Archive | August 2018

Appleton Seed Library

by OCMGA Master Gardener Kari Witthuhn, Interviewed by Master Gardener Bev Kindschy

Appleton Seed Library is a relatively new endeavor that has gained a strong following in a short amount of time. Master Gardener Bev Kindschy interviewed Master Gardener Kari Witthuhn who envisioned the program and has been behind its success.

What is the history behind Appleton Seed Library? ASL was conceptualized in the winter of 2015. Throughout the course of the next year, I studied the history of seed libraries, visited four different branch locations within our state, attended the annual Seed Savers Conference in Decorah, Iowa, worked on design elements/handouts, took seed saving courses, and created the vision and execution to open the “drawers” at Appleton Public Library. For me, I really wanted to promote community building, elevate the importance of heirloom seed saving, and engage in collecting the stories of seeds themselves. Being an artist by nature, the idea of curating a creative project like this was a great fit.

What was the need you saw? Seeds are an overlooked link to human survival. Historically, seeds have always been a shared commodity; today we face their control, patenting and stricter regulations. After listening to Tom Ashbrook’s “On Point” interview about seed libraries, it helped me understand the importance of seed biodiversity, appreciate local flavor via produce and the importance of creating a common place for like-minded folks to share in this seed based reciprocity. The ecological impact, enjoyment of growing seed to seed and the nutritional aspect all resonate with me. Regionally, the closest seed library is in Waupaca, so the need for one in the Fox Cities was present.

How did grant writing go? All seed libraries are designed, governed and established in various ways. Having some “seed money” was a clear need I identified early on. As I considered all the ways to raise money to launch the program, I was connected with the Community Foundation of the Fox Valley. Learning the grant writing process was fairly easy because I had a niche that definitely could impact a diverse array of patrons and help promote sustainability. What hurdles did you have? The biggest hurdle I face is the lack of other core members to help maintain, grow and foster the potential behind all that a seed library could be for a community.

What successes? The heirloom seed sharing community is generous; I’ve connected with an array of wonderful large and grassroots seed companies that are working hard to maintain seed diversity and heritage. I’ve successfully held a celebratory ‘Seedy Saturday’ event to celebrate the years we’ve been open to the public; both years have drawn over 100 community members. I’ve created a ‘Seed Stewards’ program that helps to maintain seed stock inventory. In 2017, we had five local growers signed up to grow our various seeds and that number is rising for 2018.

What is the status of your project today? April 2018, we celebrated our two year
of seed sharing and seed education. We’ve dispersed over 2,000 seed packets and have held over a dozen hands on learning and educational workshops. We continue to remain open to various community partnerships, and will begin working to integrate our seeds into local school garden programs.

Do you have any call to action? To impact the community as I’d envisioned, I definitely need more OCMG’s to step into various roles; organization, volunteer support, education, long range planning, seed packing, etc. I also wish to document local seed stories from people who have acquired saved seeds from a lineage of past growers. If you know an old farmer/gardener or personally have seeds that you save from year to year, I’d love to set up interviews. I’m looking to develop a core group of OCMG seed savers to assist in sustaining the seed stock which would be a more intensive mentorship than our current ‘Seed Stewards’ program.


For more information about seed saving and the Seed Savers Exchange, read our previous blog here.

Planting Your Fall Vegetable Garden

by OCMGA Master Gardener Holly Boettcher

80777823000000_169_1024Are you enjoying fresh vegetables from your garden as much as I am? I love to pick tender green beans from my garden to steam for dinner, or how about a delicious Carprese Salad from those heirloom tomato gems that you planted from seed way back in March? Have you ever considered extending your culinary joy into the late fall? August is the perfect time to plant your cool weather vegetables and here are some tips to get you started.

Soil Prep:

Cool weather plants do not germinate well in warm soil. They will do best if you begin with prepping your soil by watering it well, then shading the soil from direct sun so the area will begin to cool down for a few days before sowing your seed.

What to Plant:

Consider kale, carrots, beets, arugula, Swiss chard, spinach, bush beans, summer squash (such as zucchini or patty pan) turnips, cilantro, collards, lettuce, radishes, and scallions to name a few. A rule of thumb is produce with edible roots and leaves (rather than flowers) are some of the hardiest choices. Also consider trying garlic which can be planted in the late fall for a spring harvest!

Read the labels to find varieties that require a shorter number of days to mature, or search for seeds that are rated for the fall growing season. It is a good rule of thumb to “count back” from the normal frost date, however you will want to take into consideration that days are getting shorter and temperatures are cooler, so add extra days to your calculation. Be patient with them because they are not going to grow as fast as in the warmer and longer days of spring.

