Gardens

Master Gardener Program Updates

vegetable gardenThe New Year ushered in a new crop of interns aspiring to become certified Master Gardeners. Classes began January 11th. The Bethel and New Haven classes alternate locations each year, and the 2018 class is being held in New Haven County at the Edgerton Park Carriage House. Both the New Haven County and Fairfield County coordinators work together each year facilitating the classes.

This year’s class has 40 students, the majority of whom will be completing their community outreach in New Haven County. However, at least a half dozen or more interns from the class are expected to complete their office internship in the Bethel office and complete their community outreach in Fairfield County.

2018 is the 40th anniversary of the Master Gardener Program in Connecticut. In addition, this is the first year the new hybrid Master Gardener classes are being rolled out. This year, students will be completing a substantial portion of the program online, where they have access to presentations and class materials that can be viewed asynchronously. After they view the week’s assigned material, they come to class, where discussions of the material, hands on activities, and workshops that supplement the material are held. Various activities are led by instructors and coordinators, assisted by certified Master Gardener volunteers.

To date, the new format seems to be working well. Students seem to be accessing the material, taking online quizzes, and coming to class energized ready to participate in discussions on the material and in hands on activities.

Classes are scheduled to run through the end of April, but are subject to an extension if weather creates any issues.

By Sandi Wilson, Fairfield County Master Gardener Coordinator

Join Us at the CT Flower & Garden Show

garden show image

FREE Soil Testing and Gardening Advice at the Connecticut Flower and Garden Show, February 22 – 25, 2018 at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford. The University of Connecticut Soil Testing Laboratory will offer free soil pH testing each day of the show. Bring in ½ cup of soil and we will test it and let you know how much, if any, limestone you need to add for optimal plant growth. Master Gardeners and staff horticulturists from the UConn Home & Garden Education Center will be on hand to answer all of your gardening questions. Free gardening handouts will help you make the most of your lawn and gardens this year!

Growing Gardens, Growing Health in Norwalk

The Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) helps families learn about healthy eating, shopping on a budget, cooking and physical activity. EFNEP staff strive to empower participants, providing knowledge and skills to improve the health of all family members. Participants learn through doing, with cooking, physical activity and supportive discussions about nutrition and healthy habits.

EFNEP classes will help you to prepare delicious, low-cost, healthy meals for you and your family. Some of our past classes are highlighted in this series. Contact the office near you for more information. 

student in Norwalk with strawberry in the garden
Photo: Heather Peracchio

Growing Gardens, Growing Health connects low income parents and their children to instruction, hands-on practice, and resources for gardening, nutrition, and cooking in order to encourage healthier food choices for the whole family. Over the course of the past 6 summers, participants worked with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist from EFNEP and certified master gardeners from Extension to plant and grow fresh vegetables and herbs. Over ten weeks, families received practical, family- and budget-friendly information about nutrition and built essential skills by making fun, healthy recipes. Each week children of the families learned about MyPlate and the food groups through fun and interactive games and activities with the help of EFNEP volunteers and an Extension summer intern.

Economically disadvantaged families were recruited to participate in a 10-week, hands-on, nutrition and gardening education program (n=35). Program goals were to enhance participants’ knowledge, skills, and self-efficacy associated with purchasing, preparing and consuming produce; incorporating physical activity into everyday life; and gardening and growing produce for personal use. Childhood obesity rates are higher than national average, 39% in this city. The Growing Gardens, Growing Health program helps families work together to grow fruits and vegetables on a community farm, learn about nutrition and how to prepare healthy foods in the on-premises, fully equipped kitchen classroom, and enjoy the freshly prepared fruit/vegetable-based meals as a group seated around the table. Local health department educators partnered with University Extension educators including a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), bilingual program aide, Master Gardener (MG) volunteers and student volunteers to implement this program. Data collection included a pre-post survey (n=21), and participants demonstrated increased readiness to change physical activity behaviors (47%), cooking behaviors with vegetables/fruits (40%) and consumption of 5 servings vegetables/fruits daily (31%). A family shares, “I am so glad we committed to this. We are eating better, with more nutrition, using less of a budget.” In summary, garden-based nutrition education that is family-focused may improve physical activity, vegetable/fruit consumption and self-efficacy associated with purchasing, preparing, and consuming produce; such improvements may decrease risk of obesity.

