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  • Planting for a Fall Harvest

    < Back Planting for a Fall Harvest Late summer doesn’t always come to mind as planting time. But Late July and early August are great times to plant vegetables that grow quickly and mature better in cooler temperatures. Read on to discover which plants you can plant now that will grow successfully well into fall. Tori Clark, Master Gardener Late summer doesn’t always come to mind as planting time. Some crops like lettuce and spinach can be bitter and hard to grow in the heat of the summer. Late July and early August are great times to plant vegetables that grow quickly and mature better in cooler temperatures. After harvesting veggies like lettuces, radishes, peas and spinach you can easily grow more if you have the inclination for more fresh, garden-grown produce into fall. Before replanting an area remove any remaining plants and allow the area to rest for a couple of weeks. Roots and debris from some plants can cause seeds to not germinate so it is best to wait. Next, remove any weeds, loosen the soil, and add a balanced fertilizer or some compost to replace the nutrients the earlier crop used. Some plants like peas, salad greens, spinach, and herbs such as cilantro and basil grow in as few as 30-50 days and have plenty of time to grow before the first frost. Other vegetables like kale are frost tolerant and continue to grow well into October while being tender and sweet. Whatever you decide to try growing as a late crop be sure to check the seed packages for the number of days to maturity to ensure plants have enough time to grow. The University of Minnesota Extension also has a handy planting chart that shows the types of vegetables best suited to late planting. Photo Credit: University of Minnesota Extension (1)

  • Strawberry Asparagus Salad and a Challenge!

    < Back Strawberry Asparagus Salad and a Challenge! Joy Johnson, Master Gardener It’s July and some of your vegetables and fruit are ripe for picking – yay! Two of these early products are asparagus and strawberries. And, luckily, they go together in a delicious salad. Read Joy Johnson’s article for an easy recipe. And, keep reading for a more difficult recipe for Strawberry Cucumber bread. If you’re up for the challenge, you will be rewarded with a delicious treat! Did you know that asparagus and strawberries go well together in two ways? One way is to do companion plantings with groups of asparagus inter-mixed with strawberry plants. Because the asparagus grows tall and starts sprouting out of the ground ahead of the strawberry plants, you can grow them together and harvest them at nearly the same time. The second way is to eat them together. Their flavors are complimentary and make a fresh summer salad. Here is a very simple recipe that pulls together in no time. You can jazz it up by adding sliced almonds, poppy seeds, goat cheese or crumbled feta or blue cheese. I didn’t have those ingredients on hand, so I’m keeping it simple tonight! Strawberry Asparagus Salad Ingredients: 2 cups asparagus, cut in pieces and blanched 2 cups strawberries, sliced Dressing: ¼ cup lemon juice 2 TBSP vegetable oil. 2 TBSP honey Directions: Toss the asparagus and strawberries together in a bowl. Set aside. In a small bowl, combine the dressing ingredients and mix well. Pour dressing over salad and toss. Chill before serving. Strawberry Cucumber Bread – If You Like a Challenge! This colorful bread can be served at breakfast or as a dessert or in the middle of the day with a cup of tea or coffee. I came across this recipe when I googled “spring breads”. It has two of my favorite foods in it: strawberries and cucumbers, which I thought was an interesting combination for a quick bread. It was very challenging to make! First, I had to clarify butter. I didn’t start with a small enough pan, so when I had to scrape off the butter foam without dipping my spoon into the clear layer underneath, that wasn’t going to work. So, I dumped it into a smaller pan, which completely negated the instruction to not stir it or disturb the layers in any way. I gently scraped off the foam after waiting an extra hour with the pan over really low heat, and I figured it would re-layer itself if I waited long enough. Then I was supposed to separate the clarified butter from the water, which I could do by pouring it off. Hmm, it all looked the same to me. So, I went back to my computer to get some work done (that I get paid for) and left the pot on very low heat for another hour. When I came back into the kitchen, there was the butter - thick and smooth, but definitely not clear. I scooped it out of the pot so I could measure it and discovered about a teaspoon of water underneath. I did pour that off. I used this butter in the recipe, but I can’t say if it met the definition of ‘clarified’. The next challenge was the baking. It flowed over my bread pan and all over the oven floor. I scraped the bottom rack and the bottom of the oven clean as soon as I discovered it, so it wouldn’t start on fire, which was after about an hour of baking. The bread should have been done at that point. But it wasn’t even close with the hot batter still running over the side of the pan. So, I covered it with a tent of foil in an effort to get the inside baked and not brown the outside any further. I checked it every 15 minutes. It still wasn’t done and was still volcano-ing onto the oven floor. It ended up in the oven for an extra 40 minutes (at least, I went out to rake the lawn!) and then I gave up and took it out. I put it in the microwave for 2 ½ minutes on high to get the inside cooked. The next challenge was getting it out of the bread pan. I let it cool on a cooling rack until it was just warm. I had greased and floured the pan before filling it. I gently went around the edge with a butter knife, sawing through the dark parts where the batter had flowed over the pan. Tipped it over - no movement. I went around the pan with the knife again, twice, then turned it on one side and worked on that side, turned it over to the other side and worked on that side. It finally came free in one piece! Of course, I sliced it and ate a piece right away. It was delicious , especially when I hit a pocket of the strawberry preserves, but I’m not sure it was worth all the effort! Strawberry Cucumber Bread (from Bon Appetite Magazine) modified slightly by me Ingredients: ½ cup strawberry preserves 1 T cornstarch 1T fresh lemon juice ½ c sort of clarified butter, room temp 1 c sugar 2 large eggs 1t vanilla extract ¼ t almond extract 2c all -purpose flour 1 t baking powder ½ t baking soda ½ t salt 2 cups grated and well drained cucumber ½ c chopped walnuts ½ c sliced fresh strawberries, divided Instructions: In a small saucepan, cook strawberry preserves, cornstarch, and lemon juice over medium heat until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Let cool completely. Preheat oven to 325°F (170°C). Spray a 9x5-inch loaf pan with baking spray and sprinkle with flour. In a bowl, beat clarified butter and sugar at medium speed until fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes, stopping to scrape sides of bowl. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in extracts. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture, beating just until combined. Stir in cucumber, walnuts, and ¼ cup (42.5 grams) sliced strawberries. Spoon half of batter into prepared pan; top with strawberry preserve mixture. Add remaining batter, and top with remaining ¼ cup (42.5 grams) strawberry slices. Bake until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool completely on a wire rack. Wrap and store at room temperature for up to 1 week. Photo Credit: Joy Johnson (1,2,3,4)

