Tuesday, September 30, 2008

most people probably think I'm crazy

But maybe not you if you're reading this blog.

I've been reading this book called Garbage Land because I've always wanted to know more about recycling and what happens to the rest of our waste. I'll try to write a review about it later, but for now you just need to know that the waste system in most of the United States is dismal at best. We throw away so much stuff.

Last Friday on my way to school I noticed someone across the alley from us had thrown a pile of clothes in the garbage and they were just sitting on top. It looked like mostly baby clothes, and it didn't seem like anything was wrong with them. I thought maybe I should salvage and launder them, but I was running late. Besides, I didn't want to be known to my neighbors as the crazy girl who picks through the garbage.

Every time I passed the pile of clothes I thought about how I should really get them out because surely after a thorough laundering someone would find a free bag of baby clothes useful. I felt guilty knowing decent clothes were sitting in the garbage and I hadn't done anything about it. I thought about it on my way to school on Monday, and then Monday afternoon when it was pouring down rain I felt even guiltier. At least before the rain I could hope that someone else might take them.

On Monday night I was laying in bed reading more about garbage and suddenly I just couldn't take it anymore- I had to go get those clothes out of the trash. So at 12:15 am I got dressed and went outside with two plastic grocery bags and pulled all of the rain-wet clothes that looked ok from what I could tell in the perpetual city twilight. No one saw me, except for a cat. I took them inside and put them straight in the washer.

This morning I inspected them as I moved them from washer to dryer and, as I initially suspected, they look fine. A couple have stains. They are mostly girl clothes around 12 month +/- 6 months. Why didn't the previous owner offer them to someone else? Or put them in the alley with a free/gratis sign? So now I have a bunch of baby clothes and no baby. I even have an infant carrier! If anyone reading this blog wants them, let me know. Otherwise I'll post them on craigslist or freecycle in a few days.

Smart Home at MSI

If you haven't been already, you should definitely go check out the Smart Home at the Museum of Science and Industry! We finally went to see it last weekend after months of intentions to see it. They showcase amazing innovations in eco-friendly technology. One of my favorites was the indoor composter.

My dream house (unfortunately not my current apartment) has a lot in common with the Smart Home, such as
  • native/edible landscaping
  • solar energy (passive & photovoltaic)
  • radiant subfloor heating
  • greywater toilet flushing
  • rainwater collection system
Check out the exhibit website for much better photos, but here are a few that I took.

Swiss chard comes in such nice colors, and you can eat it too.
The rain barrel has a screen on top to keep mosquitos from breeding in it while letting water in from the downspout.
The Smart Home is to the left of this beautiful oak tree.

You can visit the Smart Home until early January 2009. According to our tour guide, it will be reopened later in 2009 to showcase another set of eco-friendly options.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Planning our 'green' wedding

School hasn't gotten any less busy for me as the semester pushes on, but I'm trying to keep up on the blog. Matt and I are also planning our wedding for spring 2009. Last weekend I was working on our wedding website and our registry. We've been living together for a few years now so we have most of the typical housewares. We have always tried to find things that we needed second-hand at yard sales and thrift stores (and craigslist!), or we've done without. We're trying to decide what things we want to put on our registry. Since we don't really need a new set of dishes, pots, or silverware, we didn't think it made sense to register at one of the typical stores if we only need a few items. Also, there are some things we'd like to ask for that you can't put on a normal registry (e.g. pottery from a specific potter that we like or non-material gifts such as assistance with flower arranging).

Thankfully, we aren't the only people in the world who have ever had this dilemma and the Center for a New American Dream created an excellent solution- the Alternative Gift Registry. It encourages second-hand or non-material gifts in addition to more traditional gifts by allowing you to put it all in gift registry format. You can use it for weddings, baby showers, pets, or whatever! I think this is a great way to encourage people to use resources wisely and think creatively about what others may have to offer them. Go check it out!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Musings on blogging

I've met some great people at the Pilsen farmer's market during the last few weeks because I thought the organizers should know that this blog was getting a lot of hits related to the farmers market. The farmers market should definitely get its own blog since that is just a small part of this one, but in the meantime I'm happy that so many people are finding out about it here. (sorry no photos this week- I forgot to bring my camera!)

