Really good books are hard to find, especially with the growing volume of new titles related to gardening and the environment. Master Gardeners are invited to Master Gardener Goodreads, a place to find, recommend and comment on books about horticulture, natural resources and sustainability. It costs nothing, and you can just browse, or write as much or as little as you like. You can even start a discussion about a title or author.
If you are not already familiar with Goodreads.com, it’s a great place to keep track of the books you’ve read, or hope to read. The Master Gardener Goodreads group will contain reviews written by Master Gardeners on books of interest to gardeners as well as anyone interested in environmental topics. Before you borrow or buy another book, check out the new GoodReads Master Gardener Group.
Every gardener worth his or her salt probably has a few tried (if not true) gardening tips and tricks up their sleeve, passed down from a family member or learned over time… Perhaps something they read years ago, an old wives’ tale someone thought worthy of re-telling, or advice from an old neighbor.
Legend and Lore…
Modern science and the increased study of horticulture, botany and entomology have proven most of these proverbial gardening words of wisdom false. A few of these lessons passed from one green thumb to another do have some scientific merit, practical purpose and sound reasoning, though… Gardeners tend to their gardens in the manner that works for them, and would not so readily share instruction with others if such was not the case.
A few sage tips have proven effective over time and continue to be practiced by the seasoned gardener, but perhaps are not yet known to the newbie. Others have faded into gardening myth and legend. It is not recommended to try any of these tips without first researching each and do note that what may be good for one plant could be bad for another.
Pinterest has Nothing on the Past…!
Interesting gardening tidbits told over-and-over again include pouring a ring of gravel around bulbs when planting to discourage moles and other bulb-lovers from eating them, and placing pinecones in flower beds to deter cats from digging (a Pinterest modern-day take on this utilizes plastic forks instead of pinecones).
Violets are said to bloom longer and more luxuriously if rusty nails are added to nearby soil. Old pennies (newer pennies are not made from copper) in the garden will keep slugs away. Slate in the soil will grow your hydrangeas blue. Broken terra-cotta pots in the soil are believed to be good for azaleas.
Gardeners have long been saving eggshells, coffee grounds, banana peels, and other kitchen scraps to add to their gardens. Epson salt added to tomatoes and peppers will make them flourish. Ashes, banana peels, and teabag residue around roses is thought to nourish them. Wood ash around fruit trees in the fall and winter will result in sweeter fruit, and wood ash or lime around lilacs will increase bloom. Pickle juice is good poured around gardenias, ferns, and cleyera. Beer has been used to trap and drown slugs and/or added to the soil around hollyhocks to promote growth.
Polyculture by Common Practice…
Forefathers of today’s “Companion Planting” include dill near tomatoes to discourage worms and radishes or spearmint near squash, acting as a natural insecticide. Growing alium and garlic chives near roses deter japanese beetles, and french marigolds in the garden keep bad bugs at bay.
Other gardeners advise to leave a few carrots overwintering in the ground so that they bloom the following spring. Carrot blooms resemble Queen Anne’s Lace and attract beneficial insects to the garden.
Planting by the Moon and Getting that Garden Started…
And as for gardening lore regarding the actual planting of a garden…? Some say to plant food-bearing plants when the moon is waxing (increasing to a full moon) and ornamentals when the moon is waning (decreasing). Willow water or Aspirin is heralded as helpers for rooting starts, and cinnamon or chamomile tea and water sprayed on seedlings may deter damping off disease. Soaked cigarette tobacco in water (five cigarettes to a gallon of water) is reported to kill fungus and slugs on all non-food plants, and baking soda spray (one to five tablespoons per quart of water) is used as a fungal control.
And finally, an old saying reminds that when planting trees and shrubs; “The first year it sleeps, the second year it creeps, and the third year it leaps.”
Fond du Lac Community Master Gardeners contribute to CenUSA biochar research and teach kids about growing food, too.
Welcome back for more of our ongoing coverage of how University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners have been helping to support biochar research as part of the CenUSA Bioenergy project. For our lastblog post, Extension Master Gardener Meleah Maynard talked with volunteers at Minnesota’s three CenUSA biochar test sites in the Twin Cities metro area: at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul Campus and in Andover at the Extension County and Regional Center, about their experiences working on the project.
This time, you’ll hear what Extension Master Gardener volunteers working on the Fond du Lac tribal community demonstration garden at the Brookston Community Center in Cloquet had to say when Meleah visited last month. To learn more about things like what biochar is and how the test sites were chosen and planted, check out past blog posts written by Extension Master Gardener Lynne Hagen, the project manager for the biochar demonstration gardens in Minnesota. Read on to find out how things are going at the Fond du Lac biochar demonstration garden.
A Community Garden
While the Fond du Lac demonstration garden shares the same layout, plants and mission as the three other Minnesota sites, it is different. Instead of being on a campus or other site with ties to the University, it is tucked next to a community center where it can easily be viewed by people of all ages anytime.
Better still, because of its location, children who visit the community center have been able to learn about gardening from Master Gardener volunteers, and find out more about where food comes from in the process. The kids also like eating the vegetables once they’ve been harvested and weighed. Master Gardeners make sure the kids eat only from the control plot that contains no biochar since the soil amendment is still being tested.
Dawn Newman, a Master Gardener and the Fond du Lac site mentor, says the biochar research project has been a positive way to foster a connection between the community and the University. Currently the American Indian Community Vitality Educator for Extension, Newman is an enrolled Ho-Chunk member from Wisconsin and has worked with the Fond du Lac community for years in various roles.