Locally Sourced Food – Even in Mid-Winter

By Diane Wright Hirsch, MPH

Senior Extension Educator, Food Safety

 

vegetablesAfter a not-so-local food-filled holiday season (including, I must confess, raspberries, grown somewhere in South America, in a fruit salad), it might be a good time to get back on track. Though it can be more difficult in the winter, eating locally sourced foods is far from impossible in these mid-late winter months.

Eating seasonally can get a bit tedious over the long hard winter if your supply is limited by either amount or variety. But, many farmers are now extending their growing seasons with greenhouses, high tunnels and other production methods. You may find the fruits of their winter labor at a winter farmers’ market near you. Actually, there are at least 9 of these markets in the state—one is likely not far from you. Included are the Fairfield Winter Market; the Litchfield Hills Farmers’ Market in Litchfield; the New Milford Farmers’ Market; CitySeed’s indoor farmers’ market in New Haven; Stonington Winter Farmers’ Market; Coventry, Ellington, and Storrs Winter Farmers’ Markets in Tolland County; and Stonington Farmers’ Market. Check with the local market near you for hours, days and times: they are easily searchable on the internet. Some meet only once or twice a month, others continue to be open weekly.

Keep in mind that shopping at the farmers’ market in the winter is different than in the summer—or than in a super market in the winter. The food choices will be different. You might find beets, carrots, celeriac/celery root, Jerusalem artichokes, kohlrabi, parsnips, potatoes, radishes, rutabagas, salsify, sweet potatoes, turnips, and winter squash. If you are not familiar with, let’s say, kohlrabi or rutabaga, type the name into your favorite search engine (or leaf through a good general cookbook) and you will be sure to find a tasty recipe or two.

You might also discover Belgian endive, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, chicories, curly endive (frisée), escarole, kale, radicchio, and spinach or other greens that are being produced in high tunnels or greenhouses.

Hearty leafies like escarole, chicories, endive and radicchio make a great base for a winter salad.  Because they have stronger flavors than the usual romaine or ice berg, they make a great base for other seasonal foods. Try escarole or arugula with pears and walnuts. Or try making a coleslaw with red cabbage and shredded kale—it is really delicious with dried cranberries or chunks of fresh apple added.

Flavor your winter veggies with leeks, onions and shallots. They can pretty much all be used interchangeably, but there are subtle flavor and pungency differences that may lead the eater to favor one over another. Try them raw, in salads; cooked, in just about any soup, stew, stir fry or casserole; or roasted, alone or mixed with other winter vegetables.

Winter fruits and vegetables are not the only edibles to be found at the winter markets.  Connecticut producers of beef, lamb, pork, chicken and even, in one market, duck, are found at all of the winter markets. Pick up potatoes, carrots, onions and beef or lamb for a Connecticut grown stew! Connecticut shoreline sourced seafood, including clams and lobster, is sold at several markets. Eggs, milk, yogurt and a wide array of artisan/farmstead cheeses are available as well. Locally produced animal protein foods can be a bit more pricey than the supermarket variety, but one taste and you will know that is was worth it. Give them a try and you will be hooked.

Finally, you might be lucky enough to find maple syrup, honey, locally produced cornmeal, dried beans, or pasta sauces made from Connecticut grown tomatoes, pickles and relishes made from a variety of vegetables from local farms.

And, keep in mind that the mid-winter diet calls for some seasonal vitamin C. While not grown locally, citrus fruits are certainly a seasonal food. It makes sense to add them to your grocery list at this time of year-even if you know they won’t be found at your local farmers’ market. First of all they provide vitamin C and other nutrients that might be difficult to find in a limited seasonal diet. Look for those grown in the US, including Texas, Florida, Arizona, and California, if that will make you feel better (local can be defined as you see fit, here!). Sliced oranges are great in winter salads made of a mixture of radicchio, escarole and endive. The sweetness of the oranges offsets the bitterness of the greens. Finish with some balsamic vinegar and a little olive oil. You can also use dried cherries or cranberries in this salad along with some walnuts or pecans.

Sprinkle orange juice over cooked beets or carrots, or use the rind in cranberry bread. Limes and their juice are often used in recipes that are Indian, Central American or Caribbean in origin. A bit of lime juice along with a handful of cilantro will make a black bean soup even better.

