garden

CYFAR Summer Experience at Auerfarm

By Sherry Gray

student in gardenThe Auerfarm is a 4-H Education Center with 120 acres located in the northwest section of Bloomfield, Connecticut. The Farm was deeded to the non-profit Connecticut 4–H Development Fund in 1976; however; has a rich history dating back to the early years of the 20th Century. The farm served as a model farm to other farmers in the 1950’s and hence, grew into a place that values education, outreach and engagement. The farm currently houses livestock including cows, goats, alpaca, donkeys, sheep, rabbits and chickens. It also has several large vegetable and flower gardens, an apple orchard, and a blueberry patch. Extension supported the building of a greenhouse on the property that is heavily used by school groups and master gardeners. Each year 14,000 children and 5,000 adults visit and access educational programs at the farm.

CYFAR’s Tools for Healthy Living grant partnered with Auerfarm this summer to provide multiple weeklong day programs for low-income youth from Hartford. Each week twelve to fifteen 8-12 year old low-income youth from Hartford participated in a program designed to enrich their understanding of food, health, and agriculture through hands on learning. During this time, University of Connecticut (UConn) staff presented two lessons about issues related to food safety; these lessons are part of the Tools for Healthy Living curriculum that was developed as part of this grant project. The first lesson was a lesson on hand washing and the second was on how to avoid food related illness. Students also spent time in the gardens, visiting animals and preparing the food they had picked.

The summer program was a highly positive experience for students, many who had not attended a summer farm program before. Students were very excited to go to the gardens and the blueberry patch.  Several students made statements including “we get to pick berries!” The students also indicated that “this is a new experience” for (most) of them and upon the announcement from the teacher that berry picking time was over several made comments that they “wanted to do it again.”

The children were very excited to be in the garden. One day, the UConn Master Gardener trapped a groundhog that she then showed to the students. The animal intrigued them all, but some had differing opinions about it. Some thought that it “looks mean” while others thought it “cute.” Educators explained why they caught the groundhog noting that they “eat eleven pounds of vegetables a day.” The children were assigned tasks to pick vegetables, weeds or get grass for the animals to eat later. The children really seemed to enjoy the garden experience stating “I want to have my own garden” and “this is the best day of my life.” This garden supports the Foodshare organization by producing 2 tons of produce annually for hungry families in Hartford. Extension Master Gardeners are active with the Foodshare garden ensuring we give back to the community. One student notes that, “she doesn’t even like carrots, but she is happy that she gets to help pick them so that people who are hungry can eat them.” The students were enthusiastic about taking the vegetables from the garden into the kitchen to prepare their lunches, including, salads, roasted beets, pizza, and tacos.

All of the youth attending this summer program loved the experience, particularly being in the gardens, blueberry patch and in the kitchen. They interacted during the food safety lessons and showed increased awareness for the need to do thorough handwashing and minimize food safety risks. The animals and gardens throughout the property served as platforms for interactive learning. One student exclaimed “I can’t wait to come back to camp next year.” Another stated, “I just really like the fresh air and mountains.” As a result of this project, our grant team strengthened our partnership with Auerfarm and provided many youth with a farm experience that they would not have otherwise had the opportunity to attend.

 

Sherry Gray, PI Tools for Healthy Living

Mary Margaret Gaudio, co-PI Tools for Healthy Living

Jen Cushman, 4-H Extension Educator, Hartford County Extension

Miriah Kelly, Project Evaluator

Christine Smith, CYFAR Program Assistant

Angela Caldera, Hartford EFNEP

Marilyn Diaz, Hartford Administrative Assistant

 

Auerfarm: Growing Opportunities

in gardenThe 120-acre 4-H Education Center at Auerfarm is a private, non-profit education center located in Bloomfield. Over 15,000 students and family members participate in year-round 4-H curriculum-based school science programs, animal clubs, and Junior Master Gardening projects annually.

