In Iowa, to help determine biochar’s viability as a soil amendment product for the home garden, Master Gardeners are testing its ability to increase productivity in vegetable and flower gardens. Iowa Master Gardeners assisted with recording crop production and health data from the three test garden sites located across the state.
These sites, which include the Armstrong Research Farm in Lewis; the Horticulture Station in Ames; and Fruitland Research Farm in Muscatine; are each made up of different soil types and composition.
These soil differences will help to provide a broader spectrum of results from our test plot gardens. As sister plots to the biochar test garden plots in Minnesota, Iowa’s test plots included the same crops, as well as the same levels of biochar incorporation at each of the test plot sites in both states. The same crops will be planted for testing again in the 2014 season.
Harvest data was taken in a similar fashion in both Iowa and MN for most crops – however 2013 weather extremes may have skewed the data from “normal” years, due to the late planting dates (due to wet weather); above average rainfall, followed by hot and dry periods.
Iowa Master Gardeners are gearing up for 2014 – and hope to experience a “normal” growing season – we are due!
If you would like further information becoming a volunteer with the biochar project, contact Yvonne McCormick at firstname.lastname@example.org
“The CenUSA Bioenergy project is supported by Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant No. 2011-68005-30411 from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.”
Not all varieties of switchgrass were awarded the “Perennial Plant of the Year” designation in 2014. Just one lucky winner, Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind’ earned that coveted title.
This is an exciting opportunity for switchgrass or native plant fans to share what they admire about this native grass.
Why consider ‘Northwind’ switchgrass for your landscape?
Dr. Mary Meyer, Extension horticulture professor and ornamental grass researcher at the University of Minnesota, has evaluated the performance of ‘Northwind’ switchgrass in trials at the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum since 2004. In her Grasstalk blog post ‘Northwind’ 2014 Perennial Plant of the Year, she specifically shares how ‘Northwind’ has performed in her research. Below, we turn to research to provide three reasons you might like to grow ‘Northwind’ switchgrass in your landscape.
1) Great form, function, structure, winter interest
For many across the U.S., ‘Northwind’ switchgrass might be a good fit to grow in the landscape, offering vertical form, fine texture, and winter interest. Dr. Mary Meyer shares just why this plant can be valuable to many as a landscape plant:
As a screen, background plant, or in combination with other perennials, ‘Northwind’ is an attractive and showy grass. It is easy to grow and has no pests or disease problems. It stands up well in winter and provides cover and food for birds and other wildlife. Deer do not eat switchgrass, so it is good to use where deer have been a problem. And, as a dense bunchgrass, ‘Northwind’ will not spread underground, since it has minimal or no rhizomes and forms a dense clump. Self-seeding is often seen in switchgrass, however, ‘Northwind’ is not known for heavy seed set and has not been a problem self-seeder in our trials.
2) Well-adapted to many soil types and winter hardy
‘Northwind’ grows between 4-6 feet in height in Minnesota. It grows well in many soil types, including heavy clay and sandy soils. Soils with more moisture will mean a taller plant. Full sun is preferred, at least 6 hours daily. Fall color is beige. Some reports of winter loss have been noted, however plants at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, USDA Zone 4a (-200F to -250F) had not been lost since planting in 2004. ‘Northwind’ is also one of 17 selections of switchgrass in the National Grass Trials which are planted in 11 states, including the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, see grasstrials.com for more information.
3) Tell your neighbor, switchgrass may someday fuel your car!
OK, I bet you weren’t expecting this last reason to grow ‘Northwind’ switchgrass. Dr. Meyer isn’t selecting new varieties of switchgrass for biofuel, but did you know there are researchers studying and breeding switchgrass for biofuel production?
As part of this research, Extension Master Gardeners in Minnesota and Iowa are involved in CenUSA Bioenergy research to see if biochar, a by-product of coverting switchgrass to biofuel, might make a suitable soil amendment for home gardens (read more about this on-going research in these CenUSA Bioenergy EMG blog posts). By growing common vegetables and flowers that homeowners often plant, such as tomatoes, peppers, and zinnias, Extension Master Gardeners are exploring whether the plants grown in plots amended with biochar will grow more vigorously or produce higher yields.
It’s very unlikely homeowners will be growing switchgrass for biofuel (farmers and landowners who aren’t able to grow typical crops, very likely will) and you won’t see switchgrass-based biochar as a commercial soil amendment in the immediate future. However, in the meantime, consider following this research to learn about the possibilities. Plant some ‘Northwind’ switchgrass around your patio and invite your friends over for a barbeque. This will make for some interesting discussion around the grill next summer!
While the rest of the nation finishes harvesting summer vegetables, Arizona’s Low Desert region enters its third planting season of the year, following spring (February-April) and summer (May-September). October in the metro-Phoenix area returns to moderate temperatures after triple-digits during the summer.
Pam Perry, curator of the University of Arizona Maricopa County Cooperative Extension Demonstration Vegetable Garden and President, Arizona Herb Association, said:
“I’m looking forward to the promised double digit weather. Not quite time to plant my cilantro, but other fall planted herbs can be seeded for sure. Soil prep and compost enhance any good garden soil for seasonally planted herbs. Most herbs do not require much fertilizer if you keep adding in the compost. Happy planting, happy harvesting!”
September vegetable gardening began with seed-sowing, including Snap Beans, Beets, Cabbage, Carrots, Kale, Lettuce (Head & Leaf), Leeks, Mustard, Green Onions, Peas, Radishes, Spinach, Turnips. It also includes transplants of Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, and Cauliflower. Fall soil prep comprises restoring nutrients exhausted by spring and summer crops by applying a light layer of compost or fertilizer.
Due to the Low Desert fall temperature ranges (from 50 nightly to 90 daytime degrees), sugars are produced in corn and carrots to make them sweet and crisp. The first frost dates in the Phoenix area, ranging from late November to mid-December, can improve the taste of parsnips & Jerusalem artichokes.