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.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Green roof at Chicago Botanic Garden

I spent all of today at the Chicago Botanic Garden for a research-related event. CBG just built a new LEED-certified building with a green roof! Here are a few photos.
Inside the new building

On the roof (above and below)

Native prickly pear cacti on the roof. I love these things. They have beautiful flowers in late spring but in the fall and winter they get all shriveled. Don't worry, it's part of their winter strategy.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Long overdue

This morning on my way to school I saw this long-overdue sight:

They're finally repairing the crumbling beams holding up the train tracks. I blogged about this particular underpass on Morgan last year. The underpasses at Halsted and Racine are equally as bad, and I think they're getting repaired too.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Predation in the city

I saw the remains of this yellow-shafted flicker on the UIC campus along Taylor Street yesterday. I wonder what kind of animal ate it?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Peak color

Just a few days ago I was skeptical that we'd get any good tree color this year, but the change from cold and yucky to warm and sunny seems to have brought out the best in the trees.

Just a few days ago I was skeptical that we'd get any good tree color this year, but the change from cold and yucky to warm and sunny seems to have brought out the best in the trees.

It looks like last year the colors came later in the fall, based on my photos from last year.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Earth Aid- what's your experience?

I recently heard about a program called Earth Aid where you sign up and track your utility bills, then get credits for reducing your energy use based on the previous year's use. The way they do this is by bundling and selling your reduction in emissions (based on your energy savings). This sounds like a fantastic idea and a great way to incentivize energy savings.

But... I'm a bit wary of signing up because I can't find any reviews yet of actual users. I read the fine print ("individual member agreement"). The individual member agreement states that it lasts three years and then automatically renews (unless you request otherwise).

This is the part that I'm especially wary of (emphasis mine):
"I understand that the Program is supported in part by advertising revenue and that
Earth Aid may use my Member Information to (a) improve the Earth Aid Program; (b) deliver targeted banner or other advertisements on the Earth Aid website; and (c)
send me advertisements for third-party products via email or other mechanisms."
I really, really do not want to sign up for this if I don't have a way to opt-out of unwanted emails or "other mechanisms" (which sounds to me like it could be snail mail)... for 3 years.

Also, I rent my apartment and my landlord pays the water bill. I never even see it. I'm not sure if people who don't have all three utilities (electric, gas, and water) in their name are eligible.

Lastly, can I even participate in Chicago yet? Earth Aid Enterprises is based in DC and it's the only city mentioned so far. I didn't actually try to sign up yet (because of my concern stated above) so I'm not sure if it would let me.

So, I'm eager to hear from you if you are a member of Earth Aid.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Recycle your E-Waste at UIC!

UIC is having an electronic waste collection FREE and open to the public on Saturday, September 19. It will be in the parking lot near Halsted & Polk, just off 290 and 90/94.

They will take TVs, computers (all components), printers, phones, and more. The complete list of items is here. These things should definitely not go in the garbage, so if you've got them sitting around now is your chance.

If you have a small or medium-sized business with E-waste, you can bring it on Friday, Sept. 18. Just register in advance so they know what to expect- it's free! Schools can bring things too!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Wii power

We've had a Wii for more than a year now, and I've loathed that little yellow light that is always on. The Wii stays warm even when it's "off" and we are just about to rearrange our tv, stereo, etc so I ordered us a power strip that allows you to switch off each plug independently.* I want to cut the Wii power off at the source.

While doing some power strip research, I read about the Wii just to check if anyone had problems as a result of turning the power source on and off. Lo and behold, there is a way to turn your Wii to a lower power "off" (I should really call it standby) setting! On standby yellow, the Wii uses about 10 watts of power. If you hold the power button down for several seconds, it first thinks you're going to turn it on ("green") but then if you keep holding it goes to "red." On Red mode it uses about 1 watt. That's a huge difference! I'm kicking myself for not looking this up earlier.

Apparently, the default is to go to standby "yellow" rather than "red" when you have the Connect 24 feature on which allows your Miis to travel to friends' systems, checks the news, and is generally always connected to the internet (hence "connect 24"). You can read more about the different settings here to find the best option for you.