I am considering bringing on some friends (new and old) as additional bloggers, but the possibility also forces me to think about my vision for this blog. My intention when I started this was for it to be about my attempts to make eco-friendly chocies in life. Recently, though, I find myself writing more to inform others about happenings in Pilsen and the rest of Chicago, which is perhaps more appropriate for a blog called Living Green in Chicago. Or perhaps it is just more important? I also think it would be great to have many voices on a blog like this because other people could share their experiences and perspectives as well. But on the other hand, I think a blog about my tomatoes, recycling, and energy-saving has its place too.

I'm going to keep thinking about this. If you've been reading my blog I'd love to know what you think. Is there already a multi-person Chicago-based blog about trying to live lightly on the earth? I don't need to reinvent the wheel. Thoughts, anyone?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Windowbox plant to houseplant?

Our new apartment has more space and better light for houseplants, so I'm trying to expand my collection (anyone else in Pilsen want to trade cuttings?). I'm thinking about bringing some of the plants from my windowboxes inside.

You might have noticed from my pictures that none of my windowboxes are actually in windows. Well, they were, when we lived on the north side of the building facing the street.
We moved them to our current alley-view apartment (much to the disappointment of our neighbor) but haven't mounted them so they're all at foot level.

This Cordyline is a houseplant candidate. I have two of them, and they remind me of New Zealand.

These soft-looking plants are asparagus fern 'springeri' and can live for years as houseplants according to the internetz.

I decided this year that I really like nasturtiums. I planted this one really late and it hasn't bloomed yet (those are petunias peeking out on the right). I didn't find much about them as houseplants. It sounds like it might do ok as long as it gets a lot of light.

This is a terrible picture of my purple sweet potato vines because I had to stick my arm out over the railing and point the camera at the plants. Not recommended. Anyways, I think they might do ok as houseplants too.

Any suggestions, wise readers? None of these are hardy through Chicago winters, so I figure I might as well give it a shot.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Tree of heaven

I have a love-hate relationship with the tree of heaven. I hate that it is so invasive but I have to admire its tenacity to thrive in my tree-deprived, park-poor, coal-fire polluted neighborhood of Chicago. It's a hard life being a tree here where most everything is paved or otherwise impervious, but tree of heaven succeeds.

The five largest trees near our apartment are all tree of heaven.

Is there even soil there?

Tree of heaven (scientific name Ailanthus altissima) is one of the most common trees in Pilsen. It is an extremely vigorous tree able to cope with the difficult conditions of city living such as soil compaction and air pollution. These characteristics make it invasive and capable of displacing native trees. It was introduced from China first to Europe and the to the United States over 200 years ago. It is hard to eradicate from natural areas due to its numerous wind-borne seeds and tendency to resprout from stumps and roots.

The wikipedia article about tree of heaven has a lot of information and can help you identify if you have tree of heaven in your neighborhood. If you live in Chicago, you probably do.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Today's farmers market

Since so many people seem to be finding my blog by Googling something like "pilsen farmers market" I figure I should keep writing about it!

The weather today was perfect and we really needed produce. There are also several artists and artisans who sell their creations. I took photos of some of the artist booths and lots of close up fruit photos today because it's just so fun to take photos of beautiful produce.

One of the artists is Diana Solis.

Here is some of her work.

One of the market vendors is Soy Organic. Their store is just west of Ashland on 19th St.

If this isn't a sign of fall I don't know what is.

I guess this is a sign of fall too.

Here's everything I brought home today:
Most of the produce was $1/pound. I spent a total of $15.25.

I ate one of the apples as soon as I got home and used the cucumber in gazpacho. The hot peppers are for making salsa, the tomatoes are for pasta salad, the sweet potates are for a casserole, and the squashes will probably become soup.

Jardin Mariposa

In August while looking for a yard sale I discovered Jardin Mariposa. It's a nice little green space at 1835 S. Carpenter. On my way to the farmer's market today I stopped by to take some photos for the blog.

The entrance to the garden on Carpenter

Mural in the garden

Colorful stage

Looks like a variety of black eyed susans
Honeybee- probably from the local hive!

