Thursday, October 25, 2007

It is hard to believe it has been a year!

So many wonderful blogs to read. Nature, science, politics,books, philosophy, gardens, etc... the conversation goes on and on. Join in they say, tell us what's on your mind. There are way more than two sides to every story. I was hooked!

Here is a look at that first post from last October...

What is a garden?How does it evolve from the space that exists, into a garden, our garden?When do we claim it as our own?Is it while searching for a place to call home, basing the decision on what can be envisioned, or is it only after enough change takes place,enough work has been done that our imput begins to show?
I have always lived in homes with gardens. Mothers garden, Grandmothers garden, and my own. The women in our family claim the gardens although much work has been accomplished with the aid of men. I know men that garden, but they are fewer in these circles. It may be different elsewhere. So womens gardens have shaped my vision of what a garden should be.
Grandma's garden was for food. She grew in an old fashioned way, adding aged manure,mulching with straw, turning under the dead and dying remains after a season was over. No herbicides or pesticides.She canned some of the harvest, dried some of the harvest. She served bountiful meals all through the season. She lived in the country with plenty of land and picked berries from wild patches, apples and nuts from the trees, mushrooms from the woods. She and nature provided.
Mom grew flowers, for cutting and smelling and touching. She saved seeds, took cuttings, shared with neighbors and family and friends. She knew the names of so many of the plants that grew wild near her childhood home. Not the scientic names but the common names given to her as she asked as she grew.And then passed on to me, when I asked. She would have nothing to do with poisons. She liked Miracle Grow.
My own garden style is a combination of these spaces and people, a unique sport.
A philosophy of life encompassing the garden began to emerge. It happened slowly. When young I was indignant about mankinds role. There are so many of us and we seemed to be crowding out other inhabitants of this world. Humans are generalists in the extreme, able to adapt quickly, ever expanding into new territory. Could this bring other than disaster?After years of education and maturity I realized that mankind could/would learn to co-exist. We would learn and adapt or crash, like all other species. Life and the earth will out.
This wildlife habitat/garden arises from this developing philosophy this journal begins...October 20 2006

2006 October archive

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Compost-Troubleshooting a problem bin/ sifting and using a finished product

Bill Shores was our class instructor Saturday as we went outside for a hands on lesson. First we took a look at a couple of bin options. The black plastic bin is considered rodent resistant. It has a lid,a bottom with holes, many slits less than 1/4 inch wide on the sides and a door at the bottom where finished compost is to be removed .
The single Wooden Urban Bin has the bottom, sides and a fitted lid covered with wire mesh.

The third option was a three bin wooden system. It was here that we found the compost that we as a class would troubleshoot. Two of the bins were filled with plant debris that was very dry and not looking much different than when it had been added. The decision was to remove the material and start over. Since it is the end of the garden season there was plenty of green material to be cleaned out of the vegetable garden. So with hose and clippers in hand we got to work.

We clipped and chopped the dryed out brown plant debris and wet it good as it was returned to the bins in layers with the fresh green material.

Many hands clipped barrels full of the still green vines,stems and leaves.

It was important to fill the bins completely as the minimum size for an efficient pile is 3ft x 3ft x 3ft. The pile needed bulk as well as green to achieve maximum heat.

If we did not have extra green material to hand we still would have removed the material chopped it into much smaller pieces, about 6 inches or so in size to expose more edges, then wet it well as the material was returned to the bin. It would possibly then be a cool compost, depending how much nitrogen was still present in the plant material, that would just take a bit longer than a hot pile to become finished compost.

Here you can see we ended with two batches of what we hope to be hot piles. Next week when the temperature is recorded we will see how well the trouble shooting worked.

The third bin had plenty of good finished compost from last season. We dug it out, sifted through a large screen into the wheelbarrow and bagged it to take home. There was plenty for everyone.

Homecomposting UIUC EXTENSION

I took a couple of close-ups so that you could see the quality.

If you click on the pictures to enlarge you can even see the worms and a few insects crawlings. I compressed a handfull to show the moist crumbly texture.

Next week worm bins and vermi-compost...

