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Archive for March, 2010

Bryan Welch is a writer who Rancho Cappuccino blog appears as a regular column in the Mother Earth News. Over the course of the last couple of months, he has turned his attention away from negative touchstones of how to combat global warming or the impending doom promised to us by the scientific community, and instead turned in a more positive direction. He asks the question: what does a sustainable world look like? To further break down that question, he focuses on four sub-questions for a sustainable society (each question below links to Welch’s relevant post).

  1. Is it fair?
  2. Is it repeatable?
  3. Is it beautiful?
  4. Does it create abundance?

The last question piqued my interest, because I believe that every human advance in culture, science, technology, or the arts has come from a society that enjoys abundance. After all, if your main concern is how to make your last $2 buy enough to feed your family of four today, you are much less likely to care about the Eigenvalues inherent to a rational canonical form in linear algebra!

Give him a read. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. 
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Sorry I took a break from posting for a while; I’ve been a bit out of sorts lately.

The first bit of news I have to share relates to–you guessed it–the community garden. No, i haven’t finally secured permission to grow there or anything momentous, but I did speak with the family that lives next door to the property. I have apparently been barking up the right tree, but there’s a lower branch I overlooked. The owners are indeed the C—– family, but there are two brothers who control the property, and the one who is directly involved in decisions regarding the land lives in Skokie (much closer than Wisconsin).

The guy who bought the north half of the property to build his home said that he had tried to also buy the southern (still vacant) half to develop another house on. His offer was turned down by Mr. C—–, who is reportedly very difficult to contact (or at least to get answers from). Mr. C——- does not appear to have any imminent plans for the property, but thought (I guess) that the offer wasn’t high enough. At any rate, the guy that lives next door promised to ask his lawyer this week to get contact information for Mr. C——- so that I could contact him directly. Additionally, the family on the north half seemed generally agreeable to the idea of a community vegetable garden next door, saying that the land should be used for something.

The second news item relates to my cold frame–which is now useless! Yes, friends, the lower pane of the window lid (a piece of glass about 10″ by 48″ was shattered in about three nights ago now. There were no rocks or tree branches or other implements of mayhem lying nearby, so I can only conclude that the damage was caused by a Malamute paw (or butt). When it’s cold and a 100-lb dog stands on a thin sheet of glass, bad things can happen. Milady does not appear to be hurt (other than by my very suggestion that she is in any way culpable), but 1 group of tender little seedlings inside were not so lucky. Besides having to pick splintered glass out of my lettuce (grr!) the impact had bruised or cut several of the plants. We’ll see if they survive. I went to Home Depot to find a replacement panel of acrylic or Lexan (don’t want to use glass again, right?) and found that the box store wanted $42 for a piece of that size…much more than I care to spend on a free cold frame. I am pondering what to do…

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Our techno society has become so accustomed to Google as a search tool that the name itself has been pressed into service as a verb. Need to know about weeping willows, or tax code, or indigenous marsupials? Google it! Sometimes I forget what life was like before the Internet and algorithmic search engines. So, there’s a strange sense of enjoyment–almost adventure–in researching something the old-fashioned way.

Thursday, after an interpreting job downtown, I strolled over to the County Building and paid a visit to the Cook Count Recorder of Deeds to try to figure out who owns the parcel of vacant land I’m eyeing for our garden. Naturally, I was sent to the basement, down an austere and sterile corridor, to plight my case in the Tract Room. After giving the PIN (Property Identification Number) of the land to the clerk, she checked her computer and confirmed that there was no information on file, so the last transaction was at least 25 years ago, prior to 1985. She pulled out a huge paper-and-ink reference tome, which gave her the numbered location of a plat book.

Cross-referencing that, she was momentarily confused until I explained that it seemed that the land was divided into two properties a few years ago. That matter cleared up, she handed me nothing more than a scrap of paper with a “Document Number” on it. I was then directed down another subterranean corridor to the Microfiche Vault.

The gatekeeper of this tiny chamber (little more than a desk, a chair, and a counter for filling out forms), took the document number and disappeared through a door behind him, returning a few moments later with a single 9″ x 9″ sheet of microfiche. He then bade me go across the hall into the Microfiche Reading Library. Using a reading terminal (the operation of which took me back to my college days!), I saw that the film contained deed and transfers from a variety of addresses all across the county. Finally locating the property in question, I find that the only deed transaction, a sale of the property, happened in March of 1963! Since I know the demolished farmhouse was on the developed side of the property, that means the land has sat fallow for 47 years!

Sadly, the deed transfer contained very little information: the names of Julius and Mary C——, S——- Realty, and a legal description of the land. Returning the microfiche to the Vault and heading back to the Tract Room, I asked the clerk if she knew any way to contact them. “Not if they’re not in my computer,” she replied.

