Almost Wordless Wednesday: Excited about Phenology and Citizen Science

April 16th, 2014 by Connie Schultz
Dogwood flower taken in Raleigh 4-12-2014 (photo credit Cheryl Perry)

Dogwood flower taken in Raleigh, NC 4-12-2014 (photo credit Cheryl Perry)

This coming week we celebrate both Earth Day (22nd) and Arbor Day (25th). When I think about focusing on the earth and trees, I think of phenology. The definition of phenology (literally the “science of appearance) is the study of how seasonal events, like migrations, are impacted by climate and other plant, insect and animal life, such as the first plants to bloom in the spring or when robins build their nests. Since the dogwoods are blooming where I live in North Carolina and since I recently signed up for the Cloned Dogwood phenology project, I thought what could be better than a look at dogwood flowers and the National Phenology Network’s flowering dogwoods project. Visit their site and learn more about this project and others!

Dogwood flower (photo credit Cheryl Perry

Dogwood flower North Carolina (photo credit Cheryl Perry)

Connie Schultz, Master Gardener/Composter (’95 Cornell Extension) now volunteering in Johnston County, NC

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology Needs Your Help With A Study

April 7th, 2014 by Terri James

Have you ever wanted tCornell Lab of Ornithologyo contribute to science? The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is now launching a research study about how people observe birds, and we need your help! We’re looking for folks who are willing to watch birds at least a few times over a period of three months and who would be willing to answer a few surveys about their experiences.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a nonprofit organization and a world leader in the study, appreciation, and conservation of birds. The organization advances the understanding of nature, and engages people of all ages in learning about birds and protecting the planet.

You don’t have to be a bird watcher or knowledgeable about birds to participate in this study. In fact, we’re primarily looking for people who are interested in and enjoy nature; no bird watching expertise needed.

If you would like to help us with our study, please fill out the linked survey to see if you qualify. (Unfortunately, we can only take folks who are over 18.) When the study is all over, we’ll give you a small gift card as a token of our appreciation.

We really appreciate your interest!


Gardening Indoors to keep the Winter Blues at Bay

March 30th, 2014 by Connie Schultz

As yet another “polar vortex” passed over my home in North Carolina last week with sleet and plummeting temperatures, I was cheered by seeing my phalaenopsis orchid blooming on the kitchen table, oblivious to the cold winds outside. That’s why I garden indoors - to keep the “when’s it gonna end” winter blues away.

Phalaenopsis 'Shang's Stripe' (photo credit C. Schultz)

Phalaenopsis ‘Shang’s Stripe’ (photo credit C. Schultz)

Making Choices

There are lots of choices for adding a little color to your life during the dull greys, whites and browns of winter. Little African violets bloom reliably for long periods of time during the winter with colors ranging from vivid purples and blues to pink and rose flowers which include variegation and picote colors as well. They don’t seem bothered by the low winter light or short days.

African violets (Saintpaulia ionantha)

African violets (Saintpaulia ionantha)
(photo credit C. Schultz)


Cactus are certainly easy to care for but also want higher levels of light (think desert.) They don’t need much watering during the winter, so if you’re going to be gone a lot, they might be a good choice for you. I love their quirky shapes.

Spruce Cone Cactus (Tephrocactus articulates) (photo credit C. Schultz)

Spruce Cone Cactus (Tephrocactus articulates) (photo credit C. Schultz)

Easy Care

Of all the house plants, I think I’d rate orchids right up there with the cactus for ease of care. Their fleshy pseudopods retain enough moisture to hold them over if they miss a watering or I’m gone a few days. Although they’re reputed to be fussy, I haven’t found them so. They like humidity but don’t necessarily need to be misted. Humidity can be achieved by simply setting the orchid in a dish of water filled with stones or glass beads to hold the plant out of the water. Most orchids like bright indirect light (think tropics with orchids perched on branches with the light filtering through the tree canopy above them.)

Orchids: Odontia ‘Vesta Charm’ and Laeliocattleya (LC) 'Blue Hawaii' (photo credit C. Schultz)

Orchids: Odontia ‘Vesta Charm’ and Laeliocattleya (LC) ‘Blue Hawaii’ (photo credit C. Schultz)

Scent as well as Beauty

As an extra bonus, some orchids are wonderfully scented. My favorite is Oncidium ‘Red Fantasy’ which smells sweetly of chocolate and vanilla. Scent can increase the power of flowers to drive away those winter blues so include fragrance when you’re shopping for springtime indoors!

Oncidium 'Red Fantasy' (photo credit C. Schultz)

Oncidium ‘Red Fantasy’ (photo credit C. Schultz)

Connie Schultz, Master Gardener/Composter (’95 Cornell Extension) now volunteering in Johnston County, NC.

Brassolaeliocattleya (BLC) Hawaiian Wedding Song (photo credit C. Schultz)

Brassolaeliocattleya (BLC) ‘Hawaiian Wedding Song’ (photo credit C. Schultz)

Wordless Wednesday: Social Media Team – meeting in person!

March 26th, 2014 by Terri James
Social Media Team - Spending the afternoon in the park

Social Media Team – Spending the afternoon in the park


Rose garden in Sacramento Capital Park

Rose garden in Sacramento Capital Park



Just taking it all in ...

Just taking it all in …

Wordless Wednesday: Herald of Spring – the Cherry

March 19th, 2014 by Connie Schultz

by Connie Schultz, Master Gardener/Composter (’95 Cornell Extension) now volunteering in Johnston County, NC


(Photos courtesy of the National Park Service and the University of Kentucky.)

(Photos courtesy of the National Park Service and the University of Kentucky.)


Cherry blossoms (photos courtesy University of New Hampshire)

Cherry blossoms (photos courtesy University of New Hampshire)


Pink cherry blossoms (photos courtesy North Carolina State University & Iowa State University)

Pink cherry blossoms (photos courtesy North Carolina State University & Iowa State University)


White cherry blossoms (photo courtesy Auburn University)

Cherry blossoms (photo courtesy Auburn University)


Cherry trees at University of Washington (photo courtesy University of Washington)

Bevy of blooms at University of Washington campus (photo courtesy University of Washington)


Cherry trees at University of Washington  (photo courtesy University of Washington)

Cherry trees at University of Washington (photo courtesy University of Washington)


Cherry Blossom Festival Washington DC (photos courtesy National Park Service)

Cherry Blossom Festival Washington DC (photos courtesy National Park Service)


Washington Monument, Washington DC (photo courtesy National Park Service)

Cherry trees in full bloom at Washington Monument, Washington DC (photo courtesy National Park Service)

To find out when the cherry trees will be blooming for the Cherry Festival in Washington DC,  go to the National Cherry Blossom Festival site.

Iowa Master Gardeners participate in CenUSA Biochar project

March 17th, 2014 by Karen Jeannette

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.

Iowa State Master Gardeners teaching about biochar research

Iowa State Master Gardeners learned about biochar

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.

Ames horticulture research farm

Ames horticulture research farm – good black loam


Armstrong plot (for sure)

Armstrong farm in Lewis – marginal soils



Fruitland in Muscatine – sandy soils

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.

Harvest weighed

Harvest weighed


Plant growth measured

Leaf color checked

Leaf color checked

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

Iowa State Master Gardener Participating in CenUSA Bioenergy project

Stay tuned – Iowa State Master Gardeners are ready to step back in these test gardens in 2014!

“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.”

Ohio State University EMG Trip to Ecuador – Wrap Up and Five Reasons to Go!

March 4th, 2014 by Pamela Bennett

I have to apologize for the delay in posting.  After airport delays and lack of a good internet connection, I was not able to get this posted over the weekend.  Better late than never and I didn’t want to leave you hanging!

