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July 27, 2014

The Attack of the Killer Asparagus Summer 2014 Tour Continues!

Join Mike at Uncommon Ground on Devon this Thursday

My thanks to the great folks at the Sugar Beet Co-op in Oak Park, who hosted their 3rd annual Sugar Beet Edible Garden Tour yesterday. I stopped by the headquarters for the event at 812 W. Madison and signed copies of Attack of the Killer Asparagus and other lessons not learned in the garden for the folks, many of whom were getting on their bicycles to head out to see the gardens on the tour.

Unfortunately, that was not in the cards for me, as I had a date with a couple of special people who helped fund my Kickstarter campaign--Lou Ann and Larry Grabowski. We had lunch at the fabulous Uncommon Ground Restaurant at 1401 W. Devon Avenue in Chicago, then went upstairs to take a look at the world famous organic rooftop farm with Farmer Jen from Uncommon Ground.

Well, I'll be back again thisThursday, July 31, thanks to the generosity of owners Helen and Michael Cameron. It's another book signing, complete with snacks (and a cash bar, for those of you who can't face my writing without some alcoholic backup), a tour of the rooftop farm, and even a 10% discount for folks who want to stick around for dinner (I'll be one of them). Of course, I will be reading a couple of select excerpts from the book, which might have you reaching for a second drink.

To RSVP for the event, call Uncommon Ground at 773.465.9801,

Meanwhile, if you want to order a book for yourself, log on to Around the Block Press. The book is available via all of the usual online suspects, or you can special order it at your favorite bookstore. And I wouldn't mind a bit if you gave Attack of the Killer Asparagus a Like on Facebook.

It's a bonsai bonanzai!

My buddy Dan Kosta at Vern Goers Greenhouse in Hinsdale sent me a message awhile ago, asking if I could plug the Annual Bonsai Show for the Prairie State Bonsai Society. What am I going to tell him--find your own bonsai radio show, dude?

The Praire State bonsai show is next week, August 2 and 3, and is being held at the Morton Arboretum as part of their Destination Asia Summer Festival. The show is FREE with Arboretum Admission, though if you want to attend one of the many workshops, you'll have to pay a fee and register in advance.

As my own fee for having on the show, I made Dan come up with his top ten tips for taking care of bonsai (pronounced BONE-sigh, in case there's a pop quiz at the end of the show). Here's what he came up with:

1. Provide proper light. Keep the tree in a bright, sunny location. Outdoors in sun or indoors close to a sunny South or West window.
2. Pay attention to watering. Check soil daily, especially in summer, and water thoroughly when soil is somewhat dry. Saturate the soil at each watering. If using overhead watering apply water 3 times at 5 minute intervals to fully soak the soil or place in a dish of water for up to 30 minutes. Do not allow the tree to stand in water continuously. Always use lukewarm water.
3. Fertilize regularly during the growing season, generally March to mid-September.
4. Provide an appropriate environment for the tree. Hardy outdoor trees such as juniper, pine, or maple need to be kept outdoors year-round. they are not houseplants. Tropical trees such as Ficus or Schefflera may spend the summer outdoors in a sunny location and be brought indoors in fall and winter, or be kept indoors all year.
5. Winter protect all outdoor trees. Sink pots in soil or mulch in late fall, with foliage exposed, or bring into a cold indoor location such as a shed or garage. Temperatures in such locations should be between 30 and 40 degrees. Do not bring into a warm indoor environment.
6. Trim new growth as needed to maintain the size and shape of the tree as well as to increase the density of the foliage on the tree.
7. Use wire as a temporary training device. Use wire to shape the branches and remove the wire before it becomes tight and scars the branch.
8. Repot at appropriate intervals. Do not allow a tree to remain rootbound in the pot nor repot too frequently.
9. Do not trim roots except at repotting times. Do not remove more than one third of the roots at any time.
10. Watch for insects or disease problems and use an appropriate treatment to resolve the problem.

