Colors of Summer

Here’s what’s growing on the rooftop 6/14/12 – no words today, just colors…



Here’s What’s Growing On The Roof 6/4/12

Several year old cutting of a cactus that grows on the east end of Molokai Hawaii, unknown species.

Strawberries cohabiting with native prickly pear.

My new ladybug & butterfly attractors: Yarrow (foreground), Monarda (background)

EarthBoxes containing two species of bok choi, dward hubbard squash, and shishito peppers

Earthboxes containing two species of eggplant, cantaloupe, and lemon cucumbers

Earthbox (foreground) with the mystery flowers that I did not plant but I’m happy to have visiting. SIPs in the background are a catch-all for leftover seeds and seedlings: green beans, Atkinson tomato, shishito pepper, and cantaloupe plus some annual flowers for the bugs.

Several days ago I mentioned on Facebook that this batch of compost started off as an anaerobic stinky sludge. By adding a bunch of peat to absorb excess moisture and turning it frequently to introduce oxygen, it went aerobic in a matter of 3 days. The foul odor is completely gone and it now smells like a healthy batch of quickly cooking compost. And it’s steaming too!

Self-irrigated Planters and City of Chicago Gardening Rebates

I’m just about to head out to buy potting mix and then get the last of my seeds in. Aside from the inevitable wind & hail that spring will bring, the weather is looking great for the garden. In fact, just harvested my first batch of dwarf bok choy (pak choi) today. This variety from Kitazawa grew so quickly it was ready to harvest in just a few weeks:

Dwarf bok choi grown in an EarthBox. From seed to table in just a few weeks.

Last night at Home Depot I found a slightly cheaper alternative to EarthBoxes. The self-irrigated planter called “City Pickers” is made in the U.S. by Emsco Group. It was $29.95 which is a few bucks less than the online price of EarthBoxes, plus you save on shipping. Also, they claim the plastic is recycled & recyclable. The box measures 24″ x 20″ and holds 1.5 cubic ft. of potting media. Like EarthBox, Emsco suggests adding granular fertilizer and dolomite (lime). City Pickers comes with a mulch cover, aeration screen, fill tube, and, unlike EarthBox, the casters are included at no extra cost. Looking forward to comparing the two. The only other immediate difference I see is that the Emsco box has a shallower but wider surface area for root systems.

Since I’m sending in my rebate forms for Chicago’s “Sustainable Backyards” program this week, I thought it would be a good reminder for city residents to look into this program if you haven’t already.  The city will reimburse you up to 50% of the cost of certain landscaping plants, rain barrels, and composters that are purchased locally. After the rebate, my double chamber composter will only cost $50! The program runs until the end of the year.

Growing Potatoes in a Pot

Potatoes are one of the easiest things you can grow at home, regardless of how much space you have. And if you have any potatoes in your pantry, you’re halfway there already. All you need to do is plunge a few of those potatoes into a container of soil and wait few weeks. Here is today’s before and after picture of a few organic supermarket potatoes that I planted exactly 2 months ago. So in a matter of 8 weeks you can grow your own meal of garden fresh new potatoes:

Potato foliage reached about a foot and a half in height in a matter of 2 months.

A handful of new potatoes harvested from 3 starter potatoes from the pantry.

How to Grow Potatoes At Home:

1. Gather a few potatoes from your pantry or buy some from the supermarket. Look for ones that have “eyes” starting to form or sprout. The eyes are simply those white protrusions on the surface of the potato- usually there are several.

2. Fill a container with soil rich in organic matter. Any standard patio planter will work as long as there are holes in the bottom and room enough to accommodate the growing potatoes. Potatoes like well-draining soil, especially if it’s amended with manure, compost or even whole kitchen vegetable scraps mixed in. Beyond this, they won’t require additional fertilizer.

3. Bury 2 or 3 potatoes several inches down into the soil. Alternatively, you can carve out the sprouting “eyes” from the starter potato, leaving a small chuck of flesh around each eye. The eye will sprout into the root system and foliage as seen above. Each eye you plant will produce an individual plant, so the more eyes you start with the more potatoes you’ll end up with. But remember they need room in the pot to handle all their newborns!

