Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Touring the Roof Garden at Chicago's Schwab Rehab Hospital

Sinai Health System here in Chicago includes both Mount Sinai Hospital and Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital. Here's a quick take of how Schwab's 10,000 square foot roof garden serves patients:
Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital's rooftop healing garden is an escape from the stress of the institutional environment, designed to meet the unique needs of rehabilitation patients. Therapists were active in the design process to ensure that the healing garden offered space for therapeutic activities; included design elements for sensory therapy; and was an inviting place for patients, families, and staff to relax during leisure time...evidence from other settings demonstrates that viewing or spending time in pleasant outdoor environments can reduce pain, anxiety, emotional distress, and complications.
Hooray for horticultural therapy (we're lucky to get ours closer to home).
If you've ever spent any time in a rehab place, you'll quickly grasp the benefits of this resource. From my own experience visiting my mother in a series of such care facilities, I'm certain these outdoor spaces are as vital to visitors as they are to residents. The freedom of patients and their guests to move out of the institutional setting and into fresh air is life-giving.
We enjoyed our visit last week to this peaceful space, thanks to our good friend Rob, who welcomed us during his lunch hour at Sinai and walked us over to the roof garden.
We strolled the gently curving banks of the stream...

...alive with thrashing koi.

Little Green Girl and a matching pink anemone.

We sat in the shade and had our picnic: rooftop tomato and basil salad, tomatillos, and cucumber cream cheese sammos made with Debbie's crisp cool homegrown Persian cukes.

More on Horticultural Therapy from Brenda Koverman, director of inpatient therapy, and an overview of the garden's structural particulars here
Schwab’s Brenda Koverman reports that horticultural therapy will soon be a year-round program. “Speech and language pathologists are using the environmental setting to work on orientation and language as the patients maneuver through the park and garden. The space is also being used for memory skills, problem-solving, and pathfinding. Plus, simply working in the garden helps to develop standing balance and build hand strength.
Sinai's Mission. To improve the health of the individuals and communities we serve.
Sinai's Vision. To be the national model for the delivery of urban health care.

Both so clearly apparent up on this roof, where we saw a therapist working with a resident on a flower arrangement. "It's beautiful!" we called out. The patient smiled.

Mission accomplished, I'd say.

(Thanks to Debbie for sharing her photos)

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Scoop in the Coop: Nesting Box Issues

The final part of the video that H2 shot, it shows how a chicken wanting to lay an egg approaches a full nesting box.

My eight Rhode Island Reds have been laying for 7 weeks now.  I'm happy with the number and size of their eggs; I'd also encourage anyone thinking about raising backyard chickens to seriously consider the breed.  They've been a wonder, at times, to behold.  I'm just trying to get a handle on the ba-gawking.


Every gardener needs equanimity, and this photo shows the easy part of that.
Equanimity is operating from the state of supreme watchfulness without an iota of attachment or aversion...

More fresh eggs please, Bruce?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Scoop in the Coop: Behavior Modification

This is the second part of H2's video showing what my chickens go through when they lay an egg. Part of that daily routine involves plenty of loud ba-gawking, something that I'm trying to discourage given how close my neighbors are to the coop.  To make matters worse it goes on for 2-3 hours while all the chickens go through the nesting/laying cycle.  Every day.

Two weeks after starting spraying them with water immediately after they make the noise, I think they've toned it down a bit.

None of the online chicken forums, nor the guidebooks that I've consulted, really address how loud chickens can be. In particular, Damerow's "Guide to Raising Chickens" makes no mention of my breed, Rhode Island Reds, being particularly noisy. The online conversation at places like Backyard Chickens isn't much better. The consensus is that placating neighbors with eggs is the answer. Another unsupported assertion is that the hens are doing a "happy" egg laying dance. Bull. They make the noise when they're alarmed or upset, as well as when they're nowhere near laying an egg.

