Taking a day off.

Shhhh.  Don’t tell anybody, but I’ve been playing a little hookie.




I hope you can tell, but this was a nice sized cat fish.  I caught two this size one after the other.  The rest of the day their grandbabies were the only ones willing to sacrafic their lives for our enjoyment.

After I got back from fishing, I checked on the garden and saw the peas are starting to flower.  Here’s a picture I took yesterday.


Granny:  See the X…(playing theme from the Twilight Zone)

Everything’s doing pretty good in the “hoop house.”  I’ll post about it this weekend. 

After watering the garden, a task I felt compelled to do, I was 30 minutes late for the Southeast Gardeners Meeting.  When I walked in they were in the middle of a discussion.  Of course they were.  It’s a meeting.  Anyway, Dina, the moderator/leader, said they were going around the room asking what each person needed for their gardens and what they had to offer.  I had a senior moment.  Duh.  My genius answer was enthusiasm for gardening.  I’m sure they were looking for something more tangible, but it was the best I could come up with.

Greg Bratton and his friend Walter gave a summary of what they learned at their workshop on hoop houses at Growing Power in Milwaukee.  Sounds like one of the most important things they learned is not to put the plastic on on a windy day because they were almost airborne when a strong wind came along. 

They also talked about the circulating system that’s at Growing Power which has a tank that’s used to raise Talapia and Lake Perch.  The water is circulated in a continuous loop fom the fish tank up to plants that are watered with the fish water which is a natural fertilizer.  The video gives you a synopsis of what Growing Power is all about.

Will Allen is the founder of Growing Power.  Mr. Allen won a $500,000 Genius Grant from the MacAuthur Foundation for, among other things, his creative pursuits.  Hey, anybody want to be a creative farmer? 

Gregory was really impressed with the fish tank setup and said they ran into a guy that has developed an in-home version that will allow you to raise fish meat and vegetable plants for a fraction of the cost of a commercial version.

We also had at the meeting Sarah Carlson.  Sarah is a college student filming a documentary.  It’s called The Whole Health Project.


The current system of healthcare in the US is in crisis, and fails to relieve many of the contemporary illnesses plaguing people. This leaves many dependent on food and healthcare systems that fail to meet their needs.  In search of relief and armed with the guidance of peers, online resources, and the historical legacy of America’s relationship to the land, many  seek a healing path that leads us to a more direct relationship between ourselves and the food we consume, the environment we live in, and the communities we are a part of.”

Sarah was also at the Green Summit and got a lot of footage for her film.

Lastly, what meeting is complete without parting gifts?  One of the gardeners (please forgive me, I’m terrible with names) brought some wood ash to share with us and, of course, free seeds.

Happy Gardening!!!





10th Ward Green Summit

This post was all prepared for publishing Sunday, but…what can I say.  I forgot to post it. So, let’s pretend it’s Sunday, May 10.

Yesterday I attended the 10th Ward Green Summit:  “Second annual event offering local residents information on green, eco-friendly and healthy initiatives designed to enhance the community’s quality of life and promote economic development.”

Alderman John A. Pope was there.100_0104


Neil Bosanko from the South Chicago Chamber of Commerce was there.100_0106


The young lady on the left was the keynote speaker,  Naomi Davis from Blacks In Green.100_0111

Here they’re getting ready to cut the ribbon on “Steel Millie,”  a 25 cents per ride trolly  that provides transportation through a four-mile area with the goal being “to keep retail dollars in the community by bringing shoppers to the shopping district.” 

It was nice.  They had live entertainment.100_0116

They had a live singer too (sorry, I didn’t get her picture, but I thought she was pretty good),  workshops, tours on the trolly, a health fair, a bike tour, arts and crafts with recyclables, corn husk doll making, and much, much more.

Freebies galore:  The representatives from the Citizen’s Utility Board gave away energy efficient fluorescent bulbs and surge protectors, a rep from Jackson Hewitt gave away coffee thermoses, free pine tree saplings were given out, resuable shopping bags, just to name a few.  They even fed us lunch.

I was there because Gregory Bratton asked me to help out Dinah Rameriz, the Coalition Coordinator from Healthy South Chicago.  

Here’s Stephanie, the other volunteer and Dinah.100_0113

What Dinah did was made salsa and gave away samples.  One of the focuses of Healthy South Chicago is making healthy food choices, and the salsa is made with nopales which lowers blood sugar and blood pressure. 