Our final work day in Ecuador took us about 8,000 feet high to the vivero (tree nursery) that is located in Achupallas.  We finished up the weeding and then had a great time with the kids from the nearby school.  Some of our volunteers walked to the school and escorted the children to the nursery.  The other volunteers had set up three stations for different plant related activities.  The kids had a blast making hanging baskets out of plastic soda bottles, learning about the parts of the seed, and stamping paper with paint and vegetables and flowers.  I think our EMGs had more fun however!  These kids are so cute and so eager to learn.

Debby works with the children planting hanging baskets

Debby works with the children planting hanging baskets

In the afternoon, we headed to Panecillo for an authentic cooking class.  I wore my authentic blouse (made by Christina last year, embroidery by hand!) and skirt.  We learned how to prepare an authentic Keechwa meal completely from scratch.  We divided into teams and some did the prep and others did the cooking.  The chicken was cooked over the campfire.  After it was ready, we all enjoyed a wonderful meal, complete with an incredible dessert made with lots of butter, sugar, egg whites and more, wrapped in large leaves that resembled a banana leaf, and then steamed.  It was really good.

Pam and Christina

Pam and Christina

Overall we planted 500 seedlings in Muenala, two hundred pounds of potatoes in Padre Chupa, filled a couple of hundred soil bags for planting, and weeded and cleaned up the vivero.  All in all we donated 436 hours of work.  This may not seem like a lot but if you compared this to Matias working eight hours a day, we completed about 55 days of work for him, getting him that much further ahead.

Friday was our travel day back to Quito to the airport but before we left Otavalo, we had a few more minutes to spend money at the market.  After this, we loaded up the bus and headed to the Quito Botanical Gardens for a guided tour.  It was really nice hearing about the different eco-systems in Ecuador and the plants associated.  Following the gardens, we were treated to an incredible experience at the home of world-renowned orchid growers Harry and Rosemarie Zelenko.  He and his wife combined their collection of orchids years ago when they moved to Ecuador.  Harry brought more than 3,000 and Rosemarie brought more than a 1,000.  He couldn’t even tell us how many he had at this time.  His greenhouse was amazing as was his garden.  We are very grateful to the Zelenko’s for opening their home to a bunch of plant nuts!

Now for the five reasons Extension Master Gardeners should consider the trip to Ecuador!

1.  The opportunity to give back to a community in need is very gratifying.

2.  The opportunity to learn about another culture from a perspective that most tourists never have is awesome.

3.  The experience of traveling with other EMGs allows you to meet a whole new group of like-minded people.

4.  The cost of the trip is fairly reasonable.

5.  You are well-fed during the trip but you are guaranteed to walk it and work it off!  We walked 126,396 steps in eight days, an average of 15,800 steps a day!

I could give you lots more reasons to go on this trip.  I encourage you to check out the website at and learn more about the organization and the volunteer opportunities.  The next gardening vacation is open to anyone and will be on October 10-17, 2014.  If you have any questions or are interested in going, please contact me at 937-521-3860 or

I am already excited about going back next year!


Pam Bennett, EMG State Coordinator, Ohio State University Extension


Exhausted OSU EMGs After Day Fourth and Fifth Day

February 26th, 2014 by Pamela Bennett

We are exhausted!  However, it’s the greatest exhaustion in the world, as any gardener knows after a hard day work.  On Tuesday we traveled up around 8,000 feet high to the vivero and weeded and filled soil bags for the tree seedlings.  After about two hours of work, the great Tandana Foundation staff provided us with a wonderful picnic lunch that included local fruits and juices.  After this, we traveled about 45 minutes to the Falcon Farms rose plantation.  This was a truly great experience for us and we were only the second group to tour the plantation.

Matias and Rachel with the Ohio State University EMGs kneeling pad

Matias and Rachel with the Ohio State University EMGs kneeling pad

Falcon Farms has 100 acres of greenhouse under plastic in order to grow cut roses for shipment to the US, Canada and Russia.  We toured a greenhouse in which the roses were planted in rows of 450 plants each.  An employee is responsible for 17,000 plants.  They are all on drip irrigation.  From the time a rose is cut, it take approximately one week to get to the consumer.  Post harvest treatment is top priority.  After a long stem is cut, it takes about 70-85 days before rose stem can be cut.  There were four bud stages identified for us.  The first is rice, when the bud is just forming.  The second is pea and the bud is beginning to swell.  The third is garbanzo and this is just before you see a slight bit of color.  The fourth is color line and is when you just see the sepals part and show a line of color.  The fifth and final stage, is when the rose is perfect and the stem is cut.

Freedom is the most popular variety of red rose they grow for Valentine’s Day.  Thirty percent of their total sales or 4 millions rose stems are exported for this day.  The next big sales day is Mother’s Day and the color is pink and hot pink.  During the summer, sales drop dramatically and our guide pointed out that the US and their home gardeners are their biggest competition.  He said this with a smile!

They employ 350 people year round and hire an additional 150 for Valentine’s Day.  The biggest pest problems are thrips, spider mites and botrytis.  I asked if they used integrated pest management or IPM and he did not know this term.  However, after explaining that pruning, air circulation, sanitation, and the use of the appropriate pesticides, they obviously employ IPM tactics.  They are also very diligent about rotating fungicides in order to prevent resistance.  They compost all of their material and use it back in the beds.  Some of the rose varieties were eight feet tall; the life expectancy for these plants to perform is around twenty.  However, they replace them every five years for production.

Each EMG was given a bouquet of roses at the end of the tour - muchas gracias!

Each EMG was given a bouquet of roses at the end of the tour – muchas gracias!

Today, Wednesday, we drove up around 11,000 feet high and went to Padre Chupa for another minga (community workday) to plant potatoes.  Some of the group made vegetable prints with the 11 children that go to the school, while others made hanging planters out of pop bottles.  And others, such as myself, Denise Johnson, Mark McVay, Cathy Barr, Jackie Mills, and Judy Hrdy-Novak took on the task of planting potatoes.

Planting potatoes in Ecuador is nothing like planting them in Ohio.  The slopes are steep any workable land is used.  The soil on these hills is beyond belief!  The men started the process by preparing the ground.  The only tool they  have is a really large hoe.  This is used for everything from weeding to digging.  Mark helped the men prep the soil (yea Mark!).  The ladies then planted the potatoes, only after the entire bed was ready.  We took a shirt full of potatoes and worked our way down the hill and dropped a potato or two about a foot apart.    After we had 200 pounds of potatoes planted, the men came back and covered them up.  These will be harvested in September.

The view was incredible, the ride a little nerve-wracking for some at times.  Once you get off the main road, the dirt roads are pretty precarious in some areas.  We are so tired tonight so it’s early to bed tonight for most.  Friday I’ll wrap up our trip with the final post and tell you how you can participate in this gardening vacation in the fall.


Jackie planting potatoes on the terraced hillside

Jackie planting potatoes on the terraced hillside

Pam Bennett, Ohio State University EMG State Coordinator, and EMGs Mark McVay, Cathy Barr, Denise Johnson, and Judy Hrdy-Novak

Cathy is helping a student make a container garden

Cathy is helping a student make a container garden

Ohio State University EMGs Ecuadorian Update

February 24th, 2014 by Pamela Bennett

These past two days have been busy for the 16 Ohio State University EMGs.  Yesterday we loaded up the bus and went about an hour up the mountain to the vivero (tree nursery) to work.  We filled soil bags, weeded tree seedlings and prepared the for today’s planting.  In the afternoon we headed to Lake Quicocha (qui = guinea pig, shaped like a guinea pig) for a great lunch at the dock and then a boat ride around the lake.  Clouds and rain moved in and it got a little chilly.  All had fun no matter!  We went to a local restaurant in Otavalo and had the opportunity to try cui or guinea pig.  This is an expensive dish  or a treat and is not served that often, except for birthdays and celebrations.  Some liked it, some….not so much.

