart was there. So? He should have been there. After all, he’s the Cook County Sheriff. Ah, but because he is the nominal front runner for Mayor of the City of Chicago, the media types were out in force. Well, I guess that’s one way to get some coverage for what is a very good program at the Cook County Jail.

It’s been made even better by the addition of a greenhouse that allows for seedlings to be grown in a controlled environment. In fact, I showed up for the dedication of the greenhouse earlier this year, and I was one of the few media people on hand. In fact, I think there were three…including me. Gee, my timing is wonderful. At any rate, that’s when the photos on the left were taken.

I want to send my kudos first of all to Ron Wolford, Nancy Kreith and the staff of the University of Illinois Extension for the hard work they have done in training and educating the jail inmates. Also to people like David S. Devane, Executive Director of the Cook County Department of Community Supervision and Intervention, and my buddy garden coordinator Mike Taff, who have worked tirelessly to get the word out about this very worthy program.