Archives For Erica Masini

How to move plants to a new home

Plant Parenthood

Erica Masini —  October 3, 2018 — 1 Comment

Quick poll: Does the word “moving” trigger your anxiety?

How about “moving more than 100 plants”?

Former Chicago Botanic Garden horticulturist Tom Weaver recently moved to Minnesota to start a new chapter. Along with his husband and dog, he brought his plant family, a love he has nurtured since childhood. “My mom makes fun of me because I knew the Latin names of plants before I could read,” he said.

Part of Weaver's houseplant collection, grown under grow lamps in his basement.

Part of Weaver’s houseplant collection, grown under grow lamps in his basement.

Now he’s a proud plant parent to more than 100 plants. The collection is impressive, to be sure. But just how does one transport a thriving plant collection?

As I prepared for my own move (only a few blocks away), I sat down with Weaver to learn how to make the transition happy and healthy for my green, leafy friends.

Weaver's dog, Pepin, isn't so sure about the monstera coming along for the move.

Weaver’s dog, Pepin, isn’t so sure about the monstera coming along for the move.

Weaver's trunk-load of houseplants.

Weaver’s trunk-load of houseplants.

  1. Research state restrictions for plants

    “First you have to consider—if you’re moving across state lines—whether you can even bring your plants,” said Weaver. “California, Florida, Arizona … pretty much any warm-climate state has strict rules about what you can and cannot bring because there are so many agricultural pests.” For a current listing, refer to the National Plant Board.

  2. Sort and purge

    Just as you might sell, donate, or trash unwanted clothes, take a good look at your plants. Toss any you don’t want to bring to your new home. “Why bring something if you’re just going to throw it away once you get there?” Weaver said. “Now is the time to get rid of anything disease or insect-infested.”

  3. Make cuttings of large plants you can’t move

    If you’re like Weaver, you may want to take only a cutting of large specimens like his 6-foot monstera or 8-foot dracaena. Decide whether you want to bring the whole plant, or save room in your moving truck by taking a cutting (and gifting the large plant to a friend). “The nice thing about aroid plants like monstera is the vines have roots growing all over the place,” said Weaver. “You can easily chop a leaf off and root it without really having to think about it.”

  4. Pack plants with care

    Make sure plants are packed snugly in boxes so they don’t move and break. Weaver recommends wrapping plants in newspaper so dirt won’t spill, and so that plants like cacti don’t poke holes in their plant buddies.

  5. Water plants before moving

    Plants can tolerate two to three days in a box without any major problems, said Weaver. Just be sure to water them before you leave, especially if you’re driving through intense heat. “If it’s going to be 100 degrees and you make pit stops along the way, your plants will get hot,” said Weaver. “You’ll want to water them enough to get them through the trip.”

  6. Be patient with the adjustment

    Getting used to a new home goes for your plants, too. “Once you get to your new place, they’ll go through some transport shock,” said Weaver. “They may lose a couple of leaves. With anything, adjusting takes time. It’s best to put your plants in a spot that is a similar environment to their old home.” Be patient with the learning curve.

 


©2018 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Brushing Up on Broomcorn

Erica Masini —  September 28, 2018 — Leave a comment

Take a peek in your closet, and you might find a long wooden broom for sweeping up dust or offering rides to witches and wizards. For broom maker John Spannagel of Hidalgo, Illinois, brooms are more than just a pantry item. They’re a labor of love, made with a special ingredient: broomcorn.

Broom Corn Plants Growing at the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden

Broomcorn is a type of ornamental grass used to make specialty brooms, a passion Spannagel discovered nearly three years ago. The retired construction worker makes roughly 50 brooms a year and tours at local farm shows. As part of the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Harvest Weekend, September 29 to 30, Spannagel will bring his broom-making machines to the Garden to demonstrate broomcorn broom-making.

We caught up with Spannagel to learn a little about his craft:

What is broomcorn? (Spoiler: It’s not corn)

Broomcorn (Sorghum vulgare var. technicum) is an annual ornamental grass. It has no “ears” or “cobs,” and it can grow anywhere from 12 to 14 feet tall. Broomcorn seeds are planted in the early spring, and stalks are harvested in mid- to late August. The long woody stalks have tassels of flowers and seeds at the tips, which are removed during broom-making. You can find broomcorn growing in the Garden’s Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden.

BroomcornWhere does broomcorn come from?

Broomcorn originated in central Africa, where it eventually spread to the Mediterranean. Benjamin Franklin is credited with first bringing broomcorn to the United States in the 1700s, says Spannagel. Commercial production of broomcorn flourished in Illinois, one of the leading producers of broomcorn in the 1860s. Nearly a century later, commercial broomcorn production slowed to a halt due to low demand and labor-intensive harvesting methods.

How do you make brooms with broomcorn?

