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.
owl1
 
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.

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!

4 Surprising “Green” Chicago Websites

1. The above picture isn’t a mockup of some lofty futuristic eco-architecture. It is now and it’s Chicago’s City Hall. If you’ve never explored Chicago’s Green Roofs project, you’re in for some surprises. For instance, did you know that nestled in that photo above are beehives that produce salable honey? If you’re curious about which city rooftops are green (or where to buy some of that honey) check out the city’s Green Roofs page or take your binoculars up to the Skydeck of Willis Tower and see for yourself.

2. A little more visible from our vantage point are the city’s Green Alleys projects. Chicago’s Department of Transportation began the green alleys pilot project in 2006 and renovated more than 100 alleys by 2010. What is a green alley? Check out the city’s comprehensive and well-illustrated Green Alley Handbook. Who knew your back alley could be a marvel of modern eco engineering. By the way, there’s a lot more to these alleys than just pretty landscaping. Take a look.

3. Being a relative newcomer to Chicago, I was very pleasantly surprised by the city’s incredibly progressive Sustainable Backyard Program. Residents can get cash rebates from the city for buying rain barrels, compost bins, native plants and trees from local retailers. A great way to help the environment while supporting local business and spending more time outdoors. Unless extended, the rebate program runs until 12/31/2012 so make this your year for creating a more sustainable backyard. Oh, and if you’re a retailer wanting to learn more about getting involved with the rebate program, consider attending the upcoming workshop on March 1st.

4. Finally, to learn more about any green & growing topic imaginable, check out the list of free and low-fee workshops offered by the Chicago Center for Green Technology. Learn about anything from how to install green countertops to finding out how the city uses vegetable oil from local restaurants to produce biofuel. Their building also contains a staffed resource center and free exhibits throughout the year.

Enoch’s Damn Doughnuts!

It may be a stretch trying to tie in doughnuts to a nature and gardening blog, but here goes:

Wicker Park+Asrai Garden+Enoch’s Doughnuts

See, the word “garden” is in there!

If you’ve never been to Asrai Garden, you ought to pop in next time you need a little something. The small florist on North Ave. in Wicker Park carries non-standard options for floral arrangements as well as stand-out handmade & unusual gifts. Mossy terrariums, fiber art from New York, candles that make you go “whoah”, & other odd little thingies.

But get this- in a few weeks they will be hosting the pop-up shop of Enoch’s Doughnuts. Enoch’s don’t look or taste like other doughnuts in the schoolyard. They run with scissors. They sniff glue. They kick dirt at bullies. And they are perfect just the way they are.

I’m shocked at what Enoch does with sweet potatoes and blueberries. There ought to be a law against these things so we can all break it frequently.

photo courtesy of Enoch's Doughnuts

Asrai didn’t have an exact date of doughnut availability, but if you follow Enoch’s new Facebook page, I’m sure he’ll make an announcement soon. It appears he’s popping up in various places around town. Now I don’t know this Enoch guy, but his doughnuts are about to kick our asses and we all had it coming.

Enoch with his tray full of sin

One Seed Chicago: Vote Now For Free Seeds

 Press Release:
NeighborSpace’s One Seed Chicago project lets Chicago gardeners vote on their favorite seed then distributes the winning seed for free to encourage urban farming, healthy eating habits, and sitting down for meals with family and friends. 
CHICAGO-Gardeners across Chicago started the New Year by voting for their favorite herb seed for One Seed Chicago and the winning seed will be mailed to them for free. This year’s candidates are basil, chamomile, and cilantro. As in previous years, One Seed Chicago will teach Chicagoans who to grow the winning seed in their garden. Local chefs and foodies are encouraged to submit original recipes for the community featuring any of this year’s candidates to demonstrate how easy it is to go from garden to plate.
“For the fifth year One Seed Chicago is uniting Chicago gardeners,” said Ben Helphand, NeighborSpace Executive Director. “By planting a common seed, backyards, windowsills, community gardens and balconies across the City will be linked together in a season-long celebration of urban gardening and local eating.”
The three candidates were selected at the annual GreenNet Potluck. Community gardeners from across the city took part in a One Seed Chicago primary election which narrowed the race to the three herb candidates. In addtion, this year One Seed Chicago is expanding voting even further, offering schools, offices, garden clubs and wherever gardeners gather the opportunity to host a polling station.
“This being an election year, we thought we’d celebrate our democracy by growing new voters along with seeds,” explains Helphand. “Gardeners who want to host a polling station can download a ballot, poster and Teacher’s activity guides from the One Seed Chicago website.”
Voting
Voting began on Sunday, January 1, 2012 and continues until April 1, 2012. The winning seed will be unveiled at GreenNet’s annual Green and Growing Fair at the Garfield Park Conservatory. To vote simply log onto www.OneSeedChicago.com.
Origins of One Seed Chicago
One Seed Chicago is a project of NeighborSpace, Chicago’s land trust for community gardens. Entering its fourth year One Seed Chicago aims to introduce more Chicagoans to the joys and benefits of gardening. Previous winners: Sunflower 2008. Blue Lake Pole bean 2009. Beebalm 2010. Swiss chard 2011. Since 2008 One Seed Chicago has distributed over one million seeds to Chicago residents.
About NeighborSpace
NeighborSpace is a nonprofit urban land trust dedicated to preserving and sustaining community managed open spaces in Chicago. Their growing network of gardens provide thousands of people the opportunity to grow fruits, vegetables and flowers; to restore habitats; and create unique gathering places in their own neighborhoods. NeighborSpace’s partners in the community can rest assured that the land will remain dedicated to conservation and their efforts will never be displaced. For more information, please visit www.neighbor-space.org .
If you would like more information about One Seed Chicago or to schedule an interview with Ben Helphand, please call Ramon Gonzalez at 312.970.9642 or Email Ramon at ramon@oneseedchicago.com. You can find more graphics for web use at http://info.oneseedchicago.com