Little Scientists at Work

by OCMGA Master Gardener Shirley Martin

As part of the preparation for the upcoming planting season several Master Gardner volunteers went to some classrooms at the Appleton Bilingual School and presented a seed starting class. These children and their teachers were very interested in the project and took the instructions very seriously. They are documenting their results with words and pictures. They were so excited to see the seeds sprout in the “planters” made from old water bottles.

The bottles are cut in half and the top is inverted into the bottom. A coffee filter is stuffed into the neck of the bottle then the top of the bottle is filled with soil and seeds are planted in it. This coffee filter acts as a “water wick” to transfer water from the bottom of the bottle (reservoir) to the the planting medium. It is inexpensive and effective. It fits on most windowsills and is an ideal mini-planter.


Fun Garden Ideas

by OCMGA Master Gardener Tom Wentzel

During a garden walk near Elgin, Illinios I saw the lighting feature that was very intriguing. At first it looked like canning jars attached to an old board. In reality the “board” was the tongue from an antique hat wagon. That in itself is a striking feature but each of the jars contain a light bulb. These look like 20 watt candelabra base bulbs. C6 or C9 Christmas lights would work just a well.


Another garden on this walk had an amazing fountain. The clear ball is about 2 feet in diameter. The water cascades down the sides of the ball. The mirror in the background added a lot of depth to the garden. The owner did say that the ball does need to be replaced every 3 years.


Create Separate Living Areas!

Create privacy with a few well-placed plants

Create privacy with a few well-placed plants

If your outdoor living area seems a bit sterile, think about creation of definite areas through the use of living dividers. Tall plants in pots make lovely screens, defining sitting areas, providing privacy, blocking the view of trash cans, etc. And they don’t have to be expensive evergreens like you see in magazines. You can make a very effective “hedge” out of annuals like tithonia, old-fashioned tall cosmos, or cleome, or out of rampant vines such as passionflower, grown on individual trellises.

Since the plants will be tall, bushy, and prone to catch the wind, it is important to provide both root room and anchorage (i.e. large containers with wide bases). Plastic pots are usually ok; the soil should weigh enough to keep them steady, but if the location is very windy, it’s wise to go for the extra heft that terra cotta provides.

Think about using fun containers like these galvanized tubs

Think about using fun containers like these galvanized tubs

Balcony plantings are a special case, since they need to be both lightweight and secure. Use plastic pots, lots of perlite in the soil mix, and if they are in a place where they might fall (or blow) over the edge, bungee cords or other strong ties will make sure they stay in place.

No matter how beautiful the pots are, a tide line of large containers with large plants coming out of their tops will look stiff unless it is broken up a bit. Be sure to include some trailing plants at the pot edges, and place a few smaller pots at the feet of the big ones to add variety (this is a great place to put vacationing houseplants!).

Fragrances for Your Home

d82d8b9fa64448903b5327f129211e78Friends are coming over and your house smells like onions or fish. You can pull out the exceptionally expensive candles or scents that are available through any number of stores, or you can quickly create an aromatic environment using natural ingredients.

For a cozy ambience: In a pot full of water, add a quartered orange, cranberries, cloves, and cinnamon sticks. Simmer on low and replace water as needed.

For a classy ambience: To create a fresh, clean scent, let two cups of water come to a boil with a sprig of rosemary, vanilla extract, and the juice from half a lemon. If you toss in the rind, too, it’ll add zest.

Sweet fragrance: Add orange slices, fresh ginger, and a spoonful of almond extract to a pot; cover with water, bring to a boil, and then simmer.

Tropical: Fill a saucepan about halfway with water and add lime, coconut oil, and vanilla. As with the others, simmer on the stove replacing water as needed.

Woodsy environment: A pot of water containing cedar or pine should be brought to a boil. To remove a strong odor, try adding two bunches of bay leaves to the mixture.

Calm: To conjure a soothing scent before bedtime (or anytime), mix dried lavender, anise, nutmeg, whole cloves, and a cinnamon stick with water and let it simmer until the whole house fills with the lovely fragrance.

By planning ahead to gather and save the necessary ingredients from your garden each summer, you’ll be prepared to create the perfect sensory experience in your home.

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.

Conservation Field Days

1000 5th and 6th graders attended the 3-day event.

1000 5th and 6th graders attended the 3-day event.

Over 300 5th & 6th graders attended each day of the 51st Conservation Field Days.  That is 1,000 kids during the 3 days of the event which was held on September 22nd through September 24 at Koehnke’s Farm out past the Outagamie County Airport. There were also 5 Master Gardeners who volunteered as Tour Guides for the first year of this Sanctioned Project for us.

Animal skins at the wildlife station

Animal skins at the wildlife station

There were 9 course stations and 9 tour groups.  Teachers and parents also went along with each group to help. The 9 learning stations were Water, Quarry, Conservation Jeopardy, Gardens & Compost, Recycling, Forest Management, Pond & Wildlife, Food Production, and Soils. Everyone seemed to be having fun learning.  Each station was taught by 2 volunteers from County, State & Federal groups including UW Cooperative Extension Service, WI Department of Natural Resources, USDA Natural Resource Conservation, and Goodwill Community Gardens. Each course station included some interactive things which helped to keep all those kids involved and interested.

Pond/Wildlife Station

Pond/Wildlife Station

Outagamie County Master Gardeners were listed in the thank yous along with those other groups. The event is sponsored and organized by Outagamie County Land Conservation Department based right next door to our County Extension. Each day ran from 9:30am to 2:30pm, and was very fun and educational for all.  The weather was beautiful. All of us volunteers were provided a delicious and much appreciated meal for the lunch break and then back to guiding, teaching, etc.

OCMGA Volunteers Jill Botvinik and Sue Mings

OCMGA Volunteers Jill Botvinik and Sue Mings

TV Channel 5 was there on Tuesday and did a broadcast on their 5pm news program that day. I will admit that I went home, sat down on the couch and promptly fell asleep. Fresh air in the country, walking outside in the beautiful fall weather, helping kids learn, and a free lunch! I plan to be there next September.  Hope to see you too!

Written by Jill Botvinik

Posted by Vicki

Experiences with Growing Onions


Rich Fischer with his bountiful crop of onions this year!

OCMGA has a diverse group of gardeners, many of whom are vegetable gardeners. I am very passionate about growing vegetables and this blog update shares my experiences with growing onions. I have been growing onions for many years. Initially I was planting onion sets. Sets work, but the resulting fruit is usually on the small side.  Then I had an awakening. I was fortunate to hear Richard Zontag, president of Jung seed Company, speak at the very first OCMGA Garden Expectations conference many years ago. Mr. Zontag told me that onion plants perform much better than sets. Since then I have been using onion plants with better results. I order the plants from Jung’s catalog in January and they arrive about mid-May just in time for planting. They come in a bundle of 60 or more plants.

This year just for fun I tried something different. I ordered a packet of Red Zepplin onion seeds from Jung’s and started them indoors late-March along with my tomatoes and peppers. The little bitty onion sprouts looked so small and wispy like hair. I did not give them much hope, but planted them in the garden mid-May anyway. OMG! Was I ever surprised at harvest time. These little bitty hairs grew into the best looking onions I have ever seen.   Maybe it is a one-off fluke. But I was so impressed with the results that I thought I’d share my experiment with my fellow gardeners who might want to try starting onions from seed for their vegetable garden.

Next year I am going start Copra onions from seed hoping to get a similar excellent result.

Written by Rich Fischer

Posted by Vicki