4. Water well and place in a location that will receive plenty of sun once the foliage emerges. Water regularly when the soil starts to dry, but don’t make your potatoes live in soggy soil. Potatoes are hardy and can tolerate a fair amount of abuse.

5. After 8 weeks, when foliage reaches 1 to 2 feet in height, gently pull the soil away from the base of the foliage to explore the size of the new potatoes. Harvest if they are a size you want to cook with or cover them back up and wait a couple more weeks if you want more mature potatoes. When harvesting, explore the soil well as the potatoes may be scattered throughout the container.

6. After harvesting the potatoes, you might place some of the small or imperfect ones back into the soil to start the process all over again.

Looks Like A Road Trip, Chicago!

After reading this blog post about fossil digging in Braidwood, IL, I took a look on the map and realized there would be enough outdoor attractions nearby to make a weekend out of it. Check out some of these great sites that are only an hour and a half southwest of Chicago:

Fossil Digging in Braidwood/Mazonia State Fish & Wildlife Area (includes link to fossil collecting permit)

Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie (restored from the old Joliet Army Ammunition Plant site) and Grant Creek Nature Area

Des Plaines Dolomite Prairies

Braidwood Dunes and Savanna, Sand Ridge Savanna, and Wilmington Shrub Prairie Nature Preserves (visit some of the last remaining shrub prairie at Wilmington, and cacti and lizards at Braidwood Dunes)

Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area





Have you spent time in this area? What’s a must see and what have I missed?

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?

Chicago Events This Weekend (and next), 5/5 – 5/13

If you can make it to Wicker Park this weekend, visit the actual Wicker Park (field house) where they’ll be having a plant sale Saturday 5/5 & Sunday 5/6. Proceeds benefit the Wicker Park Garden Club’s maintenance of 10,000 sq. ft. of gardens within Wicker Park itself and the garden club’s 7 month lecture & workshop series (Saturday’s lecture is on raising chickens).

I walked the pup to Wicker Park today and it’s beautiful right now- the gardens are lush with greenery, white iris are in full bloom, and birds are singing. The garden club is setting up the plant sale today and they have a great mix of annuals, perennials and veggies. Gardening experts are on-hand to give advice on the best plants for your garden.

This weekend at Navy Pier is Green Festival 2012, an event dedicated to sustainable economy, ecological balance, and social justice. If you happen to subscribe to email updates from the Organic Consumer’s Association, check your inbox for a code to get into the festival for free (otherwise tickets are available at the door).

Version Fest  kicks off its big first weekend in Bridgeport with a blend of pop-up shops and rotating list of food trucks. Version 12 lasts for the full month of May in the Bridgeport neighborhood. Don’t miss Enoch’s Doughnuts, I wrote a blog about them a couple months back and according to their Facebook page they sell out fast.

Last event for this weekend is gazing at the “super moon” on Saturday night. It’s everywhere in the news but you might have needed a reminder. Chicago’s looking pretty cloudy so you might have to use your imagination on this one.

Next weekend you don’t want to miss THE CITY’S ANNUAL FREE PLANT GIVEAWAY!

Second TulipMania! and Mother’s Day Plant Sale
Saturday, May 12 and Sunday, May 13
Hours: 10 am – 3 pm
Where: Garfield Market Gate (on Central Park Ave, just north of the Main Lobby entrance)
Cost: Tulip bulbs are free!

Every spring, the City of Chicago and Chicago Park District pull all of the tulips from downtown and Chicago parks to replace them with warmer season plantings. TulipMania is an event that recycles these bulbs so they can be distributed to the public for free. Tulip bulbs are given on a first come, first served basis. They go fast, and the line begins to form early. Tulip bulbs are given away in mixed bags and yours may include varieties like “Maggie Daley,” “Rococco Parrot,” “Princess Irene,” and more!In conjunction with the tulip bulb giveaway, the Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance is hosting a Mother’s Day Tropical Plant Sale in the Garfield Market Place, which will include a variety of tropical houseplants, succulents and a limited supply of garden seedlings. There will also be Hail Storm Glass pieces by artist Beth Berger Martin on sale to raise funds to rebuild after last summer’s hail storm. All plant sale proceeds benefit the Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance’s programming and aid in the reconstruction efforts.