5 Tips for Growing Broccoli in Containers and Raised Beds

When I first started gardening, the crop that I was most excited about growing was broccoli.

I decided on a springtime planting in one of my raised beds. Though I nurtured that plant obsessively –I got a pretty stalk with lots of green – a head never sprouted. It was a most frustrating experience.

But after much more practice in the garden coupled with a ton of research, I’ve decided to give broccoli another try. Here are some of the things that I will do to make sure I get a bumper crop of broccoli this year. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Choose your growing season wisely.

Opting for growing broccoli in the spring of Chicago was probably a mistake. An inconsistent season weather-wise, growing spring crops in Chicago – where it can snow even in April – is a difficult proposition. About the only thing I can ever grow successfully in the spring is greens. Anyway, back to broccoli. This year, I decided to try growing broccoli in the fall. Since broccoli can take 50-60 days from transplant to harvest, starting plants in August gives them a long enough runway to give them a good growing season in the waning days of summer so they can mature in cooler fall days. (Broccoli that matures during cool weather tastes sweeter than at any other time.) Also, broccoli can withstand temperature down to 20 degrees, so you can still be potentially harvesting it in December – depending on Chicago’s erratic weather, that is.

Plant it at the right time.

To figure out when to plant broccoli is easy-peasy. If you are direct sowing in your garden, plant seeds 85 to 100 days before the average first fall frost in your area. According to the Farmers Almanac, the first frost date in Chicago is Oct. 29 – hence the perfect time to plant seeds is in early August. So, get those seeds in the ground right now. If you decide to transplant a seedling rather than direct sowing, plant it 10 days to the “days to maturity” for the variety you’re growing and then count backwards from your expected first fall frost date. For Waltham, the variety of broccoli I’m growing, it takes 50-60 days to maturity from transplant. So, the ideal time to plant a Waltham transplant would be late August to early September.

Choose the right size container – and space properly in your raised bed.

One of the biggest mistakes novice container gardeners make is either choosing a too-small container or planting crops too closely together in their raised bed. For just one broccoli plant, you’ll need a 3- to 5-gallon container that is at least 12 inches deep; I’m growing two plants per each 10-gallon fabric container. (I like fabric containers with handles because they allow me to chase the light in the garden and move plant around with ease.) In a raised bed, plant each sprout 15-18 inches apart.

Pick the right soil, water consistently and plant in full sun.

Broccoli needs loose, well-draining soil to grow properly, so choose soil wisely. The plants prefer slightly acidic soil, rich in organic nutrients so add compost to the planting hole, as well as a good layer on top. Make sure when you’re planting to tamp down the dirt in the pot or in the bed because brassicas like compacted soil. However, broccoli is prone to root-rot so it’s really important to water consistently to help avoid root rot – you want to make sure the soil is always damp, but you don’t want to overwater as broccoli don’t like wet feet. And last but not least, broccoli plants need a LOT of sun – at least six hours a day. The tricky thing about broccoli is that though it requires full sun, the plant will also start to bolt at temperatures above 80 degrees. This is where having your plants in fabric containers with handles come in handy – you can move the naturally cooler containers around to either sunnier or less-hot spots in your garden.

Fertilize and manage pests consistently.

Broccoli is a heavy feeder so it’s vital that you fertilize them at planting with a well-rounded fertilizer (I like Espoma Garden Tone) and a couple of times during the seasons after that. Broccoli also attracts pests like cabbage loopers. You can control them with BT or Bacillus thuringiensis, which is a soil-born bacterium that kills caterpillars like that cabbage loopers that love to munch on your broccoli but won’t harm beneficial insects.

<span class="has-inline-color has-vivid-red-color">Tequia Burt</span>
Tequia Burt

Tequia Burt is a Chicago-based editor, writer, content creator, and brand storyteller with 20 years of experience. In addition to being the Editor in Chief of Backyard Chicago Garden, she is the Founder-CEO of Content[ed.], which provides custom content and strategy to businesses.

