Gardens

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!
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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.

Cold Storage: A Sustainable Way to Preserve the Harvest

By Diane Wright Hirsch, MPH

Senior Extension Educator/Food Safety

cold storage procedure at home for fruits and vegetables
Photo Credit: NAL/USDA

A young couple I know if looking to buy their first house. She prefers older homes with character, he wants space for a big garden. They came upon an older home with a dirt basement floor….I immediately thought that it might be a good candidate for a root cellar. In earlier times, when many people grew their own food, lived miles from the nearest grocery store, and did not have the benefit of electricity or refrigeration, they often stored some fruits and vegetables for the winter in root cellars or outdoor cold storage areas or pits.

Today it can be difficult to use the basement for storage as many of us now use our basements as living spaces. We may have furnaces, boilers or woodstoves in our cellars—instead of dirt floors and cold storage shelves. We do everything we can to keep out the dampness. And houses are built to retain heat in order to save energy. And, of course, in general, Connecticut temperatures seem to be warmer longer into late fall and early winter, than they used to be. All of this means that we just have to be a bit more creative if we want to store our late summer/fall crops into mid-winter.

You should recognize that “ideal” storage conditions for many vegetables are not attainable around the average home. Commercial cold storage options often involve a modified or controlled atmosphere, reducing the oxygen and increasing the carbon dioxide level, while high humidity is maintained in an air−tight, refrigerated storage room. It is important to understand that these conditions cannot be achieved at home…your home-stored apples will not be equal to the quality of a store-bought apple in January or February.

That said, there are many lower-tech options for storing apples and other foods at home. You just have to remember to follow the rules!

  • Pay attention to and monitor temperature, humidity and air flow;
  • Keep fruits away from vegetables (fruits release ethylene which speeds the ripening process of vegetables);
  • Minimize the effects of strong smelling vegetables such as onions, cabbage or rutabagas.

Outdoor Storage

Some vegetables can be stored outdoors—or even remain in your garden, if well protected. Root crops including carrots, parsnips and turnips can remain in the garden, if rodents are not an issue. A well-drained location is essential as a muddy puddle does not do much for your stored carrots. Once the ground is cold, or begins to freeze, protect the vegetables from frost and fluctuating temperatures with insulating materials such as clean straw, hay, dry leaves, corn stalks, or wood shavings, and some soil.

Mounds or pits are a good way to store cabbage and root crops, such as carrots, beets, celery root, kohlrabi, rutabagas, turnips, and winter radishes. Use a well-drained location, and cover the ground with insulating mulch. Vegetables keep very well in pits and mounds, but once these storage areas are opened all the produce should be removed. After it’s removed, the produce will keep for 1 or 2 weeks at most: use it up quickly or cook and freeze for longer storage. If rodents are a problem, try burying a 20-gallon trash can in the ground. Several small holes should be made in the bottom to allow for drainage (keeping in mind that rodents may be able to get through a dime sized hole).

Indoor Storage

A Connecticut home—especially an older one—offers several options for winter storage of fruits and vegetables. You could use a breezeway, a shed, a Bilco-type basement door area or a garage that is not used for storing your automobile, lawn equipment or chemicals that may affect the flavor of your stored produce. You may be lucky enough to live in a house with an old root cellar or a cellar that does not warm up too much when the furnace gets turned on. Check the room temperature to make sure that the area is cool enough (32˚F–60˚F) and be sure that the temperature does not fluctuate too much. The relative humidity (moisture in the air) of these locations will also affect what type of produce can be stored. Some produce (garlic, onions) store better in dry conditions, while others (apples, root crops) prefer conditions to be more humid.

A pantry, attic, or unheated room is useful for short-term storage of potatoes and onions as long as there is no danger of freezing. Low storage temperatures extend the shelf life of dried foods, such as dried beans, herbs, dried fruits and vegetables. A warm storage area, such as an attic, can be a good environment in the fall for drying herbs, beans, walnuts, or hickory nuts.

A well-ventilated basement with central heating is generally dry and has a temperature range of 50˚F to 60˚F. It may be used for ripening tomatoes and for short-term storage of pumpkins, winter squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and onions.

Managing your storage area

Once everything is stored away, you will need to monitor your storage areas, paying attention to temperature (can be made cooler or warmer with ventilating windows that can be opened and shut); humidity (a relative humidity of 90%–95% is very moist and good for storage of potatoes and other root crops. A relative humidity of 60%–75% is dry and good for storage of pumpkins and other squash). Check the storage area at least weekly. Look for evidence of rodents. Check to see that produce is still dry. Remove and discard anything that is rotten or moldy.