“It takes a long time to build relationships in Indian Country,” she says. “Historically, research has been done on Native Americans without their knowledge and not with true partnership in mind. This project is giving the community a chance to do real research as well as helping to foster healthier eating habits.” Julie Weisenhorn, an associate extension professor in horticulture and Master Gardener who has helped coordinate efforts at the site, agrees.
“Using gardening as a mean of collaboration is a great, fun way to bring the Fond du Lac community and the University together on a project,” she says. “We’ve talked a lot about how to meet community needs while also meeting the needs of Extension education because having a real partnership is so critical.”
Newman is one of six Master Gardeners on the Fond du Lac reservation. She started the group four years ago after approaching Weisenhorn, then state program director, with the idea of starting their own community-based group rather than joining the county group. “I explained that we are a sovereign nation so we should be recognized as our own ‘county’,” Newman recalls. Weisenhorn had been looking for the opportunity to pilot a community-based Master Gardener group, so she jumped at the chance to work with Newman on this new way to organize volunteers. Newman and the other five women who wanted to become Master Gardeners took the core course together. Once they completed their volunteer hours, they jumped into projects centered around the Fond du Lac Reservation with Brookston Community Center, one of three centers operated by the Band, being the main volunteer site.
Weisenhorn asked the new Fond du Lac volunteers to become the fourth Minnesota biochar site. Once a sunny site in front of the Center was chosen, the biochar demonstration garden was prepared and planted in 2013, the second year of the research project. At first, the plants seemed to be doing well—or at least as well as expected in the sandy soil the site had to offer. “Plants were small, but the garden looked beautiful,” Master Gardener Danielle Diver remembers. One thing that was obvious, she says, was that the test plot with the most biochar added seemed to be retaining water better than the other two plots.
Soon, though, the deer moved in and started eating the plants to the point where they needed to put up a fence. But as soon as posts started going in, they hit something hard about a foot below the soil. “It was a cement slab,” Newman recalls, “and we found out we were growing a garden where a house used to be.” So Bryan Bosto, the director of the Brookston Community Center, along with Weisenhorn, Newman, Diver and other volunteers, decided to replant in a different location the following spring.
Getting Kids Involved
With help from Weisenhorn, who drove up this spring with all the needed plants and supplies to start again, the group tilled and planted a new demonstration garden, this time next to the Center’s playground.
Though the move put them further behind other sites in terms of data collection, the garden was now much more visible to the kids, many of whom were already participating in the Junior Master Gardener program that Newman and the others had started a couple of years earlier. “It’s a great location for a garden, really quite beautiful,” Weisenhorn says. “I’m so proud of these gardeners and their determination to see this project through.”
Diver, who is also the garden program coordinator at the Fond du Lac Ojibwe School, enjoys working with the kids in the garden. “They help us weed and water, especially early in the season,” she says. “You think they’re not really paying attention when you talk about the plants, but then they’ll ask a question that lets you know they were listening.”
Inspired by the children’s interest in the ripening vegetables in the demonstration garden, Diver and the other Master Gardeners added Food of the Week to their Junior Master Gardener lineup. Each week, kids work together with the Master Gardeners to prepare a dish using fresh vegetables.
Salsa was a big hit recently, even with those who said they don’t like tomatoes. “The impact we’re having doesn’t always show immediately, but when you see the kids in January and they say, ‘Hey, when is Garden Club (the kids’ name for the Junior Master Gardener program) going to start up again?’ you know they’re missing it and they clearly enjoy it,” Diver says.
This will be the first full season of data collection at the Fond du Lac demonstration gardens and as with the other three Minnesota sites, there have been some challenges learning how to measure growth and track observations. But overall, the Fond du Lac Master Gardeners are feeling good about their work on the project and are looking forward to participating again next year.
“Seeing how the plants and soil have responded to biochar has been exciting and it’s nice to see that there is an amendment that might work,” says Nikki Crowe, a Master Gardener who also coordinates the Thirteen Moons Program,
which helps strengthen connections between Fond du Lac Band members and the surrounding community with Ojibwe culture and natural resources.
While the kids aren’t involved in the data collection process at the garden, they have helped out with planting and harvesting, and they’re also asked for their opinions on how things are doing in each of the three test plots. “We like to have them make their own observations on which plot is doing better or which vegetables they think look healthier or larger, and they really like that,” says Master Gardener Shannon Judd, who is also the environmental education and outreach coordinator for the Fond du Lac reservation.
Like Crowe, Judd is enjoying working on the project because it’s been interesting and exciting to be involved with a research endeavor of this magnitude from the start. In July, Judd and Newman, along with 30 other University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners involved in the research at other sites, attended the annual CenUSA conference held at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. The meeting’s focus was on the Extension objective of the grant, and Weisenhorn was glad they were able to attend. “The CenUSA attendees recognized the volunteers at the meeting and applauded their important contribution to the project,” she recalls.
Judd is hopeful that the research results will make a meaningful difference for home gardeners, including those facing tough soil conditions like they have on the reservation. “Seeing all of the things that biochar may be useful for has been really motivating,” she says. “Anything that can be done to help people grow food more easily, especially around here, would be great.”
Note: CenUSA Bioenergy is supported by Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant no. 2011-68005-30411 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.