Hartford entrepreneur and retailer Beatrice Fox Auerbach and her husband purchased the farm in 1925. Beatrice took control of the farm and managed it for 40 years when her husband died in 1927. Dairy, poultry, and apples were produced. At its peak, the farm was 230-acres, and honored in 1950 for its innovation and modern practices. The family of Beatrice Fox Auerbach deeded the farm to the Connecticut 4-H Development Fund in 1976.

A volunteer board of directors and staff run the farm’s day-to-day operations and educational components. The partnership with UConn Extension brings the research from UConn to real life for visiting groups. Educational programs encourage critical thinking and curiosity through hands-on discovery in science and agriculture. Volunteers from the 4-H program, Master Gardeners, and the community are a vital component of the farm.

“We are very passionate about the mission of the organization, which is to connect people, agriculture, and the natural environment through education and recreation,” says Chairman of the Board Bob Lyle. “At Auerfarm we have a wonderful 120-acre outdoor laboratory for learning, and we focus on bringing young people and their families out for fun, hands-on lessons in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

“Youth learn about nutrition, food production, plant, and animal life,” Bob continues. “It’s gratifying to observe how participants enthusiastically react and enjoy learning in this kind of living classroom. We offer educational opportunities that many would not otherwise have.”

Through their experiences at Auerfarm, youth connect to their food environment while building a foundation in STEM education. Auerfarm recently finished construction of a new animal barn, and over the course of the year, the farm has many different species including alpacas, sheep, beef cattle, goats, pigs, chickens, and rabbits.

“The 4-H club at the farm works with the animals to further their understanding of various STEM-based concepts such as nutrition and animal health,” Hartford County 4-H Extension Educator Jen Cushman explains. “In addition, various school-based, summer programs, and birthday parties integrate the animals into their learning experiences. For example, enrichment programs highlight the life-cycle connections between chickens and eggs, baby animals, and the role that alpacas and sheep play in the creation of yarn.”

The Master Gardener/Foodshare garden is a quarter acre vegetable garden used as a demonstration site for learning the basics of environmentally responsible vegetable and flower production. Students learn about growing conditions through understanding management of soil, water, insects, and diseases.

Opportunities to watch seasonal progression of plants, as well as observation of birds and wildlife are available in the garden. Master Gardeners work with approximately 300 volunteers throughout the season. Each year, volunteers harvest over 3,600 pounds of fresh produce for distribution to the community kitchens through Foodshare.

An anonymous $50,000 grant allowed the 4-H Farm to install a 20 x 48 polycarbonate rigid-walled greenhouse, which has space for in-ground and bench-top growing. Classes and demonstrations are held in the greenhouse.

“It’s a sunny and green oasis during the winter months,” Hartford County Master Gardener Coordinator Sarah Bailey mentions. “Spinach and herbs grow throughout the winter, and as the season shifts, more varieties are planted. While heated, we run it as a cold house with minimal non-solar heat in the winter, yet it stays warm enough for several cold-hardy plants.”

The greenhouse expands growing space available, and extends growing seasons, allowing for more educational programs. Master Gardener volunteers are growing more plants for the Foodshare production garden in the greenhouse.

Sarah is the Junior Master Gardener program statewide coordinator, and utilizes the greenhouse to teach students how plants grow, science experiments, and techniques for planting and harvesting. Teachers receive instruction at the greenhouse, and take hands-on curriculum back to their schools. Sarah is also developing a multi-generational Gardening with Families series.

“I look forward to engaging current UConn students in the activities of Auerfarm through internships and service learning to expand the connection between Auerfarm and UConn,” Jen concludes. “By tapping the expertise of UConn Extension specialists, I anticipate enhancing the agricultural production and practices that occur on the farm.”

