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What Does Your Veg Garden Grow?

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Plants | 1 Comment

I lost a month! Somehow with all the gloom and gray and snow, I was totally shocked the other night when I started thumbing through the Chicago Botanic Garden’s course guide, picked out a “spring” class that sounded good, and realized that the class had been held two weeks ago! OMG, it is the end of March and I haven’t given the vaguest thought to gardening (usu in February I’m even starting some seeds)! Foof, get it together, Queen Bee!

One good way to get the month back, vicariously, is to ask people whose livlihoods depend on keeping organized, seasonally speaking, in the garden. One of those people happens to be my friend, Lisa Hilgenberg, who runs the Fruit & Vegetable Garden at (wait for it) the Chicago Botanic Garden. Awesome job, right?

So…what is Miss Lisa–one of the most enthusiastic people I know–choosing to grow in 2014?

Wild Boar Farms blue tomato“This year, it seems to be the unusual color of veg (Queen Bee: it’s spelled veg but pronounced vedge) that appeals to me and seems to also appeal to chefs. An example is ‘Blueberry Blend’ tomato, the new release from Wild Boar Farms in Napa, CA. created by Baker Creek. Wild Boar Farms offers not just one, but three blue anthocyanin varieties!

“We are also going to grow ‘Oaxacan Green Dent’ corn grown in Mexico for green flour tamales, which will be part of our ‘Three Sisters and a Sunflower’ planting. Oaxacan Green Dent CornAnother new veg is the ‘Falstaff’ Brussels sprout, which is purple with a mild, nutty flavor. I’m guessing from its name that is was discovered in England?

“‘Boothby’s Blonde’ cucumber has a nice story. It’s been grown by the Boothby family for five generations in Maine. This cuke is a fashionable old variety that the current Organic Gardening magazine highlights as pale yellow with bumpy skin and tiny black spines, like a science experiment. Boothby Blond CucumberThe Plant Giveaway in May are seeds of Boothby’s Blonde so you can see for yourself if it is.

“There is a bush watermelon too that I’m pretty excited about. It’s called,’Jubilee’, and it has a mere 3-5’ spread producing an oblong 10-12 lb fruit!

“And I’m really excited to grow a culinary collection of stir fry vegs: Evergreen Hardy white onion, cutting celery, Kailaan, Hon tsai tai, Joi choi, Osaka Red mustard, tatsoi and Dwarf Grey snow peas.

Claytonia perfoliata, Miner's Lettuce“And do you know Claytonia perfoliata? We are growing it right now, because it’s so tolerant of the cold spring weather”.

“Oh, and Weedpatch readers should know that the Garden’s newly redesigned Garden View Cafe opens April 8th. Come eat!”.#

A March Sunset just a stone’s throw from the Atlantic Ocean…

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“They captured in their ramble all the mysteries and magics of a March evening. Very still and mild it was, wrapped in a great, white, brooding silence — a silence which was yet threaded through with many little silvery sounds which you could hear if you hearkened as much with your soul as your ears. The girls wandered down a long pineland aisle that seemed to lead right out into the heart of a deep-red, overflowing winter sunset.”  ― Lucy Maud Montgomery (1874-1942), author of Anne of Green Gables and 19 other books which extol Prince Edward Island, Canada.

Thanks to WG reader Dr. Kate Drummond for sending this photo of a Cape Cod evening in March:

photo (37)

Not a Centerfold, but Close!

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Gardeners & Designers, Historic Places, Plants, Uncategorized | 16 Comments

I’ve always wanted to be a magazine centerfold, fodder for the tabloids, or a great read for your time in line at the grocery store. And this is as close as I may ever get:

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Country Gardens inside 3-10-2014 1-55-57 PM 2560x1920

Thank you to Better Homes and Gardens editor James Baggett, my longtime friend and garden “personality”/writer Shirley Remes, writer and editor Beth Botts, and photographer Bob Stefko for making our farm in Richmond, Illinois seem like the most romantic old farm EVER!

Please find and buy a copy–and then ask me to autograph it so that I can get the full experience of bein’ a glamour girl. A STAR IS BORN! A STAR IS BORN! Move over Meryl and Julia and Sandra and Angelina and all you glamour has-been’s: Rommy has launched! ##

Garfield Park Conservatory and Mothers Trust Foundation: Congratulations

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Conservation and Ecology, Gardeners & Designers, Historic Places, Public Gardens and Parks, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Garfield Park Conservatory, located on the far west side of Chicago not too far from Oak Park, is one of my favorite places. I love love love the fern room there–it’s a wonderful respite from the “concrete jungle”:

“Designed by Hitchings and Company, with the brilliant assistance of Jens Jensen, the Conservatory was completed in 1907. It is still one of the largest conservatories in the world. Jensen’s use of native limestone in layers is used to create ponds, waterfalls, cliffs, and lush winding paths. The total effect seems to overwhelm one’s senses as the sound of the water, the verdant greenness, and the pleasant aromas calm the nerves and transport me to another time and place, when the prairie was a nearby paradise..”. (Cindy Mitchell, The Weedpatch Gazette, Summer, 1998).

