When cucumber beetles, humans and banks attack

August 21, 2011

Attack of the cucumber beetles!

Those of you who follow my radio show and this website know that I have been privileged to be part of a community garden not just in my neighborhood, but on my very block. It has been rewarding, humbling, surprising, frustrating and a constant source of joy for me and for several dozen people who have chosen to participate.

If you want to see how the garden has developed, my sweetie Kathleen Thompson has chronicled the whole thing in the Green on McLean blog. If you want even more interesting reading about what goes on in our neighborhood, I suggest that you check out Kathleen’s personal blog, KathleenThompsonWriter. On that site, she writes candidly about our relationship with the gangs that have controlled our block for 30 years.

And when she titles one piece “Gang Kryptonite,” referring to the garden and its effect on the neighborhood, you realize that something quite profound is going on here. Namely, the gang bangers are losing their grip on this block, slowly but inexorably. Will they be back? Probably. Will they have the same power they had in the past? Probably not. It’s hard to tell, really. But for a lot of people of all ages and backgrounds that II have come to know over tomato and squash plants and pot luck gatherings and schlepping mulch, it is a fervent hope.

By the way, if you want a really good read, start following Kathleen’s online book, Just Another Writer, which you can link to at her blog. In it Kathleen writes about writing…and she has some pretty heady stories to tell that invlove people like Hugh Downs, Oprah Winfrey, Studs Terkel and other luminaries who have reviewed her work and interviewed her during her forty year writing career. I give it 5 stars. Of course, I’m prejudiced. If I weren’t, I’d be sleeping on the couch.

Now, it might sound as though I’m writing this as a plug for Kathleen’s writing, which I am. But this is really about cucumber beetles, which have invaded our community garden. They don’t seem to be inflicting as much damage on the cucumbers as they are on our pole beans. Regardless, I had to call out the heavy artillery–which means “Dr.” Wally Schmidtke from Pesche’s Garden Center in Des Plaines. Wally notes that cucumber beetles can cause losses to cucurbits by direct feeding on young plants, blossoms, and fruit. They also vector bacterial wilt and viruses

Not only is he on the show this morning, he sent me a number of websites that will give you a fighting chance in dealing with this garden menace.

From Cornell University
From Utah State University
From GH Organics
Rijk Zwaan introducing cucumber variety resistant to mosaic virus
More resistant varieties from Rogers

The Last Passenger Pigeon: a legacy of environmental arrogance

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
– Genesis 1:26

When it comes to the health of our planet, that might be the single most destructive sentence ever penned. In fact, I challenge you–show me another that comes even close.

Case in point: in the 19th Century there were billions of passenger pigeons in North America. According to the Smithsonian, “it is believed that this species once constituted 25 to 40 per cent of the total bird population of the United States.” In 1914, the last one died. However, they didn’t succumb to some exotic disease or insect attack. Human beings killed them. Every last one. With incredible and devastating efficiency.

In almost exactly three years, we will be commemorating the death of “Martha,” the last passenger pigeon, in 1914. Again from the Smithsonian site:

She died at the Cincinnati Zoological Garden, and was donated to the Smithsonian Institution, where her body was once mounted in a display case with this notation:


Last of her species, died at 1 p.m.,
1 September 1914, age 29, in the
Cincinnati Zoological Garden.

I am pleased to have Joel Greenberg on the show today to talk about Project Passenger Pigeon. Joel is author of A Natural History of the Chicago Region and a research associate at the Chicago Academy of Sciences and its Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, He is currently writing the first book-length history of the passenger pigeon in over 50 years: River of Shadows: The Life and Times of the Passenger Pigeon. He also has his own radio show at WKCC in Kankakee, where I appeared a couple of months ago. I guess he owed me one.

Also joining me is Steve Sullivan, Curator of Urban Ecology at the Chicago Academy of Sciences and its Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. Steve directs Project Squirrel, a study of urban squirrels and their habits.

To get a sense of how destructive a species human kind can be, click onto the video The Last Passenger Pigeon. If people would like to contribute to Project Passenger Pigeon, please send a check and note that the money is for Project Passenger Pigeon to Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, 2430 N. Cannon Drive, CHicago, 60614. For more information please contact Joel at Joelgreenberg@earthlink.net.

Sustainable Food Fundamentals:
Is this urban agriculture’s big moment in Chicago?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011 might be a day that local foodies remember for a long time. On that day, Mayor Rahm Emanuel unveiled his plan to bring urban agriculture into the mainstream in Chicago, assuming that his proposed ordinance meets with the approval of both urban agriculture advocates and City Council.

The ordinance the mayor formally introduced two days later would expand the maximum size of community gardens to 25,000 square feet and ease fencing and parking requirements on larger commercial urban farms to reduce operating costs. In addition, urban farms would also be free to sell their wares at farmer’s markets.

To get the full effect of this ordinance, which would begin to bring Chicago food growing into the 21st Century, check out the Urban Agriculture FAQ page, which the city posted on the heels of Emanuel’s announcement. Among the questions addressed:

What would this zoning amendment do?
The proposed zoning amendment will clearly define community garden and urban farm uses, identify where each use is permitted and establish regulations designed to minimize potential impacts on surrounding property and help maintain the character of Chicago’s neighborhoods.

What is the difference between a community garden and an urban farm?
Community gardens are typically owned or managed by public entities, civic organizations or community-based organizations and maintained by volunteers. Plants grown on site are intended for personal use, for charity, or for community beautification purposes. Urban farms grow food that is intended to be sold, either on a nonprofit or for-profit basis. Due to their commercial purpose, urban farms require a business license.

Could produce from a community garden be sold?
Yes. A community garden would be allowed to sell surplus produce that was grown on site if the sales are accessory or subordinate to the garden’s primary purpose described above.

Martha Boyd of Angelic Organics Learning Center, drops by today to help clarify the proposed ordinance and where it might take urban agriculture in Chicago.

The “banksters” win…again

As many of you know, Sid’s Greenhouses was a big sponsor of my radio show…until several weeks ago, when they announced they would be shutting down. It came as a shock to a lot of us in the horticultural industry, as they had been a big part of Chicagoland gardening for 50 years. Shortly after their announcement, company president Phil Schaafsma, Sr. appeared on my program to talk about exactly what happened. I suggest you listen to his very candid interview on this podcast from July 24, 2011.

Also revealing is this article from the August edition of Today’s Garden Center. It is appropriately titled “When Banks Attack.” While the bank that figurately lined up Sid’s Greenhouses and financially gunned them down is not named in the article, I do know the name. If, someday, I can reveal it without causing any more pain to the good people at Sid’s, I will do it, so that insitution can be revealed for the heartless, money-grubbing jerks they are. May they rot in hell.