Yesterday we got an update on the CenUSA biochar test sites in Minnesota today they are the Wordless Wednesday showing what has been happening in their gardens through pictures!
Yesterday we got an update on the CenUSA biochar test sites in Minnesota today they are the Wordless Wednesday showing what has been happening in their gardens through pictures!
It’s been a while since we offered an update on the CenUSA biochar demonstration gardens. As you may already know, there are four sites in Minnesota: at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul Campus, in Andover at the Extension regional center, and at the Brookston Community Center in the Fond du Lac tribal community (Cloquet).
Extension Master Gardeners have been helping support biochar research at each site since 2012 as part of the larger CenUSA Bioenergy project. Ken Moore at Iowa State University and staff are leading a team of eight institutions that are participating in the five-year, USDA-sponsored CenUSA project. The goal is to investigate the creation of a Midwestern sustainable biofuels and bioenergy products system. (To learn more, check out the 2012 CenUSA Bioenergy Overview YouTube video.)
For this post, we asked Extension Master Gardener Meleah Maynard to write about what it’s been like to volunteer at the metro sites for the past three seasons. In her next post, she’ll turn the spotlight on the Fond du Lac volunteers. Meleah talked with Lynne Hagen, project coordinator for the University of Minnesota Extension biochar demonstration gardens, and Master Gardener volunteers who are currently serving as leaders at each of the sites about their experiences—positive, negative and everything in between. Here’s what they had to say.
Lynne had never heard of biochar when she went to the initial CenUSA Bioenergy Project meeting at Iowa State University. But once she saw the depth of the project, she remembers thinking that it seemed like an exciting research project to be involved with. “So I put my Extension hat on and I thought, ‘Okay, I’m in!’” Three years later, she feels even more passionate about the project, which focuses on helping to answer the question of whether biochar could be a good soil amendment for use in home gardens.
Lynne has also learned, through trial and error, what it takes to engage and motivate 50 frontline volunteers. And she does that while working closely with everyone to ensure the gardens’ success and the collection of the most accurate data possible “Our project is not hard science,” she told me. “It’s more observational, and instructions for planting, maintaining plants and collecting data can be subjective in terms of how things are interpreted. Kind of like judging an art show.”
By that she means Master Gardeners must do their best to record their observations of the three plots at each site: the control plot with no biochar added, treatment plot 1 with ½ pound of biochar per square foot added and treatment plot 2 with 1 pound of biochar per square foot added. How much did the biochar appear to improve soil structure? Did the vegetables and flowers in the biochar plots do better or worse than those in the control plot? What impact could the weather be having on the data? What differences can be seen between the sites with silt loam soil and those with sandy soil?
Data collection processes have been continually streamlined throughout the project, and things are running more and more smoothly over time. Sandra Shill, who co-leads the Arboretum site with Mary Burchette, remembers the first year was especially difficult because everyone was trying to understand how to do everything and do it in the same ways. “Measuring plants sounds simple, but measurements have to be taken in specific ways so there were a lot of nuances to work out,” Sandra says.
For example, she recalls her husband, who went with her to tend to the plot one day, wondering aloud whether she was really supposed to stretch the prickly cucumber vines out straight when taking measurements. She was. But were volunteers supposed to flatten plant leaves out completely when measuring leaf width? Yes. Thankfully, it’s much easier to determine the color of leaves (one of several indicators of plant health) thanks to a color guide that was introduced last season.
Sandra says she got involved with the biochar project because she grew up in Iowa and “things that make use of crops always attract my attention.” The possibility of using switch grass, corn stalks and leaves and other charred biomass as a soil amendment intrigued her. And like her co-leader, she’s enjoying the research aspect of the project, especially one that could potentially make a difference.
“It’s been rewarding to be involved in every stage of the project,” says Mary, who signed on because she’s always enjoyed science. “In the largest sense, every aspect of this project could have a positive impact on the environment and that’s been extremely rewarding.” That’s not to say that there haven’t been challenges. Scheduling and coordinating volunteers is no easy job, and it’s hard to keep people motivated to continue weeding and picking insect pests off plants once the season starts winding down in August.
And yes, a volunteer once stepped in an anthill and got ants all over her feet and was hopping around until another quick-thinking volunteer turned the hose on her shoes. But, really, the Arboretum site is largely ideal—except for watering. Unlike other sites that have easy access to sprinklers, volunteers have to use a brass key to hook up to a nearby water source to get their sprinklers going. “If you don’t do it right, you get totally soaked,” Mary says, laughing.
Over at the St. Paul campus site, watering couldn’t be easier because the demonstration garden is equipped with programmable irrigation, says site leader Carol Skalko. Better still, because they’re on campus, they were fortunate the first year because University of Minnesota Extension Plant Pathologist Michelle Grabowski had a research plot right next to the test plot. “It was great because we could ask her questions about plant diseases whenever we needed to,” Carol recalls.
One of the things Carol likes best about being a Master Gardener volunteer is the social interaction with others who share her love of gardening. So she’s especially glad that scheduling has often worked out so that volunteers could work together as a group. “There’s a real sense of community at our site and that’s been significant for me,” she says, adding that everyone has particularly enjoyed getting to know Master Gardeners from other counties.
Like other site leaders, she appreciates how things have gotten easier and more understandable over time. But she continues to worry about making mistakes that could throw off the data: Like this year, when the lettuce crop was considered a failure because it didn’t germinate. “We ignored it because we thought it wasn’t being counted, but it turned out they did want us to collect data on that and I misunderstood,” Carol says.
Jeff Stahmann, who co-leads the Andover site with Dave Knapp, is a scientist and engineer who develops medical devices like pacemakers. It was the research aspect of the biochar project that drew him in. While most Master Gardeners are taking knowledge from University-based research and applying it, he likes that in this case, Master Gardeners are providing data for researchers to us. “It would be great if Master Gardeners could get involved in some way with more University-based research projects like this because everybody wins,” he says.
At the same time, as a scientist, he is keenly aware of the “enormous number of variables” that need to be considered when interpreting the data from a project like this: the quality of seeds, the sizes of seedlings, variable weather and different types of soil, to name a few. “It’s a very dynamic environment in which to work for all of us,” as he aptly puts it. And his words sound all the more charitable when you consider what volunteers have faced at the Andover site.
Situated on the Anoka sand plain, the Andover site is by all accounts the most challenging of the three metro-area sites—and not just because of the sandy soil. Unlike the other two metro demonstration gardens, which were established in areas with silt loam soil, this plot had to be carved out of an area of woods filled with underbrush and poison ivy, the latter of which continues to pop up in areas where the volunteers work occasionally. “And then there was the time that wasps got into our supply cabinet and built a nest that we had to get out of there,” Dave says, before adding that gophers have been a problem in past years too.
Even so, he thinks the positives of working on the biochar project always balance out the tough parts. Harvesting the crops is one of the processes Dave likes most because until you actually weigh the kale, Swiss chard, potatoes and other crops, you’ve only got a visual assessment of which crops did better than others in the different plots.
It’s nice too that volunteers get to take home herbs and vegetables once the data has been collected. “For me,” Dave says, “whether what we observe turns out to be of major or minor significance, having the chance to participate in the discovery process has been really rewarding for me.”
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.
“Never did a prisoner, released from his chains, feel such relief as I shall on shaking off the shackles of power” -Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) Like his predecessor George Washington, Jefferson had longed to care for his farm and garden. “My views and attentions are all turned homeward“, he wrote a fellow gardener. Finally on March 15th 1809, after serving 12 years as president and vice-president, Thomas Jefferson returned to his beloved Monticello.
“I am constantly in my garden as exclusively employed out of doors as I was within doors when at Washington“. He was continually taking notes while supervising the activities on the plantation. These notes were eventually transferred to his Garden Book, a journal he kept from 1766-1824. His estate manager later recalled that Jefferson knew every plant in his garden and would instantly notice if a single tree had died or a specimen was missing. And specimens Jefferson had.
“There is not a sprig of grass the shoots uninteresting to me”. Plants representing the traditions of Europe, Colonial America, Native America, and Enslaved America filled the grounds. The vegetable gardens, flower beds, shrubberies, orchards and groves contained plants collected either by Jefferson himself or by others at his request. 5 species of oak, 7 types of fir, 13 different roses, 7 varieties of cherries, 8 species of locust, 5 kinds of both magnolia and pines, and 150 varieties of fruit bearing plants are just a small fraction of the total.
“Lunaria still in bloom. An indifferent flower. Mirabilis just opened. Very clever. Larger Poppy has vanished-Dwarf poppy still in bloom but on the decline. Carnations in full life. Argemone, one flower out” – Notes from the Garden Book Jefferson didn’t follow the usual pattern of collecting plants just for the sake of having them. He used Monticello as a laboratory, an early American experiment farm. He experimented with different growing methods and ran what are called field trials today, always observing, experimenting, and recording. He was searching for the best possible varieties, the most useful plants for American soils and climate.
He categorized his vegetables into “Fruits”, “Leaves” and “Roots”, recorded sowing, transplanting and harvest dates, recorded weather patterns and temperature. He even measured the circumference of berries. It was a practical and patriotic undertaking. “One service of this kind rendered to a nation is worth more to them than all the victories of the most splendid pages of their history”
“Planting is one of my great amusements, and even of those things which can only be for posterity, for a Septuagenary has no right to count on anything beyond annuals” As Jefferson grew older, care of gardens and grounds was gradually taken over by other household members. When possible he would ride for hours around his beloved Monticello, often accompanied by a family member who would faithfully note his comments to be added to the Garden Book. His interest in gardening and plants continued until his death.
“I have often thought that if heaven had given me a choice of my position and calling, it should have been on a rich spot of earth, well watered, and near a good market for the productions of the garden. No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden…I am still devoted to the garden. But though an old man, I am but a young gardener.” Jefferson to Charles W. Peale, 1811
Want to learn more? Two excellent sources for information on Jefferson’s farming and gardening activities are the digital facsimiles of the manuscripts compiled by Jefferson throughout his lifetime, his Farm Book and his Garden Book. These documents, owned by the Massachusetts Historical Society, have been transcribed and the entire contents are keyword searchable along with excellent quality digital facsimiles of the manuscript pages. http://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/tje/Agriculture-and-Gardening
Posted by Sylvia Hacker, Dona Ana Co. New Mexico EMG
“I had rather be on my farm than be emperor of the world”. — George Washington
There is no evidence that George Washington did any physical gardening himself at Mount Vernon, but his influence on activities was apparent. His designs determined what plants were included and how the gardens appeared. Washington was directly involved in the development and redesigning of the gardens around the mansion.
“Bad seed is a robbery of the worst kind: for your pocketbook not only suffers by it, but your preparations are lost and a season passes away unimproved” -George Washington
Washington cared about the style and type of plants in his gardens and closely supervised all plantings at Mount Vernon.
“It will not be doubted, that with reference either to individual, or National Welfare, Agriculture is of primary importance. In proportion as Nations advance in population, and other circumstances of maturity, this truth becomes more apparent; and renders the cultivation of the Soil more and more, an object of public patronage.”
George Washington, Eighth Annual Message to Congress, 1796
“Every improvement in husbandry should be gratefully received and peculiarly fostered in this Country, not only as promoting the interests and lessening the labour of the farmer, but as advancing our respectability in a national point of view; for in the present State of America, our welfare and prosperity depend upon the cultivation of our lands and turning the produce of them to the best advantage. ”
George Washington (Letter to Samuel Chamberlain, April 3, 178?)
“Nothing in my opinion would contribute more to the welfare of these States, than the proper management of our lands; and nothing, in this State particularly, seems to be less understood. The present mode of cropping practiced among us, is destructive to landed property; and must, if persisted in much longer ultimately ruin the holders of it. “
(Letter to William Drayton, March 25, 1786)
He was a very progressive farmer and experimented with new ideas and plants. He was a firm believer in maintaining soil health and applied compost to his fields and gardens. This process was called “manuring”.
“When I speak of a knowing farmer, I mean one who understands the best course of crops; how to plough, to sow, to mow, to hedge, to Ditch and above all, Midas like, one who can convert everything he touches into manure, as the first transmutation towards Gold; in a word one who can bring worn out and gullied lands into good tilth in the shortest time.”
George Washington (Letter to George William Fairfax, June 30, 1785)
The back of the Mt. Vernon greenhouse showing one of the boxwood knot gardens. Potted plants were brought into the greenhouse to overwinter, the tall windows letting in enough light for them to survive.
The greenhouse also had a fireplace to supply additional heat. The heated air was ducted through flues and channeled under the floor. This was considered quite the innovation over the older method of ducting the hot air through walls and under windows.
“I know of no pursuit in which more real and important services can be rendered to any country than by improving its agriculture, its breed of useful animals, and other branches of a husbandman’s cares.”
George Washington, letter, Jul. 20, 1794
Happy Independence Day everyone!
Posted by Sylvia Hacker, Dona Ana Co. New Mexico MG
“How many gentle flowers grow in an English country garden?
I’ll tell you now of some that I know and those I’ll miss I hope you’ll pardon…”
These are opening words to the delightful tune “English Country Garden” which praises the variety of flora and fauna in an English garden. But did you know that the classic English garden has its roots in America? Without American plants the English garden as we know it today would never have existed.
Let’s set the clock back to 1733 where we see Mr. John Bartram of Pennsylvania sending two boxes of seeds to his London friend, Mr. Peter Collinson. (Mr. Collinson supports his personal gardening and plant collecting addiction by selling cloth.) Over the next 40 years Mr. Bartram will send hundreds of these seed boxes to Mr. Collinson. These are the seeds which will transform English gardens.
John Bartram (1699-1777) lived on a farm outside of Philadelphia and every fall he would go plant collecting. His wanderings eventually took him from Lake Ontario to Florida in search of new plant species for himself and Mr Collinson. Each winter dozens of seed boxes made the trip across the Atlantic to London where Mr. Collinson and his English gardening friends eagerly awaited their arrival.
“…the Botanick fire set me in such A flame as is not to be quenched untill death or I explore most of the South western vegitative treasures in No. America.” John Bartram, 1761.
For the first time English gardeners had a huge choice of plants which would provide year-round beauty in their gardens. With Winter blooming shrubs, blazing Fall foliage and a successive parade of blooms in the Spring and Summer, many an English gardener’s dreams were beginning to come true. By the end of the 1800’s England had become a nation of gardeners.
Mr. Bartram’s trees and flowers laid the foundations for the English garden and by the time of his death his American plants were available across Britain. The English gardening style was widely copied across Europe. “Le jardin anglais”, “il giardino inglese” and “der Englische garten” were all recreations of an English garden filled with American plants.
In the late 1700’s garden touring became popular, so much so that in 1786 Thomas Jefferson and John Adams went on a tour of English gardens. Mr. Jefferson soon realized that the beautiful gardens they were seeing were more American than English. He said to recreate the look in America, “we have only to cut out the superabundant plants”. With many of our early leaders like Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, and others setting the example, Americans soon turned into plant collectors.
John Bartram’s garden is the oldest surviving botanical garden in North America. It’s near Philadelphia, PA and is located on the west bank of the Schuylkill River. It covers 46 acres which include an historic botanical garden and an 8 acre arboretum which was established in 1728. Three generations of the Bartram family have continued the garden as the premier collection of North American plant species in the world. The current collection contains a wide variety of herbaceous and woody plants. Most were listed in the Bartrams’ 1783 Catalogue of American Trees, Shrubs and Herbacious Plants and subsequent editions.
If you’re in the area, plan to see the the American birthplace of the English garden!
For more info: Bartram’s Garden
Posted by Sylvia Hacker, Dona Ana Co. New Mexico Master Gardener
On September 7, 2013 twenty one Search for Excellence Awards were presented at the International Master Gardener Conference 2013 (IMGC 2013), Cruise to Alaska Flowers, Fjords & Friends. Search for Excellence (SFE) is the recognition of outstanding projects by Master Gardener volunteers throughout the United States and Canada.
SFE Awards are presented every two years at the IMGC conference where Master Gardener volunteers, Extension staff and faculty gather to learn from each other, share projects and to network with their peers from around the world. Twenty one Master Gardener programs were recognized for their outstanding achievement from a field of seventy two applications, submissions from twenty six USA states and two Canadian provinces.
