Friday, June 28, 2013

Toward A Permaculture Window Box

We've been working on a way to have window boxes that don't require replanting each spring. Reflecting my own evolution in how we use planting space, over the years we've shifted from filling our very public, street-level window boxes with masses of colorful annuals to what you see above: 99-cent seed geraniums for early color surrounded by every herb that will grow in the strong south sun.

An easy proposition, that: there is mint, borage, sage, cilantro, six kinds of basil, rosemary, and thyme. MIA: oregano and many other less common herbs, washed out by our record rains (2013's 27.54 inches of rain makes this Chicago's wettest year to date on record--Tom Skilling).

It didn't take much effort to get the permaculture windowbox idea started. We took the gone-to-seed, herb-filled window boxes from last summer, helped them drop their seeds into the box in mid-October, and overwintered them outside. Uncovered for the spring rains, it wasn't long before we saw all kinds of sprouting--from thyme and basil to marigolds (lower pic, at left) started from seed last year.

Below are the self-seeded marigolds--French-Sparky variety from Bountiful Gardens--in mid June, healthy and bushy, along with basil (the self-seeded plus new plants we started this spring) and nasturtium, the latter a gift from a friendly neighbor.
Somehow the borage didn't re-seed, so we restarted it from seed in early 2013. And there it is, blooming at left below.

I also sprinkled on some seeds gifted me by a friend from a packet of Victorian perennial wildflower mix. Plenty of diversity yet to come, this year and in future if we let them go to seed.

Patience is a virtue in the case of these window boxes: there's no early spring splash. Instead you have a nice slow build to this in late June:
Passersby regularly sample our herbs, and that makes me happy. My favorite group was a medical student walking with his mother-father physicians and fiancee. I watched them from afar for 20 minutes, identifying everything in each box. Joining them, I found their tour had resulted in a single unidentified variety: stevia, which I urged them to try.

Beyond sweet!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Your Moment of Zen

p.s. watch 'til the end.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013


Cuke+Gin (hey now) 
and Avocado

Any time Bruce begins a new food experiment we're happy to play guinea pig, and never more so than with this summer's paleta production. With our weather still swinging wildly among hot, cool, and typical, the pops wait in abeyance in our freezer for sultry afternoons. The very best part about Bruce's paletas, aside from their singing flavors, is that they're not overly sweet.

 From Wiki:
A paleta is a Latin American ice pop usually made from fresh fruit. The name comes from palo, or "stick," and the diminutive ending -eta, referencing the little flat stick frozen into each item; the stores, carts, and kiosks where they are sold are known as paleterĂ­as, and the sellers are called Paleteros...Paleta flavors can be divided in two categories: cream-based and water-based.

 Mango coconut, Pineapple, and Coconut

A $14 pop mold and a couple books have yielded some real magic here in the neighborhood. 


These are the kind of emails I've been getting from Bruce this summer:
Just put the pecan/carmel ones in the freezer. Making blueberry/cardamom pops tomorrow morning. Am getting a little inventory ahead of our block party this Sunday afternoon. Neighbor Rey agrees that me playing the part of Popsicle Man would be a good idea.
To which we respond: Bruce, you are already the popsicle man!

Is it too obvious when we walk over with gifts like organic coconut milk and offers to fresh-squeeze any juice he's got in mind? Summer brings its own priorities.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Spark

H2 emailed this clip to me.  Thirty seconds into the trailer, with the appearance of Marcin Jacubowski and his TED talk schtick, I was ready to dismiss the whole thing out of hand. Then the story took a turn toward the real. I might actually watch the movie, if it ever gets funded.  ;o)

The Spark | A Groundbreaking Documentary [EXTENDED Trailer] from The Spark Doc on Vimeo.
THE SPARK is a documentary about a genius technologist and a rebel educator, two pioneers from opposite spectrums with one goal in common: Build a sustainable community. Can two men driven by determination overcome global challenges to change the world?

The world is in tough times. Families are separated and hurting- millions are looking for a change, a way out. As a response to the recent global collapse, THE SPARK looks at the biggest challenges of our time - economic, social, and environmental degradation of our civilization - and the cutting-edge attempts to rebuild and combat these erosions.

What does it truly take to fix the world’s problems? What must you sacrifice? What must you endure? The crusaders we follow in the film are by necessity coming from outside a broken system, and yet it is the outsider status that hinders their ability to succeed. Is it possible to fix what's broken? And what is it that drives people to try, despite all of the obstacles?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Produce Choices With and Without Bees

Our bees didn't make it through winter and we didn't bring in fresh ones. I feel guilty about that and I miss their companionship when I'm working on the roof, but we have our reasons.

Noam our emminently capable beekeeper couldn't manage it this summer and neither could best back-up Robin. Looking at pix like these is sobering.

Friday, June 14, 2013


A neighbors maple tree was dying and was taken down by the City about a month ago. I grabbed several of the larger pieces and wheeled them into my sideyard.

(Click on any picture for larger image.)


Today I pulled out my safety gear, borrowed Art's Stihl 038 (a beast of a chainsaw), set up my sawbuck on the sidewalk and got to work.


After I cut everything to length with the chainsaw, the wood stove can only take 15" long pieces, it was time for lunch.

In order to prevent creosote build-up in the chimney, the wood needs to be split, stacked and dried for about a year before it can be burned. 

The larger pieces were still "wet" and took wedges to split.

Most of the smaller logs split with a stroke or two of the 8lb splitting maul.

My (empty) storage area.  Last year I had space in the yard to build a beehive woodpile. Now this is the only place I have to store the wood.

I started at 10am, finished at 8pm. My back is a little sore and I picked up a couple of blisters.  I'm self medicating with a cocktail -- gin, lemon, club soda, and lavender (from my garden) simple syrup.

The world is a messed up place--this Wendell Berry piece gives you some idea where I'm coming from.  In trying to make some sense of it all, I get caught up in all kinds of online debates/noise and, not to sound too romantic about it, this work balances some of that out. Whether I'd want to do this every day--as I have in the past--is another thing.  For now, once a year is perfect.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Chicago Rooftop Growing: 2013 Wettest Year Ever, Greens Happy

Wettest year to date in Chicago as of June 6.
Makes greens grow like magic. Even though they're sub-irrigated, their roots are shallow enough to take in all that lovely rainwater. We're eating giant fresh bowls every day dressed with dijon, olive oil, and lemon. Is this why we're so happy and healthy?
I should be seeding more greens. In a traditional Chicago summer you'd never plant now because the heat would cause greens to bolt. But because of our enormous weather swings, we have no real idea what the summer temperatures will be like. Worth the risk...

Saturday, June 1, 2013

First Rooftop Tomatoes Emerge: Stupice

 May 31, 2013
If you're a regular reader you know the tomato Stupice is not only a reliable early fruiter in Chicago, but also a trouper that's hung in (quite literally) and produced well through one of our worst tomato summers. Remarkably, it performed just as nicely in 2009, one of the coolest and dampest summers in recent memory.

As always, thanks to Russ, one of our original GRGers, who gave us the seeds for this early and weather-flexible tomat. I wouldn't be without it. Bruce and we started these from seed and I planted on the roof May 7, 2013, in a 5-gal SIP.

(Solanum lycopersicum) One of four tomato varieties sent to the U.S. from the former Czechoslovakia by Milan Sodomka. Compact plants with potato leaf foliage loaded with clusters of 2” fruits. Quite early, great flavor. Heavy yields all season. Produces well in northern climates. Indeterminate, 55-70 days from transplant.

Stupice growing on our roof in 2012, the hottest overall summer on record in Chi.