Monday, January 11, 2010

Recycle your Christmas tree

The City of Chicago has a free Christmas tree recycling program. They have several drop-off locations throughout the city, the closest to Pilsen being Sheridan Park near UIC. We borrow a generous friend's car, wrap our tree in a piece of thick plastic to contain most of the needles, and drop it off at the park (we bring the plastic home to reuse). This year the collections run from Jan. 1- Jan. 17. The trees are turned into mulch, which is distributed for free to tree recyclers.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


The frost finally did come to kill my balcony garden (December 2 or 3 I think). In the meantime, I've been enjoying the green my houseplants offer inside, as well as becoming more and more enthusiastic about terrariums. I made two really awesome terrariums at the end of November after seeing some on Etsy.

Last spring the university was clearing out an old biology lab, so I brought home a bunch of cool glassware like this huge 2.8 L flask, not knowing exactly what I'd do with it but knowing that it was very cool. A terrarium seemed like the perfect use for it.

I had the great fortune to get some moss from an intro bio lab at school that was going to be discarded at the end of the week, so I used that. They probably got it from Carolina Biological Supply. I was thrilled to get such thick, lush moss because you just don't see moss like that in Chicago outside of the Garfield Park Conservatory!

First I laid down a layer of small rocks (collected from the shore of Lake Michigan in the fall), with a few larger ones mixed in.

Then I put down a small amount of sphagnum moss that I took from a potted plant...

...and then covered that with a layer of potting mix. I used a Cacti and Succulent Soil Mix that I had.

Then I started adding the moss. Sometimes it was a squeeze to fit the chunks of moss through the flask opening.

The sides of the flask were dirty when I finished, so I took a rag and chopstick to wipe around the inside.

Having gained some confidence using the flask with a relatively large opening, I decided to try a large bottle.

This bottle shows layers more nicely than the flask, so I layered different rock sizes.

I made a paper funnel out of junk mail that I used to help direct where the little pebbles landed. This is key if you want nice layers.

Then I added a layer of potting mix (again, using the funnel to keep it from going all over the place. When I was ready to add the moss, I used chopsticks get the moss into the jar and move it into the desired place.

Now I just need to find the photos of the finished terrariums! More about moss and terrariums in the near future.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Still no frost on my plants

My lettuce and everything else looks the same as I left it on Tuesday night. I think they'll make it into December. Weird, huh?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Last harvest?

Aside from the one frost we had in October during that cold spell, it's been pretty mild. We haven't yet had another frost, but I think we might over the Thanksgiving weekend. I'm getting ready.

You see, I seem to have a great gardening microclimate on my balcony. It's south-facing and covered. That means the low sun heats the brick wall all day, and then the roof traps some of the heat- enough that none of my plants were killed in the first frost. It's November 24 in Chicago, and I still have tomato plants. Oh and peppers. The peppers have been protected from the cold by a thriving nasturtium plant (not exactly the most cold-hardy thing!). Global warming?

Here is a photo of my big nasturtium plant with the peppers peeking out to the right and bottom (you might have to enlarge the photo to but the leaves are clearly a different shape). In the foreground is a decorative sweet potato vine in a different pot (purple leaves). From November 22, 2009.

Here are my tomato plants on Nov. 22. Not exactly thriving, but not dead either. I kind of stopped watering them, but there are still tomatoes. Blooms even.

Tonight I picked all of the remaining tomatoes (there were orange/pink/red ones but they were split) and the peppers. Not bad for November in Chicago, huh?

Four days ago I harvested most of my remaining lettuce (back planter). The planter in the front has a big parsley plant, an ailing oregano of some sort, and a mystery plant that tastes like lemon (on the right). Any ideas what kind of plant that might be? It has spinach-like leaves.

In case there's a frost this weekend when I'm gone, I covered the lettuce plants. I wouldn't mind getting another salad out of it.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Mild November

We had the heat on for a few days in October, but turned it off again and it's still not back on. The apartment is about 63° F. Not bad.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Persimmon Pudding

I was in Indiana Oct 23-25 and noticed a persimmon tree at the house where we were staying. Native persimmons ripen in late fall and have an unpleasant astringent taste if they are eaten before they are ripe. Your best bet is to collect them from the ground. I collected a bagful before we headed home to Chicago.
After much research online, I decided to make persimmon pudding. I used the recipe found here.

First I removed the woody tops of the fruits.
Then I put them in a bowl.
Since I needed persimmon puree and don't have a food mill, I used the laundry bag method.

I squeezed the persimmons with the bag. In hindsight, I don't recommend this method. I should've used a colander (easier to clean). Now I have a partially stained laundry bag.

The pudding was delicious!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Cold frame

In September my handy husband built me a cold frame out of an old window frame.

Last weekend (Oct 31) I moved some of my plants inside. I'm hoping that my prickly pear and sedums will survive the winter, but it's harder to get container plants through the winter. The cold frame should help.