  • To Till or Not to Till

    < Back To Till or Not to Till One sure sign of spring for me as a young man was my father-in-law rototilling his vegetable garden. He’d fire up his trusty TroyBuilt and belching smoke and fumes, pulverize a good portion of his back yard. The resultant fluffy black soil seemed to invite planting. Jim Lakin, MD, Master Gardener One sure sign of spring for me as a young man was my father-in-law rototilling his vegetable garden. He’d fire up his trusty TroyBuilt and belching smoke and fumes, pulverize a good portion of his back yard. The resultant fluffy black soil seemed to invite planting. Thinking has changed over the years, however. Many soil scientists are questioning the wisdom of unbridled tilling. We’ve come to realize that garden soil is more than a receptacle for water and plant nutrients. Rather it is a living entity harboring billions of microbes and minerals most of which are highly beneficial to plant growth. It also is a complex structural milieux, permitting the passage and retention of water, the movement of oxygen and other gases of plant metabolism. Tilling can disrupt these structures and destroy many of the microbes beneficial to plant growth. Over time this can lead to soil compaction, reduced water holding capacity and erosion. Paradoxically, it also can bring weed seeds to the surface to germinate. That’s not to say that the time-honored process of tillage is without benefit. It does create an even seedbed. It warms the soil in spring and helps to work in compost and other soil amendments. So how can you achieve these desirable results from methods other than tillage? In starting a new garden, a rototiller will make quick work of existing vegetation. However, the same result can be obtained by solarization or occultation. Solarization is achieved by placing a sheet of clear plastic over the future garden area and letting the sun fry any plants underneath. I prefer occultation, a fancy term for smothering plant life under black plastic. A black plastic tarp covering a field for occultation If you are trying to start a garden on heavily compacted soil, say an area that’s been run over by heavy mower for years, tilling may be the best solution. However, if the soil is workable consider using a broadfork. This is a dandy tool to reduce compaction in a new or existing garden without breaking up the soil aggregates. A broadfork has several metal tines on a bar with a couple of handlebars on each end. Stand on the bar and use your body weight to plunge the tines into the soil. Lean back and pull the tines through the soil. The creates soil aeration without turning it over or breaking it up as a tiller would. A seven-tine steel broadfork A broad fork in action Weed management has been a traditional role for tillers. The problem is they bring weed seeds up from the ground as they turn in grown weeds and their seeds. The end result is more annual weeds over time. If you reduce tillage this favors the dominance of perennial weeds which can be hand pulled or reduced by solarization or occultation as we talked about. Working in amendments of compost, manure, commercial fertilizers or cover crops is an important process to replenish your garden soil’s fertility. Traditionally this had been done with a tiller although there are good alternatives. We’ve already talked about the broadfork. Alternately a tilther can be used. This is a modified light tiller that only tills the top two or so inches of the soil. Being much shallower than the traditional tiller it can work in amendments while being much less destructive of the deeper soil structure. Want to learn more? Check out these links to the University of Minnesota Extension for alternatives to tillage: for solarization and occultation: Happy planting! Photo of Black Plastic Tarp on Field, Courtesy of Haley Rylander, Cornell University Photo of Seven-Tine Steel Broadfork courtesy of Bully Tools Broadfork at Photo of Broadfork in Action courtesy of Seven Tine Unbreakable Broadfork at Way

