gardens

Cold Weather and Finding Old Friends in the Garden

Lilac flower covered in snow

These are some crazy times lately. Snow in the second week of May just adds to the disruptions in our lives right now. Folks are looking to their yard and gardens to bring stability to the upheaval in their lives, and snow and cold weather does not ease the mind. However, mother nature has a way of healing the plants and in doing so, shows us we will heal, too.

Some blossoms will sustain damage without the entire plant being lost. Some plants will succumb to the freeze, but these plants are ones that grow naturally and natively in much warmer areas which would not experience snow or freezing weather. If tomatoes or marigolds were planted out in the garden, they most likely were killed from the freeze. See packets and transplant labels state to wait to plant after all danger of frost has passed. For us in Connecticut, May 15th is the average last frost date. I err on the side of caution, waiting until Memorial Day when the soil as warmed considerably before planting cucumbers, peppers, petunias, squash and tomatoes. Putting these plants into cold soil will shock and stunt them for the rest of the growing season.

Perennial plants in our area are like old friends, returning home after a long absence. The familiarity of finding them in walk abouts, makes the world seem normal. Even some stalwart rhubarb laden with snow gives me hope we will weather  our storms. Rhubarb is a hardy perennial vegetable, providing pies and baked goods from its leaf stalk. Don’t eat the leaves as they contain a high level of oxalates the body doesn’t handle well. Better to use the leaves in the compost or lay them on the ground in the vegetable garden to keep the weeds down. They cover a lot of area.

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Cold Weather and Finding Old Friends in the Garden

 

 

Grow Your Own Vegetables: We Have Tips and Resources

sprouts with words getting startedHave you been thinking about starting your own vegetable garden while staying home and staying healthy? Now is the perfect time to select some seeds or starter plants and get started.

Growing your own vegetables is fun, cost-effective, and helps provide your family with a safe and nutritious food supply. UConn CAHNR Extension has many programs to assist with your vegetable garden, whether you are starting a garden for the first time, or returning for another season.

We created a new page at http://bit.ly/GrowYourOwnVegetables that will help you get started, select seeds, start your seeds, avoid common garden mistakes, test your soil, diagnose plant problems (we can help with that!), and identify pests.

Perhaps you do not have a yard or other area to start a garden in. Container gardening may be the right choice for you, and our fact sheet explains what you need. Safety is a top priority for all of us. Incorporate food safety into your garden and harvest with information from our educators. Information is also available on how to store your garden produce.

“Along with the satisfaction of growing your own fruits and vegetables, gardening gets you outside, in the fresh air and sunshine. You just feel better all-around after working with plants,” said Sarah Bailey, state coordinator for the UConn Extension Master Gardener program. “Even if you just grow some herbs and flowers in containers, you get the benefits.”

Specialists from our Master Gardener program, Vegetable Crops program, Soil Nutrient Analysis Laboratory, and Home and Garden Education Center contribute to this page. We are also ready to answer your other questions via email consultation.

UConn CAHNR Extension has more than 100 years’ experience strengthening communities in Connecticut and beyond. Extension programs address the full range of issues set forth in CAHNR’s strategic initiatives:

  • Ensuring a vibrant and sustainable agricultural industry and food supply
  • Enhancing health and well-being locally, nationally, and globally
  • Designing sustainable landscapes across urban-rural interfaces
  • Advancing adaptation and resilience in a changing climate.

Programs delivered by Extension reach individuals, communities, and businesses in each of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities.

We are here. We are ready to serve you.

Lower Fairfield County Master Gardener Program

 

Master Gardener logo

CAHNR Extension word markThe Lower Fairfield County Master Gardener Program wants to partner with you! Whether you are already a passionate gardener who would like to take your learning to the next level, a beginning gardener in search of a knowledgeable resource, or a community/group with a gardening need, the Master Gardener program is here for you. 

The program has been growing strong for more than 40 years. Certified UConn Extension Master Gardeners complete rigorous horticultural training, including both online and classroom education followed by 60 hours of diagnostic Plant Clinic service and volunteer outreach. 

Master Gardener (MG) volunteers are popping up everywhere throughout Fairfield county and across the state as they provide leadership, participate in field projects, give presentations and eagerly share their love of gardening while working side-by-side with community volunteers. 