Food safety and cold storage

Exploding pressure canners and botulism scares can keep folks away from canning, but cold storage is pretty much risk free. If it doesn’t work, you will see, feel or smell that your food has spoiled—and you will not eat it! Cold storage temperatures also slow the growth of spoilage organisms and enzymatic action (causes over-ripening and rotting). However, there are a few food safety hazards you should pay attention to.

First, be sure to use storage containers that are food-grade. Never use drums, garbage cans or containers that might have held garbage, pesticides or other chemicals. Be sure that the insulating materials used are not contaminated with pesticides or manure. These should be new materials and should be used only once as they will become contaminated with mold and bacteria.

An important risk to consider is that when using cold storage, particularly outdoor storage options, you need to be wary of the presence of rodents or the pesky neighborhood raccoon. Be sure to inspect the inside and outside of the root cellar. Look for gaps (even very small ones) between the ceiling and walls, walls and floors and around any air vents or windows. Search areas around vents, joints between the walls and roof and the area under the cellar. Patch any cracks or gaps around pipes or plug openings with steel wool. Use storage containers that animals cannot chew through, such as metal, plastic or tightly woven mesh with openings smaller than ¼ inch. Secure the top of the containers in the cellar or the lids of buried containers so that they cannot be opened by animals.

When you are ready to use your fruits and vegetables during the winter months, inspect everything you take out. While small amounts of mold can be removed from hard fruits and vegetables such as potatoes, generally, if there is mold, we recommend tossing it out. Mold toxins have been associated with allergic reactions and some are cancer causing agents. Wash everything thoroughly with water and a scrub brush before eating.

Finally, at the end of the season, be sure to clean all containers and the room itself in order to reduce the presence of molds and bacteria.

For more information about managing a cold storage area and a storage chart for specific fruits and vegetables, search for the following article, which was used as a source: Storing Vegetables and Fruits at Home, from Washington State University Extension, or contact the Home and Garden Education Center at ladybug@uconn.edu or 1-877-486-6271.

Windham Master Gardener Program

By John Lorusso

FANs gardenWe have had a great year educating our new crop of Master Gardeners in Brooklyn this year. The group began classes in the dead of winter in January and have been diligently working on their plant identification and diagnostic abilities all summer. In addition to those actions, they have been very busy fulfilling the outreach requirements at incredibly worthwhile, important, and noteworthy projects in the community.

A partial listing of some of those community outreach projects: the Palmer Arboretum in Wood­ stock, People’s Harvest  Sustainable Community Farm in Pomfret, Roseland Cottage in Woodstock, Goodwin State Forest & Conservation Center in Hampton, Camp Quinebaug Rainbow Garden in Danielson, CT Children’s Hospital in Hartford, Dennison Pequot-Sepos Nature Center in Mystic, Camp Harkness in Waterford, the Belding Butterfly Garden in Tolland, the Emerald Ash Borer Surveillance Program of the CT. Ag Experiment Station, and Natchaug Hospital courtyard gardens. Over 2200 hours have been logged by our Master Gardeners and interns at these crucial programs in the community.

We have exhibited and engaged the public this year at The Woodstock Fair, Willimantic’s third Thursday street festivals, The Killingly Great Tomato Festival, Children’s programming at the Sterling Library, and Celebrating Agriculture.

Upcoming events this fall and winter to include Garden Master Classes on growing giant pumpkins, evergreen identification and wreath making, and beginning floral design and miniature boxwood tree holiday arrangement. We also hope to organize a few movie nights in partnership with the Connecticut Master Gardener Association. We are tentatively scheduled for late Octobe1 to show Hometown Habitat, Stories of Bringing Nature Home, a 90-minute environmental, education documentary focused on showing how and why native plants are critical to the survival and vitality of local ecosystems.

Next year’s Master Gardener class will be held in Tolland county, with the class returning to Brooklyn in 2019.

If you or someone you know is interested in taking the class, or any of the other opportunities listed in this article, please feel free to contact John Lorusso at john.lorusso@uconn.edu.

Deadline Extended for Master Gardener Program Applications

working in garden
Hartford County Master Gardener Coordinator Sarah Bailey and a Master Gardener volunteer work in Burgdorf. Photo: Chris Defrancesco.

Do you love gardening? Are you interested in expanding your knowledge and sharing that knowledge with others? Applications for the 2018 Master Gardener Program through UConn Extension are now due by Friday, November 17. Master Gardener interns receive horticultural training from UConn, and then share knowledge with the public through community volunteering and educational outreach efforts.

The 2018 class will introduce a hybrid course format. There will be 3-4 hours of online work before each of the weekly classes, and then a half-day course from 9 AM to 1 PM that runs for 16 weeks.

