HAPPY EARTH DAY!

One of my New Year's resolutions this year was to attempt to leave a smaller footprint. I've been meaning to write about that for a while now, and Earth Day inspired me to get to typing.

Chicago seems to be a relatively environmental city on a governmental level -- we've got the hydrogen buses, the rooftop gardens, lovely parks, a preserved lakefront (no museum please! ) and some really great resources for bicycling. However, the blue bag recycling program has always been something of a joke, and I don't feel there's been much effort to educate Chicago residents as to what to recycle and how. We now have blue "carts" that are specifically for recycling placed beside the regular trash cans in some neighborhoods (including ours), and there seems to be some effort being made to make sure that what goes in those bins actually gets sorted and recycled. That wasn't really the case with the blue bags. The bins just kind of showed up one day, though, and I still had to go and figure out what was okay to put into them. Which I resolved to do, and have, and I've also attempted to cut down on buying throw-away products. I have a nalgene water bottle and a coffee thermos, and I try to use those instead of buying out (although I've recently relapsed into buying Dunkin Donuts coffee in the mornings), and I carry canvas bags in the back of my car to use instead of plastic bags when grocery shopping (the islands of plastic that are floating around out in the ocean really freak me out). For more information about what to recycle and where, I found the article How to Recycle Practically Anything a good starting point.

As far as what I'm doing in the kitchen, this year I'm making my first attempt at a vegetable garden. We live on a first floor and have access to a large (by urban standards) back yard. A couple of years ago my friend and I dug out a gardening patch, and I've half-heartedly attempted to keep it up. It's gone from pretty to completely overgrown a few times over now. I know nothing about gardening, but I'll have (in theory) a little more time to think about it this summer and I hope that planting vegetables and herbs I can actually use will hold my interest more than planting flowers.

I've been spending some time researching online and have a basic plan. I figured out our Zone (5) and got some idea of what I can plant from Burpee and Gardeners. Burpee was a really good resource for figuring out whether to start seeds indoors or sow them directly into the ground (although at this point I'm going with plants -- I guess I'm a little late in the game for starting from seed). It also lists expected growing times and plant height, and it has a wish list feature that I found handy. I was able to figure out which plants go well together using this List of Companion Plants on Wikipedia. I plan to do some additional research on the individuals plants (I've already done a bit on tomatoes) and I hope to update here as I learn. This past Sunday I spent the day clearing out last year's leftover overgrown mess (with the help of the two kids who live upstairs) and putting in some edging. I would have liked to have created a raised garden bed, but it seemed like purchasing a kit for a garden this big was going to be too expensive. This weekend I plan to head to Gethsemane and pick up a tester to test the soil for pH balance, and I'm also trying to figure out how to get it tested for lead. If all's well, the next step is to buy plants. If the lead content is too high, I'll have to plant into containers instead of directly into the ground. We'll just see how it goes!