The salsa was really, really good.  So good, in fact, that Dinah got invited to appear on Cookin’ wit’ Tittle by LaDonna Tittle.  Cookin’ wit’ Tittle can be seen on CAN TV every Thursday at 7 p.m. and Friday at 2 p.m. 

Here’s Dinah and LaDonna Tittle talking about the salsa.100_0118

Well, Dinah was saying that the salsa was good and everybody says she should bottle it.  Maybe this is step one.

Happy Gardening Green Healthy Living!!!

Hoop House Webinar

Yesterday I attended a webinar on hoop house construction that was presented by the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. There were 600 on-line participants with 450 still tuned in at the end of the webinar.  Tammy Hinman and Andy Pressman were the speakers.

The focus of the webinar was extending the growing season for farmers to give them a head start on getting their produce to market, but the principles can be applied to even backyard gardeners. The full webinar will be available in a few days on their website, but I’ll hit the highlights.

  • Hoop houses are used to give you an earlier start on the growing season, a longer harvest, and can even be used to grow through the winter.
  • Yields are typically larger in a hoop house.
  • You can have heat gains of 4 to 12 degrees.
  • Hoop houses are generally not heated.
  • A width to length ratio of 1 to 2 will achieve highest solar gain.’
  • A narrow tunnel tends to lose less heat.
  • Taller tunnels have better ventilation.
  • Two days earlier in the ground equals one day earlier harvest.
  • Beneficial insects aren’t prone to go into the houses, so you should introduce them.
  • Shade cloth can lower temperature.
  • Using a low tunnel within a high tunnel can make a difference equal to two zones south
  • For winter success you should start your crops while the days are still long.

Types of   Hoop Houses

  • Low tunnel: inexpensive, easy to install but labor intensive
  • High tunnel: high enough to stand up in.   Can be semi-permanent, permanent, movable.

There are two basic shapes: quantic (rounded roof, sloped sides) or gothic (high pointed peak).

Construction/Site Selection:

  • Foundation needs to be firm.
  • Soil should be well drained.
  • You should have full sun and protection from winter elements.
  • Orientation is specific to location, but north of 40 degrees latitude should be oriented east to west.
  • Construction begins with ground posts. 
  • Frame can be made from wood, pvc, electric conduit, galvanized steel.
  • Pulins run horizontal and helps stabilize the structure.
  • Baseboard sits on ground and it’s where the plastic is attached.
  • Hip boards run along sides a few feet off ground.
  • End walls are constructed separately.


  • Greenhouse poly film is a better choice.
  • 4ml or 5 ml plastics can be used.
  • Make sure plastic is applied tight enough to not cause flapping.
  • Roll up sides, which allow access, are made using the hip board.

Soil Management:

  • Avoid soil salinazation – (I was sleeping a little on this one. I think it has to do with the condensation causing salt buildup in the soil).
  • Add nutrients (compost at a ratio of 5 gallons for every 40 sq ft).

Cropping Systems:

  • Typical crops are lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, specialty flowers.
  • You can do succession planting.  For example, lettuce and greens then tomatoes and melons followed by strawberries in the fall.
  • Your bed systems can be raised beds, permanent beds or annual beds.
  • Containers such as grow bags and buckets can be used for quick turnaround.

Here are a few more highlights:

  • Plastic can be used for weed management and warming the soil.
  • Drip irrigation can be used and is especially good for longer season crops.
  • For weed management, hand weed or mulch, although hay is not recommended as a mulch.
  • There is usually a lower incidence of disease, and proper air ventilation is important. One form of management is to open structure in winter to allow spores to be killed.
  • Common pests are aphids, mites and white fly. They recommend using biorational controls.

If you have question or want more info, you can visit the site (there are 300 publications available for download) or contact the speakers:


or call their help line @ 1 (800) ASK-NCAT

After the presentation, questions were fielded. Here’s a condensed version of the questions and answers:

Q: In a high elevation with a three-month growing season, should a high tunnel be considered?
A: Yes, because in the west you may have inclement weather, but the sun shines 300 days a year which will help with the solar gain which will help the warm season crops.

Q: Any info on Elliot Coleman’s quick hoops concepts?
Answer: Elliot is a Maine grower and author. He wrote The Winter Harvest. He pioneered the use of low tunnels.  He uses low tunnels in high tunnels.  He also wrote The New Organic Grower, the Four Season Harvest.

