Tag Archive | Garden Education

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.

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All-Purpose Fertilizer for Vegetables

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Nice, rich compost

Every year, we get the same questions in a variety of formats:  why won’t my vegetables grow? What should I do to grow more tomatoes? Do I need different types of fertilizer for my different vegetables? The answer to all of these questions is the best fertilizer for your soil and vegetables: compost! Compost is the all-purpose answer to everything, and if you have enough of it you won’t need much of anything else. Though different crops have different needs, they will be able to serve themselves from the smorgasbord provided by healthy soil with plenty of compost in it. Once you start adding specific fertilizers, you start having to pay attention to each individual diet.

Salad greens, for example, want lots of nitrogen to promote the fast growth of leafy tissue. Peppers, on the other hand, are more eager for the potassium that promotes flower and fruit development. Although they too need nitrogen, they’d make great big green leafy bushes with nary a pepper in sight if you gave them a lettuce-appropriate dose.

And major nutrients like nitrogen and potassium are just the beginning. There are dozens of micronutrients, such as boron, calcium, and copper, that plants must have — in different amounts — to thrive.

In practice, it can be hard to create soil so fertile that no amendment is necessary, especially when growing vegetables in a small space. But before you break out the fertilizer cookbook and start concocting special meals for all the crops you want to grow, make sure the soil is well drained and well aerated, and that the pH is between 6 and 7 (the best range for most vegetables). Ensuring these conditions exist may be all you need to do. If the soil is bad or the pH out of whack, it won’t matter what you put on the table, the vegetables won’t be able to eat.

by Vicki Schilleman, OCMGA Master Gardener

Garden Conference Success!!

Brian Hudelson, UW-Wisconsin Extension, brings his extensive knowledge of plant diseases

This past Saturday (April 1), our Master Gardener group (Outagamie County Master Gardener Association) hosted an annual Garden Conference. As always, the Conference was a huge success — even the weather cooperated by sending us a sunny day with temperatures near 60 degrees!

Guest speaker Jim Beard shares information about Straw Bale Gardening

Every year, we sell out our Conference as seats are filled by those eager for Spring, excited to hear from our guest speakers, and interested in visiting with our many vendors! This year was no exception as 200 people filled the room and enjoyed the discussions about Straw Bale Gardening, Plant Diseases, Garden Planning/Photography, Incorporating Edibles into your garden, and fun Garden Tips and Tricks.

Author Stacy Tornio talks about her new book “Plants You Can’t Kill” with OCMGA member Chris Frederickson

Gorgeous varieties of Hostas for sale

Every year, the number of vendors who join us

increases and the variety of products continues to astonish our attendees. This year, we had garden decorations, jewelry, organic herbal soaps, lotions, and scrubs, batik scarves, tree charms, stone-cast garden leaves, wood furniture, live plants, garden tools, and much, much more.

Join us next year!

The Conference is always held at the end of March or early April each year. Make a note to check our website (www.ocmga.net) next year for details!

 

by OCMGA Master Gardener Vicki Schilleman

Recycle Your Christmas Tree

Christmas trees are too often tossed unceremoniously onto the curb right after the holidays. But there’s no reason holiday evergreens can’t be allowed to serve long after the merry-making is over.

For a splash of instant green, cut the branches of pine, fir, spruce, or other needled evergreens and add them to barren window boxes or containers.

You can also use branches to protect dormant plants. A think cover of evergreen limbs helps keep the surface layer of soil moist, and also helps to stabilize soil temperature, reducing the rapid cycles of frost and thaw that can heave perennials and shrubs from the ground and rip their roots.

Christmas greenery also can be used as tracery on trellises and arbors. Held in place with plastic ties or string, cut boughs give plants like climbing roses, and vines like grapes or clematis, a good-looking shield from drying winter winds and sun.

In addition, leftover evergreens are useful for augmenting the natural foliage around a bird feeder or bath. Wild birds like protection and aren’t choosy whether their evergreen screen is living or dead.

There is an art to denuding a Christmas tree, though, and pruning shears or loppers are a must. Heavy gloves make it easier to handle the rough bark and the needles. If you must cut up the tree inside, cover the floor with a plastic sheet to prevent a mess of needles and sap.

Remove the evergreen boughs from gardens and planters when the tips of early spring bloomers, like crocus or snowdrops, have pushed about an inch out of the ground. Where no bulbs are planted, leave the branches until mid-April or whenever spring seems securely in place.

Planning for next year

When growing season is done and the garden has been put to bed, it’s time to start planning for next year! I love tea and drink it the way many other people drink coffee. I have an area in my flower garden devoted to herbs, and I’m thinking about adding something new:  tea.

downloadTrue tea (white, black and green) comes from one plant species: Camellia sinensis, hardy in Zones 6 to 9. This plant isn’t finicky (slightly acidic soil, a sunny location and plenty of water will keep it happy), but it grows slowly from seed. It can take three years to get a harvest and cuttings are challenging, so purchasing a plant seems like the right approach. Like me, you may already have herbs in your garden, such as mint and lemongrass, that you can use for tisanes, or herbal teas.

