Tom's #Mailbag, June 29, 2018

Tom's #Mailbag, June 29, 2018

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We've had a run on farm-related questions at Mailbag World Headquarters, particularly unusual crops in area fields. We have questions this week on wheat fields and farmland south of Urbana where nut trees and fruits are being grown together.

Further, questions about rabbits, beehives and possible fishing in stormwater basins in Champaign. And J.J. Lockwood's Cubbie Conversation, how Green Street got its name, whether it's illegal to go door to door for political candidates, what's going on in downtown Champaign and, of course, Golden Corral.

Finally, CUBS Night (rained out earlier) has been rescheduled for Thursday, July 12 at Danville Stadium when the Dans play the Hannibal Hoots. Who knows the answer to this question: "What University of Illinois graduate briefly managed a Major League Baseball club in the 1960s?"

First person to email the correct answer to wins four tickets.


Fields of wheat

"Some friends and I noticed there seems to be a lot of wheat planted in what are normally exclusively fields of corn and soybeans. There's a field next to Stone Creek, another seen in Mattoon and others I can't recall their specific locations. Is there some shift in choice of crops?"

The estimates from the US Department of Agriculture don't show any recent upward trendline in wheat production in Champaign County. The wheat numbers for the last three years: 2015, 231,000 bushels; 2016, 164,000 bushels; 2017, 172,000 bushels. Compare that with the 2017 estimates for corn and soybeans in the county: 55.8 million bushels of corn and 16.5 million bushels of beans.

On the other hand, Jon Schroeder, this year's News-Gazette Farm Leader of the Year, said he likes to grow some wheat every year. And if there is an increase it could be for a number of reasons:

— Easier access for farmers putting new drainage tiles in their fields

"What guys will do is plant some wheat because they know they can harvest it in the summer. The tiling guys like that too because they're not very busy because of all the corn and soybean production going on in the fields right now," he explained. "Around here most of the tiling goes on in the fall and the spring. But if you can do some wheat and get some tiling done, that will pay off in the long run."

— Crop rotation

"I put in at least 120 acres of wheat a year. We do it because we rotate it on the land we own because that way we break the weed and insect cycle with corn and soybeans," Schroeder said.

— Double-cropping

"The last three years we've been pretty successful double cropping with soybeans. It actually pays better than just the soybean crop alone," he said. "It's still a pretty minor crop and I don't see it getting any larger in the foreseeable future."

Schroeder said he knows four farmers in his area who used to grow wheat and don't anymore.

"And if they do, like one guy last year, it's because they want to do some tiling in the summer," he said.


Origin of Green Street name

"How did Green Street get its name?"

There apparently is no explanation for the name. J.O. Cunningham's definitive history of Champaign County lists no one named Green among the county pioneers.

Green Street was one of the first streets in Urbana — and therefore in the county — according to an 1833 plat of the town of Urbana. The Champaign County Historical Archives at the Urbana Free Library has a copy of that first plat and it includes the following street names: Green, Main, Elm, Market, Water, Race and Vine streets — none of which appear to be named for early settlers. (Also on the plat are several alleys in central Urbana: Grape, Cherry, Goose and Crane).

Thanks much to Karla Gerdes at the archives for her help on this question.

Another expert in local history — Champaign city planner T.J. Blakeman, who also is president of the board of the Champaign County Historical Museum — told The News-Gazette's Marcus Jackson two years ago that there are no records indicating how Green Street got its name.

I also checked to see whether there is a Green Street in Urbana, Ohio — from which Urbana, Illinois got its name. There isn't.


Beehives in the city

"I am curious about the beehives at Custom Flooring and Acoustics on Hickory Street in Champaign. I see a person maintaining them periodically. How long have they been there? Is the honey harvested? Who installed them and maintains them? Were they installed for a specific ecological or economic purpose?"

The hives were installed by beekeeper Bryan Miller with the permission of the owners of Custom Flooring. He has two other beehives in Champaign-Urbana, he said.

Miller owns Big Grove Apiaries, and sells honey at the Art Mart, Hopscotch Bakery and Market, Cheese & Crackers, Great Harvest Bread and the farmers market in Mahomet.

He said he harvested about 400 pounds of honey last week although he doesn't believe his yield this year will be as sweet as last year's 1,700 pounds."This spring was just so darn cold it hurt us," he said.

He said he lost about 40 percent of his bees last year because of diseases and other issues, but that other local beekeepers lost twice as many.

One of the best ways to help the bee population thrive, he said, is to plant pollinator friendly flowers and let clover grow in your lawn.

Trent Seten at Custom Flooring said that Miller approached the business about using a small portion of their property in north Champaign.