Deadline Extended – Become a UConn Extension Master Gardener

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

UConn Extension is accepting applications for the 2017 Master Gardener Program. Master Gardener interns receive horticultural training from UConn, and then share knowledge with the public through community volunteering and outreach efforts. Enrollment in the UConn Extension Master Gardener program is limited and competitive.

“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 (one full day per week) beginning January 9, 2017. The Master Gardener program includes over 100 hours of classroom 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 the training manual. Partial scholarships may be available, based on demonstrated financial need.

“Working at the Courthouse Garden signature project in Hartford gave me the opportunity to use my gardening skills to help feed and educate others,” says John Vecchitto, a 2015 graduate from Hartford County. “We’re teaching others, many of whom have never gardened, to enjoy the gardening experience. People expressed their satisfaction when they heard the produce we grew would go to a shelter to help hungry people. We fed those who needed good food, and we fed the spirits of our participants with a taste of kindness. It was empowering.”

Classes will be held in Haddam, West Hartford, Bethel, Brooklyn, and Stamford. The postmark deadline for applications has been extended until Friday, November 18, 2016

For more information or an application, call UConn Extension at 860-486-9228 or visit the UConn Extension Master Gardener website at: www.mastergardener.uconn.edu.

Tips for Donating Extra Garden Produce

FANs gardenMany of you are growing your own food this summer at home or in a community garden. Do you have an abundance of vegetables – more than you and your family can consume? Here are some tips from Maine Extension on donating your extra produce:

Home Gardeners

Growing extra food in your own garden, or in a community garden, can be a very fun and convenient way to contribute to your community. Here are some tips for success:

  1. Connect with your local recipient organization to make sure they can accept fresh vegetables and determine the best days/times to drop off donations. If you don’t know where to donate, your local UConn Extension office can help you find a place to donate.
  2. Harvest ripe, undamaged produce*, clean it, and estimate the weight.
  3. Donate to a local agency OR a friend in need.
  4. Contact a local UConn Extension office to find a community garden to help.

*We suggest growing any of the following crops:

  • Long-term keepers: beets, cabbage, carrots, winter squash (no Hubbard, please)
  • Short-term keepers: tomatoes, cucumbers, summer squash, lettuce, broccoli, beans

10 Tips for the February Gardener

house plant

 

  1. Visit our booth at the 2016 CT Flower & Garden Show in Hartford, February 18th to 21st. Bring ½ cup of soil for a free pH test and your garden questions for free advice.
  1. Turn the compost pile during any stretches of mild weather.

 

  1. Surprise your favorite relative or friend with a floral bouquet on Valentine’s Day from UConn Blooms on the Storrs campus.
  1. Check houseplants for signs of spider mites and control by spraying with insecticidal soap or water 2-3 times a week after giving them a thorough rinse in the sink.
  1. If you are overwintering plants into your garage or cellar, check the soil to see if it needs water. If the soil is frozen the location may be too cold.
  1. Purchase seed flats, containers, and peat pellets. Check your cold frame for needed repairs. It’s also a good time to finish up your seed order, if you haven’t done so already.
  1. Begin pruning apples and pears as the weather allows.
  1. Start leek and onion seeds now. They need 10 to 12 weeks of growth before going in the garden.
  1. Prune grape vines at the end of the month. If you grow currants, remove all stems that are over 3 years old on a mild day.
  1. Inspect hemlocks for woolly adelgid. Plan to apply a dormant horticultural oil treatment in April if the cottony egg masses are found at the base of needles.

