Archive | April 2016

A wise investment — use a rain barrel!

EarthMinded-Rain-BarrelEvery gardener shares one overwhelming desire each season:  please send rain! There’s nothing to compare to a thorough soaking from a spring shower during those hot summer months when every drop counts! That’s what makes a rain barrel so valuable.

Positioned beneath a downspout, a rain barrel collects the runoff from your roof during rainfall. Free of the chemicals added to city water, rainwater is beneficial for your lawn, flower beds, borders, vegetable gardens, and containers. You can use this supply to supplement your water needs, cutting down on your utility bill.

Rain barrels come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but 55 gallons is a common size for the average homeowner. You can make your own (using plans that are found online), or you’ll be able to find one at practically any garden center or garden supply company. If you live in a cold winter area with freezing temps, just drain your barrel in fall before storing it upside down in a garage or shed. And once a year, clean out its interior with a non-toxic solution, such as vinegar.

There are equations to calculate a precise amount of water that you can expect to collect based on your area’s annual rainfall and the size of your roof. But just 1/4 inch of rainfall onto a roof that’s 1200 square feet would more than fill two barrels.

Tips for getting the best out of your rain barrel:

  1. Cover an open top with a screened lid to keep the water clean. Covering the barrel prevents debris from falling in and protects your water supply from mosquito larvae. Note: if you can’t screen the top of your barrel, you can still discourage the growth of mosquitoes by using bacterial products designed to kill mosquito larva.
  2. If your barrel has a closed lid, you’ll need a downspout diverter which diverts rainwater into the barrel until it’s full. After that, it allows excess water to drain safely away from the foundation of your home.
  3. Elevating your rain barrel makes for a stronger water flow from it’s spigot. Plus, it puts the barrel at a more convenient height to fill watering cans and buckets, or to attach a hose.

Comment by Tom Wentzel, OCMGA chair of The Learning Garden:  “There are soaker hose systems that can be connected to rain barrels. Typical soaker hoses require about 20 PSI to function. These systems claim to function under no pressure. A system like this will be installed in The Learning Garden on the Outagamie County Agricultural Extension grounds when weather permits. Last year this system worked quite well.”


No Need to Chill

From the HSHS Sacred Heart St. Joseph’s “Inspiring Health” magazine, Spring 2016:

Many people unnecessarily refrigerate some fruits and veggies — a mistake that can impact flavor and nutritional value. Refrigeration helps ensure perishable foods that may harbor harmful bacteria at room temperature are safe for your family to eat. Some fruits and vegetables, including lettuces and mushrooms, are perishable and need refrigeration. However, as long as they haven’t been sliced or cooked, few fruits and veggies actually require refrigeration. Here are some foods you can safely enjoy at room temperature.heirloomveggies

  • Tomatoes – a study published in Postharvest Biology and Technology found the refrigerating tomatoes may lead to discoloration and decrease the fruit’s concentration of lycopene, an antioxident that has been linked to health benefits. For the best results, store tomatoes on the counter.
  • Stone fruits – peaches, nectarines, and other stone fruits are more likely to become mealy and lose their flavor when chilled. Let your peaches and nectarines ripen at room temperature, and then refrigerate them if you aren’t planning to eat them right away.
  • Potatoes – according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, storing potatoes in the refrigerator causes potato starch to convert to sugar, which can affect the taste of your spuds. Shelter your potatoes from temperature extremes by storing them in a cool, dark cabinet.

To find more healthy eating tips, visit and select “Wellness for Life”.

Lasagna Gardening (book review)

Lasagna Gardening

By Patricia Lanza

Reviewed by Karen DesJarlais, Excerpt from Fine Gardening submitted by Marcie Burrows

imagesMaybe you’ve heard the term lasagna gardening but never really understood what it meant. It’s the method of layering for bountiful gardens without digging, tilling or weeding. Sounds too good to be true doesn’t it? If you know someone who already clearly understands how to do it, you can affirm or expand what you’ll find in this book.

It’s not too late to try the method now before snow falls. We have an abundance of leaves which is the most important component. Here’s how we do the layering. Sod is first, followed by newspaper, peat moss, barn litter if you have it, peat moss again, compost, peat moss, grass clippings, peat moss, chopped leaves, peat moss and finally wood ashes.

Lanza shares success stories about her gardens which should inspire us to try lasagna gardening. But there’s good advice about gardening in general, like cradling your cucumbers. Drawings of all kinds make it easy to pick up and use her advice.

Of special interest is the chapter on Lasagna Gardening in Fall and Winter. You’ll find crop ideas listed by zone. This includes flowers and herbs, berries and plants for a winter garden.

My favorite chapter is the one called Ignoring Problems. Use the hands off approach, she says, and many problems will take care of themselves. Basically, she says lasagna gardens aren’t troubled by pests and disease as much as traditional gardens are. That means that you’ll have healthy soil with plenty of earthworms. Companion planting is presented in an easily readable fashion which makes it easy to follow.

Finishing Touches is another chapter with clever ideas. The chapter on Containers offers more useful advice.

Learn what lasagna garden actually involves and you may be harvesting more than you imagined.