"He really liked the old abandoned railway property and said there's a lot of natural prairie flowers growing in there and that he really liked that it's in the city and that it warms up a little faster in the spring and stays warm longer into the fall," Seten said.

He said Miller's hives have been there for about three years. It's a good deal for Seten as well.

"The rental fee is free honey," he said.


Fishing in stormwater basins

"In any of the new water retention basins, has the city of Champaign thought about or considered stocking with fish for residents in the area? If not, why not? Specifically, the new Glenn Park basin."

Public Works Department spokesman Kris Koester — star of last Sunday's "Getting Personal" column ( — said that although "recent detention basin construction includes significant amenities, the primary purpose of the basins is for stormwater detention. Public Works responsibilities do not include recreational management, thus stocking of the basins with fish is not under consideration. Additionally, the pipes are connected to local streams and so fish appear/leave naturally as water moves through the pipes."


Downtown construction

"In front of Esquire Lounge in downtown Champaign, crews have been using one lane of traffic to work on something for what seems like a month. Is it a bigger sidewalk? Is it going to last much longer?"

It's been almost a month. The project started May 29. It calls for construction of traffic signals, "bump outs" and streetscaping at a number of downtown locations, including bumpouts at Walnut and Taylor streets, said Koester.

The project is scheduled to be completed in the fall, although individual pieces will be completed sooner.



Cubbie Conversation setting

"In the interest of full disclosure, I am a St. Louis Cardinals fan,although I only root against the Cubs when they play the Cardinals. What is the background for many of the Cubbie Conversations on The News-Gazette website? Is that a local bar/restaurant?"

The "Cubbie Conversation," hosted by Cubs fan J.J. Lockwood, is produced at the Fatman's Warehouse in Danville, which sponsors the weekly feature.


Political soliciting law

"Does Champaign have any rules prohibiting political types going door to door? A pleasant enough young man who was encouraging votes for (U.S. Rep.) Rodney Davis' opponent (Democrat Betsy Londrigan) knocked on my door this morning, which I wasn't bothered by but my GOP neighbors sure were. It was mid-morning — had he come an hour earlier, I wouldn't have been so cheery."

No, the city has no laws limiting political activity, said City Attorney Fred Stavins. Such an ordinance would not be a good idea in view of the First Amendment that says that "Congress (and by extension the Champaign City Council) shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech."

Stavins notes that a political candidate or a campaign volunteer for a candidate could be ordered off someone's property and if the person did not leave it could be considered trespassing.


More on bikes in a crosswalk

"I noted in (last week's Mailbag) the answer given by (Urbana Public Works Director Bill) Gray, to a question about riding bicycles in crosswalks, in which Mr. Gray seemed to say that it's not legal to ride bicycles through crosswalks. The Illinois Vehicle Code seems to disagree: see part (c) of the section of the Code. Could you clarify?Yes, says Illinois Secretary of State spokesman Henry Haupt, bicycles can be ridden through a crosswalk, unless the use of bicycle is prohibited by official traffic control devices. (625 ILCS 5/11-1512(b).

In that same statute, says Haupt, it says "(c) A person propelling a bicycle upon and along a sidewalk or across a roadway upon and along a crosswalk, shall have all the rights and duties applicable to a pedestrian under the same circumstances."


"T" on vehicle stickers

"Recently I have noticed on my normal commutes that on some people's license plates instead of having the normal expiration sticker they instead have an orange sticker with the letter 'T' on it. Could you please explain what those stickers are?"

More from Haupt at the secretary of state's office: Secretary (Jesse) White announced in November 2016 that the office was launching a cost-efficient passenger license plate replacement program beginning in January 2017 to replace the oldest license plates with newly designed plates at no additional cost to Illinois taxpayers.

"In 2017, passenger plates that were manufactured in 2000 and 2001 were replaced. This year, passenger plates that were manufactured in 2002 and 2003 are being replaced," Haupt said. "Each year the office will continue to replace older license plates with the newly issued plate. The process will start again in 2027, replacing the plates issued in 2017.

"Vehicle owners are notified by mail if they qualify for the new license plates. When they renew their vehicle registration, they will be provided with a sticker with a "T" on it to affix to the rear license plate of their vehicle. Within 60 days they will receive their newly designed license plates in the mail with a new registration sticker already affixed to the rear license plate.

"The purpose of the program is to ensure — now and in the future — that older license plates on Illinois roads are replaced. License plates' reflectivity diminishes with age, which impacts law enforcement's ability to quickly and accurately identify license plate numbers."

Here's a link to the press release that announced the change about 18 months ago ...