Today (Monday) was a pretty incredible experience for all.  We participated in a “minga” or community work day.   All families in the community are required to have at least one family member participating and helping with the work.  Community leaders planned this work day to focus on planting trees to help prevent erosion and for a windbreak.  As you can see from the photo, erosion is a huge problem in this area and the locals focus on reforestation in order to prevent the erosion and protect the water supply.  You can also see how steep some of the hills were where we were planting.  It was pretty crazy to watch the community members hang on the the steep hillsides and see how they easily plant trees under these challenging circumstances.  We were a little more careful!

EMGs and community members planting tree seedlings on the steep hillside

EMGs and community members planting tree seedlings on the steep hillside

Many hands make small work held true today.  We planted almost 500 tree seedlings (came from the vivero) in approximately 3 1/2 hours.  The soil in this region is a rich volcanic mix and is absolutely incredible.  Most of us EMGs couldn’t start working right away as we had to relish the feel and quality of the soil.  We kind of looked a little weird fondling the soil but if you have clay soil, you know how it is.  We planted on the hillside and then went further down the hill to the school grounds and finished up.  It was really great to walk down the hillside and experience the plants in this area.  We could recognize many of them since they are the annuals and tropical plants that we grow – except they are a lot bigger here.


Matias and John working to get the fence tight on the lechero stakes

Matias and John working to get the fence tight on the lechero stakes


We also helped build a fence around the area to protect the trees, mostly from animals wandering and smashing them.  The fences were made from barbed wire stapled to stakes made from the lechero (Euphorbia latazi) tree.  This tree is in the Euphorbia family which means it hast the typical white sap and we had to be careful handling it.  It makes for a very durable and long lasting stake.  The stakes were cut from nearby lechero trees with machetes and “planted” in holes about two foot deep, then the barbed wire was attached.

The community lunch is prepared for the feast

The community lunch is prepared for the feast



One of the highlights of the day was the community lunch.  After a minga, it’s common to have a community lunch.  The women in the community prepare the food and bring it to the field.  They lay a cloth down and then sheets on top of the cloth.  All of the food is then poured out on the cloth in one big pile.  Then, it’s just like Americans – dig in!  It was a great experience and lots of fun.  The food included several different types of potatoes, a variety of beans (including fava beans), roasted corn,  rolls,  all topped with popcorn.  Many of us ate the local way with our hands and some used plates.

The other highlight of the day was our visit with the Yachak or healer.  He shared his traditions and knowledge on healing with us as well as specific details on medicinal plants.  We also toured his garden and learned about the many healing qualities of plant.  A Yachak generally focuses on healing the spiritual side and typically hands down his knowledge to a son or daughter to pass along the tradition.  One  of the most interesting things he said was, “we are born not knowing plants and it’s our responsibility to keep learning about them and teach others.”

Overall, we are all exhausted from planting seedlings at an altitude of 11,000 feet high.  Walking up and down the mountainside to get to and from the school was a little taxing and we were definitely affected by the altitude.  However, as all gardeners know, this is a GOOD exhausted.  Tomorrow we go back to the vivero and will visit a rose plantation and on Wednesday, we will plant potatoes and teach a school group.  More on our adventures on Wednesday.

Pam Bennett, Ohio State University Extension Master Gardener State Coordinator

I got caught with a mouthful of food!

I got caught with a mouthful of food!

2014 Pacific Northwest Rhododendron Winners

February 24th, 2014 by Nicole Martini

Deciduous Azalea 'Homebush'

Deciduous Azalea ‘Homebush’ Photo by Sally and John Perkins

Elepidote Rhododendron 'Fire Rim'

Elepidote Rhododendron ‘Fire Rim’ Photo by Don Kohlenberger

Evergreen Azalea 'Komo Kulshan'

Evergreen Azalea ‘Komo Kulshan’ Photo by Sally and John Perkins

See what the 2014 winners are in your area!