Archive | January 2016

Birdseed Treats

birdseed5Our feathered friends sometimes struggle to find food when snow covers everything. You can help with a few ingredients and cookie cutters. All you need are unflavored gelatin, water and seed mix. Combine the ingredients, spread the mixture onto a cookie sheet, chill and use cookie cutters to make the shapes. Let dry before putting outside or wrapping.

Birdseed Treat Recipe

  • 1/3 cup gelatin6a6c8f56-69f4-40c6-a4f1-ba5d05c345c1
  • 1-1/2 cups water
  • 8 cups of birdseed

Mix gelatin and water on low until gelatin is melted and clear. Remove from heat and stir in 8 cups of birdseed. Stir until it is well mixed and there is no dry seed. Fill cookie cutters with the seed mixture and pack tightly. Then refrigerate for 2 to 4 hours. Dry on baking rack for 3 days. Recipe courtesy of Angie Dixon.

Birdseed Wreath

To make a wreath, combine the same ingredients used to make the birdseed treats. But instead of using cookie cutters, press the mixture into a miniature Bundt cake pan or another rounded mold. Refrigerate for 4 hours, then carefully remove from the mold. Let it dry overnight, then decorate it with edibles. Or dress it up with raffia, large accents, ribbon or bows.

Heirloom Annuals

originally printed in the summer 2006 edition of the Outagamie County Master Gardener Association newsletter

Old Fashioned Beauties By Tammy Borden

When we hear seasoned gardeners proudly talking about their heirloom plants, they often boast about their wonderful tomatoes and vegetable varieties. And rightfully so! My favorite tomato is a variety that my uncle Ralph has been saving seeds from for nearly 40 years. We don’t know the name, but they reliably produce large, pink, meaty and delicious tomatoes year after year.

Still, my latest fascination is large heirloom annuals for the back of the border. As I thumbed through my Seed Saver Exchange catalogue I couldn’t help but notice that of the 79 pages, there were only 9 featuring flowering annuals. Of the dozen or so varieties of plants beneath grow lights in my basement, half are heirlooms. So, I thought I’d share some with you…via paper, that is!

Night Scented Tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestris) An amazingly stunning plant. It’s stately stalks hold hundreds of long 3” trumpet-shaped white flowers that attract hummingbirds. Also referred to as Woodland tobacco, it reaches 5’ tall. The tiny seeds germinate easily and it seems almost impossible for such an impressive plant to be produced from a seed smaller than a grain of salt. The foliage is impressive too, with leaves reaching 6” or more across.


Hyacinth Bean Vine

Hyacinth Bean Vine (Dolichos Lablab) Even if this plant never bloomed, I’d still grow it for its lush deep blue/green foliage laced with veins of burgundy, and accented by strong purple stems. When flowers appear in late summer it takes your breath away, and the glossy maroon pods that follow are beautiful and exotic looking. It will quickly take over a trellis and grow 10-15’ if given the room. A must have.

Grandpa Otts Morning Glory Vine (Iomoea purpurea) This variety of morning glory is so beautiful that it helped inspire the formation of The Seed Saver’s Exchange. It was originally introduced in 1930. The color is an intense violet-blue, with a ruby star in the center. The vine will cover fences and trellises, or can be grown as a groundcover. Also looks great in hanging baskets or pots. Very easy to grow, even in poor soil, and has reseeded itself readily my garden.

Bells of Ireland (Moluccella laevis) I confess that it is not a long-time favorite. In fact, this is the first year I’ve tried rowing them. I was told they were hard to start from seed, so I took on the challenge! The key was placing the planted seeds, soil and all, in- side the refrigerator for a week. When I removed them and placed them beneath grown lights, they sprouted within a few days. I’m excited to see these 2-3 foot beauties featuring stalks of bright green “bells” lighting up a sunny spot in my garden this year. The ruffled seedlings are already intriguing!

Kiss me Over the Garden Gate (Polygonum orientale) My friend, Kay, suggested this plant. She’ even used it in bouquets for a wedding. Its graceful arching pink fronds mixed with sunflowers are especially beautiful. Give it room at the back of a sunny border and this 6’ tall wonder will keep blooming all summer. Once you find seeds for this annual, you’ll most likely never have to buy them again since it readily self-sows in your garden. It’s hard to transplant, so if you start it indoors, be sure to use a peat pot that can go directly into the ground.

The beauty of heirloom flowers is not just in their appearance. By saving seeds from these beauties you can continue the cycle of life for generations. Plus, heirlooms are generally more resistant to disease and problems than many hybrids, requiring fewer chemicals and fuss. Try some of these varieties and find that what’s old is new again.

National Honor

As Master Gardeners, we work as volunteers to make our community a better place and pride ourselves on being educators. One of our members has taken this to a new level when, in November of 2015, he was one of six teachers in the country honored with the 2015 Outstanding Agricultural Education Teacher Award from the National Association of Agricultural Educators.

Paul and Fonda Larson are members of the Outagamie County Master Gardener Association (OCMGA) and are involved in community projects and, as this news article shows, Paul is also passionate about education of our young people.