Cap on teacher raises

"I recently read that the General Assembly passed legislation capping teacher pay raises to a maximum of 3 percent per year. Was that only for teachers nearing retirement? If it applies across the board, how will that affect the salary increases that teachers usually receive when they increase their education or the legislation proposed by Andy Manar that would set a minimum pay for teachers — increasing starting salaries in the lowest paid districts (if that would amount to an increase of more than 3 percent)?

"If the 3 percent cap is limited only to those nearing retirement, wouldn't that be discriminatory (one couldn't increase their education and thus pay nearing the end of their career)?"

The budget approved by lawmakers and signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner contains the so-called "pension spiking" provision. End of career raises, recently limited to 6 percent of salary annually, now will be restricted to 3 percent.

In the past, say opponents of the maneuver, some school districts would negotiate and award outgoing raises for retirees into double digits as a way to pad their pensions for life. That expense was covered by the state, not the local school district that made the decision. In 2005 the 6 percent limit was enacted. But some school districts continued the practice and passed hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalty payments on to local taxpayers.


Unusual crops

"What is growing in the field at the southeast corner of Race Street and Curtis Road? It has been there for several years and look like small trees and bushes. Is this U of I property?"

That's the Agroforestry for Food Project, said Sarah Lovell, an associate professor of crop sciences at the UI.

It mixes woody plants, such as nut trees, with shrubs growing berries such as black currant and elderberry.

This is the third summer of the project, she said.

"My Agroforestry for Food team is studying an alternative option for agriculture in the Midwest, initially targeting areas that are not best suited for row crops," she said on the project's website. "We are comparing a variety of systems — mixtures of trees, shrubs, and forage or hay — that yield multiple food (and fuel) products including fruits and nuts.

"We call them 'Multifunctional Woody Polycultures' because of the potential benefits of a more complex mix of permanent species. In addition to providing harvestable products in abundance, these alternative systems could offer environmental benefits such as permanent wildlife habitat, efficient use of nutrients and storage of carbon — all of which we will measure."More information on the project is available at


Rascally rabbits

"It seems like rabbits are almost outnumbering geese around Champaign lately. I have a good four or five around my house in west Champaign and friends who live elsewhere said they're seeing a bunch of them for the first time too. Where'd all these furballs come from? They're driving our dogs bonkers."

It's not likely the rabbits are making babies any more than usual, said Bryan Eubanks of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

"Every year I get people who call and say they've seen more rabbits than they've seen in their life," said Eubanks, a wildlife biologist with the IDNR. "That can be the same community from year to year and it's not necessarily the case.

"What happens a lot of time is that rabbits are prolific and they'll have many offspring and it doesn't take many rabbits to cause a localized jump in the population. There have probably just been a couple pair of breeding pairs that have had good success this spring in that local area."


Mail delivery by truck

"Today I noticed the houses along Church Street in Urbana having their mail delivered by a postal worker driving a small truck. He drove to each house, got out of the vehicle, walked to the house, put the mail in the mailbox at the front door, walked back to the vehicle, and drove to the next house where he repeated the process. The temperature was nearing 90 degrees. Is this the normal process for delivering mail in the central part of the cities where there is no mailbox at the street? If so, how long has the postal service been doing this?"

You didn't say where on Church Street you saw this occurring but Champaign Postmaster Larry Chandler said that there are a few situations that warrant this kind of delivery and one is where there are houses only on one side of the street — and that's the case with two blocks of Church Street in Urbana.

"It might be more efficient to do what we call hop and stop on that one side of the street," said Chandler. "That's very unusual but there are some addresses where it's the best way to do it."


Golden Corral

"What's going on with Golden Corral; coming to town?"

According to Champaign's building safety division, the building permit application for the Golden Corral at 1202 W. Anthony Drive is still on hold for "engineering-related" issues.

We also filed a freedom of information act request for correspondence between the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District and the restaurant's developer, Mike Petroline of GC Buffet and Associates of Vero Beach, Fla.

Things were testy in the early going, the correspondence shows, including a November 2017 exchange between Petroline and Laura Shobe of the public health district where he complained about having to make copies of a form and mail it to the agency.

"Are you kidding me?" he wrote. "Sorry I don't have a typewriter. What is up with your department? It is 2017?"

But things seem to have calmed in recent months and by April 16, the correspondence shows, Penny Murphy of public health had written to the project manager, Judith Finker of LMHT Associates in Morrisville, N.C., and included a "letter of design approval."

"This letter serves as notification that construction may begin," she wrote on April 16. "Visits to your facility will be made during its construction to ensure adherence to your plans. The final inspection of the facility will indicate whether or not compliance has been properly met."

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