Category Archives: Weather and Climate

Chicago’s Favorite Fast and Free Flora and Fauna

Having lived my first 20 years in the sparseness of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, it’s no surprise that I get a little stir-crazy in the big city. Add to that several weeks of recent cold weather and this hibernation has me thinking a head of lettuce looks like the great outdoors.

But despite the weather, and perhaps armed with the optimism that the days are getting longer with a prediction of 60 degrees tomorrow, we ventured out this past weekend to get a much-needed dose of nature. We heard there have been Great Horned Owl sighting at Busse Woods, so we drove up to Elk Grove Village. This is what we saw:

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 If you’ve never visited the elk grove, it’s a quick and easy way to see some “wildlife” – granted they’re fenced in on a slice of acreage at Busse Woods. The elk are supervised and fed by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County.
After you visit the elk, follow their fence to the trail along the tree line. It makes for an easy hike with plenty to see- fields with picnic areas and pavilions if you’re looking for a  family outing. Or if you want to get your shoes in the snow/dirt, continue walking past the fields toward the small lake. You’re sure to see birds no matter the season. When we were there this past weekend it was cold but the trees were alive with tapping woodpeckers. We also saw several hawks and at least five deer. But, alas, no owls. On the back trails there were very few people, so chances are you’ll be able to enjoy a good stretch of quiet.
 
If you’ve already done the elk thing, another quick stop off for nature can be found along the city’s lakeshore. Did you know we have several bird sanctuaries on the edge of downtown? Montrose Point is an impressive place for bird watching and it’s particularly quiet and peaceful in the winter. Last year it gained attention for being a stopover for snowy owls. This year I haven’t seen any owls, but the cardinals are stunning against the dull brownness of this year’s winter.
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If it’s too cold, or in the case of today, too rainy, you can get your nature fix indoors. The  Garfield Park Conservatory, as I’ve said before, is one of the biggest and best in the country. You’re imagination can get lost in the Jurassic-esque tropical foliage swooping down over the brick paths. If it weren’t for the warm humidity, you’d forget you’re under a canopy of glass a few minutes from The Loop. The conservatory is always free (unless you live here, then you pay a pretty handsome city tax) so visit and visit often.
 
A final winter favorite is spending a day in Lincoln Park. Although the butterfly haven atop the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, requires an admission fee, it’s a pretty special place for both kids and adults. Just as fun as the 1,000 free-flight butterflies are the tiny button quail scurrying around under the trees and shrubs. If you sit quietly, they’ll probably come quite close. Intriguing little birds and I think I want one!

While you’re at Notebaert, stop by the nearby Lincoln Park Conservatory or the Lincoln Park Zoo’s petting farm. Both of which are free. Fast ways to get out of the house this winter and get your hands on some flora and fauna. To me that’s great therapy.

If you know of any other fast or free nature destinations in Chicagoland, especially for quick winter getaways, please feel welcome to share below.

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A Strange and Wonderful Growing Season

Well, I said I was going on hiatus from the blog for awhile but I guess this is what hiatus looks like…

It’s the last day of September 2012, but by looking at our rooftop you’d swear it was the first week of June. In the Great Lakes region we’re lucky to have one full growing season, much less two. But that’s exactly what it’s turning out to be- at least here in Chicago, 4 stories up.

Like the rest of the garden, these Atkinson heirloom tomatoes were an anomaly this year. I couldn’t get them to hold blossoms all summer – too hot? – but now in September I have plenty of fruit arriving at all stages from blossom to red ripe.

Green Bell Peppers were absolutely prolific this year and are still going strong. Each plant has more fruit than they can hold – and with new flowers blooming, there’s no sign of stopping. Will probably yield a crop of smaller peppers well into October.

Like the peppers, these Chinese eggplant were fantastic this year. In August the plants seemed to be on their way out. Leaves were yellowing and dropping. But when day time temps got milder, new growth sprouted and now flowers. Will easily have a crop of small eggs in a few weeks. They grow quite fast and can further ripen indoors if the risk of frost threatens the young’n’s.

What? A double season of squash? Now that’s a new one for me. This Dwarf Hubbard squash grew very quickly this month after the plant was surely about to dry up and blow away with the wind. Not thinking the season would support them to maturity, we actually had a September meal of squash blossoms. Glad I left one on the vine!

Another surprise – a third round of strawberries. These Ozarks are bound and determined to hold onto every last ray of sunshine this year. Fine by me!

