Tag Archives: chicago

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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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. wickerrooftop@gmail.com

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.

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.

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?

Seeking Tolerant Landscaping Suggestions

Today my neighbor enlisted me to help her find landscaping plants for the street adjacent to our property. So I’m enlisting help from my readers. I’ve been mostly a gardener of edibles and indoor potted plants, so ornamentals aren’t by strong suit. Here are the criteria and I’d appreciate any suggestions:

The length of the strip we have to work with is of less importance than the width. I’d estimate with width to be about 3 ft. max. This is alongside a busy road, so plants can’t have much horizontal ground spread. There are about 4 juvenile slow growing trees planted in the area already, so we’d want something below them.

The plants will be on the north side of a retaining wall, so there’s not going to be afternoon sun but strong morning sun & summer heat. There’s no irrigation, so they need to be midwest hearty plants. Plenty of spring and summer rain, but drought tolerant in late summer and fall. Snow & cold tolerant of course.

Okay, have I eliminated everything but dwarf hosta? We’re mostly looking at perennials,  ground cover, small shrubs or dwarf ornamental trees.

What To Plant When

This came across my Facebook feed this morning from Mother Earth News. It may not be precise, but it’s a good start for preparing which veggies to plant in which month. February in Chicago may have freezing temperatures but it’s still a good time to transplant your asparagus or sow your mache seeds outside, according to this chart.

To use the chart, pick your region and then choose the month on the following page.

Compare the Mother Earth News chart to your planting zone as indicated by the 2012 USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. The zone map changes due to climactic variations; so if you’re in Chicago, for instance, your long-time zone of 5a may now be 5b. Do a zip code search here:

Keep in mind, both charts are only estimates and projections based on past data. Considering the strange weather the past two years, your guess is as good as mine on what to plant when. Happy growing!