Broomcorn broom-making is a lengthy process that starts with planting broomcorn seeds in the spring. When broomcorn is harvested, the stalks are run through a threshing machine to remove their seeds. The stalks are then laid on a broomcorn crib to dry for a few weeks. Once the stalks are dried, Spannagel uses broom-making equipment, including an antique kick-winder machine to wind straw around a broom stick; straw cutter; and broom press.

How much broomcorn is used to make a broom?

Spannagel orders his broomcorn from a supplier, and uses seven bundles of straw to make a broom. It takes about 45 minutes to make each broom. “Each of my brooms is a little different, and that’s okay,” says Spannagel.

So, what do you do with a broomcorn broom?

Most of the people who buy Spannagel’s brooms use them to sweep, but many others use them as decorations. Spannagel says as long as you take care of your broomcorn broom, it should last up to 15 years. Be sure to store them upside down or hang them so that that the bristles don’t bend. And always keep them dry; if the broom gets wet, let them air dry.

Broomcorn at Harvest Weekend

Hear more and see Spannagel’s broom-making in action at Harvest Weekend, September 29 to 30, at the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden.


©2018 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

You might have noticed a group of hard-working high-schoolers wearing hard hats and toting shovels at the Chicago Botanic Garden this summer. The aspiring conservationists—part of the Conservation Corps—are doing important restoration work throughout the Forest Preserves of Cook County, including a stint at the Garden.

Conservation Corps Teens Working

Conservation Corps teens cleared overgrown bushes and installed new plantings at the Garden.

The Conservation Corps is a paid summer internship that gives young people hands-on conservation and environmental science experience. Students partnered with Garden horticulturists and learned to identify plants and remove invasive species. This year, they worked to clear and trim overgrown bushes, install new plantings, and remove invasive plants. In addition to their work at the Garden, Corps members worked at Harms Woods near Glenview and took field trips such as an environmental science career day at the Field Museum.

We asked a few teens about their experience and what they learned while working at the Garden. Here’s what they had to say:

“It’s a great building block to what I want to do. I’ve already learned so much about identifying plants, trail mulching, steps you can take to improve the environment, and different environmental careers. I’m looking forward to what’s ahead.” —Gabby Onnenga, 17, Skokie

Conservation Corps teens removed stumps

It was hard work. The interns removed stumps – 14 in a single day.

“It’s allowed me to connect with a lot of people I wouldn’t have before. Last Friday we went to the Field Museum and talked to a lot of interesting people there. I talked with one of the leaders here at the Garden who recommended me to someone who runs a fungus organization. It could connect us to other opportunities.” —Aaron Ivsin, 16, Chicago

Forest Preserves Conservation Corps

The program is part of the effort by the Garden and its partner, the Forest Preserves, to build the next generation of conservation leaders.

“I want to be an environmental biologist. This will help me later in life because everybody knows each other in the field.” —Ushus Hermanson, 17, Chicago

The program is part of the effort by the Garden and its partner, Friends of the Forest Preserves, to build the next generation of conservation leaders. “It has been great to have another Forest Preserves Conservation Corps crew this summer,” said Beth Dunn, the Garden’s director of government affairs, who helped coordinate the program. “Not only is it a great help for the Garden’s staff to tackle needed projects, it is a great learning experience for the crew members who may be for the first time working as part of a land management team.”

For many, it was just the place they wanted to be. “Right from the beginning, I knew I made the right choice,” said Sile Surman, 16, of Wilmette. “I’m very passionate about the environment, and it’s a great experience to be surrounded by people who are also passionate.”


©2018 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Planting a fire escape herb container

Plant Parenthood

Erica Masini —  July 18, 2018 — 1 Comment

I love coming home to my quiet, tree-lined Chicago neighborhood, but one thing I miss about urban living is ample outdoor space.

The back door of my apartment leads to a wooden fire escape—built after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 as a second means of exit from the building. The landing is wide enough to finagle furniture during moves, but doesn’t invite much summertime lounging or late-night stargazing. Still, I find myself dreaming of an herb garden growing in the little patch of morning sun that filters through the stairs.

Fire escape inspiration at the Fruit and Vegetable Garden.

Fire escape inspiration at the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden

Growing an herb container doesn’t require a whole lot of space, luckily. To find the best inspiration, I turned to Lisa Hilgenberg, horticulturist for the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden. She recently planted an herb container tower in the garden, so ideas were fresh on her mind when I talked with her. Here are her tips for starting an herb container, no matter where you live.

  1. Find the right container: Drainage is key for healthy herbs, says Hilgenberg, so make sure to find a pot with holes at the bottom. “I like to use terra cotta pots because they’re porous and absorb water. Otherwise, you could certainly use copper planters. A hanging basket might work if that’s allowed on your porch, or a strawberry jar with a dozen holes in it. You can get really creative.”
  2. Consider the light: Most herbs like at least four to six hours of bright, direct light, but there are a few that can handle fewer hours of full sun. If your outdoor space is covered, or east-facing like mine, choose herbs that can take some shade, such as chives, thyme, or parsley, says Hilgenberg.
Lisa Hilgenberg's towering herb container.