Garfield Park Conservatory

The Garfield Park Conservatory won a 2013 Philanthropy Award from the Make It Better Foundation:

 

Congratulations!

And congratulations is in order for Mothers Trust Foundation which also won a Make It Better Philanthropy award. Take a look at this excellent video and see if you can spot me, in good company at a meeting with other wonderful volunteers.##

This is what happens when you cut down all the trees!

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Conservation and Ecology, Environmental Protection | 2 Comments

Cartoon look what happens dogs

Thanks to Jon Henricks for sending this my way, and thanks especially to whoever created this (unattributed) photo and put it on the Internet… I love your sense of irony!##

Start to a Cheerful Tuesday

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Birds, Bugs & Butterflies, Books, Plants, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Good morning, Weedpatch pals. Here’s a Japanese woodblock created in 1917 to cheer up your morning: gotta love Columbines!

Columbines Japanese_0002

That same year (1917), a native Chicagoan, Neltje Blanchan, who wrote eleven books in her 52 years, said this about columbines in her book, Nature Wonders: Wild Flowers Worth Knowing. The book was published by the company her husband started: Doubleday.

“The Columbine never has the elfin charm in a conventional garden that it possesses wild in Nature’s. Dancing, in red and yellow petticoats, to the rhythm of the breeze along the ledge of overhanging rocks, it coquettes with some Punchinello as if daring him to reach her at his peril. Who is he? Let us sit a while on the rocky ledge and watch for her lovers…Presently a big bumblebee booms along. Owing to his great strength, an inverted, pendent blossom, from which he must cling upside down, has no more terrors for him than a trapeze for the trained acrobat. His long tongue–he is one of the largest of our sixty-two species of Bombus–can suck almost any flower…He is the truest benefactor of the European Columbine (A. vulgaris), whose spurs suggested the talons of an eagle (aquila) to imaginative Linnaeus when he gave this group of plants its generic name.

Fragile butterflies, absolutely dependent on nectar, hover near our showy wild Columbine with its five tempting horns of plenty, but sail away again, knowing as they do that their weak legs are not calculated to stand the strain of an inverted position from a pendent flower, nor are their tongues adapted to these slender tubes. The tongues of both butterflies and moths bend readily only when directed beneath their bodies. It will be noticed that our Columbine’s funnel-shaped tubes contract just below the point where nectar is secreted–doubtless to protect it from small bees. When we see the honey-bee or the little wild bees–Halictus chiefly–on the flower, we may know they get pollen only.

Finally a ruby-throated hummingbird whirs into sight. Poising before a Columbine, and moving around it to drain one spur after another until the five are emptied, he flashes like thought to another group of inverted red cornucopias, visits in turn every flower in the colony, then whirs away quite as suddenly as he came. Probably to him, and no longer to the outgrown bumblebee, has the flower adapted itself. The European species wears blue, the bee’s favorite color according to Sir John Lubbock; the nectar hidden in its spurs, which are shorter, stouter and curved, is accessible only to the largest bumblebees. There are no hummingbirds in Europe. Our native Columbine, on the contrary, has longer, contracted, straight, erect spurs, most easily drained by the ruby-throat which ever delights in any color at all so long as it’s red.”##

Courtesy: birdsnblooms.com

Courtesy: birdsnblooms.com

 

 

 

 

Saving the Planet…read it and weep OR become a better gardener?

