Category Archives: Growing Media, Fertilizer and Ammendments

Reader Profile: Small Space Indoor Gardening in Chicagoland

This week Kim Slavenski of Naperville, IL kindly shared  photos of his indoor garden. Kim recently moved into a third floor apartment where he undertook the experiment of trying vermiculture and indoor container gardening. Vermiculture, if you’re unfamiliar, is the art and science of keeping earthworms in a container to make use of their excellent waste recycling and compost benefits.

Kim explained, “I purchased a couple pounds of worms last year. Now I feed the worms cardboard and my garbage. I feed their castings to my tabletop garden.”

Kim must have a good system going, just look at the results of his experiment:

If you have any questions or comments for Kim, please feel welcome to leave them below or email me and I’ll be sure they reach her.

Rooftop Composting & End of Days

Hey Chicago, look what you can do:

It’s a rainy gray day in Chicago, which is good because I’ve stopped irrigation on the rooftop. We went out of town last week and I decided the tomatoes would have to fend for themselves. I’m ready to let the garden wind down on its own.

I didn’t end up buying a composter or vermi-poster for the rooftop this season for two reasons: weight and odor. I want to try vermicomposting in the worst way, but I’m concerned that the high temps on the roof will cook the worms and give off a disastrous odor. I also have weight anxiety. I tracked down our building’s developer and only received a vague answer as to the type of roof construction and weight load this building can handle. I think we’ll end up hiring  a structural engineer from one of those rooftop gardening companies that have popped up around Chicago. At least that will stop the visions of planter boxes crashing down on the living room. Exhibit A, an Illinois green roof.

To [potentially] solve the anxiety problem, this season I have been putting all the composting material in garbage bags, spraying in some water, and closing them with just a small air hole. This way I can control the amount of weight concentrating in one area, control the odor by either double-bagging or throwing away certain bags and not have to worry about acomposter overflowing or worms dying. Of course, I’d scrap this method in a second once I determine the weight load of my roof.

So gardeners, what are you going to do now that the season is ending? Indoor gardening? Planning for next season? I’m planning on trying my hand at growing epiphytes from seed (dragon fruit producing varieties), winter sprouting, and finish up a terrarium project. I’ll keep ya’ posted!


Reader Request: Aphids! and Container Fruits

I’m putting a request out to my readers to respond with your advice. After a  relatively pest-free summer I now have aphids on my late season bok choy. I think the tender leaves are a lost cause but now I have a few questions:

What’s your preferred way of eliminating outdoor aphids? When I have aphids on my houseplants I use an effective spray made out of crushed garlic and hot chili peppers steeped into a tea.

Outdoors I don’t mind pulling up infested plants, but that what about the soil? Does aphid larvae overwinter? Do you reuse potting mix next year if you had any sort of infestation the previous year?

I’m still pulling in some beautiful tomatoes, mostly Stupice and Opalka. The Kellogg’s Breakfast didn’t do much this year. Has anybody else had success with them? Shishito peppers are doing beautifully and one of my Ozark strawberries put out the biggest fruits I saw all year. Chinese/Japanese ggplants are as hardy as weeds and I’m constantly bringing them in, almost daily. Cukes and squashes fizzled out. I’m tempted to do a lot more fruit next year: blueberries and strawberries. Any suggestions for other Midwest hardy container fruit?

Update re: New Urban Grower Chicago Store

Just a quick update this morning before heading out to Taste of Chicago. I was contacted yesterday by the folks at the new Urban Grower store on North Ave. They will not be having their grand opening until mid July. If you marked June 28th on your calendar, scratch that and check their website for updates. They are only having a soft opening this week. Hey, can we get in on that?

Here’s my completely unsolicited wish list for their rooftop supply stock. Anybody care to add anything?

