Archive | July 2018

Life Lessons from the Garden – Sharing the Bounty

by OCMGA Master Gardener Tammy Borden

It’s nearly harvest time. Many of us will be picking melons, tomatoes, peppers, pumpkins and other garden delights. It’s a good time to remind ourselves of the purpose of fruit.


Most of us admittedly see fruit as something to be consumed, but in nature its main purpose is

not meant to feed us or the birds and animals. Yes, that does happen, but even when birds eat the fruit

there is a glorious thing that happens so that the real purpose of fruit can be accomplished … What

comes in comes out. .. and the birds spread the seeds … sometimes on your car window, but they’re spread. In fact, it’s believed that an endangered tree on an island off Madagascar called the dodo tree almost went extinct because the dodo bird which died out in the 1600’s was among the only creatures that ate the fruit from the tree and spread them. These trees live to be 3 or 4 hundred years old and in the early 1900’s scientists started realizing that the trees were dying out. The seeds of the dodo tree were like small rocks, and it was determined that there was something special about the digestive tract of the dodo bird that softened the hard coating of the seed enough so that when it was eliminated the seed could break through its tough shell and sprout. So when the bird became extinct and didn’t spread the seeds, the tree started to go extinct too.


Fruit is intended to continue the cycle of life. In our lives, we can also have the attitude that the

fruit that is produced is for our own personal gain: our talents, time, money, accomplishments, etc…

But when we focus our lives on consuming and getting all we can, we lose out on life. Because just like in nature, life is not found in getting, but in giving. Many articles tell how to improve our lives by eating more healthy, exercising, relaxing, getting a hobby, yoga and making new friends. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with these things. These are generally good things, and we should take care of ourselves. But these are not the things of life. These are all focused on me, myself and I. Any fruit that might be produced by doing these things is to improve me.


Even many who teach that we should volunteer or give back to our community often suggest do- ing it to give ourselves a good feeling and that it should be done for us… not others. But when our underlying motivation to volunteer, give to charity or help other people is ultimately to help ourselves in- stead of them, then we are the ones who miss out. Our motivation to serve and share our gifts should always be love … not self-improvement, not so I have a good feeling, not so I get recognized, not so I reach my goals, not so I’m happy, not so I… I… I… But because of love. That should be our motivation. That is when fruit produces the greatest impact. Ironically, when we act out of love instead of self-interest, we often feel happy as a result. But when our only motivation is to be happy, we’re often left unsatisfied and empty.


I have seen this attitude of love and passion in many of my friends within the Master Gardener Volunteer Organization … They know that sharing the bounty, their gifts, talents and time, is not about

just doing more; it’s about loving more… loving others, caring for our environment, and educating the community. True love and passion will move, compel and inspire us to act and make a difference. And if we didn’t, our hearts would be so discontented that it would tear at our souls. True love and passion will shake us. It will make us uncomfortable. It will drag us from our comfort zone and sometimes into the battle zone. Let’s not just be consumers, but through love, let’s continue the cycle of life and share the bounty with others … together.

Our Vegetable Inheritance

downloadAmong food and garden lovers alike, the current buzzword for value is heirloom, a very good description of open-pollinated vegetable seeds. Unlike hybrids, heirlooms can be saved year after year, and although we always think of the word as extending toward the past, it’s just as relevant to the future: heirlooms aren’t just what our great-grandparents grew, they are also the varieties we can leave to our great-grandchildren.

Heirlooms are most famous for offering great flavor and for enabling the gardener to “grow your own” from start to finish. But they offer a lot more than freedom from the need to buy seed every year.

Adaptability, for instance. Heirlooms are the special province of individuals and of small, regional seed companies, who do not need to sell zillions of packets in order to make a profit; and that means they tend to be better attuned to specific local conditions (drought in the Southwest, humidity in the Southeast, cold in the North) than “one size fits all” hybrids.

Hybrids are created through carefully controlled parentage, and as a result they are uniform. Every plant will be about the same size, and it will bear its fruit in the same narrow time frame. These characteristics are important to the mechanized operations of commercial growers, but they don’t do much for home gardeners.

And though hybrid varieties are often disease resistant, they are identically so. If a disease strikes that they cannot resist, every single plant will suffer.

Heirlooms, on the other hand, are individuals. Even when they are grown from seeds that came in the same packet, each plant is subtly different from every other. They grow and ripen unevenly, so you get a longer harvest period. And they are unevenly vulnerable to diseases. When trouble strikes, some plants will no doubt be afflicted, but others may come through.

All this is not to say there’s no place for hybrids, but hybrids are not in danger. It’s heirlooms that rely on home gardeners for their continued survival, heirlooms that offer independence, and heirlooms that give gardeners a chance to do their part for the preservation of genetic diversity.

To learn more, and to gain access to a huge assortment of delicious possibilities, consul the Garden Seed Inventory, available from Seed Savers Exchange, 3076 North Winn Road, Decorah, IA 52101; (563) 382-5990; It explains, eloquently, why heirlooms are important. And it is the source of sources, listing very nearly all the open-pollinated (nonhybrid) vegetable seeds available commercially in the United States, along with the names and addresses of the companies that supply them.

Within OCMGA, we have a dedicated group of members working with Seed Savers — watch this blog for an article about their efforts.