“Gardening and the study of it is something we can do our whole lives,” says Karen Linder, a 2015 graduate of the UConn Extension Master Gardener Program at the Bartlett Arboretum in Stamford. “There is always something new to learn – we can get deeper into a subject. Our instructors truly brought subjects to life that I thought could not be made exciting. Who knew soil had so much going on? It has truly changed the way I think and observe the world around me. That is pretty amazing!”

The program is broad-based, intensive, and consists of 16 class sessions (online course work and a half-day class each week) beginning the week of January 8, 2018. The Master Gardener program includes over 100 hours of training and 60 hours of volunteer service. Individuals successfully completing the program will receive UConn Extension Master Gardener certification. The program fee is $425.00, and includes all needed course materials. Partial scholarships may be available, based on demonstrated financial need.

“I would recommend the UConn Master Gardener program to anyone with a serious desire to learn more about horticulture,” says Holly Maynard, who is graduating with the 2017 class in Hartford County. “There are some spectacularly engaging guest lecturers; this is not some amateur gardening club.”

Classes will be held in Torrington, Vernon, New Haven, New London, and Stamford. The postmark deadline for applications has been extended to Friday, November 17, 2017.

For more information or an application, call UConn Extension at 860-570-9023 or visit the UConn Extension Master Gardener website at: www.mastergardener.uconn.edu.

Building Communities: Brass City Harvest

UConn Extension empowers communities by building a network of awareness and knowledge. One example of this is Brass City Harvest, Inc. in Waterbury. Extension educators in our greenhouse and Master Gardener programs worked with Susan Pronovost to build the capacity of 501(c)3 organization. Susan shared her organization’s work with us

Brass City Harvest, Inc. is also supported by the City of Waterbury, the Waterbury Development Corporation, Waterbury Health Department, and various foundations and cultural groups. For more information visit: https://www.brasscityharvestwtby.org and http://extension.uconn.edu.

Issue:

Brass City Greenhouse
Brass City Greenhouse. Photo: Leslie Alexander

Brass City Harvest in Waterbury develops a local and regional food system that increases access to fresh food, creates urban farmland, speaks to the nutritional and dietary needs of the community, and provides new sales channels for farmers to sell their products.

Chronic disease and obesity rates continue to spiral upwards in Waterbury because there are so many food desert neighborhoods. Waterbury also has a very substantial amount of brownfield or at least lightly contaminated land that stand as testament to our once-proud industrial past. Repurposing this land for agricultural use is critical for public health, fresh food access, and to promoting green space in urban neighborhoods that lack it.

Connecticut’s farmers face many economic challenges; increasing sales channels through robust farmers’ market networks, wholesale opportunities, and other economic development projects that utilize agriculture as an industry and a career path are key components to addressing long term sustainability issues in the farming community and inner city communities such as Waterbury.

What has been done:

The UConn Extension Master Gardener Program gave me the skills to conduct efficient and reliable urban farming in a manner that brings great impact to the community and is reasonable in terms of business model implications. In addition to various urban agriculture programs, this organization regularly conducts trainings (seed starting and container gardening). Brass City Harvest provides consultation for new gardeners, has conducted workshops on greening the municipality and addressing food security, and regularly speaks to leadership groups from various foundations and civic organizations.

Outcomes:

The greatest outcome for Brass City Harvest and the City of Waterbury is that prior to our existence, there was never talk about green space, urban farmland, or sustainable means to address food security. In less than ten years we have developed core programs to address food security by growing and harvesting more than 12,000 lbs. of fresh food, hydroponic crops, and fresh fish that is entirely donated to emergency food providers and senior centers in Waterbury. We have engaged more than 500 individuals and households in our healthy cooking and nutrition classes. We have increased sales of fresh farm food through the utilization of public entitlements by 500%.

Impacts:

The broader social, economic civic and environmental benefits of our program to the community speak to addressing food and environmental justice issues. Much of our population lacks the economic mobility to either become more self-reliant or to leave their current housing – which is often cheaper in poorer neighborhoods – for better living conditions in more middle class neighborhoods that typically provide more services such as access to supermarkets, and also have fewer environmental issues.

As an example, one of our programs teaches emancipated minors in the school system who are either pregnant or who already have children, how to recognize and cook fresh food. Inner city youth who are on their own have no role models. There is no one to teach them the difference between an apple and a beet – they both look red. Brass City Harvest does what it can to assist young parents in making wiser nutritional decisions for themselves and their children and we show them how easy it is to have a small kitchen garden by a window or on a small patio. Understanding the audience is critical to such basic, grassroots outreach.

Intermediate and long term effects will largely be dependent upon the continued expansion of Brass City Harvest’s infrastructure and role within the community that will address some of the needs of the state’s farmers, provide fresh food in some strategic corner stores, expand urban farmland to reclaim and repurpose even more contaminated and blighted land, and establish a true food and nutrition center that combines the concepts of farm-to-table into one package that can be tailored to each specific audience.