  • Imagining Your Garden’s Possibilities

    < Back Imagining Your Garden’s Possibilities January is a month of fresh starts, a time to renew and begin again. Whether you were pleased or frustrated with your garden in 2021, the new year is a great time to dream about your 2022 garden’s possibilities. Valerie Rogotzke shares some thoughts about how to reimagine your garden. Valerie Rogotzke, Master Gardener January is a month of fresh starts, a time to renew and begin again. This might not seem to be the best time to be thinking about the garden for Minnesotans, but the frozen ground outside gives gardeners a reprieve from weeding and a chance to imagine possibilities for the future. Perhaps your dream garden evokes a specific place. Imagine an English cottage garden with meandering borders bursting with colorful perennials and a bench under an arbor of hardy wisteria, like one of Gertrude Jekyll’s horticultural masterpieces at Hestercombe House or Lindisfarne Castle . Picture a formal French garden with manicured hedges and a water fountain, like the grounds of Vaux-le-Vicomte or the Tuileries in Paris. Envision a Japanese garden such as Kenroku-en or Koraku-en with winding stone paths through mossy undergrowth, evergreens in abundance, and a pool of still water. Which small elements from these styles could be transplanted to Dakota County? Perhaps your dream garden serves a particular function, providing you with flowers for cuttings, bees for pollinating, or vegetables for eating. To have flowers for bouquets all through the growing season, gardeners must plant with an eye to the calendar, making sure there are options peaking in each month. In addition, it is helpful to have flowers of different scales when assembling arrangements, with larger blooms like dahlias and roses balanced by smaller blooms or ornamental grasses to fill the vase. To encourage bee populations, begin to dig around in the UMN Extension program’s resources on choosing the best pollinator-friendly plants for our area and creating habitat and nesting sites for pollinators. To maximize your success with vegetables and fruits in your garden, take some time now, in winter, to take stock of what has been growing in your garden and what you would like to cultivate this year. Perhaps you have always wanted a small plot of asparagus or a pizza garden with basil and tomatoes. Maybe it’s just time to try something new: sorrel, maybe, or endives? Browse the U’s vegetable guides for ideas and tips for healthy vegetables. A vegetable garden need not be a grand ornamental potager like the kitchen gardens of Villandry – just consider what things you want to eat. Perhaps your dream garden includes time-intensive projects that will not be ready in a year or two, like espaliered apple trees . Perhaps you’d like to rewild an area of your land to encourage native prairie growth , build an Elizabethan knot garden out of interlocking hedges, or develop a natural dye garden with madder and indigo and coreopsis in order to dye fabrics. Whatever your dreams are for your garden, do your dreaming now and dream big! There will be time to prune these dreams back later when practical concerns are considered but January belongs to the imagination. Photo credits: University of Minnesota Extension (1, 2, 3)