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Birds, Bugs & Butterflies, Conservation and Ecology, Environmental Protection, Landscape Architecture, Plants, Social Impact of Horticulture, Uncategorized, Weather | 2 Comments

This snowy morning I opened the newspaper to find:

  • a story about California’s drought: 600,000 acres of farmland will receive no water from reservoirs or canals this year because there is no water in them. What a weather disaster. It’s a drought fifteen years in the making but made worse by Arctic melting which allows heat to escape into the atmosphere and park as a high pressure ridge off the California coast, forcing rain to go way north. The water resources are strained, of course, by the water needs of California’s population and housing growth. This made me think, “Plant More Vegetables in the Garden this Year.” And, “Despite all the snow, we are just coming out of drought. Lake Michigan is still historically low so turn off the lawn sprinklers…”.

drought

  • a story about the huge (82,000 tons! tons! More than Love Canal!) coal ash spill by Duke Energy into the usually beautiful 200-mile Dan River in Raleigh, North Carolina. Really, coal companies? Again? Didn’t we just go through the same thing in West Virginia? Don’t we all know that we cannot invent the precious asset of water? California certainly believes water is its #1 priority. Texas legislators agreed to take $2B of their oil revenue to build water infrastructure.  We as a nation must stand tall and keep clean what remaining water we have, including by guaranteeing that private infrastructure is in good repair or that septics are replaced with high caliber water treatment facilities. [By the way, Duke is a huge conglomerate which in November, 2013, paid out $1 million in penalties for knowingly violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act when it killed 14 golden eagles and dozens of other birds in the way it constructed a wind turbine farm in Wyoming.] And this company is run by two women–where are their values? I expect better of gals…

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  • and a story about President Obama attending a summit this coming week with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto of Mexico, Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada, and other North American leaders in Toluca, Mexico, just an hour’s drive from the mountains where Monarch butterflies overwinter. The world’s science and writing community is asking the leaders to pay attention to this area because of the ecological havoc we’ve created for Monarchs (ie non-human migrants). The butterfly area HAS SHRUNK TO 1.19 HECTARES (yes, you read it right) from 45 hectares (1 hectare=2.5 acres)  in 1996. While the area has been greatly deforested despite the creation of a biosphere (it gets “timber poached”), the small and shrinking habitat size actually means something else. It means that very few Monarchs arrived from the United States last year. Why? Because we Americans converted 15 million MORE acres of land to RoundUP Ready corn and soybeans, so every time we spray the corn we kill the Common milkweed–which grows best in disturbed areas like (hold it, get ready) CORNFIELDS!

Monarch forests

Here’s some “guerrilla” efforts for you to do if you feel otherwise helpless to fight the biggest issues confronting Monarchs:

First, spare one hour of your time (oh, stop complaining and just do it) and watch this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fh42KGh-TkE. This is a lecture by Univ of Kansas professor Chip Taylor, who started Monarch Watch. I learned so much from this video–it totally explains what’s happening to the Monarchs. It also made me a much more aware (and activist) conservationist. This is required viewing. Please let me know of your reaction.

Second, write The White House. Michelle has a symbolic garden…does it have Milkweed in it? Also, the US can give Mexico some money so locals don’t cut the trees for firewood. Ask the President to direct the US Dept of Transportation to “rescue” an acre of roadside milkweed habitat for every acre the US Depts of Agriculture and Energy allow to be destroyed to plant corn and soybeans for biofuel production. In addition, ask the USDA to stop calling Milkweed, “weedy and invasive”, on its website. Last, amend the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to include Butterflies.

Second, ask your Garden Club, wildflower group, botanic garden, and your self whether you have planted enough pollinator plants in your garden and community. Create a Monarch Waystation. Put a sign up and register it, for science sake. Understand the lifecycle of a Monarch. Stop calling Milkweed, “weedy and invasive”, on gardening and botanic garden websites! Watch Weedpatch subscribers (yeah!) Mike Nowak and Jennifer Brennan in this video as they visit an incredible butterfly garden (including a screened enclosure) in Chicago.

Third, are you a landscape designer? Have you specified Common Milkweed [Asclepsias syriaca] in your clients’ drawings, especially for large commercial or industrial projects? Take part in the “Bring Back the Monarchs Campaign”. Not only will you be helping butterflies, but you will be storing a lot of water on site. Milkweed is very drought tolerant because it has very long roots. Planting it means far less run-off from properties.

Fourth, join scientists AND the children of North America in tracking the migration of butterflies and lots of other critters (hummingbirds, robins, bald eagles, orioles, whoopers) and the emergence of Milkweed and Tulips–thus keeping track of spring. Enter the existence of your “climate test garden” into the database. Have fun and help the world’s wildlife (scientists use your data to understand the geographic dispersal of species) by using this cool website:  http://www.learner.org/jnorth/maps/Maps.html

Fourth, send a few bucks to groups like Forests for Monarchs, which uses every donated dollar to plant two conifers and teach sustainable forestry in Mexico. Twenty dollars means forty new trees. Sweet!##

monarch on milkweed

Spring MUST be near…

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

While grocery shopping at Jewel, my nose detected a known, but distant, fragrance. Here’s what I looked down to find, and took a big, deep breath (yes, I inhaled!). On this gloomy, snowy, boring day, may these daffodils bring you hope that spring could actually arrive this year!

HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY!

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!

The Turtle Hospital

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Birds, Bugs & Butterflies, Conservation and Ecology, Environmental Protection, Social Impact of Horticulture, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

One more afternoon in the Florida Keys before I have to return to snowy Chicago…In the meantime I want to tell you about an incredible facility in Marathon called The Turtle Hospital.

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Here’s what I now know. There are seven species of seawater turtles in the world, and while they all inhabit (see map) the world’s oceans, five of them can be found off the coast of Florida. Four species are endangered–meaning they risk extinction from being able to live in the ocean. Only the Loggerhead has enough population to say it’s “threatened” instead of endangered. A fine line.

They range from a foot or so in shell length (the rarest turtle: Kemp’s Ridley) to the Leatherback, which can be 6′ long, weigh 1,500 pounds, dive 1,000 feet down into the cooold ocean, and travel 13,000 miles (one-way) in its migration. If it is sick or injured, the Leatherback is unable to be brought onshore because its soft shell, made only of cartilage, would disintegrate. Below is a photo I took of a Green Turtle, recovering after swallowing a latex glove. Green turtles were once prized (heck, they probably still are) for their meat (ie turtle soup).

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It’s not hard to imagine that turtles are brought weekly to The Turtle Hospital because they have been hit by a boat hull or propeller, or caught in a fishing net. But at The Turtle Hospital, the turtles are often operated on for removing fish hooks (ever see a 6″ fish hook next to an operating table?), swallowing plastic bags, deflated helium balloons, or large “nests” of fishing filament line. And then there’s surgery for removing tumors–fibropapillomas–which are disgusting cauliflower-like growths which are spread by a virus (like herpes). These infectious tumors, benign but terribly debilitating or fatal, are “the only known disease affecting wild animals on a global basis”. Ugh.

Tumors on a turtle at The Turtle Hospital

Tumors on a turtle at The Turtle Hospital

So for all us “Snowbirds”, here are some things we can do when visiting coastal waters (including places like Georgia, where 43% of turtle injuries were caused by boats in 2012):

  • Properly dispose of your garbage. Turtles may mistake plastic bags, styrofoam, and trash floating in the water as food and die when this trash blocks their intestines. (The Turtle Hospital uses a lot of Metamucil and vegetable oil to dislodge this junk from the turtles.)
  • Wherever you live or visit, pick up fishing line (600 years to biodegrade!), nylon rope, latex gloves, bikinis, and plastic six-pack holders. They get swallowed or cause flippers to be amputated (I decided not to post a photo of a rope twisted around a flipper: way too sad.)
  • Celebrate events without the use of helium balloon releases. Like plastic trash, balloons end up in the ocean, especially when released near the coast. Sea turtles mistakenly eat the balloons and die.
  • Remove recreational equipment, such as lounge chairs, cabanas, umbrellas, and boats, from the beach at night. Their presence can deter nesting attempts and interfere with the seaward journey of hatchlings (all summer thru October).
  • Protect beach vegetation that stabilizes sand and the natural coastline.
  • Minimize beachfront lighting during the sea turtle nesting season (May-August) by turning off, shielding, or redirecting lights.
  • Close blinds and draperies in oceanfront rooms at night during the nesting season (May-August) to keep indoor lighting from reaching the beach.
  • When boating, stay alert to avoid sea turtles. Propeller and collision impacts from boats and ships can result in injury and death of sea turtles. Also, stay in channels and avoid running in seagrass beds to protect this important habitat from prop scarring and damage. Avoid anchoring boats in seagrass beds and coral reefs, which serve as important foraging and resting habitats for sea turtles.
  • Use your natural vision when walking on the beach at night. The use of flashlights and flash photography can deter turtles from coming ashore to nest or cause them to abort nesting attempts.
  • Ask your boat captain if he has a propeller guard on his motor. This is controversial (the industry says it is worthless, h’mmm) but asking may alert your captain to how much you care about protecting wildlife, including manatees and turtles.

Last, while Florida made a great decision and created a license plate to support this turtle rescue facility and other efforts, this particular hospital was started by a northerner (still going strong) who moved to Florida and used the revenues from his motel to help these injured reptiles. When Hurricane Wilma wiped out the motel in 2005, he converted the whole building to a hospital. People like him deserve our greatest praise.#

 

Coral Restorations (And You Thought Restoring Oak Savannas Was Tricky)

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Conservation and Ecology, Environmental Protection, Uncategorized, Weather | 5 Comments

Good morning from sunny, 80 degree Islamorada, Florida, which I first learned means “purple island” but later learned means the “little drinking village in the Florida Keys with a fishing problem”.