Organic Tree Fruits

For the home gardener, organic strawberries and bramble fruits are not much harder to grow than organic vegetables, but organic tree fruits are definitely a challenge. This is partly because plantings are in place for years — sometimes decades — which gives pests and diseases lots of time to dig in. It’s also because fruit trees have lots of enemies, many of them widely distributed and many of them extremely tough, thanks to years of natural selection in response to chemical biocides. Nevertheless, fruit trees can be grown organically if you are willing to take the following steps:

  1. Start by learning the basics. Never mind how delicious it sounds — is this something that does well in soil like yours, in your climate-zone, in your micro-climate? Are there particular cultivars that have built-in disease resistance?
  2. Pay close attention to the plants, keeping them in the best possible health. In addition to weeding, feeding, pruning, and applying the prophylactics (such as dormant oil sprays) that ward off problems before they happen, plan to spend plenty of time just watching out for trouble. Organically approved remedies work best when diseases are just getting started and pest populations are small.
  3. Keep it clean. Many pests and diseases winter over on fallen fruit, dead leaves, or weed debris close to the target plants, and a lot of the really nasty characters need to spend time on or in the ground in order to complete their life cycles. Rake up the fruit as soon as it falls and do the same thing for leaves, composting only healthy material (burn everything else, or send it to the landfill). Mow the area around the trees if it is in grass, plant a low cover crop such as vetch, or make sure the area is mulched.
  4. Accept imperfection, which is nature’s way. The goal is to have fruit that tastes good, not fruit that looks like it’s made of wax.
  5. Take the long view. Just as it takes years to build good soil with a fluffy texture, plentiful nutrients, and the necessary balance of life-supporting organisms, it also takes quite a while to establish the kind of self-policing ecosystem where beneficials are numerous enough to vanquish most pests. Until this happy state is achieved, there will be many temptations to resort to strong chemical fixes ‘in an emergency.’ If you succumb, you’ll lose some of the gains you’ve made in the journey toward balance, and the number of emergencies will not diminish as rapidly as it would otherwise.

Outsmarting the Intruders

“Absolute” critter prevention would require fencing that you could sell to the nearest maximum-security prison when you got tired of looking at it. But if you can life with keeping them out almost all of the time, here’s a checklist. It does not consider aesthetics, and while we’re on the subject, don’t forget that whatever you build is only as good as the gate.

deer-fence-for-garden-diy-deer-proof-garden-fenceDeer. The fence should be 8 feet high if the fence is vertical, 6 feet if it slopes outward at a 45-degree angle (they don’t like broad jumps). Neither fence needs to be solid; all you need is some kind of barrier (wires are the easiest and least expensive) running horizontally from post to post, at intervals no more than a foot apart. Electricity is optional, but recommended for the 5-foot level. Bait it with peanut butter so they get a warning shock that tells them to avoid the fence.


Rabbits. Galvanized 1-inch wire mesh fencing or chicken wire, at least 2 feet high and at least 10 inches under the ground (they’re good burrowers). No power needed.

Woodchucks. Galvanized 1-inch wire-mesh fencing, at least 2 feet high and at least 10 inches straight down, with an additional 8 inches bent forward underground, making an L-shape (with leg of the L on the garden side) — woodchucks make rabbits look like pikers in the burrowing department. No power needed.

All three. Start with galvanized 1-inch wire-mesh fencing, the 5-foot size. Bury the bottom 18 inches of fencing, as described under woodchucks. Above the fencing, string wire at 4 feet high, and then at 1-foot intervals up to 8 feet high. If you’re not worries about raccoons, you can string wire at 4 and 5 feet, then run a band of black plastic netting between the 5-foot wire and the one at the top. If you are worried about raccoons, electrify the 4-foot wires and bait them as above under deer.

Dealing with Deadly Drought

It feels like we haven’t had any significant amount of rain for over a month. The ground is hard, the grass is crackly, and all living things droop their heads in this heat. I could run up my water bill to shocking figures, or I could work with what I’ve saved in my rain barrel.

In times like these, it’s a good idea to keep your eye on the long term and give rationed water to the most important plants. Annual flowers and vegetables will be history by winter, no matter what, while expensive and slow-growing items like Japanese maples should be once-in-a-lifetime purchases.

It’s tempting to try to rescue the neediest; yellow-leaved plants with hanging heads are heart-wrenching, but plants already stunted by drought are the least likely to thrive later, even if they do survive. It’s better to water things that are OK but just a little peaked. And don’t forget that spring-flowering shrubs like lilacs start building next year’s blossoms as soon as they finish this year’s show. They need water to do it, so don’t let appearances deceive you into shortchanging them.


Smart watering using soaker lines to put the water right at the base of the plants

If possible, water whole areas rather than single plants. Dry soil wicks moisture away, so spots watered in isolation are surrounded by the enemy. Select the few healthiest tomatoes and peppers, give those all the water they need, and let the other vegetables go. Your crop will be smaller but better tasting (it takes a lot of water to make good fruit). If you’re determined to save annual flowers, shear them back. If rain comes, they will rapidly put on new growth and a burst of bloom.

And, remember, sprinklers are not the best way to water your plants. Water that lands on leaves is not absorbed. It evaporates before it reaches the ground, as does some of the water thrown into the air by a sprinkler. Watering the soil at the base of the plants really is more efficient. Even if there are no summer droughts to cause watering restrictions, it makes sense to conserve by watering effectively.

It is best not to water in the evening because leaves stay damp much longer, and damp leaves are a terrific breeding ground for many fungus diseases. The smartest gardeners water at dawn or in the early morning. With the whole day ahead, any water that does land on leaves has a chance to evaporate long before sunset.

Finally, let’s do away with the myth that water drops on foliage will burn the leaves in bright sunshine. Water droplets do magnify a bit, but not enough to even warm the leaves, let alone burn them.