  • Ethnic Heritage Food

    < Back Ethnic Heritage Food Joy Johnson, Master Gardener With the onset of cold weather, embrace your comfort food roots. Joy Johnson shares two of her family’s comfort recipes. Try them and they may become your new comfort food recipes. With the onset of cold weather, my thoughts and appetite go back to the “good old days” when I was a kid. The foods my mother, grandmother and aunts prepared always seemed to be just what I needed. Today we call that ‘comfort food’, going back to what made you feel good as a kid. Thinking back to those wonderful meals, I realize that I have a divided gastronomic family. Half of it is Hungarian and half of it is German. I have terrific recipes from both sides of the family. One year we grew over 30 cabbages. My young daughter and her friend were having such a fun time planting, that I just let them keep going and didn’t realize what I huge harvest we’d have. We fermented over 30 quarts of sauerkraut that year. The soup recipe below is a delicious one to try if you have homemade sauerkraut. It works well with the store-bought kind too. I think it’s fun to try new recipes, especially if they are someone else’s ‘tried and true’ ones, because then you know they’ve been taste tested and honed to perfection over the years. Here are two family tested recipes, one from my Hungarian side and one from my German side. Hmmm, it’s kind of funny, but my mom started serving them both at the same meal, with additional Hungarian dishes on the side. That’s now our newish family tradition, a delicious mixture in one comforting and very satisfying meal. Sauerkraut Soup (from the German side) 1 quart sauerkraut; rinse, squeeze, chop 1 pound Polska Kolbasi sausage ½ cup rice (I use brown rice) Brown flour for thickening (2/3 cup flour toasted in 3 tablespoons butter. Stir constantly until flour turns golden brown) 1 teaspoon caraway seed Cut sausage into bit size slices, cover with water and cook a few minutes to remove fat. Remove slices from water, save water, refrigerate so fat will harden. Remove hardened fat from water and discard. Add sauerkraut and caraway seeds to this water, cook about 15 minutes, add sausage slices, cook 10 minutes, whisk water into the browned flour in a separate bowl until smooth, add a little of this to the soup, add rice. Cook slowly until the rice is done. DON’T add all the browned flour mix at once, see how it thickens, it varies depending on how much water you started with. Bobyka (from the Hungarian side) Take any white bread recipe (or frozen bread dough works). Take a portion of the dough, place in palms of your hands, rubbing back and forth, make it like a rope about a half inch in diameter. Cut into 1-inch pieces and roll them into balls in the palm of your hand. Place on a greased cookie sheet (or cover it with parchment paper). Bake until golden brown at 375 degrees for 15-18 minutes. Immerse them in boiling water for just a few minutes ‘til softened, not too long or they will fall apart. Melt ¼ cup butter, add dough balls (bobykas), add about 1 tablespoon ground poppyseed and about 1 tablespoon honey. Serve warm. They taste like little breadsticks.

  • Greek Artichoke Salad

    < Back Greek Artichoke Salad Joy Johnson, Master Gardener Get your early lettuce on the table with other yummy vegetables in this recipe for Greek artichoke salad. Add some baking powder biscuits and you have dinner. Lettuce is easy to grow and so fun to pick fresh right before mealtime. Cucumbers might not be quite ready yet, that depends on how early you got them in the ground. If you have early tomatoes and possibly a young pepper, try this fresh take on a Greek inspired salad. Greek Artichoke Salad Ingredients: 1 (14.75-ounce) jar artichoke hearts, drained and quartered 1 large cucumber, halved and sliced 2 medium tomatoes, cut into wedges 1 orange or yellow bell pepper, seeded and cubed 1 small red onion, halved and sliced 1 (2.25-ounce) can sliced black olives, drained ½ cup olive oil ¼ cup balsamic vinegar 2 Teaspoons Italian seasoning Lettuce – use a variety of whatever is growing in my garden. Romaine is good along with lighter textured lettuces 1 (4-ounce) container crumbled feta cheese Preparation: In large bowl, combine artichoke hearts, cucumber, tomatoes, bell pepper, onion, and olives. In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, vinegar, and Italian seasoning. Drizzle dressing evenly over vegetables in the larger bowl. Cover and gently toss. Allow the veggies to marinate in the refrigerator for 30-60 minutes. Wash the lettuce, pat, or spin dry. On each plate, top a heap of lettuce with lots of the marinated veggies, use some of the marinade as dressing if you’d like more. Top with crumbled feta. If you’re eating light these days, the salad may be enough, but if it’s cool and rainy or you just need a little something more with your salad, here is a basic biscuit that I’ve been making for many years. They always turn out light and flaky due to three tricks: 1) make sure you cut in the shortening with a pastry blender until it’s a really fine texture; 2) make sure to knead the dough gently 10 times and; 3) roll the dough out until it’s ¼ inch thick and then fold it in half. Lightly roll it 2-3 passes before cutting out your biscuits. Baking Powder Biscuits Ingredients: 1/3 cup shortening 1 ¾ cups all -purpose flour (you can substitute up to ½ of the total quantity of flour with whole wheat flour) ¾ teaspoon salt Process: Heat oven to 450. Cut shortening into flour, baking powder and salt with pastry blender until mixture resembles fine crumbs. Stir in just enough milk so dough leaves side of bowl and rounds up into a ball. (Too much milk makes dough sticky, not enough makes biscuits dry.) Turn dough onto lightly floured surface. Knead lightly 10 times. Roll ¼ inch thick, fold in half and gently roll again. Cut with floured 2-inch biscuit cutter. Place on ungreased cookie sheet about 1 inch apart for crusty sides, touching for soft sides. Bake until golden brown, 10-12 minutes. Immediately remove from cookie sheet to a cooling rack. Photo Credit: Joy Johnson (1,2,3,4)

  • Low Cal Jerk Chicken Tacos?