A couple web resources: Hightunnels.org,   Hoophouses.comHaygrove and  American Society for Plasticulture.

Q: Any info on kits and design sources?
A: Look locally to avoid high shipping cost. Haygove has an American supplier. Farmtech is a supplier that also has roll-up and roll-down sides. Farmers can also be suppliers.

Q: Can gray or black window screen be used as shade cloth?
A: May work, not familiar with using it. May not provide the needed protection.

Q: Any help with wind issues?
A: Wind is top issue with setting up house. Many plastic coverings are lost due to wind. One option is take it down during windy months.

Q: How to attach plastic in high wind area?
A: Depends on structure. Use heavier plastic, 4-6 mil. Can use grommets. Can use sand bags. Attach to hip and base board for security. Roll-up and roll-down sides help with wind issue.

Q: Anyone use carpet mulch in commercial setting?
A: Haven’t heard of it being used commercially, but be careful with glue in carpet. Can cause soil toxicity issues.

Q: Regarding companion planting, what kind of flowers to plant to attract beneficials?
A: Farmscaping to Enhance Biological Controlsis available as publication at ATTRA. Typical plants that attract beneficials are  umbels such as flowering dill, fennel, yarrow, and nectar type of flowers. Most flowers will  attract beneficials.

Q: Are there issues to be aware of as far as crop rotation?
A: It is important to prevent disease and insect build-up. If you can only have one hoop house on a farm, a movable type is good for crop rotation. For smaller growers, you can rotate within the house to help more with disease but not so much with insects.

Q: Any suggestions for season extension for warm season crops?
A: Not seen situation where crops are direct seeded. It may be possible further south. Often times what’s seen is plants started ahead of time. Hoop house may increase soil temp a little, only 4 to 10 degrees. Plastic mulch will help warm the soil to 60-70 which is what warm season crops like. As season progresses and it gets hotter, shade cloth can be helpful.

Andy has directed seeded in northeast with success with spinach, chard, kale. When the temps were negative 20 outside it was 15 degrees inside. If crops freeze, once they thaw they’re fine. Shade cloth can benefit southern growers.

That, in a nutshell, is the contents of the webinar.  They plan on having two or three more this year.

As I said earlier, even though the presentation was aimed at farmers, the concepts can be scaled down  for use by the backyard gardener.  And remember, about 45 minutes of the presention will be available to be listened to in a few days at ATTRA’s website.

Happy Gardening!!!

Volunteer efforts are appreciated.

Mr. Gregory (Master Gardener friend) had mentioned getting volunteers to work in some of his community gardens.  The University of Chicago has a volunteer program where you can work in a number of their departments.  I’m sure the garden volunteers are a part of the University of Chicago Botanic Garden area.

University of Chicago Botanic Garden

Wednesday, he stopped by to give me a couple of tomato plants (Aztec…they labeled it for  me already so I don’t have to worry about mislabeling them).  He got them when he was at a training workshop hosted by Growing Power in Milwaukee.   They put my little tomatoes to shame, but they did start in January and I started in March.   He also asked me to try to get a couple of mango seeds going.  I consider it a challenge because the one I tried to grow started growing then died on me. 

Anyway, just before he was leaving he got a call inviting him to or confirming his attendance at the volunteer appreciation banquet at the University of Chicago.  He asked if he could bring a guest.  So, that’s what I did.  We picked up Jewel Dixon, another community gardener, and off we went.

Here’s a picture of Ms. Susan Peterson, Ms. Annie Pope, Ms. Jewel Dixon and Mr. Gregory Bratton.

Ms. Jackson, Ms. Pope, Ms. Dixon, Mr. Braxton

Here’s a picture of the announcer giving out the awards.  Some people were receiving awards for donating up to 1,500 hours of service.   As you may or may be able to see, the room was packed.  The hospital has a lot of volunteers and in appreciation holds this banquet every year.

University of Chicago Apprecitation Banquet

It was a nice dinner.  They served asparagus which I have never eaten before.  It was actually very good.  Reminds me of string beans.  They also had a centerpiece of wheat grass.  Not the sorry looking wheat grass that I was trying to grow.  This was very pretty.


A sophisticated, easy-to-grow (as long as you use enought seeds) centerpiece.  Gregory and Jewel Dixon were happy campers when they got a chance to take a wheat grass centerpiece home with them.

Happy Gardening Volunteering!!

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