Protect them:

Be prepared with old sheets, or hoops that are ready to cover them if a frost is predicted, although some of these such as carrots, beets, and kale are hardy enough to survive a mild frost.

Other benefits

Vegetables grown in late season have the luxury of not being attacked by pests, as many of the insects have already completed their lifecycles. And some such as crucifers, greens, and peas will taste even sweeter!

Where to buy seeds:

Often times the cupboard is bare at the local garden centers at this time of year. I like to order heirloom seeds from or try or  You will find some interesting varieties that will be fun to grow and harvest. Well, what are you waiting for? Get those seeds ordered, planted, and join me in the delight of growing your own vegetables late into the fall this year!

The Real Ant-Man

If you have children, or if you’re a fan of movies, you’ve probably heard of the Marvel Universe. The movies are wildly popular and feature Iron Man, Thor, the Incredible Hulk, and many others. One of the others is Ant-Man whose most recent film is “Ant-Man and the Wasp.” The premise involves the ability for humans to reduce to the size of insects to save the world.

This isn’t the first film where people imagined themselves to be the size of ants (“Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”), nor movies that focus on these tiny insects (“Antz” and “A Bug’s Life”). Why does this one little insect capture the imagination so often? If you Google “ants”, you get over 581 million hits, of which 888,000 are recent news articles.

ants-44593_960_720This time of year, most of us see ant hills in unappreciated spots in our lawns or gardens. No cute, cuddly animated ants here — just industrious insects going about their business while (perhaps) making a mess of your carefully tended turf. Because there are different types of ants, you’ll want to approach them from different perspectives.

Jeffrey Hahn, Entomologist for the University of Minnesota-Extension has produced a short article that provides identifying insights into these insects.

Recently, two ROTC Cadets survived on ants when they were lost in a training exercise in Hawaii. Read their story here.


From Bolgiano’s capitol city seeds : 1938

As interesting as these creatures are, I think we can all agree that we don’t want them in the house. In a dry summer, though, the ants look for moisture where they can get it — and that includes your basement or kitchen. Today Home recently published an online article that suggests various ways to prevent or get rid of ants in your home. Read it here.

Then, from the if-you-can’t-beat-them-join-them camp comes the Wisconsin State Fair. This year, when you order Ants-on-a-Log, you get real ants!

Harvesting and Storing Apples

by Lisa Johnson, Horticulture educator for Dane County UW-Extension

apples-1164954_960_720Depending on the variety, apples ripen between early August and late October in Wisconsin. Harvest them when mature, but not ripe. Some clues to help gauge maturity are:

  • When seeds in the core turn from cream to tan to dark brown (sacrifice an apple to check).
  • Fruit is firm, but not hard, with a good taste and aroma. Immature fruits taste starchy and have little aroma.
  • Also, look for color changes. Apples color up first on the side facing the sun. Red varieties change from green to red as they mature, yellow apples go from pale green to yellow, and green apples change from bright green to light green.

Harvest apples carefully to avoid breaking off the fruit spurs they are borne on. Hold the apple in your palm (not fingertips to avoid bruising the fruit) and twist slightly while you pull. Don’t drop the fruit as you harvest, as it may bruise. Bruised fruit stores poorly and shortens the storage life of un-bruised fruit.

Ripening season is a good predictor for storage. Summer apples ripening prior to Labor Day are not good keepers because they only store a few days to two weeks. Use them quickly!

Fall ripening apples keep from one to five months, if harvested before they reach the peak of maturity. Cool them immediately after harvest for best results. If storing them short term, refrigerate at temperatures below 40 degrees, but above freezing. To store for longer periods, keep apples at 33 to 34 degrees and high humidity so they don’t dry out. Plastic bags with holes in them work well for this purpose. Check apples occasionally to make sure none are shriveling or starting to rot.

Quick and Easy Garden Art

by OCMGA Master Gardener and Vice President Tom Wentzel

A garden on the dragonflyHomeless Connection garden walk this year had some truly clever (and cheap) ideas for garden art.   The dragonfly is self-explanatory. Just repurposed painted ceiling fan blades and a few rocks.

The “mushrooms” are made from concrete and a dowel. Pick up a few GLASS cordial glasses and champagne flutes. Fill them with concrete and stick a length of dowel into the concrete. Let it harden overnight then smash the glass.Mushrooms

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Flying Jewels of the Garden – the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

by OCMGA Master Gardener Tammy Borden

Ruby-throated HummingbirdThis year has been an incredible year for hummingbirds in my yard. I’ve always put out a feeder for them and have enjoyed their acrobatic aerial displays, but this year there seem to be many more than usual fighting over the sweet nectar I put out for them. It’s now towards the end of summer and I have to fill some of my feeders twice a day to keep up with their voracious appetites.