    < Back Low Cal Jerk Chicken Tacos? Joy Johnson, Master Gardener If you are trying to lose your extra ‘Covid’ pounds or working on getting back in gardening shape or just like great chicken tacos, you will love this recipe. In this offering, Master Gardener Joy Johnson still manages to find something from her garden to place into her March recipe. By the time March rolls around, we’ve all probably given up on our New Year’s resolutions, but if you are still trying to lose your extra ‘Covid 19 lbs’ like I am, here’s a low calorie (272 calories in two tacos), delicious recipe that pops with flavor. I made my own jerk seasoning, which is listed here, but you can purchase a jar of jerk spice as an alternative. Slow Cooker Jerk Chicken Tacos with Caribbean Salsa Serves 8 Ingredients for jerk seasoning: 2 T onion flakes ½ tsp each of Thyme, cinnamon, paprika, cumin, salt, nutmeg, sugar ¼ tsp black pepper 1 T dried parsley (this is the only ingredient that actually came from my garden – hey, it’s March) Ingredients: 4 cloves garlic, crushed 2 T jerk seasoning Kosher salt 2 ½ lbs boneless chicken breasts 2 T lime juice ½ c orange juice 2 T chopped fresh cilantro Ingredients for Caribbean Salsa : 2 large mangos, peeled, diced into ½ pieces 1 avocado, peeled, diced into ½ pieces 2 T chopped red onion 2 T chopped fresh cilantro 2 T lime juice ¼ tsp salt Black pepper 12 extra thin yellow corn tortillas Process for the Chicken : Combine the garlic, jerk seasoning, and ½ tsp salt and spread it over the chicken. Put the chicken, the lime and orange juices, and cilantro in the crock pot. Cover and cook on high for 2 hours. Process for the Salsa : In a medium bowl, combine the mango, avocado, red onion, cilantro, lime juice, salt, and black pepper to taste. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Remove the chicken from the slow cooker and shred it with two forks. Pour any liquid left in the slow cooker into a bowl, then return the chicken to the slow cooker. Add 1 cup of the reserved liquid, just enough to moisten the chicken, and season with 1/8 tsp salt and black pepper to taste. Heat the tortillas in a skillet set over medium-high for about 30 seconds. Fill each with 1/3 cup of the chicken and 2 T of salsa. Photo credit: Joy Johnson (1,2,3,4)

  • Cooking with Frozen Vegetables (And a St. Patrick’s Day Nod)

    < Back Cooking with Frozen Vegetables (And a St. Patrick’s Day Nod) Joy Johnson, Master Gardener It’s not too early to order seeds for your vegetable garden this summer but first, you need to use up all those vegetables left over from last summer that are sitting in your freezer. Joy Johnson’s Minestrone soup will help you do just that. Add some Irish soda bread for a great St. Patrick’s Day meal. The ground is still frozen in Dakota County and I don’t have anything growing in my garden. However, I have received some seed catalogs already and I’ve even seen a rack of seed packets for sale at the store. You may be thinking about starting some vegetable plants early indoors. It’s always so fun to see the little seedlings sprout. I just realized that if I’m going to grow more vegetables this year, I need to clean out my freezer and use all the ones I froze last year. I have been using my frozen produce all winter long, see my past recipes! But I do still have a variety of veggies in my freezer. I like to cook in large batches so I have food to share with other family members, or just so I don’t have to cook for a few days, and we can live on leftovers. I have a recipe that I’ve been making for years that uses my frozen veggie stash and makes plenty to share. A bonus – everyone who has eaten it has loved it. The recipe is flexible, so if you don’t have one of the veggies, or you want to add in something that is not listed, feel free to experiment. This recipe is from The Saint Paul Farmers Market Produce Cookbook. Minestrone Soup 6 cups beef broth 1 (15 oz.) can great northern, cannellini or lima beans 1 large potato, peeled and dices 2 carrots, sliced 2 ribs celery, sliced 1 white or yellow onion, chopped 1 small green pepper, chopped 1 tbsp olive oil 1 ½ cups green cabbage, chopped 1 cup zucchini, cubed 1 cup green beans, cut in 1-inch lengths ½ lb. spinach or Swiss chard, chopped 3 cups Italian plum tomatoes, chopped ½ cup small shell macaroni or other pasta, uncooked ½ tsp each dried oregano and rosemary (or 1 tsp. each, fresh or frozen, chopped) 1 tsp dried basil (or 2 tsp fresh or frozen chopped) 1 tsp salt ½ tsp black pepper Grated Parmesan cheese In a large stockpot, bring beef broth to a boil. Add cannellini beans, potato, carrots and celery. Simmer 15 minutes. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a skillet and sauté onion, garlic and green pepper for 5 minutes. (If using frozen peppers, no need to sauté). Add to broth mixture and simmer another 15 minutes. Add cabbage, zucchini, green beans, and spinach or Swiss chard. Simmer 10 minutes. Add chopped tomatoes, pasta, oregano, rosemary, basil, salt and pepper. Simmer another 15 minutes or until pasta is cooked. Serve sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. Makes 15 servings. A bread that goes well with Minestrone, and gives a nod to Saint Patrick’s Day, is Irish Soda Bread. The recipe that I’m sharing with you here is an authentic Irish recipe. My elderly neighbor who is 100% Irish has verified that it is a true Irish soda bread because it has raisins and caraway seeds. Irish Soda Bread 3 ½ cups flour 2/3 cup sugar 1 tsp salt 1 tsp baking soda 1 tsp baking powder 1 ½ cup raisins Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. In a separate bowl mix together these wet ingredients: 1 1/3 cups buttermilk 2 eggs beaten 4 Tbsp melted butter ½ tsp vanilla 1 Tbsp vanilla 1 Tbsp carraway seeds Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix until well blended. Grease and flour baking dish. I use an actual Irish soda bread pan, it’s like a 9” round cake pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons (1) & Flickr (2)

