New EMG Group to Help Share Good Reads

May 1st, 2015 by Terri James

good reads picReally 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.

Wordless Wednesday – Year of Soil (Soil Test)

April 15th, 2015 by Terri James

Terri James – Nebraska Extension Horticulturist

A microcosm of microbes underfoot

April 10th, 2015 by John Porter

As we celebrate the International Year of Soils, we have to discuss the fact that soil is not just the mineral and organic matter (and air and soil) that we see.  Soil, well at least good soil, is a live and well, filled with all kinds of fauna.  There’s a huge microcosm of life underfoot, namely fungi and bacteria that have evolved over millions of years to live symbiotically with plants.  These microorganisms are necessary to sustain life on the planet- without them organic matter wouldn’t decompose to feed plants.

Rhizobia nodules on a legume root.

One specific set of bacteria live symbiotically with legumes by forming nodules on the legume’s roots.  These Rhizobia benefit from the plant, but also fix nitrogen from the atmosphere into ammonia that the plant can use.  Its a relationship that has developed over millions of years.  It can be a beneficial one for gardeners who want to add nutrients to the soil.

Read more about these bacteria in an article from blog contributor John Porter.

 

 

Contributor John Porter is an agriculture extension agent with West Virginia University Extension in Charleston, WV.  He writes a local weekly garden column called “The Garden Guru.”  You can find him on Twitter or on Facebook.

Wordless Wednesday – Year of Soils

April 8th, 2015 by Terri James

Terri James, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

ALmost Wordless Wednesday: The Earth Laughs…

March 25th, 2015 by Lois Versaw

“The Earth Laughs in Flowers.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Below are just a few of the favorite blooms from gardeners across the country…  The return of spring and nearing arrival of the growing season is cause for much rejoice and laughter.

Flower13

Climbing Pink Camellia courtesy of Judith Fuselier-Phillips

H.F. Young Clematis courtesy of Cheryl Day Lansdale

Peach Meringue Brugmansia courtesy of Jake Ouellete

Purple Iris courtesy of Judith Fuselier-Phillips

Amethyst Epiphyllum courtesy of Jake Ouellette

 

Magnolia courtesy of Angela Blue

Gerbera Daisy courtesy of Dorene Lee Harvey

Blood Lily Courtesy of Jan McMahon

Columbine courtesy of Sheila Gilliam-Landreth

Amaryllis courtesy of Eileen Hayzlett

 

Amaryllis courtesy of Cheryl Day Lansdale

Blooming Nectarine Tree courtesy of Terri Upchurch

Clematis courtesy of Briana Belden

Crocus courtesy of Lois Versaw

Dr. Ruppel Clematis courtesy of Jake Ouelette

 

 *The above images were shared with this blogger by members of the Facebook community

“The Self-Sustaining Seed Swappers”.

 

 

Tips and Tricks of Yesteryear Gardening

March 23rd, 2015 by Lois Versaw
Courtesy of http://wordplay.hubpages.com/hub/vintage-flowers#

Courtesy of http://wordplay.hubpages.com/hub/vintage-flowers#

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.

Courtesy of http://wordplay.hubpages.com/hub/vintage-flowers#

Courtesy of http://wordplay.hubpages.com/hub/vintage-flowers#

 

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.

Courtesy of http://wordplay.hubpages.com/hub/vintage-flowers#

Courtesy of http://wordplay.hubpages.com/hub/vintage-flowers#

 

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…

Courtesy of http://wordplay.hubpages.com/hub/vintage-flowers#

Courtesy of http://wordplay.hubpages.com/hub/vintage-flowers#

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.”

ALmost Wordless Wednesday: Spring!

March 18th, 2015 by Lois Versaw

This ALmost Wordless Wednesday brings us only two days away from spring!  A time of rebirth and reawakenings, and a time when all that planning and dreaming can start to take real form in the garden.

"No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow." ~ Proverb

“No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow.” ~ Proverb

 

 

One of the very first blooms of the season, the Crocus traditionally symbolizes cheerfulness and gladness, and brings both early to the garden; heralding the arrival of the growing season and of spring.

 

A Visit to ‘Seed Savers Exchange-Heritage Farm’

March 16th, 2015 by Lois Versaw

After work on Friday, September 26th, 2014 I drove 6.5 hours to Decorah, Iowa so that I could attend the ‘Seed Savers Exchange’ Fall Harvest School.  It was a long drive, but very well worth it.  The one-day workshop promised lessons on seed saving, fall gardening, canning, and fermentation.

Seed Savers' Heritage Farm

Seed Savers’ Heritage Farm

         A Beautiful Drive

Lilliam Goodman Visitors' Center

Lilliam Goodman Visitors’ Center

Unfortunately darkness had descended so I was unable to fully appreciate the scenery of my drive, nor did I get to enjoy the transition from the flat plains of southeast Nebraska to the glorious rolling hills and gentle mountains that awaited near Minnesota.

Starfire Signet Marigolds

Beautiful Orange Blossoms

Beautiful Orange Blossoms

Teaching Garden at Heritage Farm

Teaching Garden at Heritage Farm

Heaven on Earth

‘Heritage Farm’ is beyond beautiful and is the headquarters of ‘Seed Savers Exchange’. Located six miles north of Decorah, Iowa, the farm sits on 890 acres and boasts itself (according to the website) a “living museum of historic varieties”.  Thousands of heirlooms are grown organically on-site in the Preservation Gardens along with a Historic Orchard home to many near-extinct apple and grape varieties.  The farm is one of only two locations in North America where Ancient White Park Cattle may be seen.  Surrounded by stately cliffs and enormous pines, the rustic red barn and accompanying gardens looks a lot like paradise.

A Full Day of Lessons  

The Fall Workshop started bright and early with visitors from all over crowded in and around the ‘Lillian Goldman Visitors Center’.  Attendees were divided into smaller groups and the day’s schedule was broken down accordingly.

The first class I attended was on fermentation, a subject I knew absolutely nothing about.  The lecturing nutritionist shared recipes for homemade coleslaw, fermented beet juice, and many tips and tricks.

The second class was on seed saving.  Attendees were taken to the nearby teaching gardens, where we were instructed on how to harvest, save, and store seeds from beans, peas, melon, squash, and tomatoes.  We were given free-reign of the teaching gardens and allowed to harvest some seeds at-will.  Despite the gardening season obviously winding down and winter soon approaching, the teaching gardens were still gorgeous and I was exposed to so many new varieties of both flower and vegetable that I had never seen nor heard of before.  I went home with a few Radish and Dill seeds, some yellow Drumstick, Hungarian Blue Breadseed Poppy, and gorgeous burgundy Amaranth seeds, which can be enjoyed as both a cereal grain and as a garden ornamental.

Following lunch were classes on canning/food preservation and preparing the fall garden for the following spring.  Visitors saw demonstrations of proper bed clean-up and division of perennials, and discussed the use of nutrient-enriching cover crops.

Seed Shopping!!!  

Kiss-Me-Over-the-Garden-Gate

Kiss-Me-Over-the-Garden-Gate

Following the classes, this blogger lingered to talk with fellow attendees and like-minded gardeners, and patronized the ‘Visitors Center’ where all 2014 seed packets were on sale.  I somewhat maintained restraint and stuck to my shopping list, but did allow for several added varieties (They were on sale!) that I had fallen in love with on-site, which were displayed in the gardens.  I could not leave without having purchased seeds for the brilliant, tall ‘Purple Verbena’ that I had seen covered by masses of butterflies, nor could I leave without the ‘Black-Eyed Susan Vine’ and the prolific ‘Kiss-Me-Over-the-Garden Gate’, which will add an abundance of charm and cheery pink color to my front flower garden this coming season.

This blogger urges anyone able to visit the ‘Seed Savers Exchange-Heritage Farm’ to do so.  I left awed by the majestic beauty, inspired by the bountiful gardens, and determined to practice the art of seed saving as I was taught on that day.

Glorious Trees at Seed Savers

 

Please visit http://www.seedsavers.org/About-Us/Heritage-Farm/ to learn more!

ALmost Wordless Wednesday: National Pi Day!

March 11th, 2015 by Lois Versaw

Today, on National Pi Day (The day honoring a number which seems to go on forever) let us enjoy the infinite and timeless beauty found at Seed Savers’ Heritage Farm in Decorah, Iowa.

Pi has been been calculated to over one trillion digits beyond its decimal point… a number so large that most cannot conceive its enormity.

Seed Savers’ Heritage Farm

Seed Savers and other like-minded organizations work diligently to promote and preserve heirloom seeds and to prevent the inconceivable loss of centuries of plant genetics and gardening heritage.

Grandpa Ott's Morning Glories in full glory

Grandpa Ott’s Morning Glories

The birds and the bees love these beautiful blooms!

The birds and the bees love these beautiful blooms!

Dramatic yellow blooms of the Black-Eyed Susan Vine

Morning Glories growing against the Barn

Seed Swapping and the Social Media

March 6th, 2015 by Lois Versaw
A just-opened "Round Robin" seed box that traveled from State-to-State.

A just-opened “Round Robin” seed box that traveled from State-to-State.

Seed sharing has evolved…

Sharing and trading seeds has gone from neighbor-to-neighbor and from family member-to-family member to stranger-to-stranger. No longer just passing seeds over a white picket fence or bringing them with you to the next community soup supper. With the advent of the internet and the rise of social media, the way we share and trade seeds has evolved dramatically these last few years.

Google “Seed Swap” and countless entries appear in seconds. From the ‘National Gardening Association’ Seed Swap website to the ‘Old Farmer’s Almanac’, hundreds of promises of seed trading and sharing beckon. Facebook itself is home to many seed trading sites.

Find it on Facebook!

The ‘Self-Sustaining Seed Swappers’ is one such nonprofit seed sharing site and is currently home to 132 members, chosen and invited to join the exclusive community of fellow gardeners and proven-worthy, reputable traders with solid trade history. The site is perhaps the “best of the best” and promotes the safest, most-welcome location for its’ members to meet online, swap stories, share seeds and so much more… Members who have joined the site looking to score a hard-sought, rare seed variety often end up not only with the longed-for seeds, but having created lasting friendships.

 

The amazing contents of a recent seed box that traveled a from participant-to-particpant.

The amazing contents of a recent seed box that traveled
from participant-to-particpant.

Gail Leonard started the group in mid 2014 for people living in Central Ohio, as Gail had noticed that there were no groups in her local area. Gail met Ashley Hafer on another site while trading Wisteria for Oleander. Ashley joined the group, the name changed, and the site grew larger as the group expanded to include traders that either Gail or Ashley had experienced excellent seed trades with in the past. Ashley noted that “(We) just wanted to share and trade with honest people!…” and that “Facebook is great because people are already using it; it’s free, it’s accessible from smartphones… and the benefits are numerous.  Not only are we swapping and sharing seeds to grow food and beautify our yards, but we are making amazing friendships!”

 

Just a few of the seeds this blogger has acquired via swapping and sharing over social media.

Just a few of the seeds this blogger has acquired via swapping and sharing over social media.

Ashley adds that since the group keeps their numbers small “it really has become a community. (We) celebrate birthdays, holidays, send get-well cards, thinking-of-you presents…” The group allows for individual trades, member-hosted contests and prize giveaways, “Round Robin” seed boxes, etc.

The ‘Great American Seed Swap/Trade Project’ is another Facebook seed trading site that has (at last count) 14,894 members and 8 administrators. All are welcome to join the group and it is a wonderful place to get started in the seed trade community. A beginner can join with no seeds to share and the generosity of fellow seed lovers will soon amount to many varieties of seed all for the price of a SASE (Self Addressed Stamped Envelope.)

For just a SASE (Self Addressed Stamped Envelope)…

If desiring to share excess seeds, it is advisable to request any interested parties to send a SASE (two stamps is the norm as any seed envelopes must be hand processed so as not to crush and damage the seeds inside.)  When mailing seeds,carefully wrap the seeds (contained in a small paper envelope or a plastic baggie) in bubblewrap and be sure to write either “hand cancel” or “hand stamp” on the envelope.

In this fashion, this blogger was able to go from having a few varieties of native perennial pollinator flower seeds to enough vegetable seeds to plant next year’s garden and share with countless others and a mind-boggling variety of annual flower seeds to experiment with.

With all that the internet and social media has to offer, sharing and trading seeds has never been so easy or fun and almost everyone can spread the gardening love with just a few clicks of the mouse!