For more information contact the UConn Home & Garden Education Center at 877-486-6271 or ladybug@uconn.edu

10 Tips for the November Gardener

1-24MulchLeaves1REBECCA
Photo: Michigan State University
  1. Drain hoses and sprayers before cold weather sets in to prevent them from freezing and bursting.
  2. Wait to spread winter mulch until after the ground has frozen. Mulching beforehand can delay dormancy and makes a good home for voles.
  3. Do not store apples or pears with vegetables. The fruits give off ethylene gas which speeds up the breakdown of vegetables and will cause them to develop a strange taste.
  4. Clean the bird feeders and stock them with birdseed and suet.
  5. Use small stakes or markers where you’ve planted bulbs or late starting spring plants in the perennial garden, to avoid disturbing them when you begin spring soil preparation.
  6. Keep mowing your lawn as long as the grass is growing. Meadow voles and field mice may damage turf and nearby trees and shrubs if they have long grass for food and cover.
  7. Inspect your fruit trees. Remove any mummified remaining fruits, and rake up and dispose of old leaves.
  8. Protect roses from freezing temperatures by placing bark mulch around the base of rose bushes so that the first part of the stem (nearest the ground) is completely covered or mound with soil and protect with a purchased rose cone. Do this after the ground freezes.
  9. Clean and fill bird baths regularly and consider a heating unit to provide fresh water throughout the winter.
  10. Pull stakes and plant supports. Clean them with a 10% bleach solution before storing for the winter.

For more information please visit the UConn Home and Garden Education Center or call 877-486-6271.

Squash Problems Gone Wild

Squash Problems Gone Wild, Or yes, Scouting in the Garden Matters

By Joan Allen

squashbugs2-jallen-768x1024This week’s blog photo is from my vegetable garden. I give lectures on the fundamentals of integrated pest management (IPM) and one of the first practices on the list is to scout or monitor your garden or field frequently to catch problems early, when you have a much better chance of keeping damage to a minimum.

Well, I am well aware of this recommendation, but failed to do it in my own backyard. So what happened? My zucchini has succumbed to hordes of squash bugs and both that and the cucumbers have been hit hard by powdery mildew.

Let’s start with how to check for these two major cucurbit problems, even though it’s too late this year in many gardens. In the case of squash bugs, look for the reddish groups of eggs on the undersides of the leaves. If found, squash them. You’d think this would be easy, although a bit disgusting, but they’re pretty tough. Squeeze hard. This can be done with nymphs and adults (shown in photo) too, or they can be drowned in soapy water. In the photo, there’s an adult in the upper left area of the group with a nymph on its back. Adults will have mature wings.

There are also some insecticidal products that are labeled for squash bug but they vary in effectiveness. Get the nymphs with insecticidal soaps. Avoid using any insecticidal products when bees/pollinators are active. The little yellow flecks on the leaves in the photo are caused by squash bug feeding. They pierce the plant cells and suck out the contents through straw-like mouth parts. You can see how all of these steps would be easier if you took the time to check early on, before the problem became all too obvious. Favored host plants are squash and pumpkins but other cucurbits may also be attacked. There is one generation per year and the adults overwinter in sheltered places.

Powdery mildew is a very common and damaging disease of cucurbit crops. As powdery mildew progresses, covering both upper and lower leaf surfaces with a white powdery growth, photosynthesis is reduced, impairing growth and reducing yield. Plants typically become infected around the time fruit begins to form and mostly on the older leaves.  The powdery mildew that affects cucurbits is not the same fungus that causes powdery mildew on other, unrelated, plants. Disease is favored by warm temperatures and high humidity. Promote good airflow around plants to reduce humidity using ample plant spacing or vertical supports for vines. Spores are wind-borne and can travel long distances so crop rotation is not effective in this case.

Good scouting for those first small white spots will alert you that it’s time to apply preventive fungicides. There are a variety of active ingredient options here including organic options such as biological fungicides (Bacillus subtilus QST 713), potassium bicarbonate, copper, or wettable sulfur. Conventional fungicides include chlorothalonil and others. These are preventive and must be used to protect plants, not as a curative solution. An alternative and effective solution is to look for powdery mildew resistant varieties for your garden.

10 Tips for the September Gardener

evergreen NDSU Extension
Photo: NDSU Extension

1. Remove bagworm egg masses from evergreen shrubs to eliminate the spring hatch from over-wintered eggs.

2. If rain is lacking, continue to thoroughly water trees, shrubs, planting beds, and lawn areas. It is especially important to keep newly planted evergreens watered.

3. Plant shallots and garlic outdoors.

4. Use a mulching blade to finely chop fallen leaves and let them decompose on the lawn. Core-aerate to reduce thatch on lawns.

5. Limit herbaceous plant material located a few feet away from the house to eliminate hiding places for insects and mice that could wind up indoors as temperatures plummet.

6. Beets, parsnips, and carrots can be covered with a thick layer of straw or leaves and left in the ground for harvest, as needed, during the winter. This may not be an option in areas with heavy vole populations.

7. Avoid the spring rush and have your soil tested now by the UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Laboratory (www.soiltest.uconn.edu). Incorporate recommended amounts of limestone and fertilizers into the vegetable and flower gardens for next year’s growing season.

8. As tomatoes end their production, cut down plants, pick up any debris and put dead/diseased plant parts in the trash or take to a landfill. Many diseases will over-winter on old infected leaves and stems so these are best removed from the property.

9. Weed and mulch perennial beds using a loose organic material such as bark chips or leaves to keep down weeds, preserve moisture, and give roots a longer time to grow before the soil freezes.

10. Outwit hungry squirrels and chipmunks by planting bulbs in established groundcovers. Lift and store tender bulbs, i.e., cannas, dahlias and gladiolus after first frost.

For more information contact the UConn Home and Garden Education Center at ladybug@uconn.edu or 877-486-6271.

Blossom End Rot of Tomatoes

By Carol Quish for UConn Extension

 

blossom end rot on tomato
Photo: Ohio Extension

August is supposed to be the month of non-stop tomatoes. Occasionally things go awry to interrupt those carefully laid spring visions of bountiful harvests, sauce making, and endless tomato sandwiches. Blossom end rot can appear to put an end to the crop production by damaging the ripening and developing fruits. We are seeing and receiving calls in a higher number than more recent years from backyard gardeners complaining about black rotten spots on the bottom of their tomatoes. The spots start as a thickened, leathery spot that sinks in, always on the bottom of the fruit.

Blossom end rot can also occur on peppers.

Blossom end rot is a physiological condition due to lack of calcium. Calcium is needed by plants for proper growth in all functions of cell making, but is most important for cell walls. Without enough calcium either in the soil, or if delivery of uptake of dissolved calcium in soil water is interrupted, cell division stops in the fruit. Tomatoes are especially sensitive to a lack of calcium.

Interruptions in uptake of calcium can happen by repeated cycles of soil drying out, receiving water, and then drying out again. Times of drought and hot, humid weather make the problem worse. Plants lose water through their leaves through a process called transpiration, similar to the way we sweat. They then pull up water through their roots. If there is not enough soil moisture, plants wilt. This break is water delivery also limits calcium delivery. Tomato, and to a lesser degree pepper fruits, respond by developing rot on the bottom, the end where the blossom was before the fruit started growing.

High humidity and multiple cloudy days reduce transpiration, thereby reducing water uptake. This leaves plants not able to bring up new calcium rich water to the site making new cells of the fruit. Another interruption of delivery of calcium resulting in blossom end rot. This means that even if you have enough calcium in the soil and you water the soil regularly, the plants still may not be able to move enough calcium to where it is needed to produce a fruit.

Have a soil test done to make sure soil has enough calcium and that pH levels are around 6.5 so nutrients are most readily available. Water regularly so plants receive 1 to 2 inches of water per week for optimum growth. Feel the soil around the root zone to make sure water is soaking in and reaching the roots. Humidity and cloud cover are not obstacles we can help the plant with, so monitor the fruit for rot spots and remove. There are calcium foliar sprays that claim to deliver calcium to be absorbed by the leaves for use by the plant. This won’t help after the rot has already developed, but may help deter future spots on still developing tomatoes.