Monday, August 22, 2011

August 2011 Rooftop Tomato Update

Lower left, the Wapsipinicon peach (a beauty that's lightly fuzzed like a peach with a rose blush) and at lower right the indispensable Matina, flavorful, reliable. The small yellow cherry tomato is brilliantly sweet, and has been a steady producer. Plus, the first of the purple beans, Royalty Purple.

Most of our tomatoes have been on the small side, plenty for daily eating, fine flavor, and oh how we savor them.
Since we posted Aug 4 about the sad state of the tomatoes, I visited my brother's in-ground organic garden just outside the city. While he's got a harvest, it's not as robust as usual and the lower third of his plants are fried in the same way ours are. And just like ours, the top of the plants show good recovery, presumably due to the last several weeks of moderate summer weather.

So there are some tomatoes. Just not the piles a greedy gardener hopes for.
This was illuminating (via Washington State University extension):

Optimum fruit set occurs within a very narrow night temperature range of between 60° F and 70° F. When tomato plants experience night temperatures lower than 55° F or above 75° F, interference with the growth of pollen tubes prevents normal fertilization. The pollen may even become sterile, thus causing the blossoms to drop. High daytime temperatures, rain, or prolonged humid conditions also hamper good fruit set.
I think we had all that in Chicago this summer.


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Scoop in the Coop: In Which Bruce Discusses Chicken Anatomy

H2 came over and shot some video of my chickens as they were hanging around the coop and nesting boxes prior to laying their eggs.

Gail Damerow's "Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens" taught me how the dual purpose egg/crap canal works. 

Over the course of a couple hours every morning, the chickens make a series of loud ba-gawking noises prior to laying an egg. In some cases this is because their preferred nesting box is already occupied and they refuse to use one of the other two boxes. Other times all the boxes are full and they don't want to double up, though they will eventually. While they work up the "courage" to move into an already occupied nest, they'll walk around the coop loudly ba-gawking.  It's really loud.  Really loud.

In the next part of this video you'll see how I'm trying to get them to stop making so much noise.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Undaunted by Extreme Heat: Tomtillos, Eggplant, Peppers, Melon (plus Yard-Long Beans)

It would be an understatement to say the roof garden was tested by the weather this summer, especially the weeklong string of 100+ degree F days, bringing temps to near 120 degrees F up on the roof. But the tomatillos thrived, getting big and fat (note coin for scale).

I now think the heat drove our tomatoes to near extinction, but we'll post separately on that. 

Today we're featuring roof-grown food in SIPs that thrived in 2011's extreme Chicago weather

By the way, I learned something about why our tomatillos are so sweet from this site.
It's a key ingredient of Mexican salsa verde when harvested immature. When ripe, it turns from pale green to golden and the flavor is sweeter. 
Aha! Harvested immature for salsa. Too late for that and no wonder they're sweet enough for our raw fruit in the morning. Tomatillos grew like crazy in an earthbox and are now turning yellow. Time to harvest them all.

Eggplant have been producing steadily all summer, these pingtung long and Listada among them, apparently unfazed by the extraordinary heat.

Of the three kinds, I'll admit a preference for the long ones based on their incredible ease of preparation: slice lengthwise, saute in coconut oil two minutes a side over medium-high heat, and enjoy. Or chop and add herbs. Or miso. Or etc.

I guess it's no secret peppers love heat. Some of our sweet peppers bear a circular brown spot at their tips, testament to the large hail that came over the July 4 weekend.

 Jimmy Nardello, hugely prolific

Carmen, excellent raw
or stuffed (last year w/refried beans and cheese)

Rooster Spur,
hot as the dickens
Little Bells, torn from the mother plant
by extreme wind

We're this/close to chilling and putting a knife to these...
This little icebox watermelon
is growing through its climbing grid

L to R: Rainbow sherbet, Golden midget, and not sure

Japanese icebox watermelon,
seeds from Debbie and Little Green Girl in a seed swap

Yard-long beans  

A fun variety we received via Debbie and Little Green Girl in our seed swap way back in February when it was ten below. These babies steam up nice and tender. They're flavorful...and a hoot to watch grow.