Lisa Hilgenberg’s towering herb container.

  1. Plan your herbs with recipes in mind: What herbs do you use most in your cooking? Are you always buying basil? Do you like to use mint? The fun of planting herb gardens is to use them in cooking, so take some time to think about what herbs could be homegrown. “When I teach veggie classes, I reference Ina Garten’s potato salad. It calls for two types of potatoes, and four or five different herbs. If you go to the store and buy these ingredients, it could cost eight bucks apiece. To grow scallions, dill, basil, and parsley together yourself is a really cool thing to do,” says Hilgenberg. For French cooking enthusiasts, she recommends growing herbs de provence (marjoram, rosemary, thyme, oregano, and savory).

Lisa’s ultimate herb container: Sweet marjoram, thyme, sage, parsley, and chives.

  1. Use high quality potting soil: Low fertility potting mix is preferable for herbs, says Hilgenberg. You won’t have to feed or fertilize these soils. “Just make sure to water regularly, and check that the soil drains completely between waterings,” she said.
  2. Give some herbs room to breathe: Herbs don’t mind being planted in close quarters, says Hilgenberg. You can plant several in one container. An exception, however, is basil: “For healthy basil production, always put one plant per pot in 12-inch containers.”
  3. Harvest herbs before they flower: “Right before plants look like they’re going to flower is when they’re fully matured and ready to harvest,” says Hilgenberg. “Use herb snips to harvest two leaf nodes down. If you harvest by the leaf you’ll get a leggy, tall plant.” Always remove flowers, especially on basil. This encourages new growth. “The rule of thumb is to harvest about three times per season,” she says.

If you’re wondering whether July is too late to plant an herb container, Hilgenberg says it’s perfectly fine. And with that, I’m off to the garden center to pick out my herbs. I can smell the sage tucked under the skin of a buttery roast chicken already. Yum.

Come learn more about herb gardening with how-to demonstrations and family activities at Herb Garden Weekend, July 28–29, from 11 a.m.– 4 p.m.


©2018 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

On a bright, sunny Saturday in June, more than 1,500 people came to see just what was happening inside the renovated paint store along Ogden Avenue in the North Lawndale neighborhood of Chicago.

It was the opening weekend for the Farm on Ogden, a joint project between the Chicago Botanic Garden and Lawndale Christian Health Center (LCHC) that brings food, health, and jobs together under one roof. Visitors explored the 7,300-square-foot greenhouse, marveled in the blue-purple glow of the 50,000-gallon aquaponics system, and picked up vegetables grown in the corner Windy City Harvest Youth Farm.

The new Farm on Ogden in Chicago

The new Farm on Ogden—a renovated building that was once a Sherwin-Williams paint store in North Lawndale—brings health, food, and jobs together in one location.

Autumn Berg, a North Lawndale resident for 17 years, could barely contain her emotions. “I’ve never been more excited about my neighborhood in my life,” she said.

The day before, Garden President and CEO Jean M. Franczyk thanked the many donors and partners for their generous support and steadfast belief that growing food locally makes for healthier individuals and communities. Speakers included Illinois U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, and Alderman Michael Scott, Jr. (24th).

“For a corner that needs economic development, it’s everything a community could ask for. I’m just so happy the Garden has decided to invest in a community like North Lawndale,” said Scott.

Here’s a look inside the Farm, which will be managed by Windy City Harvest, the Garden’s urban agriculture program, in partnership with LCHC.

A little girl leans over the fresh produce counter in the new Farm on Ogden.

The indoor market and farm stand at the Farm on Ogden will provide fresh, affordable produce year-round.

Kids look over flats of seedlings growing at the Farm on Ogden's greenhouses.

Interested people and community members toured the 7,300-square-foot greenhouse, which will grow seasonal vegetables and fruits year-round.

A customer gets information on the selection of herbs currently available at the Farm on Ogden.

Nearly 1,500 people attended the Farm on Ogden opening celebration on Saturday, June 23.

Visitors check out the purple grow lights near the aquaponics system at the Farm on Ogden.

The neon glow of the purple grow lights drew people toward the 50,000-gallon aquaponics system, which will produce 2,500 heads of lettuce every week, year-round, and 14,000 pounds of tilapia a year.

In the outdoor beds at Farm on Ogden, visitors admire the next crop to be harvested.

Outside, people admired giant lettuce leaves growing in the Windy City Harvest Youth Farm: a space for teens to learn—and earn—through sustainable growing, healthy cooking and eating, and farm-stand selling.

Visitors get a tour of the Farm on Ogden.

The Farm on Ogden also serves as a distribution center for Veggie Rx, a cooperative program that delivers boxes of fresh produce and offers nutrition education and cooking lessons to Lawndale Christian Health Center patients.

Learn more about the Farm on Ogden at chicagobotanic.org/urbanagriculture.


©2018 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org