I had the great good fortune of going fishing (no, I didn’t catch anything except an oversized minnow, aka extremely undersized fish) and also snorkeling (the closest I come to “sport”). The snorkeling is wonderful in the Keys, which is because all the individual reefs here are part of the Great Florida Reef, the third largest coral barrier reef in the world, after Australia and Belize. The reefs are vigorously protected by the State of Florida (1960) and the Federal government (1990).

The fish are the big draw off the Keys, but the real story is the coral that live in these waters. First, gardeners gotta love the names of the corals–flower, knobby brain, star, fat fungus, Gorgonian, elkhorn, staghorn, leaf, cactus, purple fan and golf ball. And then there’s their biology…

For those of you who, like moi, “forgot”, coral is not a plant, despite the names given to them. Coral is an animal that feeds on algae and plankton, but maybe on little fishes or urchins also, mostly at night. Yes, coral is a NOCTURNAL ANIMAL. Another surprise is that a coral may look like one large organism, but it is actually a large colony of identical attached polyps, each one of which are usually only a few centimeters tall. Each polyp has a mouth, surrounded by tentacles. In between the polyps is calcium carbonate (limestone rock) secreted by the polyps themselves.

Amazingly, the polyps reproduce by spawning (yes, sperm fertilizing eggs) during a full moon. In August. (Once in a while, July). This phenomenon bears repeating: their reproduction is HIGHLY SYNCHRONIZED TO A FULL MOON IN AUGUST. This makes me reconsider what I thought was mythology; in other words, I should buy a copy of The Farmer’s Almanac and start planting my vegetables in tune with the moon. If coral knows to do this to assure success, we should too, n’est-ce pas?

After fertilization, corals’ larva spread by the ocean’s currents throughout a reef. They settle, replicate asexually (!) during the year, grow into fantastic shapes, and create protected homes for the world’s fish. (By the way, the “full moon spawn thang” has become a big event for America’s best research aquariums, who come to the Keys to capture the gametes, take them back to the lab, and hope like hell a coral grows. To this I say, “good luck” but it makes for a great party in the Keys, I’m sure.)

Plants are often raised in nurseries, and so are animals, including corals. Beginning in 2003, the Coral Restoration Foundation [CRF] began to take “cuttings” of live elkhorn and staghorn coral, created ocean-floor nurseries of these “mother” segments, and are now raising thousands of new corals. When large enough, volunteer scuba divers “transplant” the corals back onto reefs. So far, the experiment is working. The corals are growing in their new homes. Nonetheless, the restoration hopes of the CRF are big: 98% of the elkhorn and staghorn coral have died in the Keys in just the past 20 years.

Photo courtesy of Coral Restoration Foundation

A coral nursery created by the Coral Restoration Foundation

One reason for this death is that coral appears to have, ahem, an eating disorder, cause unknown but culprits include warmer seawater or yes, even sporadic very cold water temperatures. When this happens, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, all the corals expel a particular microscopic algae that live in their system. This event removes the green/brown chlorophyll color contributed by the algae and turns the coral a dark white. While the coral may not die from one event, the animal becomes stressed and vulnerable. This “bleaching” phenomenon is a natural occurrence, but was seen for the first time on a massive scale in 1973, when it snowed in the Keys.

Oceanographers may be spending time worrying about the effect of warmer/colder water and climate change, but I’m even more cynical about human interference with ecology. As a former regional planner, I wondered about a different culprit, especially after a CRF scientist mentioned to me that the degraded reefs are usually covered in too much algae. What have humans created that would cause too much nitrogen? Either fertilizer run-off or sewage, right? One Google search, and it was easy to find articles about Keys’ beaches closing in 1999 because of e.coli outbreaks. Soon thereafter, a Comprehensive Plan was written that decreed that by 2010 all Keys’ towns had to eliminate septic systems. From the look of the sewer pipes being placed along Route 1, it appears that  the project is taking longer. Nonetheless, the captain of my snorkeling boat yesterday told me that he can already notice how much more clear the water is than 10 years ago when he moved here.

But is it too late for the coral despite the very best efforts of restorationists? Which will recover faster–degraded oak woods or degraded coral reefs? Don’t know, but kudos to all the people who are working hard to save both.##

"Transplanting" coral. Thank You to Coral Restoration Foundation

“Transplanting” coral. Thank You to the Coral Restoration Foundation

 

 

 

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