  • Garden Mulch and Jumping Worms

    < Back Garden Mulch and Jumping Worms There are many things to consider when choosing which type of mulch to use. Aesthetics is one consideration but mulch that will help and not hurt your garden soil is another. This article will help you select the mulch that's right for your garden. Garden Mulch and Jumping Worms There are several options for mulch or soil covering in our gardens. Choices can be either organic, which are compostable materials that improve soil fertility, or inorganic film coverings that can be black, red, green or silver colored. Inorganic film mulches are often sold in rolls. Mulch can improve our plants and gardens in the following ways: · Moisture retention/water conservation · Soil temperature control and stabilization · Weed suppression – weed growth is eliminated when light is not available · Soil borne disease prevention · Improved soil fertility through decomposition of organic mulches left on the top of the soil · Minimize soil erosion and compaction from heavy rains and help with water absorption · Improved landscape appearance with clean and neat mulch between plants In the spring, gardeners have to decide what type(s) of mulches to use. The best mulch application time is after the plants are established, four to six inches tall, and the soil has warmed up enough for active root growth. Mulch applied too soon will delay root development. Be sure not to touch the plants with the mulch. Many plants such as tomatoes are planted only after the soil is sufficiently warm. For tomatoes and other warm season transplanted plants, it is best to apply the mulch immediately to avoid soil splash-up/soil borne diseases. If you are using an inorganic film, you can add a couple of layers of newspapers under the film to help with weed suppression. The newspaper is a safe, compostable layer. Depth for most organic mulches is two to three inches to provide the positive results described above without becoming too heavy. Mulch applied too deep can cause a lack of oxygen to roots, can yellow foliage, and could provide a space for small burrowing animals to feed on plant stems. In fact, be sure that the mulch is close but not touching the stems! Favorite organic mulches include straw with newspaper under it to prevent light to seeds, compost with newspaper under it, brown decomposing paper rolls, dried grass clippings, and mulched leaves. Other possible organic mulches include cocoa bean hulls, pine needles, and crushed corn cobs. Gardeners who choose to use straw should be sure to buy tight bales that do not have too many seeds. Some gardeners have also successfully used burlap bags, and they can be reused year after year. Mulched leaves may need to be reconsidered this year and in the near future due to jumping worm concerns. Jumping worms are a type of angleworm, but they change the soil texture to make it look like coffee grounds. As they move and eat, they strip the soil of nutrients and kill plants. They are recognizable, in part, by their whipping action. They live in leaf litter on the top floor of forests and hatch in the soil in late spring. All gardeners in Dakota County need be aware of them and on the lookout for them. For more detailed information about them, please read the University of Minnesota article titled “Jumping Worms” . Another excellent article is “Coping with Jumping Worms” by Karen Randall. The damage jumping worms can do should cause gardeners to reconsider the types of mulches that they add to their gardens. At this time, there are no known ways to easily rid the soil of jumping worms once they are present. Inorganic mulches may be considered as alternatives to organic mulches. They do not break down and add nutrient value to the soils, but they help with several of the mulch attributes described above. Black, red, green and silver plastics provide weed control, splash-up protection, and some temperature control. Red plastic used with tomatoes is said to improve crop harvest by 20% because it reflects growth-enhancing light waves from the sun. It can be used with newspaper under it to control weeds and help conserve water. The down side of inorganic mulches, in addition to initial cost, is that they add to environmental plastics and may or may not be reused in a future year. Inorganic mulches can be found either in garden centers or in seed catalogs. Mulch can be a great addition to your flower or vegetable garden. However, take care in choosing a type that will benefit your garden. Photo credits: Janice Gestner (1, 3, 4), University of Minnesota Extension (2)

