Gardens

Natural Pesticide Issues

pink roses in a natural garden in West Hartford
Roses in a garden in West Hartford. Photo: Max Pixel

As the gardening season gets underway, lots of homemade weed-killer “recipes” are cropping up on social media, usually containing some combination of vinegar, Epsom salts, and Dawn dishwashing soap. These are often accompanied by a comment such as “no need for pesticides or herbicides!” It may feel good to use familiar household items to control pests and weeds in your garden, but it’s important to understand the science behind such mixes – and the potential risks.

First and foremost, these mixtures ARE pesticides or herbicides. They are intended to kill a pest, in this case weeds.

Now, let’s look at the science:

Vinegar is an acid. At the right concentration, it damages by burning any part of a plant it comes in contact with. If the plant is in the ground, it does NOT get the root; many plants will grow back. It is non-selective, meaning it will damage any plant it touches, including desired ones. Household vinegar is 5% acetic acid; to be effective on anything other than tiny seedlings the concentration needs to be at least 10%. Horticultural-grade vinegar is 20% and can carry a “Danger – caustic” signal word, which is stronger than many other herbicides on the market.

Salts work by desiccating plants – again, all parts of the plant it touches. Salts, however, build up in the soil and can harm desired plants nearby. Since most homemade recipes need repeated application to be effective, the salts will build up. Epsom salts are touted because they contain magnesium instead of sodium, but too much magnesium will interfere with phosphorus uptake.

Dawn detergent is not a naturally-occurring substance. It, like any soap, is used as a sticker agent, helping the other materials stay on the plant longer. It contains methylisothiazolinone, which has acute aquatic toxicity and 1,4-dioxane, which is a known groundwater contaminant with carcinogenic properties.

These may be do-it-yourself recipes, but they definitely are not natural.

An additional issue with home recipes is the variability of the mix. Many don’t even have specific measurements. Also, because home remedies are often perceived as “safer”, a person may choose to increase the concentrations, changing the potential environmental risk.

Many of these recipes do indeed kill – or at least reduce – weeds and unwanted vegetation. But they also have collateral impacts, some of which may be significant.

The garden center shelves have changed in the last several years. There are now many naturally-derived pesticides on the market, which have been tested for effectiveness, are labelled as to their environmental impact and deliver a consistent product every time. They generally are safer to use and pose less environmental risk than many of the older synthetic materials – the same goal of homemade mixes. Look for products that are OMRI certified. The Organic Materials Review Institute is a nonprofit organization that provides an independent review of products, such as fertilizers and pest controls that are intended for use in organic production.

For more information, please contact the UConn Extension Master Gardener Program. Find the location nearest you at https://mastergardener.uconn.edu/ or email Sarah.Bailey@uconn.edu.

Article by Sarah Bailey, State Coordinator, UConn Extension Master Gardener Program

Connecticut Grown Strawberries Ripe for Picking

Connecticut grown strawberries in cartonsFresh from the field, Connecticut Grown strawberries are now ripening and ready to eat. Strawberries are the first fruit available in Connecticut and signal the arrival of summer for many residents who look forward to visiting one of the state’s pick-your-own farms.

“Visiting a Connecticut strawberry patch to pick your own is a wholesome, family fun activity,” said Bryan P. Hurlburt, Connecticut Department of Agriculture Commissioner. “This type of activity supports local farms and farm families while generating millions of dollars in agritourism for the state’s economy. And, the best part of it all is that you get fresh Connecticut Grown strawberries to eat at home.” 

While it’s early in the season, producers are reporting that picking is quite good. “Despite the amount of record breaking rain in April and early May, the strawberries crop is now experiencing excellent weather for maturing to ripening. The season is off to a great start and it appears that the production will be right in line for a successful strawberry season,” said Nancy Barrett, owner of Scantic Valley Farm in Somers, CT.

It’s a good idea to call ahead, or check the farms website, for daily updates as weather conditions impact availability. Sweet and juicy strawberries are also available now at farmers’ markets and farm stands throughout the state. Find one near you at www.CTGrown.gov/strawberry.

When ripe, strawberries smell wonderful and taste even better. As members of the rose family, this perennial plant is a good source of vitamin C, manganese, folate, and potassium. They are also loaded with antioxidants.

Strawberries should be plump and firm with a bright red color and natural shine. The color and fragrance of the berry, not size, are the best indicators of flavor. Once you get your strawberries home, wash them and cut the stem away to store in a cool place. If you plan to keep them in the fridge for a few days, wait to clean them until you plan to eat them. Rinsing them speeds up spoiling.

Strawberries can be used to make jams, jellies, shortcake, pie and more. They can also be pickled, especially when picked green or unripe, or frozen to use later in smoothies. Find more recipe ideas to create your own delicious dishes by visiting our Pinterest page at https://www.pinterest.com/GrowCTAg/.