* In my exerience, it is the norm in many other countries for power strips to have independent switches for each outlet. Many countries also have switches on the wall outlets themselves, which is much easier than unplugging things all the time if you don't need them on. I'm not sure why we don't do this here. Anyways, here is another less expensive power strip with several independent outlet switches.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Request trees on Chicago 311

Did you know that you can request trees to be planted at your address? Go to Chicago 311 and search for trees, or scroll down to "Tree Planting" in the dropdown menu.

You can also report graffiti, missing or damaged street signs, request a lead inspection, and a whole slew of other things. Pothole in your alley? Complaint about a cab? Worried about your elderly neighbor during extreme weather? Chicago 311 has an impressive list of things to report or request.

I've requested that a tree be planted in front of our building. The neighborhood could really use some more trees. It will take you about 2 minutes to request a tree. What are you waiting for?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Air Conditioner Cycling program

I was going to sign us up for ComEd's Central AC Cycling program, but it turns out you have to own, not rent. That's too bad. Basically signing up for the program would allow ComEd to turn off your AC for certain intervals of time when electricity demand is very high. You get a $5 or $10 credit during the summer months for participation. Reducing demand for electricity during peak usage times like that reduces the need for utilities to power up extra generators (likely to be some on the dirtiest).

Maybe soon I'll blog more about ComEd's Real Time Pricing option. We're not signed up yet because I'm still reading about it but I think it's a great idea.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Seen in Pilsen

I don't get it. It's a sign right next to the abandoned railroad tracks that cross 18th St. It says:

Watch the sky
Except for guide dogs
Min $25.00 fine
Code sec 13-151-23

I didn't forget about my blog

It's been far too long since I've posted, but hey, life happens. I'm planning to resume, so I've got to get this post out of the way. I'm not going to apologize for not blogging because I don't think anyone reads this blog anyways. I'm starting again because I've thought of a few things I want to blog about and I might actually find the time to do it. Fingers crossed.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

great ideas in urban gardening

Fellow Chicago gardener/blogger Mr. Brown Thumb posted some great photos of a planter/table designed to make the best use of a small outdoor space such as a balcony. Go check it out here!

Friday, January 9, 2009

CTA bus route changes

The new year brought changes to some bus routes, including two that I frequent as a car-free Chicagoan. As far as I'm concerned, one changed for the worse and one for the better.

The Bad:
The Roosevelt bus (#12) no longer goes all the way to Museum Campus. The #146 is now the only bus serving Museum Campus. As someone who frequents the Field Museum (I work there sometimes), this is disappointing. I must admit that I noticed the vast majority of passengers got off at the Roosevelt train station and many times I was the only person on the bus between Michigan Avenue and Museum Campus (or vice versa), but I also tended to travel at odd times (middle of the day, after 8 pm). It seems a shame to make the Museum Campus less accessible by public transportation. Now to get 2.5 miles to the museums, I have to take 2 from school (UIC) and 3 from home instead of 1 bus from school or 2 from home... or do I?

The Good:
The 18th Street bus (#18) now goes north on Halsted and across Roosevelt to the Red/Orange/Green line station instead of south on Roosvelt and across Cermak to the Red line station. At first I wasn't sure about this change, but Matt pointed out that now we can easily do our grocery shopping on the bus! We can take the #18 directly to the Dominicks and Whole Foods at Roosevelt & Canal. This bus is far and away the most convenient to our apartment.

Additionally, I can take the bus to UIC on days when it is too snowy/icy/cold/windy for me to want to bike. Before this route change, it was more worthwhile for me to either walk or bike than wait around to change buses. I took the bus* to and from school today and I have to say that I was quite pleased.

Finally, this #18 will now drop me off as close to Museum Campus as the #12 will. On nice days I'll gladly walk the last few blocks to the museum (though it's a bit of a hike to the planetarium). If it's too crummy to walk, I can pick up the #146 to take me the rest of the way.

Now they just need to change the #18 schedule so it runs later in the evening (or even all day, every day!) instead of just rush hour and weekends.

*Last year I would've biked on a day like today, but with the snow plowing budget cuts I didn't want to deal with the slushy streets on my bike.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy 2009!

Happy New Year!

2009 is sure to be a year of change as Obama steps into office and the financial crisis takes it toll. I hope that many of the changes result in better environmental policy and improved quality of life for Americans and the rest of the world's people.