As we think about how many of the “old ways” are dying out like basic farming, canning and preserving, beekeeping, and seed saving, it’s wonderful to know that there are people like Paul devoted to teaching our young people the skills that kept our grandparents alive.

Read more about Paul and his work with young people in the news article here:

Light for Indoor Seed Starting

Almost every day a new seed or garden catalog arrives in the mailbox, which allows you to think beyond the snow outside your window. Many of us already have light systems in place to allow early seed starting but, if you’ve been scared away by the cost of the lights you find in catalogs, you may want to consider building your own.

Christy Marsden, Rock County UW-Extension Horticulture Educator, has put together instructions to create your own light system for considerably less cost than what you find in the stores. From the University of Wisconsin Extension’s Master Gardener “Volunteer Vibe”:

Expert’s Tip: Building a Light System for Indoor Seed Starting

Christy Marsden, Rock County UW-Extension Horticulture Educator

Seedlings require 10-14 hours of light per day for optimal growth. Building a simple light system can provide enough light to produce robust, healthy seedlings any time of the year with minimal cost.

A note about bulb choice: Light contains a spectrum of colors. Different light sources produce different spectrums of color, which makes bulb choice important. While plants utilize all colors, blue and red wave lengths are critical for photosynthesis. Fluorescent bulbs provide the best levels of blue and red light for home-owner indoor plant growth. Furthermore, lower heat output means bulbs can be placed closer to the plants without the danger of burning leaves. Cool-white bulbs work better than daylight, warm-white, or white bulbs. Specialized “full-spectrum” tubes for plant growth produce the proper levels of blue and red light, but can be expensive. Using a ratio of 1 specialized to 2 cool-white bulbs works just as well and saves money. Furthermore, fluorescent bulbs are preferred over incandescent bulbs. Incandescent bulbs do not produce enough blue light, are expensive to run, and can produce damaging levels of heat.

Supplies Needed:

  • Shop light fixture for 32-watt T-8 fluorescent bulbs
  • (2) T-8 32-watt fluorescent bulbs, cool-white or cool-white and specialized plant growth
  • 10 feet of 1.5” PVC pipe. Any width above 1.5” will work – just be consistent with joints sizes
  • (2) 1.5” slip tee
  • (2) 1.5” 90˚ elbow
  • (4) 1.5” end cap
  • Extra chain and hooks for shop light

Cut the PVC pipe into the following pieces:

  • (1) 52”
  • (2) 18”
  • (4) 8”

Put the pieces together to create the following structure. With the extra chain, you can place the light within a few inches of the plants canopy and move the light upwards as the plants grow.  

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 img_growing_light_bank PVCcomplete

Note from Vicki:  I have open beams in my basement and was able to hang a light from chains fixed to one of the beams. With a table directly below the light, and chains that are long enough to allow you to move the light up and down, you can accomplish this without the need to build a frame.

Who’s Right?

5gmocropsGMO Foods:  Dangerous or a Tempest-in-a-Teapot?

There has been a lot of discussion and arguments about GMOs, or genetically modified organisms. Scientists add genes to corn, soybeans, and other plants, usually to protect the crops from insects or herbicides. GMO fans say it makes crops easier to grow and cheaper, thereby feeding more people for less money. Critics, however, worry that GMOs pose an unnatural threat to our health and the environment. They say that GMOs have been linked to depression, allergies, infertility, and even cancer.

It’s interesting to note that GMOs have been in our food supply for over 20 years. Only recently has a controversy developed — nurtured in part by documentaries and experts on television medical programs. About 75 percent of consumers say they are concerned about the safety of the genetically modified foods, according to a New York Times survey. Many states are now requiring labeling of all foods made with GMOs; the European Union already requires labeling, and several countries, including France, have banned the planting of genetically modified crops. So, are GMOs safe — or should you running screaming in the other direction?  Here’s some evidence.

  • Unless you’ve been eating only foods labeled 100% organic — which must be GMO free — you probably have GMOs in your system now. Roughly 90% of the corn, canola, soybeans, and sugar beets grown in this country have bits of DNA that originally came from a lab.
  • Hundreds of studies have found no trouble with GMOs, says Ruth MacDonald, professor and chair of food science at Iowa State University. After looking at more than 130 research projects — including animal studies and searches for known toxins or allergens in GMO foods — even the European Union concluded that there’s nothing especially risky about them.
  • Adding genes to crops isn’t any more dangerous than traditional breeding, which farmers have done for thousands of years, the American Association for the Advancement of Science declared in 2012. Old methods of modifying crops mixed tens of thousands of genes with unpredictable results. The fact that scientists can now insert a single gene into corn or soybeans shouldn’t raise any new alarms.

Based on this information, there doesn’t appear to be any scientific reason to ban GMO foods to protect your health. However, it is healthy to limit your intake of the processed foods that often contain them. And don’t assume that GMO-free packaged food is necessarily healthy.  Organic cookies can still contain too much sugar or salt.