Make plans to visit a Connecticut strawberry patch this weekend to create lasting memories and delicious, healthy dishes.

Article by Connecticut Department of Agriculture

Welcome Abby Beissinger to UConn Extension!

Abby BeissingerUConn Extension and the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture are proud to announce our newest team member, Abby Beissinger. Abby has accepted the position of Plant Diagnostician in the UConn Plant Diagnostic Laboratory. Her first official day was May 28, 2019.

Abby attended the University of Wisconsin and received a B.A. in Anthropology in 2011. During her undergraduate studies, she focused on agriculture and sustainable development, and implemented development projects in Costa Rica, Mexico, and Uganda. Abby spent two years as an AmeriCorps volunteer teaching urban agriculture and gardening to youth in Massachusetts, and a summer with the Student Conservation Association leading trail crews in Chicago. From her work, she realized she was drawn to plant pathology and how plant diseases impact human livelihoods.

In 2016, Abby graduated from Washington State University with a M.S. in Plant Pathology. Her research focused on how management decisions of Potato virus Y impact the epidemiology and etiology of the virus. She then relocated to University of Connecticut to run the Conservation Ambassador Program in the Department of Natural Resources & the Environment. She fostered a statewide volunteer network of 90+ community partners including schools, non-profits, and government agencies to mentor high school students conducting long-term conservation projects. She enjoyed helping students make an environmental impact, and was drawn back to plant pathology to support growers and agricultural networks.

Abby is an example of the winding path people take to discover plant pathology, and is excited to serve as UConn’s Plant Diagnostician. In her spare time, Abby can be found in her garden growing food and flowers, painting, dancing, or exploring cities and their greens spaces.

Please join us in welcoming Abby to UConn Extension! Please visit our website for more information on the Plant Diagnostic Laboratory.

Authors: Karen Snover-Clift and Abby Beissinger

Join us for a Garden Party

Garden party invite graphic with logo

Please join the UConn Extension Master Gardener Program for an exclusive Garden Party, hosted by Master Gardener Susan Saint James.

Saturday, June 15, 2019
11:00 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Susan Saint James Home*
Litchfield, CT

Speaking program includes:

Susan Saint James
Dean Indrajeet Chaubey of UConn CAHNR
Amy Chesmer, CAHNR ‘94

Tickets:
Individual – $100 
($60 tax-deductible)

Table of 10 – $1,000 
($600 tax-deductible)

Register now: http://bit.ly/UConnGardenParty

Strawberry Season in Connecticut!

By Diane Wright Hirsch

Senior Extension Educator, Food Safety

 

strawberries
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

One of the best things about early summer in Connecticut is strawberry season. It just makes no sense to buy California berries at the supermarket in June or July. I once saw a post on a local farm’s Facebook page where a customer shared a picture of two strawberries cut in half….the Connecticut berry was deep, dark red in color and looked to be juicy and fresh. The supermarket berry was pale and dry looking. Seriously, it is not a difficult choice!

In an article on the University of Illinois Extension web site, Drusilla Banks and Ron Wolford gathered some facts on the history and lore of the strawberry. Some thoughts to ponder when working on your strawberry patch—or filling your bucket at the local pick-your-own:

  • “Madame Tallien, a prominent figure at the court of the Emperor Napoleon, was famous for bathing in the juice of fresh strawberries. She used 22 pounds per basin, needless to say, she did not bathe daily.
  • The American Indians were already eating strawberries when the colonists arrived. The crushed berries were mixed with cornmeal and baked into strawberry bread. After trying this bread, Colonists developed their own version of the recipe and strawberry shortcake was created.
  • The strawberry was a symbol for Venus, the Goddess of Love, because of its heart shapes and red color.”                    urbanext.uiuc.edu/strawberries

Picking your own berries (PYO)

Strawberries are ready to harvest when they are a bright shiny red color. If they are greenish or whitish, leave them on the vine. They will not ripen further after harvesting. Very dark berries are likely to be overripe—you will need to eat them on the day you pick.

Harvest safely

First, don’t pick if you are sick. Stay home and let someone else do the picking. Before heading out to pick the berries, wash your hands. If you go to a PYO operation, ask if they have handwashing facilities. In a pinch, can you use a hand sanitizer? Hand sanitizer should not be a substitute for washing hands with soap and water. Dirty, wet or sweaty hands are not much safer when rubbed together with a glob of hand sanitizer. In addition, hand sanitizers are not effective against all types of microorganisms: especially viruses such as the Norovirus. So, whenever possible, wash your hands the old-fashioned way.