The bonsai show put on by Dan's group isn't the only one happening in the area. I received word from Larry Strephan, that the 37th Annual Mid-America Bonsai Exhibit will be held across town at the Chicago Botanic Garden from August 15-17. Centered on the Chicago Botanic Garden's Permanent Collection, featuring almost 50 world-class trees, it's a showplace of specimens from across the midwest. Enthusiasts from five states bring their trees to be judged in the main hall at the Garden's Regenstein Center - with this year's Guest Master Rodney Clemons.

So there's a reason for folks to stop harrassing me with about how I never cover the bonsai circuit. Not that anybody ever does, but it pays to be ahead of the game.

Solving the world's problems, one app at a time

Here's a scary thought. Imagine a bunch of technology and social justic geeks gathering together once a week to by-pass the normal channels (i.e., politics) about how things get done, and create their own paradigm that relies on the accumulation of data and the dissemination of that information through various applications on your computers and your phones.

Crazy, huh?

Guess what? It's been going on in Chicago for more than two years. I'm not sure exactly how, but I stumbled onto something called Open Gov Hack Night, and I actually attended a session to see what it was all about. On their own website, they describe it as "Chicago's weekly event to build, share, and learn about civic tech."

On the evening I attended, there were probably 60 to 80 people who filled one small room and spilled out into the hall at a place called 1871 (which has a website so slick it makes your teeth ache) in the Merchandise Mart.

But Open Gov Hack Night is just one of several projects launched by a group called Open City. As they say on their website (not quite as slick...whew!), " We are a group that create apps with open data to improve transparency and understanding of our government."

Hmm. Now you're starting to intrigue me. Here's are some of the apps they've created:

  • Transit Future - An interactive map that explains the Transit Future, a campaign to get Cook County to build a dozen new rail lines by creating a dedicated local revenue stream.
  • Is there sewage in the Chicago River? - Every so often when Chicago gets a lot of rain or there's a significant snowmelt, the Chicagoland water management agencies pump excess wastewater into the lake and river in order to prevent flooding. This site notifies Chicagoans when this happens. (You might have heard me mention this app on my show a few weeks ago.)
  • Chicago Councilmatic - Are you curious about what legislation the Chicago City Council has been passing? Search, browse, subscribe and comment on everything the City Council has done since Jan 1st 2010.
  • 2nd City Zoning - 2nd City Zoning is an interactive map that lets you find out how your building is zoned, learn where to locate your business and explore zoning patterns throughout the city.
  • Crime in Chicago - Crime in Chicago is a data visualization that lets you explore crime trends in Chicago's 50 wards. It was built using open data about Chicago crimes released by the Chicago Police Department.

And there are more. One thing that many of these apps have in common is a guy named Derek Eder, meaning that he has been involved in the creation of more than a dozen open source civic apps. He is the owner of DataMade , an open government and open data web consulting company, a co-founder of Open City, and an organizer for Open Gov Hack Nights. Meaning that he's either somebody you immediately want on your team, or you might want to look over your shoulder to see if he's sneaking up behind you...or both.

Derek is on my show this morning to talk about all of the above.

By the way, when I showed up at Open Gov Hack Night in June, they were in the middle of the Center for Neighborhood Technology Urban Sustainability Apps competition. The winner turned out to be something called Chicago Green Score, which ranks city neighborhoods according to whether they have abundant green roofs, community gardens, farmers markets, parks and public transit and bike facilities, while lowering scores for environmental complaints.

Well, I decided to give it a try for my south Logan Square neighborhood. One of the things it tells you is whether there is a community garden in the vicinity, which adds green points to your neighborhood. However, when I checked the app, my own community garden, Green on McLean, was not listed. Hmm.

So I wrote to the folks at Chicago Green Score to tell them of this problem. I heard back from one of the developers, Tom Greenhaw, who apologized for the omission. He said that an app can only be as good as the data base from which is working, which makes perfect sense.

I invited him to be on the show this morning with Derek but he was unavailable. I suspect that he and I will be chatting on the air in the future.




Mike at The Sugar Beet Co-op

Farmer Jen in the rooftop garden at Uncommon Ground


Dan Kosta


The Transit Future map that shows how Chicago
could have an effective transit system


Derek Eder of DataMade