  • Starting Seeds Indoors

    < Back Starting Seeds Indoors If you want to grow plants from seed for your garden this spring, February is the time to start – planning and planting. There is a little more to it than dropping a seed in soil but reading this article will help you learn how to grow seeds successfully indoors. Jim Lakin, M.D., Master Gardener By February anything that’s green and growing is a welcome rebuke to the unending whiteness outside. Of course, you can run to your favorite nursery and buy a big, beautiful blooming house plant, but I find great joy following a more quietly satisfying route---starting my own plants indoors from seed. It really is not all that difficult if you pick the right plant. Different seeds require different treatments to wake up and start growing. Some need to sit in a moist cold environment for 4 to 8 weeks—stratification. Others, with tough coverings need to be roughed up a little bit to get going--scarification. Other seeds benefit from an initial soaking in water to loosen up the coating. Others need a few minutes in boiling hot water to kick start the germination process. You can find out if the seed you select needs any of this “special handling” by consulting the catalogues of the seed companies from which you purchase them. If you are picking up a packet locally, be sure to carefully read the fine print for any recommended pre-planting treatments. Many commercially processed seeds are ready to sew without further ado. Once your seeds have been through pre-treatment, you will need a container with good drainage. This can be as simple as a plastic food container or milk carton bottom with a liberal number of holes poked in the bottom or more elaborate seed germination trays available at local garden stores or garden departments of “big box” wholesalers. Cell flats can be ideal yet inexpensive reusable germination containers If you are shopping for containers, also pick up some seedling mix. There are a number of mixtures commercially prepared for germination. Later, as the plants grow, you’ll want to transplant into potting soil. Do not use garden soil or top soil. These are way too heavy and you’ll get lousy germination results. Plant your seeds to a depth roughly equal to the diameter of the seed. You will want to place a transparent cover e.g., clear plastic, Saranwrap, over the container to keep up the humidity until the plants develop. What to do next depends on how much you want to invest in the process. If you have a sunny window-sill that stays close to room temperature around the clock, that may be all you need. Most folks have better results using grow lights which permit setting up away from windows, which tend to get drafty. Run you lights 12 hours per day. Also, the addition of seedling heating pads can help a lot especially if you keep the thermostat turned down in the house. Keep the medium moist. Check at least every two days and water as needed. It may take several weeks before you see those little green guys popping out of the soil. Germination times vary widely. Again, read the fine print on the seed packet for guidance. Seedlings growing vigorously in a warm humid environment Once the seedlings have appeared, be sure to keep the germination media moist, the grow lights on and let nature take its course. After a few weeks, the root system may have completely filled the medium. It’s time to transplant. If you are using germination trays, you usually can pop the small plant out with a spoon or other small scoop. Transplant them into well-draining pots. I usually use 4-inch diameter light plastic ones which are cheap and readily available. As the plants get bigger consider adding a small amount of liquid fertilizer diluted to one-fifth to one-tenth of the manufacture’s recommended concentration. Continue to keep them warm and watered with ample light. Then, start watching for the trees to green, the birds to sing and the last frost to pass. Once that happens, it’s time to transplant your beautiful plants into the garden! For more information, check out the University of Minnesota Extension: / Photo credit: University of Minnesota Extension

  • Composting

    < Back Composting Would you like to save $$$ on your gardening expenses? Homegrown compost can be used to solve various garden challenges while saving you money from buying other product solutions in-store. Mary Barnridge, Master Gardener Intern Consider composting to reduce costs of fertilizer and mulch for your garden, improve the quality of sandy or compacted soil, and save time and money with fewer trips to the store. Composting is an environmentally friendly alternative. ? Do your plants start to yellow as summer wanes? This could be an indication of a nitrogen deficiency in the soil (e.g. fertilizer). Compost provides nourishment to plants throughout the growing season. ? Do you struggle with keeping soil from drying out extensively during hot and dry periods? Compost can be used to retain moisture and encourage plant growth – in both garden plots and patio pots. ? Do you have plants that are struggling to thrive because the soil is too compacted from excessive moisture, or foot traffic, or perhaps it is sandy and drains too quickly? Compost can be used as a soil amendment to enrich the soil and address compaction and drainage issues. Making Your Own Compost - The Basic How-Tos Build the Compost Structure Locate he compost structure taway from your home but close enough to the garden to which it will be applied. Keep it away from drying winds and ensure it has at least partial sunshine each day. There are several materials that can be used to create the compost site: Wire fencing, brick/cinder block, a metal cylinder or wood/wire structure. Layer in the Initial Materials to Begin the Compost Process Build your compost pile in layers. Begin with eight to ten inches of leaves, grass or plant trimmings. Water it to the point of being moist, but not soggy. Sprinkle the pile with one-third to one-half cup of nitrogen-rich fertilizer per 25 square feet of surface area (a 5' x 5' bin). You may choose to add a one-inch layer of soil or completed compost over the fertilizer to increase the number of decomposing microbes in the pile. Repeat these layers until the pile reaches a height of five feet, watering each time you add new layers. If your pile contains large amounts of acidic materials such as pine needles or fruit wastes, you might add lime, but no more than one cup per 25 cubic feet of material. Feed the Compost Site Many organic materials can be used as compost: Coffee grounds Eggshells Faded flowers Fruit and vegetable scraps Lake plants Leftover plants at the end of the gardening season Non-woody shrub trimmings or twigs less than one-fourth inch in diameter Shredded newspaper (black and white print) Small amounts of wood ash and sawdust Straw Weeds What you shouldn’t include: Do not compost diseased or insect-infested plants and weeds. Do not compost meat, bones, grease, whole eggs and dairy products However, Dakota County accepts many of these items in their food scrap/organics drop off sites. For more information, including sign up and collection locations visit the Dakota County drop off site webpage . Pet litter should not be used in your home compost and is not accepted through the Dakota County program. Dakota County Food Scrap Drop Off Site. Dakota County Food Scrap Bins. Maintenance Turn the pile once or twice a month to help speed decomposition. Water your compost pile periodically to keep it moist but not soggy. You may add a small amount of new material to be composted but if you have a lot of new material, it is better to start a second batch. Your compost pile will be ready in two to four months in the warm season, provided you have watered and turned it regularly. Unmaintained piles may take over a year to decompose sufficiently. When it’s ready to use, your compost pile will be about half its original height, and will have a pleasant, earthy smell. Use it or Lose it Use it as mulch in annual or perennial garden or patio pots Apply a 2-4 inch layer around the base of plants. Add more layers over the initial layer throughout growing season. The mulch can also be worked into the soil at the end of the growing season for annual gardens. Use it as a soil amendment For sandy soil, add and incorporate 1 inch of compost in the top 6 inches of soil. For compacted, clay soil, add 2 inches of compost to the top 8 inches of soil. Repeat annually Use it in potting soil One-quarter to one-third of potting mix may be compost. For more information about composting visit this University of Minnesota Extension site . References: University of MN Extension Photo credits: University of Minnesota Extension (1), Mary Barnidge (2 and 3)

  • Rain Gardens

    < Back Rain Gardens Whether you live in a city or along a lake or river, managing storm water run-off is something to consider in your landscape. Read this article to finds ways to do it. ​ Whether you live in a city or along a lake or river, managing storm water run-off is something to consider in your landscape. Roof tops, roads, driveways and sidewalks create impervious surfaces. These surfaces cannot absorb water. If rainwater and snow melt is not able to be absorbed into the soil, run-off occurs. Run-off can carry sediments and pollutants such as oil, pet waste, debris and nutrients from lawn clippings and fertilizers. These pollutants can then end up in our rivers and lakes. Even municipal storm sewers may lead directly to rivers and lakes. Simply put, a rain garden is a shallow depression filled with selected trees, shrubs, flowering plants and grasses designed to allow rainwater run-off to absorb into the soil. Rain gardens help to filter pollutants, absorb nutrients and allow sediments to settle before entering the ground water. Rain gardens are also useful in controlling erosion by trapping and allowing the water to infiltrate rather than run down a slope. Also, rain gardens may add interest and beauty to a landscape, or add elements to attract butterflies and birds. While rain gardens are a popular trend right now, not all landscapes offer suitable sites. There needs to be enough room to allow water to be absorbed into the soil and not seep into a nearby building or basement. Also, if the soil is heavy clay or already saturated ponding may occur; and ponds have a different purpose in the landscape. Some situations can be amended to allow for proper infiltration. In these cases it is best to consult a specifically trained professional. Dakota Soil Water & Conservation District offers Landscaping for Clean Water workshops in rain garden design and implementation. Site selection, size, shape, choosing proper plants and other materials, and maintenance are all topics covered in the workshops. Demonstration sites have been planted as part of previous workshops to show how attractive and beneficial rain gardens may be.

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