Pick berries that are bright red and leave those that are overripe, mushy or moldy. If you are planning to make jam or jelly, don’t think that you can get by with shoddy, overripe berries—you might end up with shoddy, overly-soft jam:  you will never end up with a product that is of better quality than the fruits or vegetables that you started out with.

Refrigerate the berries as soon as you can after picking. This will help with shelf life. But, do not wash the berries first. If washed, the berries are more likely to get moldy in your refrigerator.  Store unwashed berries loosely covered with plastic wrap in the coldest part of your refrigerator for two to three days at most. Always wash them before eating. To wash, place berries in a colander and rinse under cold running water. Do not allow berries to soak in water—they will soak up the water, lose color, flavor and vitamin C.

Freezing Strawberries

For the best results, pick fully ripe, firm berries with a deep red color. Throw out any immature or unripe berries or those with rot, soft spots or mold. Wash and remove caps.

You may choose to freeze your berries with or without sugar. While many choose sugar-free because of perceived health benefits, keep in mind that for high quality results, packing in sugar is your best choice. Unsweetened packs generally yield a product that does not have the plump texture and good color of those packed with sugar. The fruits freeze harder and take longer to thaw. While some fruits are acceptable when packed without sugar, strawberries are best packed with sugar. The exception is if you are freezing berries to make into jam at a later date (and of course, if you must use sugar free products as part of a health regimen).

Unsweetened Dry Pack (for making jam later)

Simply pack the washed and drained fruit into a container, seal and freeze. A tray pack is an alternative that may make the fruit easier to remove from the container. Spread a single layer of fruit on shallow trays and freeze. When frozen, promptly package and return to the freezer. Be sure to package the fruit as soon as it is frozen, to prevent freezer burn. Use bags or hard plastic containers made for use in the freezer.

Whole Berries Sugar Pack

Add three-fourths of a cup of sugar to one quart (one and one-third pounds) of strawberries and mix thoroughly. Stir until most of the sugar is dissolved or let stand for 15 minutes. Put into plastic freezer bags or freezer container.

Sliced or Crushed– Prepare for packing as for whole strawberries; then slice or crush partially or completely. To one quart (one and one-third pounds), berries add three-fourths of a cup of sugar; mix thoroughly. Stir until most of the sugar is dissolved or let stand for 15 minutes. Pack into freezer bags or hard plastic freezer containers.

If you want to make strawberry jam, visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation.  You will find a tested recipe for strawberry jam as well as many other canning recipes.  Extension now recommends that all jams and jellies be processed in a water bath canner.  This means that you must use glass jars with two-piece canning lids. The five-minute process will minimize the chance that molds and yeasts will spoil your jam. Shelf life will improve and you won’t waste all your hard work and precious berries.

For more information about safe handling of fresh-picked strawberries, contact the UConn Home and Garden Education Center at 877-486-6271 or www.ladybug.uconn.eduor the National Center for Home Food Preservation for canning and freezing information at www.uga.edu/nchfp.

Extension Educators Recognized

Last week we recognized several of our educators for their contributions to Extension.

Tom Worthley and Mike O'Neill
Tom Worthley receives the Arland Meade Communications Award from Associate Dean Mike O’Neill. Photo: Bonnie Burr
Diane Wright Hirsch and Mike O'Neill
Diane Wright Hirsch receives a longevity award from Associate Dean Mike O’Neill. Photo: Bonnie Burr
Richard Meinert and Mike O'Neill
Richard Meinert receives a longevity award from Associate Dean Mike O’Neill. Photo: Bonnie Burr
Umekia Taylor and Mike O'Neill
Umekia Taylor receives a longevity award from Associate Dean Mike O’Neill. Photo: Bonnie Burr
Mike O'Neill and Pam Gray
Pamela Gray receives a longevity award from Associate Dean Mike O’Neill. Photo: Bonnie Burr
Sarah Bailey and Mike O'Neill
Sarah Bailey receives the Doris Lane Award from Associate Dean Mike O’Neill. Photo: Bonnie Burr

Sarah Bailey received the Doris Lane Award.

Tom Worthley received the Arland Meade Communications Award.

Longevity Awards: Diane Wright Hirsch, Richard Meinert, Umekia Taylor and Pamela Gray.

Thank you all for your service to Extension!

Beware of Volcano Mulch

volcano mulch around a tree in Storrs, Connecticut is damaging the bark and the tree
Volcano mulch on a tree. Photo: Stacey Stearns

In three short decades, volcano mulch has become one of the greatest threats to newly planted and young trees and shrubs. If unchecked, the significant monetary and human investment in greenscapes will result in more and more dead and dying trees.

Volcano mulch is the over-mulching of plant material, notably trees and shrubs. Mulch plays an important role in protecting plant material from irreversible lawnmower and weed whacker damage as well as providing for some control over weed competition and soil water retention. Seemingly, rings of mulch have also become landscape design features.

While deadly, the problem is simple; people are placing heaps and heaps of mulch around trees and shrubs and right next to the thin, vulnerable bark. The fact is you do not need more than 2-3 inches of mulch in depth for the desired purposes. Mulch should not come closer than 2-3 inches from the plant.  Yet people are piling mulch 6 inches or more, and right on the trunks of the trees, causing damage to life sustaining cambium (the live tissue just below the bark). Beware of volcano mulch in your yard.

Article by Robert Ricard, Ph.D.

Plant Sales on May 18th

Fairfield Plant Sale flyer Windham Plant Sale flyer

Gardeners: Join us for a plant sale on Saturday, May 18th. We have one on each side of the state: Bethel and Brooklyn. We’ll be at the Windham County Extension Center in Brooklyn on Saturday, May 18th from 9 AM until 2 PM. The plant sale at the Fairfield County Extension Center in Bethel is from 9 AM until 1 PM. We’ll have perennials, annuals, tomatoes, vegetables, herbs, and house plants. You can bring garden problems to be diagnosed, and purchase soil test kits. Email windham@uconn.edu or fairfield@uconn.edu for more information.

The best time to submit a soil sample

Article by Joseph Croze

soil samples in boxes along a bookshelf in the UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Lab on the Depot Campus
Soil samples waiting for analysis at UConn. Photo: Joseph Croze

As most of you are probably already familiar with, the University of Connecticut is home to the UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Laboratory. This lab is staffed by Dawn Pettinelli, the manager, and myself, the technician. We also have a few part time and student employees throughout the year that help with the receiving, spreading, and sieving of soil samples; among other things. We offer an array of tests designed to help homeowners, community gardeners, farmers, etc… maximize the efficiency of their soil to produce the greatest yields in whatever plant or crop they are growing, from silage corn to turf. We can test for soil organic matter content, textural fractionation, soluble salts, Nitrogen, and Carbon. We also provide tests for plant tissues and corn stalks. However, our most vital and popular test is the Standard Nutrient Analysis. This is a relatively comprehensive test that allows us to make limestone and fertilizer recommendations. We check the pH, add a buffering agent and then retest the pH. From there we are able to determine the soils capacity to resist the change in pH, this allows us to make an accurate and precise limestone recommendation, in lbs/1000 square feet, or lbs/acre, depending on the desired crop production. The second part of the Standard Nutrient Analysis is the actual nutrient content. Soil samples are analyzed for micro and macro nutrients; Potassium, Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Aluminum, Boron, Copper, Iron, Manganese, Zinc, and Sulfur. Samples are also screened for Lead. Using the nutrient results, we are able to make fertilizer recommendations based on what is being grown. We give results in N-P-K format, and also provide organic alternatives.

We get calls year round from customers asking if they can submit a soil sample, and the answer is always yes! You can submit a soil sample any time of the year, we receive soils from throughout the country (although we have to be careful of areas under certain quarantines). Generally, it only takes around a week from when we receive a sample for us to send out the results. As you might imagine, Spring is an extreme exception. We are so busy and backed up with thousands of soil samples right now, we are expecting a 3 week turn-around time. We understand that everyone is eager to get their hands dirty and work on their lawns and gardens, but waiting until Spring to submit soil samples isn’t the best idea.

Continue reading….

Join UConn for a Panel Presentation on GMOs

UConn’s College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources is offering two events on the science of GMOs next week that we welcome you to attend.

GMO 2.0: Science, Society and the Future is on Wednesday, April 24th in the UConn Student Union Theater on the Storrs Campus at 7 PM.

The panel features four experts that have research connections to GMOs, and will be moderated by Dean Indrajeet Chaubey from the UConn College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources. Panel topics include the risks and benefits of genetically engineered crops; ethical, legal, and social implications of GMOs; CRISPR and other GMO technologies; and the future of GMOs and big agriculture. It’s open to anyone interested in attending.

The goal of the panel presentation is to provide science-based, and unbiased information on GMOs, and the misinformation around them. The panelists will present information in a non-science format for those unfamiliar with the terminology and nuances of the subjects.

GMOs: Answering Difficult Questions from your Customers is being held on Thursday, April 25th at 7 PM at the Tolland County Extension Center, 24 Hyde Avenue, in Vernon.

This presentation is specifically for farmers, but all are welcome to attend. Dr. Paul Vincelli from the University of Kentucky will give a presentation on the risks and benefits of GMOs, and answering questions about GMOs. His presentation will be followed by a question and answer session.

Both events are free for anyone to attend, but registration is requested for planning purposes. For more information on the events, or to register please visit https://gmo.uconn.edu/events/ or call 860-486-9228.