Tag Archives: Indiana

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


Get out of town! Surprising bevies of birds in Chicagoland.

My mom always used to say, “A watched pot never boils” whenever I’d get impatient for… eh hem… water to boil. And so it goes this weekend as the sun is out -there’s an appearance of Spring – but all I can do is watch my pea shoots on the rooftop. The only 2011 crop that can yet withstand the cold nights and windy days. I set out some beans to harden and the wind stripped their leaves in no time. So, until some milder weather, it’s pea shoots for me. And birds…

I wouldn’t have expected to see so many birds from my 4th story vantage point in the city, but I’ve seen a hawk munching on fresh kill, lots of seagulls, a red finch, 3 egrets, swallows, and about a million sparrows. Something even harvested a mouse and donated half of its body to my planter box. A temporary donation, as it was gone later in the day.

Watching for birds is plenty more interesting than watching pea shoots. In fact, I’ve adapted my moms saying: “A watched pea shoot is boring.” So, until May 15th, the suggested planting date for northern Illinois, I may just pay more attention to the birds. Here are some of the interesting and even surprising avian gatherings in the area:

1. Chicago’s own parrot colony of Monk parakeets, or Quaker parakeets, first arrived in Chicago in 1973, and has grown in numbers to over 200 (source). The colony is easy to see and even easier to hear. Visit the Harold Washington Park in Hyde Park at 5200 South Hyde Park Blvd. If you don’t see them right away, listen for their loud squawks- they won’t be far away. This article from Chicago Wilderness magazine shares their history.

2. The Bald Eagles at Plum Island Sanctuary and Starved Rock State Park have headed north, but high counts can be seen in the trees here during the winter. Just look at this photo from 2009 posted on magnificentfrigatebird.com– now that’s worth the drive next winter:

Here’s their link for the annual Starved Rock Eagle Watch.

3. Sandhill Cranes are another annual migrant who generally appear in Illinois farm fields and preserves in early spring. They are big, the are loud, and they seem almost prehistoric in their mystique. Here’s a nice article about their history in Chicago and another article about their large gathering in Indiana.

4. It’s always interesting to catch a glimpse of a rare bird that seems to have strayed into the Great Lakes flyway. Here’s an interesting week by week compilation of rare bird sightings that are called into the University of Arizona National Birding Hotline Cooperative. It may be Arizona but they get plenty of reports from the Great Lakes region. I’ve never even heard of some of these birds and probably wouldn’t know one when I saw it!

5. Cook County Forest Preserve’s Busse Woods is a great place for bird watching and often times you don’t even have to get off the freeway. (Although it’s highly recommended). Driving on I-90 near near Arlington Heights/Schaumburg, expect to see Great Blue Heron nets dotting the highest trees as you look West at their rookery. It’s almost seems strange, their gangly legs and crooked necks, standing up in their huge stick-woven nests. Might as well check out the Elk heard in Elk Grove Village while you’re in the area.

As fast-paced and sprawling as Chicago is, the city is still rewarded with rich ecological diversity due to its proximity to Lake Michigan, major river arteries, prairies,  and major migration routes. Who knows what bird will blow through the Windy City.

Sources for finding the best birding hot spots in Chicago and Illinois: