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  • Deciphering Seed Catalogs

    < Back Deciphering Seed Catalogs Seed catalogs start coming in January or February - a good time to start dreaming of your next garden! But there is so much information packed into a seed catalog it can be hard to interpret the abbreviations and array of plant varieties. This article will help you to decipher your seed catalogs so that you can choose the best plants for your garden. Marjorie Blare, Master Gardener Seed catalogs start coming in January or February - a good time to start dreaming of your next garden! There is so much information packed into a seed catalog! Most people have no problem with the catalogs’ rapturous descriptions of flowers or produce. After all, the catalogs are full of (probably 'enhanced') photos! More bewildering are the icons next to the photos. A good catalog has a key that explains what each icon means. They might have a drawing of a circle that is half dark and half light. They should also explain how many hours of direct sun that icon indicates, perhaps 4-6 hours. The key may be at the front of the catalog, or at the bottom of the page. Plant descriptions can have letters next to them. For instance, tomatoes may have the letters VFM. This means that variety has resistance to verticillium, fusarium wilt and nematodes. Without those letters, describing a plant as “disease resistant” is useless. Tomatoes will be listed as determinate (bush) or indeterminate (vining). You may find the letters OP (open pollinated), F1 (first generation hybrid) or X (a 'cross') in its name. F2 is a hybrid that can only be propagated vegetatively. These letters are important if you wish to save seeds. The OP seeds will breed true, but not the others. Flowers will have 'days to bloom' and/or 'bloom season' in their description, and veggies will have days to maturity or harvest. Note: 'days to harvest' for plants started indoors count from the day it is planted out. These numbers are based on the seed company's test gardens; choosing northern-grown seeds or plants, will make those numbers more accurate in Dakota County. The description or icon will tell you when to direct-sow the seeds or when to start them under lights. The latter requires you to know the average date of the last or first frost. Dakota County's dates are May 8th and October 10th respectively. It will tell you how many seeds are in a package, how far apart to plant, soil conditions (alkaline or acidic, clay, sandy, loamy) and watering requirements. Left-over seeds can be donated to a seed library, shared with friends or saved in a dry jar in the refrigerator. There will be shipping charges on the packages of seeds, so try to order all at once, or with friends, or with a heavier item. If you are getting perennials, make sure to choose plants that will grow in our U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) zone. Dakota County is zone 4. Some catalogs “stretch” the range of zones, so try to compare what different catalogs claim about the same plant or seed. Some catalogs include a USDA map and perhaps a table of temperature ranges. The catalog should list the scientific name of the plant, because common names are frequently shared by several unrelated plants. On-line catalogs will have simplified descriptions, but also have links to click to open up more information. They may also have customer reviews which are very helpful! Photo credit: (1)

  • Snack on Celery

    < Back Snack on Celery Kristen Andrews, Master Gardener Intern Celery, while a delicious treat, can be a challenge for the home gardener to grow. Learn how you can start your own celery plants indoors and have a harvest of this versatile vegetable, early or late, into the growing season! Ants on a log I have fond memories of snack time as a child, munching on “ants on a log.” Those familiar with the treat know there are three main components: the ants (chocolate chips and/or raisins), the glue to stick the ants on the log (usually peanut butter), and the log (a crisp piece of celery). The star of the snack, a crisp piece of celery, has been produced commercially since the early 1800s. Celery is part of the Apiaceae (or carrot) family. These plants are known for their hollow stems, taproots, and flat-topped flower clusters. Other familiar plants in this family are dill, fennel, and cumin. Growing celery at home may be difficult, but the harvest serves as an excellent reward for anyone up for the challenge. There are two main types of celery: Trenching and Self-blanching. Trenching celery requires extra care to ensure the stalks are protected, whereas self-blanching does not. The taste of self-blanching celery may be a little more muted, but is generally easier to grow. Two recommended self-blanching varieties are Utah and Pascal. For the home grower, celery does best when started indoors, 10-12 weeks before the last spring frost date, for a spring crop. A fall crop can also be started indoors, 10-12 weeks before the first fall frost date. Transplant outdoors once temperatures are above 50F during the day, and no lower than 40F during the night. Celery's three main needs are: cool weather, water, and rich, organic matter soil. Celery Celery can be harvested by removing the outer stalk layer leaving the rest of the plant to continue growth. The plant can also be left to grow up to 3-inches in diameter and then all the stalks harvested as a whole. Cool temperatures and water will continue the growth of the plant. The rooty, stalk structured plant with leafy greens has many uses. The stalks are regularly consumed and used in everything from stir-fry to broth, or simply consumed raw. Less popular, but still edible, are the leafy greens on the top of the plant. Those can be added to salads or minced and used as a seasoning. If looking for new and innovative celery uses, Taste of Home has 28 Non-Boring Ways to Use Celery . Sources: Photo Credit: Brian Talbot, Flickr (1) & Buuz, Wikimedia (2)

  • Practical Pointers for Planning Your Garden

    < Back Practical Pointers for Planning Your Garden The seed catalogs are here so spring must be around the corner! It’s time to turn the dreams of January into the plans for a new or renewed garden in your yard. Read this article to gain some practical pointers for planning your garden. Let’s get planning! Joy Johnson, Master Gardener It’s only February but you probably have already received some seed catalogs in the mail reminding us that spring will soon reappear. As we look longingly out our windows, it’s a great time to start thinking about a new or improved garden for your yard. A new garden can replace an existing garden, enlarge or re-shape an existing garden or carve out a completely new space in a neglected part of your property. When designing a new garden, there are some general design principles and other things you should consider. I am old school and prefer to do my thinking with a pencil and a large sheet of paper. It’s a good idea to sketch out the area you have in mind. Ask yourself some basic questions as you sketch. Topography Is the new garden area on a slope? If it is, will you need a retaining wall or terracing? For example, we designed a new garden along the east side of our yard. It has a gentle downhill slope. We wanted to add some contour to our flat front yard and create a visual barrier to block the view of the side of our neighbor’s house. We needed a retaining wall to add height and keep the garden on our side of the land. The wall ended up being 30 feet long and 4 feet wide on each end. It is 4 feet high and made from bricks and large boulders. We filled it with soil and made a small hill, with two depressions and an S shaped curve along the front side for visual variety. Light How much daylight does the area receive? Watch the area over several months and make note of any areas shaded by buildings or trees for more than 6 hours a day. An area that is in the shade for at least 6 hours a day will only support plants designed to grow in the shade. Sun loving plants need a minimum of 6 hours of full sunlight. If you are just starting this process in February, you will need to remember back to June, July, and August to determine the amount of sunlight your spot will receive during the summer. This can be very different than in the winter months due to the angle of the sun and day length. Specimen Plants Do you have any specimen plants in the area that you want to highlight (or plant new in the area)? How can you set it, or them, off? Some ideas are to highlight a specimen bush or tree with a contrasting color of mulch or a contrasting low growing ground cover. We wanted to highlight a weeping pussy willow, which has an interesting shape, but is basically green the entire growing season, so we planted purple Bugleweed around the base. The Bugleweed has tiny purple flower spikes during June, July and into August, so it looks like the Weeping Pussywillow is floating on a purple carpet. Color Palette What’s your color palette? When designing a garden that includes blooming flowers and shrubs, it’s pleasing to the eye to group similar colors together and to plant numerous plants of the same variety. This is called color block gardening and is effective if you have a large area to fill. For example, since our area is long and narrow, we planted one section with weigela which has burgundy leaves and pink flowers for most of the summer. Around one side of the weigela we planted Asian Lilies in a variety of pink hues. Beneath them and trailing down the small hill we planted a low growing creeping sedum which gets tiny pink flowers. This leads us to another design element you should consider. Plant Size Plant size. It is pleasing to the eye to have a variety of heights in your garden. You should use the Rule of Thirds. The plants at the back of your garden should be two-thirds taller than the plants in front of them. In the example given in number 4 above, the Weigela are taller than the Asian Lilies and they are both taller than the sedum. They are in the same color palette as the peonies. The creeping juniper softens the edge of the rock boarder and anchors the color palette with a dark green. A variegated willow with its very pale pink spring leaves is a light back drop at the edge of the garden. Much taller Smokebushes with their burgundy, green leaves are two-thirds taller than the Weigela. Another example from our garden is the row of Arborvitae along the back of the garden that will eventually grow taller than the Ninebark, Forsythia and Weigela that are planted in front of them. In front of those bushes, we have planted a variety of shorter flowers, grasses, and creeping ground covers. Soil Type It is important to look at your soil type. That will be hard to do in February, but when spring comes, it’s a good idea to send in a sample of the soil from your garden area to the University of Minnesota . They will send you back a soil test report that will let you know if you need to add any phosphorus or Potassium to your area. If you google “soil testing University of Minnesota” you will find directions for submitting a sample. Make a Sketch As we looked through all our gardening catalogs and downloaded plant information from various websites, it was easier to visualize our ideas if we cut out the physical pictures of the shrubs and flowers we were considering and taped them on to our paper lay out. We used a 1” = 1’ scale, to get an idea of the size. After taping the pictures on our layout, we sketched a circle around the plant to show the size of the full-grown plant. Be Flexible Flexibility is the last element of design. A flat piece of paper and photos do a good job of preparing you for the final garden look, but the contour of the land will also affect how things look. We ended up redesigning a couple of areas and moving plants around in the spring when planting began to get the look we were going for. Also keep in mind that the mature size of a plant is very different than the seedling you first get from the nursery. Your garden may not look as full as you want it to until the plants have had a couple of years to grow and settle in. Sensory Considerations A couple of other considerations: plant plants with a pleasing fragrance near your front door or other heavily trafficked area, so people can enjoy them. Don’t plant ‘unwelcoming’ plants near your front or side doors. Things with thorns, spikes, trailing branches, or pungent smells are better suited to other areas. Some tall grasses make lovely swishing sounds when the wind blows through them, consider using those near an outdoor seating area or near an entry way for auditory variety. There are many things to consider when planning a garden so enjoy the process. Choose one or two main goals or focus points (is this an edible garden or a cutting garden, or a garden to block an ugly view or a “native-plants-only” garden). Don’t let yourself get pulled off track by all the beautiful plants you see in the catalogs, online and at nurseries. Keep a narrow focus for the first year. You can always add more plants and move plants in the following years. That’s one of the fun things about gardening, plants are always changing and growing. Photo Credit: Joy Johnson

  • Winter Chicken Stew (And a Special Valentine Treat)

    < Back Winter Chicken Stew (And a Special Valentine Treat) Joy Johnson, Master Gardener The ice and snow have buried your garden under a cold blanket. Picking fresh veggies and herbs from your own plot is a distant memory and a future hope! You can still make tasty nutritious meals for your family using your garden produce, just open your freezer. Here is a recipe for a delicious chicken stew that will make great use of your frozen vegetables and herbs. Follow that up with this special sweet Valentine’s treat. Last October I dug up all the carrots and parsnips before the first hard frost. I washed, peeled, sliced, blanched, and froze containers of them. They’ve been sleeping in my freezer and now it’s time to wake them up with herbs, (also frozen or dried from my garden) in this flavorful, healthy chicken stew. I love using a crock pot for this recipe. It must be set on the low setting for the chicken to absorb the flavors and not taste dry. Country Style Chicken Stew Medium Crock Pot 2 tsp olive oil 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1-inch pieces 4 oz. portobello mushrooms, cubed (or one small can of mushroom stems and pieces) 14 oz. fat-free chicken broth ¼ cup dry white wine 3 golden potatoes, cubed into bite size pieces 15 oz can great northern beans, rinsed and drained 2 cups frozen sliced carrots (or 4 fresh ones) 1 cup frozen sliced parsnips (or 2 fresh ones) 8 cloves garlic, minced ¼ tsp pepper ¼ tsp of each of these dried spices: thyme, basil, rosemary, tarragon, oregano (if using frozen, use about a pinch of each) 1 bay leaf ¼ cup dried parsley (you can also use frozen, just chop it finely) Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and mushrooms, and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Combine the chicken mixture with everything else listed in a medium sized crock pot. Cover and cook on LOW until the chicken is cooked through, the potatoes are tender, and the flavors are blended, 6 to 8 hours. Serves 4. Serve the chicken stew with these colorful sweet scones Just for My Valentine Sweetheart Scones 2 ½ cups flour (can use ½ whole wheat) 1/3 cup sugar 1 Tbsp Baking Powder ¾ tsp salt 6 Tbsp butter 1 egg ½ cup milk ¾ cup dried cranberries, cherries or blueberries (a little grated orange rind is great with the cranberries) Top with 2 tsp milk and tsp sugar before baking. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl or food processor combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. With a pastry blender or food processor cut in butter until mixture represents coarse crumbs. Mix eggs with fork in a separate bowl and then add ½ cup of milk and blend into the flour mixture. Stir in cranberries or your choice of berries. Form dough into a ball and gently knead on a lightly floured board five times. Pack dough in to ¾ in thickness and use a butter knife or cookie cutter to cut 8-10 heart shapes. Brush each heart with milk and sprinkle with sugar Bake on a lightly greased cookie sheet at 425 degrees for 12-15 minutes until lightly browned. Serve with Raspberry preserves. Photo credits: Joy Johnson (all)

  • Just for My Valentine

    < Back Just for My Valentine Joy Johnson, Master Gardener Joy Johnson shares how to use those tomatoes that you saved from September’s harvest. And, make something sweet for your “sweetie” on Valentine’s Day. Joy shares her recipe for Sweetheart scones in this article. It’s February in Minnesota and nothing is growing in our gardens right now. If you’re anything like me, back in September you had a bumper crop of tomatoes. I freeze a lot of tomatoes for use in soups, stews, chili and minestrone during the winter months. I also make a lot of tomato juice and freeze that too. To make tomato juice in the fall, wash core and thickly slice your fresh tomatoes. Put them in a large pot and cook them over medium heat, stirring occasionally until they are completely soft and falling apart. Then put the contents of the pot through a hand food mill. That easily separates the skins and seeds from the pulp and juice. I add one teaspoon of salt to each quart of juice. Then I fill quart sized freezer baggies, lay them flat on a cookie sheet and put them into the freezer. Once they are frozen you can remove the cookie sheet and stack the frozen baggies. Here is a simple recipe for a delicious tomato soup . It really hits the spot on a cold winter day and pairs wonderfully with a grilled cheese sandwich. Because it’s red, it makes a fun Valentine’s Day lunch addition. Cream of Tomato Soup Saute: 2 T. butter 2 T. onion, chopped Blend In: 3 T. Flour 2 tsp. sugar 1 tsp. salt 1/8 tsp. petter Dash of garlic salt, basil, oregano, thyme Remove from heat. Gradually stir in: 2 c. tomato juice Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil 1 minute. Stir hot tomato mixture into cold milk: It is VERY IMPORTANT to pour the hot tomato mixture into the cold milk, if you pour the cold milk into the hot tomato mixture it will curdle. 2 c. cold milk Heat almost to boiling and serve. Sweetheart Scones Another recipe for Valentine’s Day that the kids can help with are scones. They are easy to make. You can add craisins, raisins, dried blueberries, dried cherries or dried cranberries. (A little grated orange rind is great with the cranberries.) 2 ½ cups flour (you can use part whole wheat) 1/3 cup sugar 1 T. baking powder ¾ tsp. salt 6 T. butter 1 egg ½ cup milk (you can use cows, almond, rice or reconstituted powdered milk) ¾ cup cranberries, cherries or blueberries, dried Top with 2 tsp. milk and 1 tsp. sugar before baking Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Stir. With a pastry blender or fork cut in butter until mixture represents course crumbs. Mix eggs with fork in a bowl and then add ½ cup of milk and blend. Pour egg and milk mixture into flour mixture and toss with a fork until mixture holds together. Stir in cranberries or your choice of berries. Form dough into a ball and gently knead on a lightly floured board five times. Roll dough gently in to ¾ inch thickness and use a large heart-shaped cookie cutter or a knife to cut 8-10 heart shapes. Before baking, brush each heart with milk and sprinkle with sugar. Bake on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Bake at 425 degrees for 12-15 minutes until lightly brown. Photo Credit: Joy Johnson

  • What to Do with an Overcrowded Perennial Garden

    < Back What to Do with an Overcrowded Perennial Garden ​ Linda Stein, Master Gardener Are your perennial plants over crowded? Are you planning to rip out a section of your garden to plant new shrubs or plants this year? In certain situations, Dakota County Master Gardeners may be able to help you by harvesting your plants and selling them at our annual Plant Sale in May to support our programs in the county. In the past, most of the plants that were sold in our annual Plant Sale were from member’s gardens or were vegetables and herbs started by our members in a greenhouse. However, we also sell plants harvested from the yards of non-master gardeners. We plan to continue this tradition for our next sale in May 2022, creating teams that will dig out the plants, bare root the plants to avoid the risk of spreading jumping worms, and pot the plants for sale. This is a win-win situation. Your perennials are thinned out and moved, and we can sell the plants to support our programs throughout Dakota County. (Please note that we only have a limited ability to accept hostas and daylilies for this program.) If you would like us to consider digging in your garden in the spring, contact me - . Tell me what types of plants you have. When April comes, I’ll contact you to do a walk through and set up a time to dig in your garden.

  • How to Share Your Plants Safely

    < Back How to Share Your Plants Safely Sharing plants from our gardens is a common and gratifying practice among gardeners. But in these times, we must know how to share plants safely. Safe from what? Jumping worms have become a significant and difficult problem for Minnesota gardens. This particular type of worm has the ability to ravage your garden soil and weaken or kill your plants. This article will help you learn more about this pest and show you how you can still share your plants safe from the spread of jumping worms. Mary Gadek, Master Gardener The Dakota County Master Gardener Plant Sale is scheduled for May 20th. As we plan to share the lovely garden flowers abound in Dakota County, we will be mindfully bare rooting the plants before donating to the sale . If you are planning to share plants from your garden with others this summer, bare rooting them is the safe way to do it. Why bare root?! The goal of bare rooting plants is to prevent the spread of jumping worms, which are an invasive species of worms in the United States. The worms can produce significant destruction in your garden by severely impacting the soil structure of your garden and reducing or destroying plant growth. Read this article from the University of Minnesota Extension to learn more about jumping worms in Minnesota. Prevention is key to limiting the spread of invasive jumping worms. Since soil, plant roots and mulch are the common materials most likely to spread the jumping worms, you can play an integral role in minimizing jumping worm issues. Note that in the spring, jumping worms are either cocoons or juveniles. The cocoons are the size and color of soil aggregates so they are difficult to see. Juvenile jumping worms may look like other juvenile earthworms at this point, without the telltale cream color collar, so they are hard to find or identify. These worms and juvenile worms can easily hide inside the roots of your plant. You can still share your plants and dramatically reduce the spread of jumping worms by taking steps to “bare root” your plants. The remainder of this article will provide step-by-step instructions about how to do so. How to Bare Root Your Plants Before sharing your beautiful garden plants, please take the following steps to bare root your donations. SUPPLIES: Drop cloth for work area; your plant; deep tray or wash tub; chopsticks or bamboo skewer; 4-5 five gallon buckets, with all but one half full of water; sheets of newspaper; paper towel; sterile soil; twine; label; 5 gallon elastic-top paint strainer and a gallon sized plastic bag. DIRECTIONS : 1. Prepare the work area with a dropcloth. Take the plant out of its pot over the deep tray/washtub. Using the chopsticks/skewer or your hands, completely remove all the dirt directly into the tray. 2. Rinse the roots in 2-3 of the water buckets until clean. 3. Examine the roots to ensure no dirt or potential jumping worm cocoons remain. 4. Position one sheet of newspaper into a diamond shape. Set a paper towel in the middle of the newspaper. 5. Lay the plant on the paper towel. Sprinkle sterile soil on the roots. 6. Wrap the bottom of the newspaper up on the roots and dirt. Fold in both sides of the newspaper over the roots. Tie the packet with twine. 7. Attach a label with the plant’s name to the twine. Write the plant’s name on the newspaper, too. 8. Put the tied packet into a bucket of clean water (ie., a bucket of water not used to rinse the roots) to hydrate it initially, removing it after soaked. Water the packet daily. 9. Return the dirt from the washtub to the old plant pot. Put the dirt back where it came from. 10. Pull the elastic paint strainer over the empty bucket. Dump everything collected in the other 5 gallon buckets (that you used to rinse off the plant’s dirt) into the empty bucket. Remove the strainer and the strained material into a gallon sized plastic bag. Seal the bag and discard it in the trash. Tip the bucket to empty the water into the area where the plant originated. Clean the dropcloth to prevent inadvertent spread of the worms/cocoons. NOTE : Since no earthworms are native to Minnesota, drop any worms found while bare rooting into a plastic bag, seal it and put it in the trash. Do not compost. With a little practice, you’ll get the hang of bare rooting. A practice well worth it to keep your garden healthy. Resources Bare Root Instructions Credit to Marie Stolte, Dakota County Master Gardener Video instructions from Dakota County Master Gardeners. Included in this video is another video by Julia Vanatta. Special credit must be given to her. Without her research and demonstration classes this article could not have been written. Julia promotes sustainable gardening as a volunteer for Wild Ones Twin Cities. Photo credits: University of Minnesota Extension (2, 3), Longfield Gardens (from Creative Commons licenses) (1)

  • Manure – A Cautionary Tale

    < Back Manure – A Cautionary Tale Manure can benefit your garden in many ways but it also has negative consequences if used improperly. Read this article to learn how to use manure to reap its benefits without hurting your soil or plants. Mickey Scullard, Master Gardener Gardening can take a toil on soil, as plants pull vital nutrients for growth and production of flowers, vegetables, and fruit. Another important factor to growing plants is the soil structure. You can address both soil structure and nutrient-deficiencies needed to maintain or even increase the ability to grow vigorous plants by adding manure. Manure is the waste products of animals and has many benefits. However, there are a number of cautions you need to be aware of before just dumping manure on your garden. Manure increases soil organic matter, which can help improve soil structure. Manure also helps improve sandy soil’s ability to hold water and drainage in clay soil. It slowly releases nutrients into the soil and can promote beneficial soil organisms’ growth ( Compost and soil organic matter: the more, the merrier? , Penn State Extension ). Acceptable types of manure for use in vegetable gardens include cow, horse, sheep, goat, llama, rabbit, and chicken/poultry. There are some additional precautions to take if you are going to use chicken/poultry manure that will be discussed later in this article. ( Using chicken manure, UMN-Extension ). Rabbit manure is a great source of manure, 'bunny honey' . Pig, dog, cat, and human waste should NEVER be used in gardens as they are more likely to contain parasites. Use of manure in gardens does require precautions, especially where and when you use fresh or ‘raw’ manure. The biggest risk is that fresh manure may include bacteria and other pathogens that can cause diseases in humans such as e.Coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter bacteria, and others. You can’t determine if an animal may be carrying a pathogen by looking at them or their waste. For this reason, it is critical to not use fresh manure around vegetables as these pathogens can be taken up into vegetable plant tissue through the soil and water. Rabbit manure is the exception because of its pelletized form and low risk of pathogens. If fresh manure is applied to areas where food is grown, nothing should be planted in that location for at least four (4) months for any food product whose edible portion has direct contact with the soil surface or soil particles. If the food product does not have direct contact with the soil surface or soil particles, then the timeframe is 90 days. ( USDA Organic Tipsheet: Manure in Organic Production Systems ). That means that you should not apply manure in the spring before planting unless you are only going to be planting late summer crops for fall harvest. ( Safely Using Manure, UW-Extension, Using Manure in the Home Garden, UW-Extension ). Early fall may be the best time for manure application. As noted above rabbit manure is the exception. It may be used ‘fresh’ and has many benefits over other types of manure including having four times the nutrients of horse and cow manure and twice the amount of chicken manure. Well composted chicken litter The best manure to use has been composted, which when done properly, can kill any harmful pathogens, stabilize the nutrients, and lower salts that are present. Composting manure, along with any bedding material or other substances, involves regular turning, aeration, and making sure the compost reaches specific temperatures for specific amounts of time. According to the USDA Organic Tipsheet , depending on how the composting is occurring, the manure must reach Temperatures between 131° F and 170° F and must be sustained for three days using an in-vessel or static aerated pile system. Temperatures between 131° F and 170° F and must be sustained for 15 days using a windrow composting system, during which period the materials must be turned a minimum of five times, and this period must be followed by an adequate curing period. Composting raw manure into manure that is safe to use may be difficult, but not impossible, to achieve by a home gardener. Achieving and maintaining the high temperatures is challenging in a home environment and turning and aerating the pile is a considerable commitment. Another consideration when using manure is you don’t know the specific amounts of nutrients and micronutrients you are adding. It varies by the type of animal waste and any additional materials such as bedding that might be mixed into it. This is important because adding the wrong level of nutrients may produce less desirable effects. For example, if manure was added around tomato plants, the nitrogen might promote growth of the plant which may decrease the energy the plant puts into producing the tomatoes. Purchasing fertilizer in some instances might be a better approach as you can select the amounts of Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium (N-P-K) you add to specific areas of your garden. Despite all these cautions, adding manure can be beneficial to the home garden by improving the soil structure, water holding capacity, and through the slow release of nutrients. With a little care, your plants will reap the benefits and grow and produce vigorously. References: chrome-extension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/,vegetables%20and%20cause%20human%20disease . Photo Credit: University of Minnesota Extension (1,2)

  • Garden in the Minnesota Winter with “Winter Sowing”

    < Back Garden in the Minnesota Winter with “Winter Sowing” Itching to get planting? Even in our cold Minnesota we can start our spring gardens. Winter seed sowing is possible using homemade miniature greenhouses and plenty of snow. Here's how... Linda Stein, Master Gardener What is Winter Sowing? During the winter months we can not only dream about the flowers and vegetables that we want to add to our gardens next spring, but we can also actually start those plants through a process referred to as winter sowing. Winter sowing is a cost effective, low maintenance method of starting seeds in the winter for spring transplant. It is also a wonderful method, for those who have limited space, to start plants indoors since the containers are kept outdoors. Many annual and perennial seeds require a cold period to germinate, a process referred to as hardening. In late summer, these seeds fall to the ground. During autumn, they slowly get covered with leaves and other materials. They then remain in the soil over the winter. Exposure to cold temperatures and moist conditions breaks dormancy and the seeds germinate when temperatures increase in the spring. Winter sowing replicates nature’s process in a controlled environment. A wide variety of plants can be started using winter sowing. These include native plants such as milkweed, purple coneflowers, liatris, penstemon, Black-eyed Susans and perennial plants such as dianthus and phlox. You can also plant cool season annuals, cool season vegetables and a variety of herbs. Creating Your Miniature Greenhouse Plastic containers such as gallon milk jugs or plastic food containers can be used to create a miniature greenhouse that will reside outdoors and act as a house for your plants until they are ready to place in the outdoor gardens. They should have transparent lids so that sunlight can shine through and an opening that will allow rain and snow to reach the soil and the seeds it contains. Ideally the whole container should be transparent. The “greenhouse” needs to be deep enough to hold 2-3 inches of soil and tall enough to allow for a few inches of headspace so the seedlings have plenty of room to grow. B efore planting, thoroughly clean the container. If using a milk jug, discard the cap. Cut around 3/4 of the jug just below the handle so you can fold back the top portion of the jug to plant and make several holes in the bottom of the jug to allow extra moisture to drain. After planting, reposition the top portion of the jug and secure it with duct tape. If using a food container or other plastic container cut holes in the top to allow snow to reach the soil when it’s placed outdoors and cut holes in the bottom for drainage. Fill your container of choice with 2 - 4 inches of potting soil, not gardening soil. Moisten the soil and allow to drain. Planting S ow seeds on the surface of the soil or a depth prescribed for the specific plant. Cover the seeds laid on the surface with a layer of soil and gently pat down. Perennials and hardy annuals seeds require a consistent period of moist, cold temperatures before germination occurs in spring. So, these should be planted in January or February in Minnesota. Tender plants including annuals and vegetables can be sown later in spring (March or April) as they do not require a cold period in order to germinate. Place the container outdoors where it will be protected from strong winds but where snow can reach it. The seeds require the moisture from the rain and snow. They should experience all the weather conditions they would in nature. Forget about your containers until the spring when the seedlings begin to grow and put out shoots. Once these seedlings emerge, monitor often. Even during the cold temperatures, the inside of the milk jug can heat up quickly and cause seedlings to wilt. If this happens, you may need to leave the container opened during the day but closed in the evening. Once temperatures warm up in spring, the top can be removed during the day and then put back on at night. Transplant your seedlings to the outdoor garden when the soil reaches appropriate temperatures for the specific plants you have grown. Have fun winter gardening in Minnesota! References : Winter Seed Sowing, Youth Gardening Activities Series, Winter Sowing Seeds, Staring Seeds in Winter, Photo credits: Lori Voll-Wallace, Penn State Extension (2), Illinois Extension (1)