• Community Service
• Demonstration Gardens
• Innovative Projects
• Special Needs Audiences
• Workshop or Presentation
• Youth Programs
All SFE applications must show that significant learning took place. The SFE projects need to be ongoing projects for at least two years; one of the winners this year has been going on for twenty six years. The IMGC Committee judges the applications. Winning projects were chosen on the basis of their originality and creativity; practicality of the program; simplicity of replication by other Master Gardeners and their significant impact on their communities.
First place winners received a plaque and a small stipend to continue their educational projects. The twenty one awarded projects displayed posters of their projects at the IMGC 2013 conference. Congratulations to all the SFE awardees that are involved in these excellent projects.
Beginning in October and continuing over the next several months, this blog will feature stories and pictures from each 2013 Search for Excellence award winners. Watch for the upcoming postings and read about these outstanding projects.
The 2015 SFE awards nominations will begin in September – to apply follow the links.
Written by: Patty Driscoll, 2013 SFE Chair
What has 180,000 hands and is changing the world? The Extension Master Gardeners of the USA! That’s how we at AmpleHarvest.org think of you—thousands of hands working in the soil, sharing valuable knowledge with growers in every corner of America, and changing the world one garden at a time!
AmpleHarvest.org is a national program, connecting gardeners with local food pantries so that excess garden bounty can be shared with those in need. Gardeners everywhere can use our site to find a pantry for those times when they just have too many greens or cucumbers (or any other extra veggies, fruits, herbs, or nuts).
We have nearly 7,000 food pantries registered on our site from every state. These are pantries that may not have the time or budget required to maintain a website or advertise their services online. For many pantries, their free profile on our site is the only web presence they have, and the only way that gardeners can find them when they have food to share.
We’ve got some exciting news! We’re celebrating our 5th birthday with a complete overhaul of our website. We will be adding new and exciting features to make it easier for gardeners and pantries to work together to eliminate hunger and malnutrition in America. We hope you’ll bookmark our page (AmpleHarvest.org) so you can see the new site when it’s up and let us know what you think.
If you’re growing food at home, helping in a community garden, or working with Plant-A-Row, we want our site to be another one of your gardening tools. Whenever someone asks us for gardening help, we send them your way and we hope that when you encounter someone whose gardening experiments yield too many tomatoes, you will send them our way so they can help feed a hungry family.
Like us on Facebook and share our page with your gardening friends to help us spread the word. If you are already growing and sharing with a food pantry, share this blog with the pantry coordinator to encourage them to register on our site so that other gardeners can find them and donate their excess produce as well.
Thank you for teaching and leading by example. Thank you for keeping the knowledge of our national agricultural traditions alive in your communities. Thank you for changing the world.
Emily Fulmer is the Grower Outreach Coordinator at AmpleHarvest.org. She is a back (and front!) yard vegetable gardener and she has recently added a small flock of Buff Orpington hens to her tiny urban farm. You can reach her at Emily@ampleharvest.org
I’m intrigued by regional wreaths made with unusual materials. Since moving to North Carolina, I’ve seen the beautiful magnolia leaf wreaths they have here. Having lived in the desert near Palm Springs, I’ve see the red pepper wreaths of the Southwest and the spiny cactus in people’s yards decorated with lights like trees – incongruous symbols of the season but strangely satisfying. I was especially amazed at the diversity of materials people used and the creativity with which they met the challenges of decorating without traditional evergreens handy.
They used corn cobs, wheat straw, holly, bittersweet, eucalyptus leaves in the West, palm fronds in Hawaii, Japanese Lanterns (Physalis alkekengi), pine cones, dried hydrangea flowers, bird seed, hellebores, olive leaves, oranges, gourds, lavender, colorful fall leaves, jar lids (that’s right – jar lids), and more. (You can visit my Pinterest Wreath board to see some pictures.)
If you have a picture of a regional wreath or a wreath made with some unusual plant material, would you share it with us? Please email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to share them here and on our Facebook page. Be sure to include you name, where you live (what state), what the picture is of, and anything else that will help your photo tell its story and your permission to use your photo (along with your name credit) in a future eXtension blog post or through other social media/promotional channels.We’ll share the season by sharing wreaths!
Connie Schultz, Extension Master Gardener/Composter (’95 Cornell Extension) now volunteering in Johnston County, NC