The jasmine, too, loves its SIP and is climbing our arch, scenting the roof garden beautifully.


Monday, August 15, 2011

Debbie's Garden Tour: Melons

The Melon Garden

Japanese Hime Kansen Melon

Tigger Melon

Japanese New Melon

Korean Ginkau Melon

Friday, August 12, 2011

Food from Friends and the Roof

Bruce's Rhode Island Reds produce my favorite protein resource, with rich, deeply colored yolks. We're lucky to have the hens just down the block. First egg I cracked from the latest dozen was a double yolker.
 Debbie sent along some lovely pungent garlic from her garden.

Along with the non-stop Jimmy Nardello peppers from the roof...anyone else spot a killer omelet on the horizon?

"Most often double yolk eggs are laid by young hens of productive egg laying breeds"

If you're feeling like a little double-yolk entertainment, check out this vid featuring English cake-maker Charlotte Matthews, who cracked 29 double-yolked eggs from a box of 30. Sorry for the spoiler...

A Children's Garden

Last month I attended the AHS (American Horticulture Society) Children and Youth Symposium in Lansing Michigan. Attendees came from across the nation and as far as India. There were teachers, garden educators, Master Gardeners, horticulturist, scientist and more. We came from very different educational backgrounds but together we were like-minded people passionate about teaching and sharing our knowledge about plants and gardening to children and youth. During the 4-day symposium we enjoyed some interesting workshops, shared resources, networked, and took part in 3 field trips to some children’s gardens: Michigan 4-H Children’s Garden, Dow Children’s Garden and the Lena Meijer Children’s Garden.

I was inspired by the people I met, what I learned, and the garden visits. Here’s a recap of my favorites:

Michigan 4-H Children's Garden has over 56 individual garden themes built upon a mere half acre of land-- quite small in contrast to newer gardens designed for children but every inch is packed with creativity, inspiration, interactivity and fun. This seems to be one of the best ways to engage kids to learn about plants and gardening.

What’s 4-H stand for? The H’s stand for Head, Heart, Hands and Health... the whole person. It’s the largest out of school program in the nation and the clover logo and motto is to “Make The Best Better.” Their philosophy is “Learning by Doing.”

Jane Taylor the original curator of the 4-H Michigan Children's garden and horticulturist designed the garden in 1993 based on ideas and feedback from children. Today Dr. Norm Lownds the curator, and Jessica Wright, the education coordinator, provide educational programs to over 10,000 people each year including schools and families.

Thank you Jane Taylor (left) for blazing the trail. You have been inspiring and encouraged us to share our love of the garden with children.

Geocaching is a high-tech treasure hunt game. Players are given GPS trackers to help locate a cache/small box loaded with treasures within the garden. Only one rule: if you take something, you must leave something, and then you are required to write something about your visit in the log book. Geocaching apps are now available for select smart phone, I’ll have to check this out one day and leave some seeds in a cache.

One of the highlights of the garden was experiencing some unusual plants. Many of us were in awe and wonderment over a plant that smelled EXACTLY like peanut butter. The Melianthus “Honey Bush” plant may be consumed as a tea and our tour guide noted that the peanut butter essence has also been utilized in food products.

This beautiful plant, a Senna didymobotrya, smelled just like the buttered popcorn you get at the movies. I was tempted to taste it, but didn’t. I had some serious doubts that it wouldn't have tasted as good as it smelled.

Here’s an eyeball plant or an Spilanthes oleracea, placing the flower on your tongue can numb it. It's also been prescribed by herbalist for toothaches.

Do plants really pass gas? Guess this one does, and it’s highly flammable. Here’s proof that you shouldn’t hold a flame to it either.