For more information on eating locally and seasonally, contact the Home and Garden Education Center at ladybug@uconn.edu or 1-877-486-6271 for more information.

New London County Master Gardener Signature Projects 2017

garden at Riverfront Childrens' CenterMaster Gardener Signature Projects 2017 

Camp Harkness for the Handicapped, Waterford. People with disabilities spend time at the Camp during the summer months. Master Gardeners assist the clients with gardening activities and maintain the wheelchair accessible plants. In the winter, they work with seniors in the greenhouse. This project has been ongoing for a long time with a regular group.

Connecticut College Arboretum, New London. Another long-time association. Master Gardeners lead tours, give lectures, and work on maintenance of the Arboretum’s conifer collection.

Gay City State Park, Hebron. This project is a collaborative effort amongst the Master Gardener Program (MG), the State of Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), and the State Park Service (SPS). It is funded by the Salmon River Estuary Coordinating Committee (SRECC) and the Connecticut Master Gardener Association (CMGA). A water quality problem, identified by DEEP, was brought to the attention of the New London MG office by the SRECC. It was agreed that the water quality problem could be addressed with a habitat restoration adjacent to the swimming area that would discourage nuisance geese. The project design has been approved by the SPS and planting will begin in spring, 2018.

Riverfront Childrens’ Center, Groton. The Center received a grant from the Ledge Light Health District for refurbishing the Center’s raised bed gardens. The grant required oversight of the project by a master gardener, who has been educating the Center’s staff on gardening and involving the children with the planting and harvesting of vegetable crops. This project will be an ongoing program and fits well with the Extension Nutrition Education Program, which was already in place at the Center.

Urban Agriculture Graduates

German Cutz, UConn Extension educator and urban agriculture program coordinator urban agriculture graduate speaks at graduation ceremony in UConn Extension office in Bethel

UConn Extension Urban Agriculture Program – Graduation Ceremony. On January 16, 2018 UConn Extension graduated 9 new urban farmers who completed a year-long training. To be able to graduate, students needed to complete five modules: botany, soils, entomology, vegetable production, and integrated pest management (30-40 hours each) and pass each with at least 70% or higher grade. Extension educator German Cutz, and all of Extension, is very proud of graduates and hope many more join us this year. Congratulations!
====================================
Ceremonia de graduación del Programa de Agricultura Urbana de la Extensión de UConn. El 16 de Enero del 2018 La Extensión de UConn graduó 9 nuevos agricultores urbanos quienes completaron un entrenamiento de un año. Para graduarse, los estudiantes necesitaron completar cinco módulos: botánica, suelos, entomología, producción de vegetales y manejo integrado de plagas (30-40 horas cada uno) y pasar cada módulo con una calificación de 70% o más. Estoy muy orgulloso de los graduados y espero que muchos más se unan este año. Felicitaciones!

Fairfield County Master Gardener Projects

Sandi Wilson, Fairfield County Master Gardener Coordinator, spotlights three of the signature projects that volunteers have been working on:

vegetable gardenThe Fairfield County Demonstration Vegetable Garden – Bethel, CT

In November the Master Gardeners were putting the garden to bed for the season. Each year, they analyze what worked and what didn’t in the garden and begin to formulate their plan for next year. The demo garden team decided that the apple and pear trees were too high maintenance and in order to be fruitful would require more inputs than what this low maintenance and organic minded team desired. They removed the trees and will be substituting native paw paws that they hope will thrive with less care and inputs. The irrigation system worked great this year, and the crew made a few additional adjustments to the system to improve its efficiency.

As you know the Master Gardeners donate all the vegetables and herbs it produces to area food banks. In 2016, 656 pounds of produce, plus bundled herbs and flowers were donated to local organizations. In 2017, despite a slow start because of cool weather, the garden ultimately yielded 755 pounds of produce! The following organizations received donations during the season: Newtown Social Services, and the Faith Food Pantry in Newtown, The Brookfield Pantry, Friends of Brookfield Seniors, and the St James Daily Bread Pantry in Brookfield, and the Salvation Army in Danbury. This garden is not only a beautiful example of a working and productive vegetable garden, it is also used as a teaching tool for the community. Every Saturday, docent led tours are given to the public, who frequent the Farmer’s Market also held on the grounds. Master Gardeners teach Integrated Pest Management practices, cultural techniques, and other sustainable practices to visitors.