Urban Foraging: Garlic Scape Pesto Recipe

If you live in the city, eating local may be as simple as taking a walk around your neighborhood. That’s what I was doing when I spied the bountiful stalks of garlic scapes right outside my garage. So, my neighbor and I set to foraging, but left a few to flower so they continue their spread next year.

I made a delightful Garlic Scape Pesto with my foraged find!

How to Prepare Garlic Scapes

Unless you have experience with them, you probably have no idea what to do with scapes. When I first saw them at my farmers market years ago, I definitely had to do some research. After trimming the flower, you want to snap off the end where it begins to get woody—like you would do with asparagus. (See above.)

You should use the tender middle part for your scape pesto. (See above.) If you want to tame the bite of the garlic a bit, you can always blanch them first to mellow out the scapes.

Garlic Scape Pesto

tequiaburt
You can use this yummy pesto as a spread for bread and sandwiches, for pasta and even as a marinade. Tonight, I’m going to use as a sauce for delicious chicken breasts. Bon Appetit!
Prep Time 15 mins

Equipment

  • Food Processor

Ingredients
  

  • 10-12 Garlic Scapes
  • 1/4 cup Pine Nuts
  • 1/2 cup Olive Oil
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan or Asiago Cheese
  • 1/2 cup Basil Leaves
  • 1 Lemon
  • 1/4 tsp Salt to taste

Instructions
 

  • Put chopped up scapes, basil, nuts and cheese in food processor. Pulse for about 30secs in short bursts.
  • While blending, slowly drizzle in first olive oil and then the juice of one lemon. Blend to desired consistency.
  • Add salt to taste.
<span class="has-inline-color has-vivid-red-color">Tequia Burt</span>
Tequia Burt

Tequia Burt is a Chicago-based editor, writer, content creator, and brand storyteller with 20 years of experience. In addition to being the Editor in Chief of Backyard Chicago Garden, she is the Founder-CEO of Content[ed.], which provides custom content and strategy to businesses.

My Mom is a Nurse. What Are We Doing to Protect Her?

I remember the exact day my mom became a registered nurse.

I remember it because it was within the same week that I walked across the stage for my eighth-grade graduation. During the ceremony, an award for most valuable volunteer parent was presented and my mom’s name was called by the school principal. My principal looked around quizzically when no one responded and called her name again.

I looked up at the audience and scanned for my mom’s face—which was filled with terror. She was NOT about to move from that seat and walk up to that stage. But that was okay; that was just how my mom was—shy, introverted, and always too embarrassed to take credit for her selflessness, even when it was due.

So today, when I think of my mom and her coworkers—fellow nurses, doctors, therapists, maintenance workers, and aids—on the frontlines fighting against this awful pandemic, I am filled with pride. They are the heroes we need in this moment.

But now, along with this feeling of pride, I’m also the one who’s filled with terror.

I try to talk to my mom every day, but it’s been hard to reach her in the past few days because she’s been working tirelessly. It’s almost never good news when I do; last week seems like an eternity ago, but it was then that she told me her hospital was running out of masks. “We already have to ration them,” she said.

And it’s not only masks. In general, her hospital and other hospitals across the country lack adequate numbers of the personal protective equipment (PPE) they need to prevent themselves from falling ill from the coronavirus. According to the CDC, N95 respirators are the PPE most often used to control exposure to infections from airborne viruses like the coronavirus. And now the situation is so dire that the government agency has changed its recommendation, now urging nurses to forgo N95 respirators in general and to reserve them for procedures in which small particles, known as aerosols, are more likely to be produced. (Like, for example, when a patient is so critically ill that they need to be intubated.)

Yesterday, President Trump responded to the growing crisis by invoking the Defense Production Act to mobilize war-scale manufacturing for critical items, and federal health officials said they plan to buy 500 million more N95 respirators over the next 18 months. What to do about shortages today?

Unbelievably, the CDC announced Thursday that those healthcare workers who don’t have access to masks should use bandanas or scarves to shield them from infection. Consequently, nurses like my mom are left virtually unprotected. This is unacceptable; we owe our healthcare workers so much more.

“We don’t feel protected,” Melissa Johnson-Camacho, University of California, Davis nurse and chief nurse representative for the California Nurses Association, told ABC News. “I’ve cried almost every day. I think if there were more transparency, everyone would feel a lot better.”

This lack of transparency, leadership, and coordination between local, state, and federal agencies with individual hospitals is causing healthcare workers to be exposed to coronavirus needlessly. When we talked earlier this week, my mom told me that at least a dozen doctors and nurses on her floor were directly exposed to COVID-19 by a patient who came in for a routine surgery and tested positive after the operation.

Bonnie Castillo, the executive director for National Nurses United, which represents 50,000 registered nurses across the U.S., told ABC News that her organization hears from nurses daily, pleading for more sufficient resources. Additionally, in response to life-threatening shortages, more than 400,000 healthcare providers signed a Change.org petition that urges the Trump administration to do more to procure critical supplies right now.

We know from other countries that healthcare workers—the very people we need on the frontlines—are getting far sicker from coronavirus than other patients.

I talked to my mom last yesterday. She told me she is sick with a cough and had worked the entire day. I asked what her hospital’s response was. “They gave me one of our last masks and told me to stay six feet away from others,” she said, “and told me to take the day off tomorrow.”

So I continue to be filled with terror. And I keep asking what we are doing to protect our nurses. What happens when they’re all sent home sick with a cough because of inadequate protective gear? What will we do then?


Originally published at Spirituality & Health.

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

Urban Gardeners Can Save the World, One Butterfly Garden at a Time

You may have heard as a child that old saw that a butterfly landing on you brings good fortune. A symbol of metamorphosis and transformation throughout the ages, butterflies hold deep spiritual significance across many cultures; there is a good chance that children worldwide have heard the equivalent of that saying.

For Christians, butterflies represent resurrection. In North American Native mythology, butterflies symbolize the soul or human spirit. In the Jewish community, butterfly imagery is profoundly connected to remembrance of the Holocaust.

The Monarch is especially prized, particularly in Mexico. Each year, hundreds of millions of Monarch butterflies make their way to Mexico to overwinter in the oyamel fir forest in the mountains of Central Mexico. Residents believe the butterflies hold the spirits of their deceased loved ones returning home and are celebrated during the multiday holiday Día de los Muertos, or The Day of the Dead, which takes place Oct. 31 to Nov. 2.

Butterflies are not just spiritually important, however—they are significant contributors to the health of our planet. Not only are these butterflies an essential source of food for other insects, birds, and small animals, but Monarchs are also pollinators. The same kinds of habitats that support them support other pollinators such as bees, which are critical for creating and maintaining the ecosystem that we and other animals rely on for food and shelter.

But populations of Monarch butterflies have declined more than 80 percent over the past 20 years. The massive decline can be attributed mainly to climate change and the deforestation of natural habitats, but another big reason for the plummet is the steady loss of milkweed, the only plant on which Monarchs lay their eggs.

Since 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been assessing whether to add the Monarch butterfly to the endangered species list. So, the agency approached ecologists at Chicago’s Field Museum to estimate the amount of habitat available to Monarchs and other pollinators.

The loss of milkweed in urban areas, where the plants are often treated as weeds, has been particularly devastating, according to Conservation Ecologist Erika Hasle, one of the study’s lead researchers. The results, which were released in June 2019, show that one of the most important things we can do to save the Monarchs is to plant milkweed in cities.

“We know that people in cities need nature, but does nature needs cities? Our findings say the answer is yes,” says Hasle, who works in the museum’s Keller Science Action Center. “As a country, 90 percent of us live in urban areas, so having habitat there that can support pollinators is really very important. This is particularly important for Midwestern cities like Chicago, Minneapolis, and Kansas City. As agriculture has become more monoculture, we’ve lost vital habitat to bigger and bigger cornfields.”

For city-dwelling gardeners like me, the answer is obvious: Plant a butterfly garden and save the world! (And boost my yield with more pollinators buzzing in the garden.)

I use my garden to help center, calm, and inspire me. But I also try to get my kids, 9-year-old Caleb and 7-year-old Molly, excited about gardening because it helps me show them the value of sustainability and of living your values. Now that it’s fall, leaves have withered and my garden is spent; there’s not much to do in terms of planting. But it is the perfect time to plant a butterfly garden with the kids. Milkweed seeds need a period of freezing and unthawing to be viable so fall—and even winter—planting is ideal.

During March and April, Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed plants, which then, after about four days, hatch into caterpillars. The milkweed nourishes and feeds the baby caterpillar for about two weeks until it transforms into a chrysalis. After 10 days, the Monarch emerges from the chrysalis, a beautiful butterfly.

I have a raised bed in the back corner of my yard, right next to the alley and garbage cans—a great spot for milkweed and other native wildflowers. You don’t need to live out on the prairie to grow wildflowers like milkweed—a large container or raised bed will do just fine. Most people tend to think of milkweed as an unattractive weed but there are 12 native species of milkweed on which Monarchs thrive, and most are quite lovely.

I know that planting a little butterfly garden in my backyard victory patch won’t actually save the world. But it helps me know that I am doing my part.

“People who live in cities think we are so far removed from nature that there’s not a lot we can do to help our planet,” says the Field Museum’s Hasle. “But this is one way that cities can make a really meaningful contribution to protecting wildlife that’s on the brink of being listed as an endangered species.”

Photo credit: The Field Mueseum, Abigail Derby Lewis
Originally published at Spirituality & Health.

<span class="has-inline-color has-vivid-red-color">Tequia Burt</span>
Tequia Burt

Tequia Burt is a Chicago-based editor, writer, content creator, and brand storyteller with 20 years of experience. In addition to being the Editor in Chief of Backyard Chicago Garden, she is the Founder-CEO of Content[ed.], which provides custom content and strategy to businesses.

Our New Best Place

Before moving into Matt Carmichael’s former house earlier this month, my husband and I had lived in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood for almost 15 years; it was our perfect place. We bought our Logan Square two-bedroom, one-bath condo in 2006 at the height of the real-estate bubble, unfortunately. Like a lot of young Americans in their early 30s who had just bought their first piece of property, the housing bust caused us to lose the little wealth we had accumulated. But we loved where we lived, and that lessened the sting a great bit.

And what’s not to love? Our adorable condo was a mere three blocks from the Blue Line (public transit) station and just a 15-minute commute into downtown, where we both worked. I love to cook and eat good food, and in recent years, a burgeoning gourmet scene down the street is what Bon Appétit now calls Chicago’s new restaurant row. I value eating locally and organically, and the co-op at the end of my block and the Sunday farmers market made that not only possible but also easy to do. When we first bought our apartment, we weren’t married.

Then life changed. We got married in 2008 and shortly thereafter had a son. While our living quarters were more cramped, we still liked living in our little Logan Square gem. We strolled along the wide and beautiful boulevards with our baby in tow; there were at least three great parks in walking distance. We found a good home day care provider who was already taking care of my 1-year-old niece and was located just a hop, skip and a jump away. But now, when we had only driven our car on the weekends, in the interest of saving time we drove our son to day care every day even though it was only about six blocks away. We didn’t sweat it, though, because the other end of the Blue Line train station was across the street from the babysitter, and it was still a convenient commute.

However, that organic meat-share I picked up from the farmers market every other month just wasn’t cutting it, and the astronomical prices of the co-op were not an option. While the neighborhood had a mix of bodegas and chichi locavore co-ops, it didn’t have a big grocery store. So we drove to one every weekend. But we persevered – we were in our perfect place.   Then life changed again. Our daughter was born and our 3-year-old son was now ready to begin preschool. What’s more, I changed jobs and was now working from home. Our two-bedroom was no longer livable. Even though we loved it, we realized we needed more space.

Parting is such sweet sorrow

So we began the hunt for a house. The first decision we had to make was where to look. Immediately, we narrowed to Logan Square – we wanted to stay in our neighborhood. Like most well-heeled young parents in Chicago, though, the thought of navigating the lottery-based Chicago Public School system had us second-guessing our decision. Logan Square has one decent elementary school, and we did not live in its district. The school across the street from our apartment was rated as below-average, and we didn’t want to send our kids there. So we narrowed further to the area surrounding the one good school in the neighborhood. Only problem was the houses were crazy-expensive there and we just couldn’t afford it. We were being priced out of the neighborhood that we’d helped to gentrify.

We did the unthinkable and started considering the suburbs. We struck out the far-flung ones like Naperville and the like straightaway and landed on Evanston and Oak Park. There are many good reasons to live in those suburbs. They are more city-like and racially diverse than others, they have excellent schools and even the restaurants are pretty good. But as a born-and-bred Chicagoan, I couldn’t do it – those places just aren’t my city. Plus, as city-like as those suburbs are, they are still suburbs.

My husband, who grew up in multiple suburbs, hates them. The one he hates the most is Overland Park, Kan., where he spent his middle and high school years and is incidentally on Livability.com’s list of best places to raise kids. He hated it because it wasn’t diverse – and not just in its racial makeup. It was, according to him, so homogenous that it made it hard for a kid like him who wasn’t a jock, who liked punk and ska, and whose family wasn’t conservative, to thrive.

We greatly value being able to raise our mixed-race kids in a city like Chicago, which has both urban culture AND urban diversity. But was our children’s education more important than our love of Chicago? I attended very good magnet schools here that were located about an hour’s drive away from my home. Would my kids test into schools like that and, most important, did I really want that for them? We thought long and hard and decided we wanted to invest in our city. Most middle-class people with kids our age flee to the suburbs, citing the poor academic performance of CPS.

For me, it’s more complicated. There are many examples of urban families here banding together to improve neighborhood schools both for their own children and disadvantaged neighborhood children. There are all kinds of communities to be had in a city, and we are in for the long haul. And then we found our perfect house, Matt’s former home. It is perfect for every reason he listed in his blog post. While he didn’t send his daughter to the neighborhood school, it is known for being a very good area school. And it’s in walking distance. And only 12 blocks away from our former hood. But best of all, it’s just a few blocks from my sister and her family. And now my children have a big backyard to play in with their cousins. We couldn’t be happier.

Our New Best Place was originally published at Livability.com on June 24, 2014

Why my family is betting on Chicago — and its public schools

I am a Chicagoan through and through.

So when my husband and I decided to buy a house, it was only natural for us to look for a house here in the city. And that’s where we ended up — in a house in Irving Park three times the size of our tiny Logan Square condo.

When we began house hunting, the first decision we had to make was where to look. Immediately, we narrowed to our beloved Logan Square. Like most well-heeled young parents in Chicago, though, the thought of navigating the lottery-based Chicago Public School system had us second-guessing. Logan Square has one decent elementary school, and we did not live in its district. The school across the street was rated below-average, and we didn’t want to send our kids there. So we narrowed further to the area surrounding the one good school in the neighborhood but we just couldn’t afford the houses there.

So we did the unthinkable and started considering the suburbs. We struck out the far-flung ones such as Naperville and the like straightaway and landed on Evanston and Oak Park. While there are many good reasons to live in those suburbs — they are more city-like and racially diverse than others, they have excellent schools and even pretty good restaurants — we are just not suburbanites. We greatly value being able to raise our mixed-race kids in a city like Chicago, which has both urban culture and diversity.

But was our children’s education more important than our love of Chicago? I attended an excellent elementary magnet school here — Decatur Classical — that was located about an hour away from my home. Would my kids test into schools like that and, most important, did I really want that for them? Decatur was pretty intense.

A TWO-PART QUESTION

We thought long and hard and decided we wanted to invest in our city. Most middle-class people with kids our age flee to the suburbs, citing the poor academic performance of CPS. Others break the bank to live in the district of better-performing public schools or send their children to private schools. For us, it’s more complicated. The two-part question that we were left with when we were making this decision was could families like ours with two educated, middle-class parents have a positive impact on city schools? Could our participation improve them not just for our own children, but for other children as well?

My husband and I decided that the answer to that question was yes. There are many examples of urban middle-class families uniting to improve public schools both for their own children, as well as for neighborhood children. I believe the more of us that can commit to that, the more we can demand excellence and help struggling schools get there. And after sending our preschool-age son to a neighborhood school for the past year, I think they get a bum rap — now there is evidence to back that up. A recent Chicago Sun-Times analysis of “MAP” test results showed that Chicago Public School test scores, especially in reading, outpace those of charter schools, which are a pet project of Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The mayor loves charter schools so much that he has funded them at the expense of our city’s public schools. Perhaps more middle-class parents could be convinced to also invest in CPS if he showed that same kind of allegiance to our public schools.

While we won’t enroll our children in a failing school (we’re not that altruistic), there are plenty of good neighborhood schools in the city; there is even one in walking distance of our new affordable house. We also know that a school is not the end-all, be-all of raising intelligent, engaged children. The commitment of family and friends to the education and growth of children is powerful in combination with dedicated teachers that many neighborhood schools can offer. There are all kinds of communities to be had in a city, and we are in for the long haul.

Tequia Burt is a native Chicagoan and can’t imagine living anywhere else. Her day job is as the editor of FierceCMO, a digital publication targeted 

 

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Originally published in Crain’s Chicago Business September 2014

Why Little League International is wrong about Jackie Robinson West

Bloomberg
Members of the Jackie Robinson West baseball team at a rally in Chicago in August.

 

By Tequia Burt

Getting up yesterday morning to see the Jackie Robinson West team stripped of its U.S. Little League Championship title was like a knife to the heart.

Like millions of Chicagoans, I cheered them on and rooted for our South Side team to go all the way. Even though the boys did not win the world title, to people across the city they still were our champs. Our boys were the first African-American team to win a Little League Championship.

And we all needed it—the black community, in particular, needed it. They won the title during a time of great pain, when black boys felt like their lives didn’t matter. They filled our terror-filled psyches with hope. We took a collective breath—our sons can be role models; they aren’t just criminals in hoodies stealing cigarillos. Then this happened.

And now they’re cheaters. Because, according to Little League International CEO Stephen Keener, at least two kids lived outside sanctioned boundaries.

Instead of being heroes, now they’re a “superteam,” fitting neatly into the narrative of black males as brutes imbued with superhuman strength. Innocence has been lost.

WHAT ABOUT THE NFL?

At a time when Deflategate is happening and MLB players admit to doping, these children are being told that they are learning a good lesson: Cheaters never win. In reality, the lesson they are learning is that cheaters don’t win unless they are powerful. Black boys are not powerful. And I’m pretty sure they are well aware that mistakes can cost them.

These children are being held to stricter standards than the NFL holds its teams and players: Even though 11 of 12 footballs the Patriots used in the AFC Championship were deflated, even though they are widely thought of as cheaters,the team went on to win the Super Bowl. No one is threatening to vacate their title.

While the adults in the Little League scandal have been appropriately punished, it still doesn’t change the fact that these children are being reprimanded for being successful. They were failed by their coaches, by the Little League organization and, even, by some parents. Yet they are the ones paying the ultimate price.

The Little League did not make the right decision by stripping JRW of its championship title. There are reports that Little League International knew that multiple Little League teams in the area violate boundary rules as a matter of course, including the Evergreen Park league, whose coach worked hard to get JRW stripped of its title.

If the rules were so important, why did the organization only begin the investigation after JRW won and someone complained and a reporter forced the issue? Eligibility should have been established long before any team played in the finals. If rules really mattered, this level of scrutiny should be placed on all the teams all over the country—from the get-go. The organization’s framework for evaluating residency is clearly flawed since JRW previously was cleared of wrongdoing.

The children should not be the ones made to suffer the consequences. Black boys are so often made into the bogeyman; let them be heroes for once.

So now it’s time to express our support, Chicago. We have to let these children know that they aren’t the ones to blame even though they’re being penalized. Let’s show the children in JRW that they’re still champs.

 

Tequia Burt is a native Chicagoan and can’t imagine living anywhere else. Her day job is as editor of FierceCMO, a digital publication targeted to B2B marketers.

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Originally published in Crain’s Chicago Business Feb. 12, 2015