Thursday, March 28, 2013

Welcome, Handpicked Nation Readers!

Thanks for visiting! Please feel free to stay a while and poke around!

I'm a stay-at-home mom, trying to keep up with my two little ones while running a landscape design business and a nonprofit project in my off hours (usually late at night). My blog is a little over two years old.

If you like articles about sustainable landscape design, native plants, backyard vegetable gardening, and nature-based play (for kids and adults), then feel free to visit often!

Tina Koral Gardens - my landscape design studio in Chicago's west suburbs
Tina Koral Gardens on Facebook

GardenWorks DuPage - a grassroots, volunteer-led project working to relieve hunger by providing vegetable gardens to families in need.
GardenWorks DuPage on Facebook

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Geocaching Fail

Inspired by the latest issue of Leaf magazine, I decided to take the kids geocaching. It's like a treasure hunt using GPS. I downloaded the app, picked out some exchange treasures with the kids, bundled them up, and hit the road. Even though it was cold, cloudy, and windy, we were excited for what we might find on this new adventure!

Our exchange treasures - a shark's tooth, beads, a shell, and a toy car.
We didn't need to travel far, since we live close to the Great Western Trail, and according to my app, there were lots of caches hidden there.

We set off for the first, my GPS pinpointing our location and the location of the cache, which was allegedly only 250 feet away. We found the exact spot, but no cache. Admittedly, we didn't really know what we were looking for, but I assumed we'd find a box or plastic container where we could trade treasures. But nothing! Tried two more locations along the GWT with no luck. We did, however, find a bird nest...

Horseshoe tracks...

And sadly, lots of garbage.
So, what am I missing? Any experienced geocachers out there that can tell me what went wrong? From the information on my app about the caches, they were found last only about a month ago. Any tips?
I'm really excited to try again on a warmer day. I think it will be a great way to get outside for some fresh air and exercise doing an activity that we can all get into. 



Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Green Events in Chicago's West Suburbs

If there was ever a time to get into the sustainability movement in Chicago's west suburbs, it's now. There are many green events that you can attend to learn the issues, hang with like-minded people, and have fun. Check out this list provided by my friend Jeff Garhis of the Glen Ellyn Cool Cities Coalition:
March 20 - Village of Glen Ellyn hosts "Invite Nature to Your Yard," Glen Ellyn Public Library, 7pm. RSVP to the Environmental Commission Staff Liason at 630-469-5000.  

March 23 - Earth Hour dinner and party at Honey Cafe, Glen Ellyn,

April 11 - GardenWorks DuPage New Volunteer Orientation. Glen Ellyn Public Library, 7pm.

April 16 - "(Re)connecting With Nature: Exploring Biomimicry in Your Own Backyard", Chicago Center for Green Technology,

April 18
- Earth Day Benefit Dinner, Conservation Foundation,

April 21 - Arbor Week at Morton Arboretum (various events),

April 22 - Glen Ellyn Park District Earth Day Symposium at the Lake Ellyn Boat House, 7pm. Learn what local environmental groups are doing an how you can get involved.

April 27 - Glen Ellyn Recycling event, and other extravaganzas on various dates,

April 27 - Great Western Trail Cleanup,

April 27 - Illinois Prairie Path Earth Day Cleanup,

 May 2 - Environmental Lobby Day, Springfield,

May 5 - Green Earth Fair, Naperville,

May 19 - Sierra Club's "Party on the Farm," see Sierra Club River Prairie Group's new activity calendar,

 August 17-18 - Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair, Oregon, IL,

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Winter Garden Reading

I had to squeeze this post in before the official start of spring!

I usually have much more time to pour over garden books than I did this winter. Thankfully, I had design clients thoughout the winter, and GardenWorks DuPage really ramped up. I did get through some gardening books though, and even though they were sent to me free from the publisher, I'll let you know what I really think of them.

Any Size, Anywhere Edible Gardening: The No Yard, No Time, No Problem Way to Grow Your Own Food by William Moss
You might recognize this author's name, Moss was host of HGTV's Dig In, a garden makeover show. I loved his personality on that show - very friendly, funny, and down-to-earth. I was lucky enough to meet Moss in person at a garden writer's event held at my plant supplier a couple of years ago, and how he portrayed himself on screen was not an act. He really is a friendly, funny, and down-to-earth guy.

And I also enjoyed his book. It focuses on small-space food production in raised beds, containers, hanging baskets, balconies, rooftops, and community gardens. I especially liked the chapter on time-saving tips, which includes information on mulching, irrigation, amending soil, and growing prolific and disease resistant crops. But the best thing about this book, for me, is the many large, full-color photos. My recommendation: Buy it.

The Modern-Day Pioneer: Simple Living in the 21st Century
by Charlotte Denholtz

While I think I'm a bit 'crunchier' than a lot of my friends, I certainly don't see myself as any kind of pioneer, or as one trying to live a pioneer lifestyle, whatever that is. But there are a lot of topics addressed in the book that I already practice, like vegetable gardening, composting, freezing and drying vegetables, and breadmaking. I would use her tips for vermicomposting, canning, homebrewing, and soap making,m but I could just as easily find this imformation on the web. There are so many topics for sustainable, or "pioneer" living, that none of them get any in-depth coverage. Also, no photos.
One piece of advice Denholtz offers that I don't agree with is using rainbarrel water on vegetables. My opinion is that rainbarrel water is filled with contaminants from roofing materials, pollution, and bird droppings, and should not be used to irrigate food. But hey, that's just my opinion! My recommendation: Skip it.

Harvest by Richard Horan
I have a secret dream. I want to live on a farm one day. I don't think I'd be interested in much more than growing organic veggies and fruits and raising chickens. Oh, and I'd have bees. And maybe a goat or two.

I was excited to receive a review copy of Harvest: An Adventue into the Heart of America's Family Farms by Richard Horan (Harper, 2012). It's Horan's account of traveling the country and spending a few days at each of ten or so family farms during their harvest time. Horan lived with each family, and it was eye-opening to learn of the lives of these farmers. After reading through his experinces, I'm not sure I could cut it. Early mornings, long, hot days, backbreaking physical labor. But also kinship (between people and with the earth), the satisfaction of a completed harvest, and being part of the history of the land. My recommendation: Read it.

Your Midwest Garden: An Owner's Manual by Jan Riggenbach
Have you ever been excited to read a particular gardening book only to dive in and realize that the plants and climates discussed did not fit the region where you live? Not the case with this book (if you live in the Midwest, that is!). Riggenbach tackles annuals, perennials, bulbs, shrubs, vines, and more in this book, which is great for a beginner looking to establish a residential landscape. I like that Riggenbach includes information on edible varieties that do well here. My gripe about this book is that there are no plant images within the text of the chapters. And while there are some pages of color photos in the middle of the book, there are not enough, and many are low-resolution. My recommendation: Skip it.

The Edible Landscape: Creating a Beautiful and Bountiful Garden with Vegetables, Fruits, and Flowers by Emily Tepe
My first thought when receiving this book was, "Yay! Potager!," since a potager truly combines the art and function of growing vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers together. And while Tepe does not go into the elements that define a potager as I expected, she provides loads of inspiration for combining edibles into a traditional landscape. She explains that people are growing their food more than ever before, and often with the restrictions of limited space, sunlight, and homeowners association. Tepe offers tips for working with the conditions you have using strategies like container gardening, growing vertically, and interplanting edibles with perennials in a traditional border planting. The most useful part of the book, for me, was the appendix which lists selected plants for northern landscapes. My recommendation: Buy it.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Wordless Wednesday - Agave

Agave from my Mom's Florida garden, keeping warm inside until Spring hits Chicago.

Monday, March 11, 2013

A Case for Beets

I've never cared much for beets, unless they were served aside a fried chicken dinner at White Fence Farm. I've grown them in my garden every year because they are so easy to grow from seed, but usually ended up bringing them to the food pantry because I couldn't figure out just what to do with them.

Since I've started juicing, I'm buying lots of beets, and can't wait to direct-sow and grow them fresh. And growing them fresh, then juicing them, is a great idea because beet juice (especially organic beet juice) is not easy to locate in stores.

So, you don't like the taste of beets? I'm not a huge fan either, but when combined with other fruits and veggies in juice, to me, it tastes great. A combination I like is 1 beet, 1 apple, 1 orange, 1 carrot, a handful or two of spinach, half a cucumber, and a rib of rhubarb.

Even if you don't like it, it's one of those veggies that you should choke down anyway. It's high in folate, manganese, potssium, Vitamin C, iron, magnesium, copper, and phosphorus. A quick google search will find claims that beet juice cleans the blood, lowers blood pressure, dissolves tumors, increases the body's production of glutathione which helps eliminate environmental toxins, and lowers cholesterol.

So tell me, do you like beets? Do you grow them? Have a favorite recipe?

Friday, March 8, 2013

Invite Nature to Your Yard

Yes, there is still snow on the ground, but it's not too early to start making plans for bringing more wildlife to your garden this year.

Invite Nature to Your Yard
Sponsored by the Village of Glen Ellyn Environmental Commission
Wednesday, March 20, 2013, 7pm
Glen Ellyn Public Library, Meeting Room B

Jim Kleinwachter, Land Preservation Specialist for The Conservation Foundation, will be on hand to explain how your yard can easily be improved to help reduce water run-off, increase wildlife habitat, and improve the soil. Strategies for reducing your water use, creating a habitat for birds and butterflies, reducing chemical use, mowing less, and eradicating invasive plant species will also be discussed. Participants will also learn how to use rain barrels, rain gardens, and native plants to solve yard problems, and will receive a butterfly identification guide and native plant list. For more information, or to RSVP (required), please contact the Environmental Commission staff liaison at 630- 469-5000.

Free Property Consultation
The Village of Glen Ellyn has partnered with The Conservation Foundation to provide residents with a property assessment that will determine how well the land retains rainwater and supports our local wildlife. Based on the property assessment, property owners may already qualify for Conservation@Home certification, which recognizes landscapes that are environmentally friendly with an attractive yard sign. If a property does not immediately qualify for certification, The Conservation Foundation staff can then make recommendations on how to improve landscapes by adding native plants, planting butterfly and rain gardens, and eradicating invasive plant species.
Interested residents can sign up for the free consultation at the “Invite Nature to Your Yard” seminar.