The Giving Garden – Brookfield, CT

This organic vegetable garden was established in 2010. Various Master Gardeners have participated in planting, maintaining, and harvesting this teaching garden over the years. Close to 1,000 pounds of produce is harvested from the garden each year and donated to area food pantries and soup kitchens! Primary recipients of the produce include food pantries in Brookfield, Danbury, and New Milford, and the Dorothy Day Soup Kitchen in Danbury. The garden is also used as a teaching garden for other Master Gardeners and the public. It is also frequented by area high school “key club” members who learn about sustainable practices, IPM methods, and the importance of volunteerism.

The Victory Garden – Newtown, CT

Master Gardeners are also involved with this 1/2 acre community garden that shares the bounty at the Fairfield Hills Campus. The garden started 8 years ago offers rows which are adopted by Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops, Ability Beyond Disability, and other community groups. The vegetables, fruits and flowers grown are donated to the Faith Food Pantry, Nunnawauk Meadows, a low income senior housing facility, and to Newtown Social Services.

Urban Agriculture Extension Program

farmers market
Urban agriculture students at the Danbury Farmers Market.

German Cutz is our Extension Educator for Sustainable Families and Communities. Here is a quick snapshot of a few of his programs for this fall:

  • Nine out of 11 participants completed the year-round urban agriculture training in Bethel. They graduation ceremony is being planned for January 16th, 2018.
  • Bethel urban agriculture program is currently recruiting new participants for the 2017-2018 course. There are six participants for the new round.
  • Bridgeport urban agriculture program started on November 16th. Green Village Initiative (GVI) is collaborating with UConn Extension providing classroom and garden space. Thus far, 15 people are enrolled in the program.
  • Knox Farms in Hartford has agreed to start the urban agriculture program in spring 2018. No date confirmed yet.

New Year Resolution: Take the 40-Gallon Challenge

What are you going to do differently in 2018? How about conserving water with UConn Extension.

dripping tapUConn Extension is inviting all Connecticut residents to join the 40 Gallon Challenge and take on new practices to increase water conservation. The 40 Gallon Challenge is a national call for residents and businesses to reduce water use on average by 40 gallons per person, per day. The challenge began in 2011 as a campaign funded by the Southern Region Water Program and coordinated by the Georgia Center for Urban Agriculture and the Southern Region Drinking Water and Rural-Urban Interface Education Program Team.

As a participant in the challenge, one commits to taking on additional indoor and outdoor water savings activities. The top three most pledged commitments are: reducing irrigation station runtimes by 2 minutes, using a broom instead of a hose to clean driveways and sidewalks, and fixing a leaky toilet. There are many other commitments to choose from and each has a daily gallon savings equivalency. Some of the most impactful actions include: installing a “smart irrigation controller” that adjusts for temperature and precipitation (40 gallons daily savings), replacing an old, non-efficient showerhead with low flow showerhead (20 gallons daily savings), and fixing a leaky toilet and faucet (45 gallons daily savings). Participants are encouraged to commit to actions adding up to 40 gallons or more of daily savings.40 gallon challenge logo

This year, UConn Extension is on a mission to spread the word about the challenge and increase Connecticut’s participation. To date, the number of pledges in Connecticut is 25, compared to around 2,000 in Georgia and 4,000 in Texas, states where this program is rooted. We want to increase that number many times over, and demonstrate our commitment to preserving this critical and limited natural resource.

Participation is open to residents of all states and counties. Farmers, gardeners, business owners, homeowners, school children, and all others interested are encouraged to participate and begin the conversation in their communities about why water conservation matters.

To sign up, visit http://www.40gallonchallenge.org/ and fill out a pledge card. To learn more about what UConn Extension is doing about water quality and quantity issues in our state and region, visit http://water.extension.uconn.edu.

Celebrating Retirement

Fairfield County Extension educators and retirees

On Friday, December 8th the Fairfield County Extension team and past Extension staff had a luncheon at the Red Rooster restaurant in Newtown. Past Extension Educator, Joseph J. Maisano, Jr. and his wife Betty Maisano attended. Joe worked as a Horticulture expert and Extension Educator for Fairfield County for 30 years. He shared with us that he worked in Extension for 30 years and that this year marks his 30th year of retirement. He continues to be an avid gardener and volunteers on the board for the community garden in his retirement community.