But it makes sense that they would be seeking a sugar high and trying to fatten up their tiny bodies to nearly twice their normal weight: the usual 3-4 grams (about the weight of a nickel). They’ve got a long journey ahead of them. It’s hard to believe that these tiny creatures, measuring about 3.5” from the tip of their long beaks to the end of their tails, will soon make the long trip to another country. For those birds in Wisconsin and Canada, that may mean more than a 2,500-mile trip back to Central America, where they will spend their winters until next spring when they make the long haul back to our yards. Consider also, that many of them will need to fly the more than 500 miles across the Gulf of Mexico without stopping. The non-stop trip across the big pond alone will take approximately 20 hours.

It’s a small miracle to imagine the journey of these delicate beauties. The metabolism of a hummingbird is so incredibly high that it needs to consume several hundred calories per day and several ounces of nectar and insects. By comparison, if a human used as much energy as a hummingbird, that person would need to consume twice their body weight each day just to stay alive.

There are dozens of hummingbird species in the world, but Wisconsin and the United States east of the Mississippi River is host to only one, the Ruby Throated Hummingbird. They arrive in late April or early May and stay until late September and October. Hummingbirds fly. Sounds strange to say that, but consider this: that’s all they do. They do not walk. They will not even pivot on a perch. If they want to move a ¼” or turn around and face another direction, they fly to get there. The hummingbird species is the only bird able to fly backwards, sideways, hover in one spot for up to 50 minutes, even fly upside down.

I’m always amazed at how fearless they are, zooming past me at 25 miles per hour as I walk in the garden or fill the feeders. If I stand still, I’ve even had them land to take a drink while standing only inches away.

The female Ruby Throated Hummingbird is slightly larger than the male and lacks the characteristic iridescent brilliant ruby red throat patch that the male has. Sometimes the male’s throat appears black in low light, but once you see it catch the light, there’s no denying the similarity to its namesake jewel. The backs of both the male and female are a brilliant emerald green, while their stomachs are a soft white to light gray.

Though I’ve searched through the years, I have yet to see a hummingbird nest first hand. ruby-throated-hummingbird-nest-wallpaper-3It’s no wonder, since it measures only 2” wide and is concealed with lichens to blend into the small angled branch it is built on. I do enjoy seeing the female hummingbirds gathering nesting materials: soft plant parts and silk from spider webs. Their plain white eggs, usually 2, are said to resemble small jelly beans. They hatch in 16-18 days, revealing tiny, naked babies who will double their size each day for the first few days, and leave the nest after three weeks.

I’ve spoken to many friends who’ve expressed disappointment that they couldn’t attract hummingbirds to their yard because they live in the city. But hummingbirds will gladly visit most yards in urban or rural areas, as long as you provide what they need: food and habitat. So, here are several of their favorite flowers that you can include in your garden to attract these beauties. In addition, a homemade nectar recipe is included to help supplement their diet and further attract them to your yard.


  • Monarda (Bee Balm)
  • Heuchera (Coral Bells)
  • Phlox
  • Hosta
  • Delphinium
  • Foxglove
  • Russian Sage
  • Columbine
  • Milkweed
  • Butterfly Bush
  • Honeysuckle
  • Trumpet Vine
  • Weigela (shrub)


  • Fuschia
  • Zinnia
  • Petunias
  • Verbena
  • Geranium
  • Lantana
  • Salvia
  • Nicotiana
  • Four O’Clocks
  • Morning Glory

While hummingbirds are attracted to brightly colored flowers, they will gladly sip nectar from a wide variety. Consider plants with tubular shaped flowers, allowing for their long beak and monofilament-like tongue to extract nectar from deep within.


1 part white sugar

4 parts water

Boil water and completely dissolve sugar. Keep in refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Note: Do NOT add red food coloring to your mixture. While they are attracted to the bright color, the added chemicals are unnecessary. Most feeders already have colorful components and will suffice. It is important to clean your feeders. Never let the nectar spoil or get cloudy, meaning you should change it every few days in hot, humid weather. Do not use honey in your feeders because it ferments easily and can lead to a fungus that will harm the birds.

The hummingbird is among my favorite garden friends. I hope you will be able to enjoy them more bountifully as well with these tips.