NOW I turned to Google. I’m pretty good at searching, and soon I turned up the date of death for Julius (2005) and Mary (2004). I also found some property owned by them in Palatine and Schaumburg, tranferred to a Victor C——, who also went by the anglicized name of Victor S——–…the same name as the realty company on the original deed! Victor is apparently 53 years old, and married a woman named Barbara Sc—–, who seem to have sold their Illinois properties and seem to be living in E——-, Wisconsin, on a fairly nice piece of lakefront property. I have called the phone number, heard Barb S—–‘s voice (and heard that they are general contractors, which explains the several properties in Wisconsin sold to banks: developed houses, no doubt). However, I haven’t left a message because I don’t think I could explain the situation very well through a message. Nor have I attempted to Facebook friend Barbara, though I could try.

(Editor’s note: Are you scared by Google yet? You should be. I’m leaving out things like their names and exact location…and how much their property is worth and Julius’s and Mary’s Social Security Numbers….)

I did also knock on the door of the people who bought the property just adjacent–sometimes the most direct method is the best! They weren’t home, however, and I will try again tomorrow. I’ll also gives the S—-‘s another call tomorrow, too. I will get to the bottom of this and get a yes/no on the garden idea.

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Calling My Bluff

Sometimes, gardening is easy (after all, we live in the Midwest). I throw some lettuce seeds or carrot seeds into the ground, water them occasionally, and soon have a bumper crop. It’s easy to think I’m getting pretty good at this gardening stuff. And then I order something that calls my bluff.

Grow that, garden boy!


Henry Field’s Seed Company tells me those sticks are a Sweet Sixteen apple tree on a dwarf rootstock and three red raspberry plants. Sure they are. Don’t come to me for your apple pie or raspberry jam this year. Or next year either, I suspect. If I can actually get fruit and berries from these sticks, then I might start to think I’m a capable gardener. 


Or not.



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Well, it’s officially Spring, and the weather here in the Windy City has been hitting the 50s or 60s, which makes urban gardeners (myself included) eye our budding seedlings and start champing at the bit to let the planting begin.

Danger, danger, Will Robinson! (Did I just date myself there?)


Remember, our last frost date is between April 25th and May 1st here in Chicago. We got a frost last night. This past weekend, it snowed. Last year, we got a significant snowfall on April 5th. It ain’t over yet, folks. If you moved your tender seedlings outdoors, the worst case scenario is that there will be one or more hard frosts that will kill everything you just planted. The best case scenario is that through a lot of worried studying of weather reports, diligent covering and uncovering the young plants, and a streak of luck, your seedlings might survive the transition from inside your house to the nascent Spring…but their “headstart” in growth will quickly vanish compared to later-planted seedlings. Why? Because even plants that can survive cold weather don’t do much–or any–growth when the mercury is low. Your lawn is a good example. It’s probably not totally brown and dead, but how many times did you mow it this Winter? Yeah, I thought so.

But I know you. You’ve read up on your plants and noticed that some plants like spinach and lettuce do okay in cooler temps, so you want to move them outside–possibly to reclaim that window ledge that had been overwhelmed by plants. Go ahead and move them outside if you must, but do it in stages…

It’s called “hardening” the seedlings.


Find a shadier place that’s sheltered from the wind. If you have a cold frame, then–duh–use that. Leave the plants out only for a few hours a day before bringing them back inside. Gradually, over the course of a week or even two, increase how long the seedlings are outside and how much sunlight they’re getting. I like to end this process by placing them for a day or two (still in their containers) on top of the place in the garden that will become their permanent This process will greatly reduce transplant shock, give you healthier plants, and at least make you feel like you’re getting something done.

Take the time. You (and your vegetables) will be glad you did.

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Ah, the two liter soda bottle: is there any problem it can’t solve? This week’s repurposing of our time-honored refreshment container is for drip irrigation. Drip irrigation, to review, is simply the art of delivering water slowly, right where your plants need it, with as little possible wasted to evaporation and none given as free nourishment to weeds.  Note: This kind of “system” is better to install before you transplant those delicate little seedlings or sow those tiny rows of seeds.

Take some 2-liter soda bottles and remove the labels. I guess it isn’t strictly necessary, but it does make them look neater and keeps my blog from encountering any awkward product placement issues. Next, find a small but sturdy pin. I used a thumbtack. Poke a series of holes all around the bottle. I did about 2 dozen. When you fill it with water, it will look like this:

Now, bury in your planting area. Some people cut off the bottom and plant them upside down, but I find too much garden and soil debris falls into the bottle, and things like mosquitoes use the water for breeding…not good. I bury them right side up, leaving only the top neck of the bottle exposed, or at least no more than a few inches. Then I plant within about four inches of the bottle on all sides.

When you are ready to water, simply open up the cap, fill with water, and re-close. The bottle will slowly drain and the water will seep slowly and deeply into the ground, without worry of evaporation loss.

This technique is great with square-foot gardening, or with containers, which tend to dry out quickly. Give it a try!

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Veggie Traders

Here’s a fun site that I’d like to do well: Veggie Trader! If you have a surplus of tomatoes or carrots or beans, you might be able to trade for plums or cantaloupes or onions.

Sign up and trade me for stuff!

Swap your homegrown produce on Veggie Trader

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