Terri James – Nebraska Extension Horticulturist
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.
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.
Terri James, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
“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.
*The above images were shared with this blogger by members of the Facebook community
“The Self-Sustaining Seed Swappers”.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
A Beautiful Drive
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.
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.
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.
Please visit http://www.seedsavers.org/About-Us/Heritage-Farm/ to learn more!
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 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.
In recognition of this year’s National Seed Swap Day, January 31st, 2015, let’s consider the time-honored tradition of sharing seeds at such events because a Seed Swap has vast benefits for gardeners everywhere. Our nation’s third President, Thomas Jefferson, has long been known for his glorious gardens at Monticello with over three hundred varieties of more than ninety different plants. Jefferson sought plants and treasured seeds from all over the world and always shared his bounty and his seeds with his friends but thousands of those varieties of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers have been lost in recent times to the growth, popularity and commercial availability of hybrid seeds.
Saving Seeds, an Ancient Tradition
Fortunately, long before organized seed exchanges were held, individuals across time and around the globe would harvest, save, and share their seeds. In some cultures, seeds were valued as if they were money, bartered with, traded, and collected. Seeds would be passed down from generation to generation, from one gardener to another. What gardener does not have at least one variety of produce or one favorite flower that he or she grows every year, having been grown by their own grandparent decades ago? Many historic varieties have been preserved in this fashion and are still grown today because someone, at some time, decided to save and share those seeds.
Our Founding Fathers Shared Seeds…
Today, the average home gardener can share their neighbor’s great uncle’s award-winning tomato seed and have the opportunity to purchase (or share!) the very same variety of beautiful black Hollyhock that Thomas Jefferson grew at Monticello. Today the home gardener can either choose to spend a small fortune amassing seeds or plants commercially purchased each year for that season’s garden, or with a little planning, patience and effort; can save the previous season’s seeds for planting the next year. The first seed swap days allowed local gardeners to trade their abundance of a particular seed for other kinds that other gardeners had in their own possession. Seed swaps have begun to sprout up all over the country and enable gardeners of all ages and experience-levels to meet, share seeds (and sometimes plants), advice and ideas, stories, and fellowship.
Why Save Seeds?
Today most organized seed swaps include seeds native to the area/zone, edibles (fruit and vegetable,) herbs, exotics, annuals, perennials and woody trees and shrubs. Seeds saved and shared are often open-pollinated and heirloom variety, which produce offspring identical to the parent plant (seed.) Seeds saved from a hybrid plant may show traits like its parents, but hybrid varieties do not always promise offspring like the parent as the hybrid is a genetic mingling of two different parent plants and may grow offspring differing in taste, color and growth habit. Bulbs and cuttings may also be shared. Gardeners are encouraged to bring their surplus, highly flavored and/or high-yielding/good-producing seeds to share and exchange with others.
In an age when “Going Green!” is all the rage, seed swaps are gaining popularity for good reason. Seed swapping continues to promote biodiversity, cultural history, and, in essence, recycling. Gardeners rid themselves of excess seeds without wasting and leave the event(s) able to try many new varieties inexpensively and resourcefully. Jefferson wrote that, “the greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add a useful plant to its culture,” and every year the National Seed Swap Day embodies both Jefferson’s legacy of seed sharing and his promotion of gardening throughout the Country. Thinking of hosting your own seed swap event? Find more information here: www.southernexposure.com/how-to-host-a-seed-swap-ezp-146.html
Submitted by Lois Versaw (Extension Master Gardener Intern at University of Nebraska-Lincoln)
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