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September 27, 2015

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Girl Waits with Gun: Amy Stewart comes to Chicago with her first novel

I don't personally know a lot of New York Times bestselling authors...which probably says a lot more about me than it does about any writers. That being said, I am proud to say that I consider Amy Stewart to be a friend. If the name sounds familiar (and if you're a fan of outside the box gardening writing, you should), Amy has been on my show several times, mostly when she creates yet another excellent book.

Among her works are Flower Confidential (which is how I was introduced to her), Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln's Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities, Wicked Bugs: The Louse that Conquered Napoleon's Army & Other Diabolical Insects, The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World's Great Drinks and more. Did I mention that her books are not your average hoticultural tomes? By the way, she's also a co-founder of the delightfully opiinionated Garden Rant.

But her latest work isn't much in the vein of her previous efforts. It's a novel called Girl Waits with Gun, and it can be described as a historical novel that has pretty much nothing to do with horticulture or gardening. Fair enough--I don't think that anybody should be pigeonholed. But it seemed as if I needed a specialist to handle the interview.

Which is why I called upon my own resident author and not-so-coincidentally co-conspirator for The Mike Nowak Show, Kathleen Thompson, (you can see more about her work at ) to read the book and to have a conversation with Ms. Stewart. It doesn't hurt that Kathleen is an avid mystery reader. Here's what she had to say about Girl Waits with Gun:

I'm a book person. To me, a good evening generally involves a book. A perfect evening involves a book that engrosses me, makes me laugh from time to time, and gives me access to some aspect of the world I didn't know about before. That's what I got from Amy Stewart's Girl Waits With Gun . Based on a true story, this delightful crime novel builds on a year's worth of research by Stewart into the life of New Jersey deputy sheriff Constance Kopp and her sisters. The three somewhat eccentric women, ranging in age from 16 to 35, are blindsided one day by an automobile, which reduces their wagon to kindling. When Constance tries to get fifty dollars in compensation from the auto's owner, he begins a campaign of harassment that leads inexorably to the courts. On the way, Constance and one of her sisters acquires guns and learn how to use them.

For those of you who read mysteries, I could flash a few names, from Donald Westlake to Rhys Bowen and Lisa Lutz. For those of you who don't, I can just say, "Read this one." The history is fascinating. The characters are charming. And the plot is not only well-crafted, it's real. It really happened.

Kathleen joined me when Amy came to Chicago recently to promote her new book at Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville, Illinois. We had a delightful conversation, if only because I didn't do too much talking. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did from my vantage point on the sidelines and I hope you pick up a copy of Girl Waits with Gun.

Dan Dinelli is helping to create kinder, gentler golf courses

Dan Dinelli is General Superintendent for the golf course at North Shore Country Club in Glenview, Illinois. But having spent some time with him behind the scenes at a course that regularly hosts PGA events like the 2015 Encompass Championship, I think of him as a mad scientist of turf. In a good way, of course.

When I dropped by the facility this week, he was eager to show me his vermicomposting bins and wax poetic on his work with biochar as a method of improving turf health. Unlike the lawn in your backyard, Dan notes, you will find mostly sand beneath the putting greens. If you know anything about how soils work, that allows for great drainage but it's not so good for retaining nutrients. Yet, the turf must remain healthy if a golf course is to be successful.

What's a superintendent to do?

In Dan's case, he enlists the aid of folks like Dr. Cale Bigelow, Professor of Agronomy at Purdue University, and Richard North, CEO of a company called TerraVesco, as well as TerraVesco's chief scientist, Dr. Margaret Lloyd. In addition, he has been working with Steve Peterson, Coordinator of the Illinois Biochar Group at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Peoria, and Steve Vaughn from the Functional Foods Research Unit of the Agricultural Research Service of the USDA.

Together, they apply biochars, biosolids, vermicompost and other media to the soil in which the turf grows, in order to examine the effects of those treatments on

  • Germination and plant establishment
  • Root development and plant nutrition
  • Disease suppression
  • Drought survival
  • Reduced water regimes

If you want to see the kind of stuff that their collaboration produces, check out a presentation called "Creeping bentgrass growth in sand - based root zones amended with biochar from three parent materials." Okay, it's not necessarily everybody's favorite reading but, hey, these people are serious about what they do.

And here's something that the average person will understand. There are about 170 total acres of land on the site. The golf course comprises 150 acres of that, leaving the rest of the land for native and non-native plants that attract pollinators, an organic vegetable garden that provides tomatoes, peppers and other produce for the kitchen, and about forty apple trees with a few pear trees thrown in...none of which are sprayed with pesticides.

As a third generation superintendent, you can sense the pride that Dinelli has for the way this piece of land contributes to the well being of the community. Oh, and did I mention that there are red-tailed hawks and owls that live on the grounds? Dan says that their very presence speaks to the health of the grounds.

Do I think that all golf course superintendents treat their land with as much respect as Dan Dinelli does? No. But from the time more than thirty years ago when his family was the butt of jokes for planting "weeds" (also known as native plants), to now, when it is standard practice, he has looked for ways to make the land an environmental asset, not a liability.

No matter how you slice it (a golf pun), that's a good thing.



 Past Shows


The wonderful and wonderfully talented
Amy Stewart

Dan Dinelli: a man and his vermicompost

It gets lonely in the test plots.

The worms do all the work and Dan gets all the credit.