When using herbs for tea, it’s important to research which part of the plant is used for making tea, such as the leaves of the mint plant, the buds and flowers of chamomile or the outer stalks of lemongrass. Freshly picked herbs can be brewed right away. You can also dry herbs to keep the cupboard stocked.

Herbal tea

imagesThis hot beverage is not actually tea (not being made from the Camellia sinensis plant, but from herbs), but is called tea and is wildly popular. Some of the possible plants to use:

  • Bee balm
  • Bergamot
  • Lavender
  • Lemon Verbena
  • Raspberry
  • Rose Hip
  • Sage
  • Strawberry
  • Yarrow

Gently tear or crush herbal leaves, buds or roots to release essential oils and boost flavor, and you might consider a tea infuser or ball instead of a strainer for a simpler brewing process to avoid having a cup full of leaves.

Keep your Kale thru Winter

Once the days are short and cold, you can’t expect kale to keep growing. But you can help it survive almost indefinitely. The trick, which also works for Swiss chard and other hardy greens, is to keep the soil around the roots from freezing.

Start by applying a thick blanket of organic mulch — straw or shredded leaves. That will be enough if you are in zone 7 or the warmer parts of zone 6. If it’s colder, use bales of straw and old windows (or clear plastic) to build a lean-to cold frame.

Place a row of bales close to the long side of the kale row. They should be to the north if the row runs east-west, to the east if it runs north-south. Put another row on top so you have a wall about 3 feet high. On each short side, make a sloping wall by butting single bales firmly against the back wall, then topping them with partial bales.

Now use the windows (or clear plastic sheeting) to cover the front, making sure the cover does not touch the plants. At the top, windows can just lean against the straw. Plastic should be draped and held in place on top of the bales by rocks or a heavy board. At the bottom, where the cover touches the ground, mound on a few inches of soil to hold it and seal out drafts.

At this point, you should have a structure whose sloping, clear roof faces south or west. Use loose straw to fill in any gaps in the walls. That’s it. Throw a heavy blanket over the cover when night temperatures are predicted to fall below 20ºF; and open the frame at the top on warm, sunny days or you’ll cook your kale before you bring it indoors. Don’t try this with root crops; mice and voles will colonize the bales of straw if you feed them beets and carrots!

Storing Tender Bulbs/Corms

By Kathy McCarthy

Do you love plants that have tender bulbs but think it is too much trouble to store them over winter? Hang on folks. The results may be worth your efforts and this is a great way to increase your supply. The directions are for plants I have been successful in storing.

Remember to dig carefully. It is important to loosen the roots gently, digging a few inches away from the plant. You want to avoid cutting or breaking the fleshy structure. Diseases enter through cuts and bruises.

Gladiolus

A gladiolus ““bulb”” is really a corm, a swollen underground stem. A new corm forms on top of the old one. While this is taking place, small new cormels are produced from the base. Corms can be dug when the foliage begins to yellow or before a hard freeze. After carefully digging the corms, cut off the old leaves close to the corm. Leave the corms outside in the sun for a day or two and then spread out in a garage or similar place to cure, but not on a cement floor. This will prevent storage rot. After a few weeks of drying, clean them by removing the roots and outer sheath of corm. Remove and discard the old corm. Store the corms in a mesh bag and hang them out of the way in a cool well-ventilated area. I use a mesh onion bag and hang it in my basement. The small cormels can also be saved and planted the following year, but it will take a few years to produce blooming plants.

Cannas

Dig the rhizomes in fall before the first frost. Remove the old stalks and gently brush off soil. They can be washed with a garden hose. Let them dry for a few days before storing. I store my rhizomes in a box filled with vermiculite. However they can also be stored in peat moss. Another way to store cannas is to leave the soil on the rhizomes and pile the clumps in a box. Cover with plastic and store in the basement or other dark, cool, dry area. I put the box on top of another container to keep it off the cement floor. Rhizomes must not freeze during storage. The temperature should be between 50 and 60 degrees. Never store canna rhizomes in a mesh bag, as this will allow the bulbs to dry out.

Calla Lily

Bulbs should be lifted out of the soil in late fall, but before the first frost. The bulbs bruise, so handle them carefully. Remove the excess soil by either washing or carefully rubbing it off. Dry the bulbs away from direct sunlight or wind for several days. Put them in a paper bag and store them in your basement or other dark, dry location. Like cannas, the temperature should be between 50 and 60 degrees.

Label and Check

When storing, I label the containers carefully. You can use a permanent felt marking pen to write directly on the fleshy root. I find it helpful to attach a sheet of information regarding planting time, depth, etc. to the container.

During the storage season, I periodically check for damaged or rotting material. Any damaged material is removed and thrown away. You don’’t want one bad ““apple”” to spoil the whole bunch.

Once spring arrives, you will be glad you saved those tender bulbs. If you have more corms, rhizomes and bulbs than you can use, think of your fellow gardeners and give them away.