Tag Archives: illinois

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

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Planting Fall Crops in Chicago and the Great Lakes Region

Well, the strawberries are loving the late summer heat and putting out some serious runners and fruit. This week I pulled up some ugly looking squash plants that were starting to die back. That gave me space in a few planter boxes for fall crops, including some deep red chard seedlings. I hope to squeeze out every last drop of warmth from the season and harvest right through first frost.

Courtesy of FreeFoto.com

Mid to late August and even into early September is a good time to plant early harvest vegetables in the Great Lakes region. Some crops will mature before first frost while others can withstand light frost and be productive through October. Chicago can expect an average first frost around October 14th, which is a week later than much of Illinois due to our position on the lake and micro-climates caused by the urban heat effect. That gives us plenty of time to plant veggies with 50 to 55 days maturity.

Vegetables that can be planted now include greens such as chard, collard, kale, spinach as well as lettuces. When it comes to radish, peas, beans, beets, broccoli and cabbage, look for early maturing varieties and plant now. In the northern Great Lakes it may be too late for some of these crops, so check a frost chart for your area to determine how many days you have left in the growing season.

Here are some charts that will help:

First and Last Frost Dates For All States: Victory Seed Co.

The Fall Vegetable Garden (PDF): Purdue University Extension

Illinois First Fall Frost Chart: University of Illinois

The tropical desert Midwest?

Opuntia "Prickly Pear"

I’m a plant geek- continuously amazed by the plant world. Like when I first found out that cactus grow native to Michigan and Illinois. A few years ago I was walking past a house in Michigan that had mounds of prickly pear growing and flowering in the yard. Double-take! I expressed my amazement to the woman living there, “I had no idea cactus can live outside here!” She called hers “Michigan Prickly Pear” and broke off a few pads for me to grow. And grow they did (above pic). It would be a much larger patch, actually, were it not for a hungry critter two years ago.

More than likely this is Opuntia humifusa, or Eastern Prickly Pear, which grows native in the Midwest. Opuntia monocantha and Opuntia fragilis can apparently also found in Illinois and Michigan. Mine appears lanky in the pic because it started to grow in low-light conditions while over-wintering. I have since moved it onto the rooftop where I expect it will thrive and hopefully bloom. I can confidently say that this species can handle its fair share of neglect and abuse! It looks quite disheveled (ok, it looks dead) after a harsh winter but perks right up in the spring.

Hiking in northern Michigan a couple years ago I came across another “desert” surprise- lizards! Maybe not as much a surprise in Illinois, but for an Upper Peninsula of Michigan native, seeing a lizard seemed about as likely as seeing a zebra. Yet there it was on Marquette’s Sugarloaf Mountain, what I’ve since learned to most likely be a Five-lined Skink, a native of Michigan. Illinois has a native legless lizard, which I’ve yet to see, called the Slender Glass Lizard.

From desert to the tropics…

If you’ve spent time on Chicago’s beaches you may have seen live palm trees. I’m not going to surprise anybody by saying those are not native to the Great Lakes region. But, surprisingly, some folks are successful in growing them outdoors in Chicago (with special care). And orchids, which are normally thought of as tropical plants, are native and even abundant in the region. Even some non-native tropical orchids can thrive in Illinois home gardens. Especially if you happen to live in a micro-climate, where your growing area may be a zone ahead of your neighbors, you can try your hand at outdoor tropicals.

I try to be conscious about bringing non-native and hybridized species into a habitat, but I think it can be safely said that these particular tropicals won’t be overpopulating anytime soon. Even the cold-hardy palms require a lot of attention to over-wintering or they will die. That said, keep them at home and preferably grow them in containers. Here are some websites with tips for picking species and growing conditions of hardy outdoor tropical plants: