Anna Stange


$1 worth of seeds can yield up to $75 worth of produce.  You can grow your own food even if you don’t have a yard or have ever grown anything in the past.

Blue Island is almost like a garden of Eden for growing fruits and veggies in the spring, summer and fall, and our community gardens make it possible for anyone to grow their own healthy food. 4×10 foot raised beds are available at Memorial Park on Highland Ave. and at the California Gardens Rec Center at 141st and Francisco.  Contact the Park District at 708-385-3304 or stop in the office at 12804 Highland Ave for information and registration. Plots are just $20 for residents (limit two per household), scholarships are available for the asking, and garden volunteers will share growing and harvesting knowledge.

If you have some space in your yard, or room for pots on your porch or patio, some things are easy to grow: hot peppers, spinach, radishes, lettuce, basil, sage, cilantro, oregano, kale, collards.  Follow the directions on the seed packet, and be careful not to use too many seeds.  Most vegetable seeds remain viable for a few years.Using too many seeds adds extra work to thin your plants, and can cause overcrowding and reduced yields.  Strawberries grow well in pots and planters.  Everbearing varieties will produce fruit throughout the summer.

If you have a little more room in your yard, raspberries, blackberries, concord grapes, dwarf pear and currants are easy fruits to grow.  Mint, oregano, lemon balm and thyme make excellent ground covers.  They spread easily and are perennial in our climate.

Using edible plants to landscape yards and replace lawns is becoming more common here in the Midwest.  Called guerrilla gardening, permaculture, urban food forest, or edible landscaping, the idea is to make good healthy food more available.  With research showing a link between poor health and processed foods, we can use our yards to improve our health by growing fresh, organic produce.

If you need seeds and are willing to save and share some of your seeds at the end of the season, visit the new Seed Lending Library at the Blue Island Library.  You can “check out” a packet of seeds, say tomatoes or lettuce; grow the plants; at the end of the season, save some seeds and bring some back to the library.  If you aren’t successful at saving seeds, there is no penalty; just try again next season.

A final tip: when buying seedlings, be sure to get organic seedlings.  A recent study found that 51% of seedlings purchased at some big box stores contained neonicotinoids, persistent pesticides that are particularly harmful tohoneybees. 

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January 2015

As I write this, it is much too cold to go outside. We have no TV, no VCR, and HD Netflix movies use up too many of our Internet gigs, so what to do? This is the perfect time of year to do the indoor tasks that I hate to do in the other three seasons.

This is the time I plan the garden and order any seeds I still need for this year’s garden. Mother Earth News has a garden planner tool that you can try out for free. Sign up for a plot in one of Blue Island’s community gardens. Did you know that community gardeners can get seeds, seedlings, and growing tips for free? It’s true, and there are volunteer scholarships also available. The gardens need volunteers to help with weeding, harvesting for the food pantry, mowing, and more. In exchange, you can have your own organic garden plot.

While researching high efficiency (HE) laundry soap, I learned that all I really needed was low sudsing soap was all I needed and started making my own. No harsh chemicals! The deal is great: about 128 loads of laundry for about $12. (Lower cost if you catch a sale or use coupons.) The bonus is a lower carbon footprint: no liquid is involved, so lower shipping costs, and no petroleum products in the detergent. In just a few minutes, I can make months’ worth of laundry soap, and it doesn’t take up much space.

Here’s the recipe: 1 bar ivory soap, 1 cup each washing soda and borax. To shred the soap, I put it on a plate in the microwave for one minute. It will puff up. Let it cool slightly; pull off the puff; microwave the rest of the bar for about another minute; let it cool slightly; then crumble the soap puff into a powder. Mix all ingredients together. Use 1T per load. Use 2-3T for really large or heavily soiled laundry.

If I start a batch of mead (honey wine) now, it will be ready for drinking and gifting next winter. Mead is so easy to make. In a sanitized food grade container, dissolve 1 gallon honey in 4 gallons of water, add 2 packets of wine yeast (available at BevArt) cover with a sterile cloth or airlock, and let it sit at room temperature for about two months. After two months, bottle the mead and let it sit for at least 4 more months. Bottles should be very clean. Screw tops, bottle caps and corks are all suitable for sealing.

And now, I’ll catch up on some more reading. Cheers!