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Back to Highschool - Composting 101

As part of the Master Gardener commitment to continuing education, this year I have decided to learn more about composting and how to bring this knowledge to the general urban community. So I am back to High School for a few Saturdays. The Chicago High School for Agricultural Science


The first class mostly concerned teaching effective presentation methods and basic compost science. Next weekend we tackle hands on compost making and the various compost bins available to buy or that can be made ourselves. We will be covering worm composting at some point and I have already been assigned,along with a partner, to a presentation on compost trouble shooting. Wish me luck, I have always been terrible at this part. Out at events I am comfortable with people asking questions and repeatedly giving out information but in front of a class of peers I get very nervous.

During a half hour lunch break I decided to walk around and take a few pictures. I liked the design sense of these young students.

This is the equipment road back the 75 acre field used by the students.

Here is the farmstand students run during the season. Sign in the window says you can get a cup of Starbucks coffee inside! This is not like the highschool I attended.

Remember this is Chicago. Click on photo for larger image to see CTA bus in the background.

How great to have a class where you can learn to handle this kind of equipment.

Next week look for pictures of the class making compost and of the various compost bins . After class maybe they will let me in the greenhouse to see what is going on in there.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Autumn is slowly making its way into the garden. Even though the daytime temperatures have been very warm for October the hours of sunlight are less each day. Nights are cool and not as full of the sound of insects as just a couple of weeks ago. Leaves seem to be on the verge of losing that dominate cool green. A few have just fallen to the ground without the usual fanfare. Soon the hidden path through the woodland will show clearly, no longer affording cover to small children or other creatures passing through.

A breeze feels chill, much cooler than the sun warmed air, causing goose bumps to rise. Debris falls from branches above, squirrels are insulating extra nests, filling caches.Spiders weave large webs to catch every last available prey.
Thrush run along the woodland edge, stop to listen intently, then scamper on. Fuzzy black and orange caterpillars are found in the oddest places. Mornings are misty fog.

I stood in the window watching a small sparrow looking bird (although it was not the common house sparrow) as it landed on the trellis,then flew at the ripe dark blue Virginia creeper berries hanging in clusters, snatching one at a time. It came back again and again over several days until not a single berry remained. I was never close enough to see the bird clearly.

A Downy woodpecker searched for insects on the branches overhead , then for the first time since I have been watching woodpeckers in trees, the little woodpecker flew down to land on a pile of small leafless branches very near me and continued to forage seeming not at all concerned by my presence.
Wanted: Citizen Scientists to Track Wild Bees in Illinois

The following was an e-mail to which I am inclined to respond. Tomorrow evenings presentation should be very interesting.

Honey bee colonies are in decline in many states, but little is known about their wild cousins, the bumble bees, or, for that matter, honey bees living on their own in the wild without beekeepers. A new initiative from the University of Illinois seeks to build a better record of honey bee and bumble bee abundance and distribution in Illinois by recruiting citizen scientists to report on wild bees seen anywhere in the state. Beginning Thursday (Oct. 4) the BeeSpotter Web site will connect bee enthusiasts to resources that will help them identify local bees, post photographs and enter geographic information about wild bees seen in backyards, parks or other Illinois locales. University of Illinois entomology professor and department head May Berenbaum will announce the Web site launch during a presentation at the Chicago Cultural Center on Thursday. Her presentation, on the ongoing pollinator crisis in North America, will describe the widespread decline in the viability of animals that transport pollen and allow most of the planet's flowering plants to reproduce. Berenbaum has testified before Congress on colony collapse disorder, a mysterious malady of North American honey bees. She also chaired the National Research Council committee that reported this year on the status of pollinators in North America. The idea for the BeeSpotter Web site emerged from recommendations in that study, Berenbaum said. A key finding was that too little information on pollinator abundance and distribution has been collected, particularly in the U.S."We don't know what is going on with pollinators because America has never deemed it important enough to try to keep track of its pollination resources," Berenbaum said. "Given that 90 crops in the U.S. agricultural sector depend on a single species of pollinator, and other crops depend on other pollinators, it would seem that for economic reasons alone this has been a serious oversight on our part," she said.There are too few pollination experts in the U.S. to bridge the data gap, she said. The new Web site seeks to address the problem by involving citizen scientists in bee-monitoring efforts. Participants will feed their information into a database, interact with experts in the field who will answer their questions and connect them to other resources, such as the Illinois Natural History Survey database of North American bees. BeeSpotter will provide a bee family tree, with biographies of the honey bee and each of the 12 species of bumble bees in Illinois. It will include a summary of the status of North American pollinators, with visual keys for identifying bees and distinguishing them from other insects. A data entry site will allow visitors to post digital photos, plot the location and describe the characteristics of bees they have seen. More content will be added to the Web site throughout the fall, including information about the honey bee genome, the economic impact of bees, how to avoid and treat bee stings and how to build a bee-friendly garden. Berenbaum's presentation, "Disappearing Bees," will be at 6 p.m. in the fifth floor Millennium Park Room of the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 East Washington Street.