  • Cooking with Garden Vegetables

    < Back Cooking with Garden Vegetables Joy Johnson, Master Gardener The vegetables that you harvested from your garden (or buy from your grocery store) continue to provide healthy and tasty snacks and meals during the cold months of the year. Joy Johnson shares two tasty recipes for you to enjoy as the flowers sleep and the leaves settle to the ground in November. You may still have kale growing in your garden, or maybe you brought armloads inside before the first hard frost and have kept them growing in a vase of water (this actually works). Here’s a simple tasty recipe to make good use of your harvest. Kale Chips Wash and trim the stems on kale leaves. Roll and cut into small slices or cubes. Put slices into a gallon sized ziplock bag. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and ½ tsp salt to the bag. Close and shake gently to distribute oil and salt. Pour onto a parchment paper lined cookie sheet or glass baking dish. Toast for 20 minutes in a 300-degree oven. Corn Chowder This is a delicious, dairy free chowder that contains lots of garden veggies. This recipe is from The American Vegetarian Cookbook by Marilyn Diamond. I have adapted it over the years to whatever veggies need to be used up soon, in addition to what’s listed in this recipe. Feel free to make it your own. Ingredients: 1 Tbsp olive oil 2 cups diced white onions 1 ½ cups diced celery ¾ cup diced bell pepper (red, green or yellow) 4 cups peeled and cubed potatoes (1/2-inch cubes or smaller). If I’m using small red potatoes, I don’t peel them. ¼ tsp ground sage 8 cups of water (or water to cover vegetables by ½ inch) 2 Tbsp light miso or powdered vegetable broth 3 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels 3 Tbsp minced green onion Directions: 1) Measure oil into a large soup pot. Add onions, celery, carrot, and peppers and sauté until vegetables begins to soften, 3 to 4 minutes. 2) Add water, bring to a boil, cover and simmer over medium-low heat for 10-15 minutes, or until potatoes are tender but not mushy. 3) Remove ½ cup of broth and dissolve miso in it. Add to soup and mix well. Cook soup an additional minute, stirring continuously. 4) Remove one-third of soup with lots of vegetables in it and set aside. Blend remaining two-thirds of the soup until smooth with and blender or food processor Stir in reserved soup, corn, and green onion. 5) Bring soup to a low boil, stirring frequently, and simmer for 10 minutes on low heat, continuing to stir so soup does not stick to the bottom. Serves 8. Photo credits: Joy Johnson (1, 2, 3, 4)

  • Here a Pollinator Garden - There a Pollinator Garden – Everywhere a Pollinator Garden - Part 3

    < Back Here a Pollinator Garden - There a Pollinator Garden – Everywhere a Pollinator Garden - Part 3 Master Gardener Brenda Scheer understands how important pollinator gardens are for the environment and wanted to start this type of garden. But how to start? This article is the third in a series of three in which Brenda describes her experience starting a pollinator garden in her backyard. Follow Brenda’s motivation, planning, lessons and tips to build your own environmentally friendly garden. In this installment, Brenda talks about planting and lessons learned. Brenda Scheer, Master Gardener (This is the third in a series of three articles by Master Gardener Brenda Scheer describing her experience starting a pollinator garden in her backyard. Follow Brenda’s motivation, planning, planting and tips to build your own environmentally friendly garden.) Planting Day It’s finally time to plant! My plants are available to pick up on Friday, June 17, 2022. And you know what they say, about the best laid plans . . . I get my plants home and realize that a full 20% are not what I originally ordered! I knew that there was a possibility for substitutions when ordering kits but I wasn’t expecting this many. I do some quick research on the replacement plants and make some changes to the planting plan. As luck would have it, it’s going to be in the upper 80’s on Saturday and in the mid 90’s on Sunday. A great weekend to plant the 180 plants ordered - not really, but we will make it work. I’ve enlisted my brother and my sister-in-law to help install the pollinator garden on Saturday. Up until this point, the most beneficial tool in the pollinator garden had been the chainsaw I used to clear unwanted trees and shrubs. On planting day, the most beneficial tool is the drill auger attachment used to “dig” 180 planting holes. We finish planting a full hour earlier than anticipated and it looks great! Time to get some water on this new garden. Care for the new garden is pretty basic – water and weed. The new plants need an inch of water a week Ito help them get established. Removing weeds reduces competition for soil nutrients, water and sunlight. I was pleasantly surprised to see seven varieties of plants bloom their first season! And yes, I even saw some pollinators in the garden. Lessons Learned What I would do differently Plan for wildlife - I lost 8 plants, not a lot but enough Look for deer and rabbit resistant plants when purchasing plants and/or Protect new plants from wildlife Start planning earlier Identify the physical garden area earlier that way plants can be ordered before some sell out Manage my expectations, with the part sun/part shade conditions, my plants are healthy but growing slower than they would in full sun What I would do again Plant a pollinator garden Order plant kits for a first-time pollinator garden Work with the Lawns to Legumes program or consider a similar program Recruit or accept offers to help plant the garden Use the chainsaw and drill auger attachment First time events for 2023 Clean up the pollinator garden in the spring - leaving the garden standing protects any overwintering pollinators Leave beds of leaves, twigs and other “messy” areas near the pollinator garden to encourage pollinators to both overwinter and make their homes near this food source Evaluate how plants are doing in their current location, move plants that are struggling Replace plants that have died or were damaged Select replacement plants on my own vs. using a plant kit Calling all pollinators! The garden should be bigger and better than last year. Photo Credit: Brenda Scheer (1,2,3,4,5)

  • Water Smarter, Not Harder

    < Back Water Smarter, Not Harder In the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” it’s hard to believe that some areas of Minnesota may experience shortages of clean water by the end of this decade. Pollution caused by increased population - along with climate change - make water even more precious. Educating yourself about smart watering techniques is the first step toward becoming a good steward of our precious water resource. This article explains how you can be help to protect our water supply. Lisa Olson, Master Gardener You may be wondering why we need to worry about water since we live in the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” but even here, fresh, drinkable water is a precious commodity and requires energy to clean it. According to the Minnesota Technical Assistance Program , “the wastewater and water treatment sectors account for as much as 3% of electricity use in the U.S. nationwide.” Since it is always there, like a reliable friend, every time we turn on the faucet, it is easy to take this precious resource for granted. In times of drought, even here in Minnesota, the population can deplete aquifers faster than they can be replenished. It is time to appreciate water and learn how to use it more wisely and efficiently - water smarter. Established Lawn and Gardens Water your lawn deeply, but less often. Typical, healthy Kentucky bluegrass lawns, common in Minnesota, need about an inch of water each week, maybe less depending on your soil and conditions. If you have been quick to turn on your sprinkler, the roots of your grass may be very shallow. By letting the soil dry out down to about a 6-inch depth, you can encourage deeper root growth and a more drought tolerant lawn. As Michigan State University reminds us, it is always a good idea to have your soil tested so you can amend it if necessary. Also, check for compactness to make sure the water you are applying can penetrate the ground. By being familiar with what you have, you are better able to meet the needs of your particular lawn, enabling you to make adjustments to the soil so that your watering techniques can be most effective. If you have a built-in sprinkler system, you may be tempted to just set it and forget it, perhaps programmed to match your city’s watering restriction schedule. ( .) Don’t fall into that category of un-smart waterers! First, set out containers in different locations in your yard to catch the water being supplied by your sprinkler system to educate yourself on how much water you are actually giving your grass. Second, water in the morning before the heat of the day so you don’t lose a lot of water to evaporation. Winds are usually calmer first thing in the morning as well, and morning watering gives the blades a chance to dry off throughout the day to avoid providing a breeding ground for diseases to develop under wet, dark conditions that could occur if you water at night. If you do have a sprinkler system, check into rebates that may be provided by your municipality to residents who install soil moisture sensors. The sensors can be placed into the ground and set to prevent the sprinkler from running if the soil is still damp down to 6 inches below the surface. One other thing you can do to minimize frequent watering of your lawn, is to let it grow to a height of at least 3 inches. The longer stems will shade the roots to prevent drying out too quickly, while at the same time hamper weed growth in the thick, healthy lawn. Auditing Sprinkler System Similar to your lawn, a morning drink of water for your flower and vegetable gardens is a good idea. Watering the plants at their bases is another way to prevent water from sitting on the leaves which could lead to a breeding ground for molds and diseases to take hold. Soaker hoses are ideal for the garden setting to keep water off the leaves. To go the extra mile to conserve water, capturing rainwater in a barrel and reusing it to water your gardens is another smart watering idea. New Lawn and Gardens If you are starting with a blank canvas, preparing to put in a new lawn or garden, you have the opportunity to make some intentional choices during the planning stages that will set you up for success as a smart waterer. As far as lawns goes, while Kentucky bluegrass is a good choice because it has the ability to go dormant during dry spells, do some research about other winter-hardy, drought-tolerant grasses that require little or no watering. You may find a low maintenance lawn that not only requires minimal watering, it may have the added benefit of supporting pollinators. In your gardens, group together plants that have similar watering needs so you can water efficiently only where needed. ( .) When you are making your plant selections for your flower gardens, it is wise whenever possible to choose native plants. Native plants are much more likely to require less water. Remember, they were here before we were and survived without us watering them. Unfortunately, we cannot plant and just forget about them. Depending on soil and runoff conditions, native plants will still need some minimal attention. Want to boost your watering smarts I.Q. even higher? Whether your garden is established or new, applying mulch around your plants in late spring after the soil has warmed will prevent the soil from drying out too quickly. As an added bonus, it will free up your time from having to pull weeds as it acts as a weed barrier. Educating yourself about smart watering techniques is the first step toward becoming a good steward of our precious water resource. If there are youngsters in your life, you can use resources like the Minnesota DNR where you can find fun games to help educate them so we can continue to have fresh, clean water for future generations. Photo Credit: Connie Kotke (1,3) & University of Minnesota Extension (2)

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