According to the Openlands calendar, there was a garden workday on September 6 and I think there will be another in October. I'm planning to go so I can meet some other Pilsen gardeners.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

catching up on life

I'm doing a lot of work this weekend but also a lot of catching up on the blog (and reading in a hammock). If you've been following the blog, I just published a ton of back-posts that were waiting on photos. See, my four year old computer's 30 GB hard drive is full so every time I have to download photos from the camera it's a bit of an ordeal so I put it off for a long time. I hadn't downloaded pictures in over a month!

I've got more posts planned for next week so stay tuned, and enjoy the photos!

my balcony tomatoes

I have five tomato plants: one Roma, one Brandywine, and three Cherry. My cherry tomatoes have been the best by far- I've been eating them for weeks now and haven't harvested a single ripe Roma or Brandwine. My tomatoes all started somewhat late as transplants in early July.

Three of them are growing in a tub that I got for free when my lost luggage was returned to me (the tub is actually the reason I have any tomatoes at all- I hadn't considered it when I had nothing to plant them in).

Three tomatoes (July 11)

I planted the other two cherry tomatoes upside down in reused grocery bags (photo July 11).

I put one in a black bag and the other in white. I recommend white (absorbs less heat).

I planted basil seed all around the tomatoes and on top of the upside down ones because I love basil and I read that tomatoes and basil are good companion plants.

Here's the basil on top of the white-bag upside down plant.
The upside down plants didn't get very big (I don't think I gave them enough soil), but they have been producing a respectable amount of tomatoes.

The tomato plants in the tub got much bigger.

But the cherry tomatoes did the best. I love the way they look in bunches with varying stages of ripeness.

This is my biggest brandywine.
Although I didn't have this problem with the other two tomato plants right next to it, I've lost nearly every roma tomato to blossom end rot which is caused by calcium deficiency in the developing fruit.

I think I might manage to get a couple without blossom end rot. After doing some research online I trimmed a lot of the foliage and put crushed eggshells around the bottom of the plant.

I still have lots of flowers on my tomato plants.

I expect to have tomatoes until frost!

The cherry tomatoes seem to be sweetest when it is hot and sunny.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Losing the battle with powdery mildew

After several weeks of trying to rid my cucurbits (squash, zucchini, & cucumbers) of powdery mildew, I cut my losses and put basil in their place.

I have to admit my plants didn't have an easy time. My squash started late (from seed in May) on the north side of the building (we moved to a different apartment on the south side of the same building in August).
Here are my plants on June 28.
And again on July 13. The keen squash grower would note that you can already see powdery mildew spots on a few of the leaves, but I didn't notice.

The leaves started to yellow, so we moved it to the south side of the building on our kind neighbor's porch. There are also beans growing in the box (July 26).

But the plant finally had a female flower! I had hopes of squash!

But the leaves got worse...

...and worse (July 26).

But I had some beautiful squash flowers

And my little squash was growing (August 2).

In the meantime, I'd also planted some late zucchini and cucumbers that were in close proximity to the squash once I moved it to the porch (far right by the bike tire).

And I even had some female flowers on my zucchini! (note powdery mildew on stems)

Meanwhile, the squash was only making male flowers, probably because it was terribly stressed.

But the zucchini and cucumbers got powdery mildew too.
And so did my bee balm (Monarda) that I bought at the first Pilsen farmer's market.

You can see the dead and dying zucchini leaves (Aug 25).

This is the same squash from the earlier picture, but this is as big as it got. The vine leading to it is all dried up (August 25)

So with my one hope at a squash squashed and the other cucurbits dying...

I decided to yank them out (cucumbers shown)...

And transplant some basil in their place (September 3).

So ends my attempts at cucurbits this year. If I plant them again, I'll definitely use powedery mildew resistant varieties. This time I just used some seeds I had lying around from previous years when I lived in a place where I could garden in the ground. I think my squash might have survived if it were in a bigger container (I knew it was probably too small, but I wanted to try...), if I'd caught the powdery mildew earlier, and if it had more ground to put down extra roots off of the vine. Oh well. At least the basil is growing fabulously.