If there’s one non-edible plant that I’ve probably take for granted, its gotta be a cotton plant. Seeing how each pod (top) can only produce a small amount of cotton (bottom) I began to ponder how many plants and pods would be needed to produce a medium size T-shirt. Anyone know?

I loved the little tea garden area where cups and saucers were surrounded by various types of herbs.

Across from the tea garden was the peanut butter and jelly sandwich planter-- peanuts plants on top with strawberries in the middle.

Here’s the very popular dance chime. Check out the video of how it works.

Jessica Wright (left) the education coordinator and teacher extraordinaire at the 4-H Children's Garden and Keri, a happy symposium attendee. Note: The bag on Keri's head was the result of an ice-breaker facilitated by Jessica, not a bad hair day.

Welcome to the Curiosity Classroom which is part of the 4- H Garden program. Dr. Norm Lownds is the mastermind behind the QR codes in the children's garden. He is also known as Dr. Norm, a super hero on kidscom.com which is a virtual world for kids that integrates plant science education, gardening, cooking, social networking and more for kids. He's helped develop the Kidscom.com site and holds on-line learning lab discussion (chats) on various topics. His commitment, energy and passion for teaching children is extremely creative.

The Butterfly Garden Workshop

Nancy Sale is a butterfly expert and generously shared her knowledge and expertise with us at one of many symposium workshops. We were shown beautiful caterpillars and cocoon, we learned about plants that attract butterflies, habitats, and grant resources to fund butterfly garden projects. I learned a great deal from the class and hope to grow some additional butterfly plants and certify my Monarch Butterfly Waystation next summer.

Here's Nancy looking for caterpillars on kolrabi.

I believe this is a Swallowtail queen. Look closely and you'll see a triple set of antennas.

This is a Monarch butterfly cocoon, it seems to resemble a nugget of jade and the gold detail like fine jewelry.

The Michigan Herb Association

On Friday night the Michigan Herb Association prepared and served us wonderful appetizers with herbs freshly picked from the 4-H Children’s garden. Beautifully prepared and presented, I enjoyed every morsel and also learned how to make cheese rosettes with a Girolle machine.

Cherry tomatoes, basil and marinated cheese on mini skewers. Beautiful!

Here are a few members of the Michigan Herb Association volunteers that made us the incredible appetizers. Thank you again ladies, the appetizers were amazing!

During the Friday cocktail hour a nice lady demonstrated how to uses a Girollo, a machine that makes beautiful cheese rosettes from Raclette, a handmade Swiss cheese. The Racette cheese from Black Star Farms in Sutton Bay Michigan was nothing like I had ever tasted... rich, creamy, smooth, velvety soft and wonderful served on top of fresh cut juicy apples slices!

The Dow Children's Garden

Coolest scarecrow I've ever seen!

Melissa Butkiewicz is a horticulturist at Dow Children's garden and also runs the Growin' Gardeners program, an award winning 10 week gardening program for families wanting to learn how to garden and grow their own food. The program currently has 84 garden plots and 270 participants: everyone learns the basics of plant growth, weed and insect control and the use of gardening tools.

Meet some mini Master Gardeners who have been involved with the Growin' Gardeners program for many years; they've enjoyed selecting different vegetables and herbs and growing them in their 4' X 4' garden bed.

Here are some of the 84 Growin' garden beds tended by over 270 gardeners, as a part of the program each family makes their own scarecrow.

The symposium came to a close after 4 days. Jane Taylor was the closing keynote speaker and was funny, spirited and compassionate. I think many of us felt fortunate to hear firsthand about her life's work with the 4-H Children's garden and to learn more about the children's nature movement that was started by Liberty Baily back in 1909. His book "The Nature-Study Idea" is now available and downloadable for free at google books.

Fern Culhane and Penny Colgan-Davis, my dorm buddies at the symposium, also blogged about Jane's work and the founders of the nature movement at pennyandferngardeningwithkids.blogspot.com.

I believe this planter summed up the purpose of our symposium and what we shared.