  • Happy Frog potting mix
  • Fox Farm granular fertilizers
  • Regional native seeds
  • Micro irrigation supplies
  • Cold frame kits
  • Vermicomposters

Hope you don’t mind that our gardening fantasies are running wild at your expense, UGC. It’s just that those of us in Wicker Park are thrilled to have an alternative to that gigantic orange store right down the road from you. Best wishes on your GRAND opening!

What’s This? New Retail? New Toys? Woot!

After a store front shrouded in mystery for months, the Urban Grower Chicago website announces a grand opening of June 28th. Their website includes the magic word “rooftop”, so I’m looking forward to procuring new objects of desire. Like, dirt.

Welcome to the neighborhood- can’t wait to see what’s in store!

1400 North Ave. Chicago



“Real” Rainbow Roses

Have you been to Home Depot lately and come across those bright blue phalaenopsis orchids? They are but aren’t real. They are live plants that are grown in a special medium that magically infuses the blooms with bright blue. Ok, I’m not a fan. They look like blue Kool-Aid.

BUT, I have to say the new rainbow roses (or happy roses) caught my attention when I saw them on Kuriositas. They certainly don’t look natural but they pique curiosity and remind me of those color-changing horses from the Wizard of Oz. Like the Blue Mystique orchids, the rainbow roses are altered. This time by injecting plant dyes into the live plants. I’ll take a good old fashioned unruly rose bush over a bouquet of rainbow roses any day, but their photos sure are neat to look at:

Image Credit Flickr User INTVGene

Worldwide Permaculture Network

The Permaculture Institute defines permaculture as: “…an ecological design system for sustainability in all aspects of human endeavor. It teaches us how build natural homes, grow our own food, restore diminished landscapes and ecosystems, catch rainwater, build communities and much more.”

Permaculture is a way of life that can be adopted by virtually anyone, anywhere. In developed cultures we certainly have access to the knowledge and the means to implement these strategies, however big or small, from the smallest apartment patio or backyard garden up to the largest corporation rooftop or agricultural production. In developing nations, permaculture design can mean new or improved sustainable ways of living that are mutually beneficial with their environment.

There are many challenges and threats to our relationship with our environment, but I believe permaculturists are optimists. And despite the dismal headline news, there is a lot of good in the world. The goal of the Worldwide Permaculture Network to map the growing network of permaculture projects so we can all visualize just how much change is occurring. And of course to teach us all how we can adopt permaculture into our own lives. This new Network was just officially launched and anybody can sign up for free – make your place on the map.

Happy Earth Day! …a celebration, a 40 year tradition and, of course, capitalism

It’s a rainy Earth Day in Chicago so our celebrations may have to get creative. What are you planning? The website can give you ideas and you can sign up for their “A Billion Acts of Green” campaign.

Lots of companies are capitalizing on the Day, of course. People will be burning a little extra gas today to get to Starbucks or Caribou for free coffee. One of the more beneficial giveaways, perhaps, is the million trees that Lowe’s is giving away tomorrow 4/23. What’s even better? Buying a native tree from a local nursery, perhaps. Or, walking to a neighborhood coffee shop that serves locally roasted, fair-trade, organic coffees and teas.

Speaking of Fair Trade, May 14th is World Fair Trade day. In Chicago, World Fair Trade week will be kicked off on May 4th with a celebration in Daley Plaza.

Here are a few other small ideas you can do right away to celebrate Spring and Earth Day:

  • Spread some natural fibers in your yard for bird’s to build nests: try rafia, shreds of cotton, straw, small sticks, shredded paper, etc.
  • Set up your kitchen/home to be more recycling friendly and learn some convenient recycling locations. Most grocery stores now have plastic bag, light bulb and battery recycling bins. Consider composting to reduce garbage bag usage and landfill space.
  • Plant native annuals & perennials this year. They will attract native birds, bees, and butterflies. Contact your local extension office to get a list of native plants and where to get them. Don’t have a yard or garden? That’s ok, recycle a container and fill it with flowers: a coffee can, an old boot, a plastic bag, a colander, get creative- if it holds soil, it’s a planter!
  • When planting this year, choose coconut coir, now widely available in garden stores, over sphaghum/peat. Peat bogs are dwindling precious resources whereas shredded coconut is bountiful. Just add perlite to help the coir drain well and keep plant roots happy.
  • Make “seed bombs” with native plant seeds and go do some “planting” guerrilla syle! Recipes for seed bombs are plentiful online.
  • Make a small donation to an environmental cause of your choice. Use the fantastic Charity Navigator tool to locate a top rated charity so your money makes the biggest impact.
  • Do a walk-through of your house with a bag in hand- fill it up with stuff you just don’t need and donate it to a local charity store. Keeping used items in circulation will help keep newly manufactured items out.
  • Pick up trash outside. I guarantee you’ll see some, so keep a bag and gloves handy. It’s a dirty job that feels great.
  • Start using cloths/rags for cleaning rather than paper towels. Paper towels are a HUGE and expensive waste. Buy a dozen or two unbleached cloths and use them for months. Wash them in oxy-cleaner rather than bleach.
  • Teach something to kids: take them to a natural history museum, let them pick out an environmental activity book, visit a greenhouse conservatory, rent a documentary and eat organic snacks, let them pick out a reusable stainless steel water bottle, pick out a never-before-tried unusual fruit or veggie from the grocery store and then research it online- pique their curiosity about nature and growing.
  • Make a commitment to not forget Earth Day tomorrow and next month and the middle of the winter.

These are small gestures of involvement but by no means enough. We all have a responsibility to stay educated, stay active, and be personally responsible for how our choices affect the Earth.

Sunday April 10, 2011 – in like a lamb out like a lion?

An amazing treat for us today in Chicagoland – 80+ degrees by noon and a nice breeze (bordering on strong wind). Problem is, that breeze is predicated to turn into severe weather later today with potential for tornadoes and hail.

Got all the Earthboxes set up today and planted one box of Dwarf Gray Peas. They like to start in cooler weather but this will have to do for now. Here’s a look at my seed starts inside that were planted on 4/4 – 6 days ago. The clam shell is sprouting asian baby greens and the trays are showing cukes, pak choi, beans, amaranth, tomato, watermelon, yellow squash and basil… so far

Seed Starts after 6 days

Filled the Earthboxes with mix of peat/perlite/dolomite and using FoxFarm’s Peace of Mind Tomato and Vegetable granular fertilizer.


Earthbox Prep

Mia trying to escape the heat amongst planters:

Shade is hard to come by on the rooftop.


And now, Springtime in Chicago!

Ozark Beauty strawberry

Vernal equinox in Chicago was ushered in today by a perigee “super” moon and morning thunder showers. The strawberries and roses I transplanted early in the week are loving this weather and already showing signs of growth. Aside from those plantings I won’t be doing much upstairs until I get back from Portland, OR. SO anxious to get my hands dirty on April 2nd when I get back- better late than never.

Gives me time to find a source for organic granular all-purpose fertilizer. Probably go with FoxFarm or a vegetarian fert. Any suggestions out there?



As promised, here’s a quick rundown of yesterday’s Family Farmed Expo. When we arrived Dale Levitsky of Sprout Restaurant was giving a demonstration and treating the audience to samples. Samples was a theme for the day, with nearly every table offering small treats. Picked up a free pack of heirloom okra from Chicago Botanic Garden’s table and Chipotle was giving out coupons for free soup. We sampled some tasty spicy arugula sprouts. Must start sprouting!

Baker's Creek heirloom okra "Vidrine's Midget Cowhorn"










The Kids Corner was busy with young’ns playing with fluffy little chicks. We wanted to play with the chickens too but it wouldn’t have looked good for us adults to be displacing the curious kids!

Came across adverts for several upcoming regional green and gardening events:

If you know of an upcoming Chicagoland/regional event or green/food/gardening related giveaway, please feel welcome to comment here or message me.