Pollinators are in the media recently but this is not a new occurrence.

In Silent Spring, Rachel Carson reaches our intellect with a sense of urgency and despair, but she also bestows a sense of wonder at nature and at our often contradictory actions.
"These insects, so essential to our agriculture and indeed to our landscape as we know it, deserve something better from us than the senseless destruction of their habitat. Honeybees and wild bees depend heavily on such 'weeds' as goldenrod, mustard, and dandelions for pollen that serves as the food for their young.
By the precise and delicate timing that is nature's own, the emergence of one species of wild bee takes place on the very day of the opening of the willow blossoms.
There is no dearth of men who understand these things, but these are not the men who order the wholesale drenching of the landscape with chemicals. "

Nature writer and poet Diane Ackerman attacks our senses at a more basic level.
"A flower's fragrance declares to all the world that it is fertile, available, and desirable, its sex organs oozing with nectar. Its smell reminds us in vestigial ways of fertility, vigor, life-force, all the optimism, expectancy, and passionate bloom of youth. We inhale its ardent aroma and, no matter what our ages, we feel young and nubile in a world aflame with desire. "

Poets have always understood the importance of pollinators to reproduction.

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
-One clover, and a bee,
And revery.
The revery alone will do
If bees are few.
- Emily Dickinson To make a prairie (1755)

Pollination Poetry

What You Can Do
• Create your own pollinator-friendly garden using a wide variety of native flowering plants. Encourage the planting of native flowers in open spaces and outside public buildings.
• Reduce the level of pesticides used in and around your home.
• Encourage local clubs or school groups to build artificial habitats such as butterfly gardens, bee boards, and bee boxes.
• Support agriculture enterprises with pollinator-friendly practices such as farms that avoid or minimize pesticide use.
• Encourage government agencies to take into account the full economic benefits of wild pollinators when formulating policies for agriculture and other land uses. Stress the need to develop techniques for cultivating native pollinator species for crop pollination.
• Bring the importance of biological diversity to the attention of your state and national representatives. Stress that diversity includes beneficial native insects. Be prepared to provide local or regional examples of important species.
• Support funding for research on pollinators and the economic benefits they provide.

From the Pollination Tool Kit at

Monday, October 01, 2007


"The Savage Garden" by Mark Mills
Selection for Garden Blogger's Book Club

Join the August-September meeting at May Dreams Gardens.

Being a mystery buff and a gardener , it is not often that the two are combined. On occasion a novel is written that speaks to the language of garden design. "The Savage Garden" by Mark Mills is such a story.

Told in 1958 western Europe after the second world war. Think Tuscany,war damaged people and place, gardens,mystery,and a bit of romance.
Cambridge University Professor Crispin Leonard suggests to one of his students, Adam Strickland, that the university would pick up the tab for a summer in Tuscany.Adam would be researching the history of a 300 year old garden at the villa of a friend of the professor's. He could then use the research for his upcoming thesis.

The garden had been designed and the installation overseen by a sixteenth century nobleman in memory of his young wife. After Adam has seen the garden he begins to suspect that there was little grief in the story told by the mysterious placement of statues, grottoes, meandering rills and classical inscriptions within .
It is fun to follow the unraveling of the story of what may have been a double murder in the Docci family's past.Digging into family history Adam befriends Signora Docci, the villa's 70 year old current owner,and is invited to stay at the villa where he has access to the family library.What he uncovers raises suspicions that there are more current mysteries to solve.

I listened to this mystery on CD and I think I would have enjoyed it more with book in hand. So I may pick it up and reread so that the connections between the garden and Dante's Inferno may become more clear.The author makes sense but I can not always understand how Adam Strickland, the mystery solver, sees these things. So I would recommend this book but in hardcopy not audio unless you never have to reread a paragraph or two before you understand what is going on.