It probably comes as no surprise that the Japanese Shishitos gave us more than we could handle this year. We ate, and ate, and ate, and gave away, and pickled. And guess what? Yup, another round of foliage and blossoms popped up this week. I think I’m going to start leaving them on people’s doorstep at night. Here’s a jar of pickled peppers that yielded amazing flavor.

Extra Dwarf Pak Choi did great in the spring but a second planting in the summer was quickly snuffed out by the heat. I planted these seeds a week and a half ago and expect to have several meals over the next couple weeks. Perfect weather for brassicas.

Mildly warm days and cool nights is ideal weather for late season greens like this arugula.

A flourishing Autumn herb garden? This cilantro seems to think so. So do its companions parsley and dill.

Not to be left out, this California poppy plant that had fully died back after its summer show is making a resurgence.

Attempting to upstage the entire crowd, this floribunda ‘Moondance’ rose towers over the garden in its 3rd blooming cycle of the summer. Am I going to have white roses at Christmas?

This year the news was full of stories about drought and poor farming conditions. Here in Chicago, it’s just been bizarre. If you felt this year’s season was strange too, I’d love to hear your story in the comment section.

Alright I really must put an end to these distractions. So back to work… unless I find more surprises up there.

It Was Almost Something – Friday June 29th 2012

Hey Chicago, did you catch those wicked clouds today? I thought we were in for some excitement but in a matter of minutes they flattened out and became a non-event. Here’s the view from Wicker Park:

 

Chicago, Is It Safe To Plant Yet?

The 10-day forecast is looking pretty decent Chicago (zones 5-6), save for tomorrow’s night time temp in the mid-40s. Dare I risk making a predication that we’ll be in the safe planting zone starting the end of this week? I don’t foresee frost being an issue, but many varieties of warm weather veggies don’t like cold nighttime temps- unlike leafy greens which thrive under cooler conditions.  So if you’re thinking spinach and lettuce, the 80’s we’re receiving this week is not a good seeding climate. Everything else, however might just be in the clear. But don’t take my word for it, I don’t want anybody knocking on my door with shriveled or stunted seedlings if we have a midwest surprise! Start the conversation here… what are you planting and when?

Where Bugs Come From (animation)

I thought I posted this before but couldn’t find it, so here it is- one of my favorite animated explanations– about the invisible highway of insects above our heads. Incredible!

Don’t Get Fooled By Unseasonable Weather! Zone 5 Planting Calendar

With the weather in the 70s all week in Chicago, my fingers are just itching to push down some seeds into the soil. But I can’t forget that it’s only March 14th. So I wanted to pass along this simple but extremely helpful gardening calendar for those in zone 5 (Chicago, that’s you). If your zone runs a little warmer or colder, you can adjust by a week or two. Thanks goes out to Tim’s Square Foot Garden for putting this together.

Weekend Recap: Pretending It’s Spring

The first official day of Spring is over a week away, but don’t tell that to this weekend. It’s been a gorgeous weekend in Chicago, especially compared to rest of the week which I spent in the Upper Peninsula of MI.

Yesterday was major grocery shopping day. If you’re in Chicago and are not familiar with Stanley’s Fruit & Vegetable Market on North & Elston, for sure check ’em out. The store is divided into half organics and half conventionals. Most of the organics are so affordable you can even buy them in bulk without going broke. Check out their spinach- longest spinach stems I’ve ever seen in my life!

Whole Foods surprised me with cartons of these bright organic sweet peppers (grown in Florida) for only a couple bucks each. I’ll be trying out this pickled pepper recipe tomorrow. Refrigerator pickles in March!

We still managed to spend about $200 in groceries yesterday, so needless to say we didn’t leave the house today. I spent a few hours on the roof (and yes, it was the first day of the year that I wore sunscreen) prepping soil and even putting in a few potatoes that had started sprouting in the kitchen. Last year I grew potatoes in regular round plastic planters and they did great. I didn’t even buy seeding potatoes, I used what was emerging from my pantry! It’s quite early for planting, but potatoes like the cold and I can always carry them inside if we get extended freezing. If you have kitchen scraps or manure, throw them in a pot and cover with your potting soil. Spuds thrive in the gunky junk. Here are some other potato planting tips.

Last year’s strawberry plants are sprouting up and the roses are pushing through their burlap winter coats. It will be interesting to see how this early warmth will affect the garden. I don’t imagine the harsh weather is over yet, so I’ll have to keep my hands out of the dirt for awhile longer. But today sure felt good!

Next weekend I’ll be checking in from the Chicago Flower & Garden Show at Navy Pier.