A few examples of our partnerships include the blooming Pollinator Pathway project, which started locally and is quickly extending across the Northeast. Many MGs have spearheaded Pollinator Pathway initiatives in their hometown. You can also find MGs at the root of Wakeman Town Farm’s educational programs and as volunteer guides and partners in land management at Farm Creek Nature Preserve. 

Come to Plant Clinic so we can help you to weed out your gardening issues. We are available online at this time at lowerfairfieldMG@gmail.com

Master Gardeners provide their guidance and resources at no charge to the public. As a self-funded UConn Extension program, any donations are appreciated, particularly in these challenging times. Tax deductible donations can be made. Let’s continue to grow together! 

Article by: Pat Carroll UConn Extension Master Gardener Coordinator, Lower Fairfield County

Ask UConn Extension Your Questions

Indu
Indu Upadhyaya, Food Safety Assistant Extension Educator. Photo: Kevin Noonan

UConn Extension has collaborated with our partners, communities and stakeholders for over 100 years. We are proud to serve all 169 cities and towns in Connecticut. The worldwide pandemic involving COVID-19 (coronavirus) has produced unprecedented challenges in the UConn community and around the world. Our services continue during this challenging time.

We are still delivering the science-based information you need. We are ready to answer your questions. Consult with us by email or on the phone. All of our educators are working and ready to serve you. Ask us a question online.

We are developing virtual programs to offset canceled in-person learning Abby Beissingeropportunities. Our educators are writing and updating fact sheets and other information. You have access to educational materials on our YouTube channel. We are growing our suite of online resources every day to meet the needs of our communities and stakeholders.

UConn CAHNR Extension educators have curated resources related to COVID-19 for our statewide audiences, including families, businesses, and agricultural producers.

Resources for all audiences includes:

  • Food safety and cooking
  • Hand washing and sanitizers
  • Infection prevention
  • Financial advice
  • Listings of open farms/farmers’ markets and school emergency meal distribution

Parents and families with children out of school can use the resources from our UConn 4-H program to provide new educational activities for youth. Activities available will keep youth engaged and learning and are appropriate for a variety of age groups.

Bruce Hyde presenting at Land Use Academy
Bruce Hyde presenting at Land Use Academy.

A list of resources has been collected for Connecticut businesses. It is a clearinghouse of resources, and not an official site. Business owners can connect to the state resources we provide for official and legal advice.

Agricultural producers are still working on farms, in greenhouses and along the coast in Long Island Sound during the COVID-19 outbreak. Extension educators have developed resources for specific agricultural sectors, including fruit and vegetable farms, aquaculture, and nursery and landscape professionals. Links to important updates from the Connecticut Department of Agriculture also are available.

Our Extension educators are updating and adding resources regularly. Please visit http://bit.ly/COVID-19-Extension.

We are also ready to answer your other questions, including:

  • How do I get my water tested?
  • What is wrong with my plant?
  • Can I eat healthy on a budget?
  • How does my son/daughter join 4-H?

UConn CAHNR Extension has more than 100 years’ experience strengthening communities in Connecticut and beyond. Extension programs address the full range of issues set forth in CAHNR’s strategic initiatives:

  • Ensuring a vibrant and sustainable agricultural industry and food supply
  • Enhancing health and well-being locally, nationally, and globally
  • Designing sustainable landscapes across urban-rural interfaces
  • Advancing adaptation and resilience in a changing climate.

Programs delivered by Extension reach individuals, communities, and businesses in each of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities.

We are here. We are ready to serve you.

 

Coastal Certificate Program

coastal certificate program flyer

Registration is now being accepted for this year’s Coastal Certificate Program, titled “Pathways from Source to Sea — How Gardens Can Make the Connection.” It will take place in March at Connecticut College in New London.

A series of four evening classes with a field trip, students will learn about coastal environmental issues, rethinking their lawns, creating native plant habitats and designing with nature and Long Island Sound in mind. Led by Judy Preston, Long Island Sound outreach coordinator for Connecticut Sea Grant, the program will feature multiple guest speakers giving presentations about how home gardens can help connect and restore vital pathways used by countless wildlife species, from the inlands to the Sound. Students do not have to be Master Gardeners to take the class.

Students of the program are encouraged to become ambassadors of alternatives to nutrient and chemically intensive landscaping practices for Connecticut coastal and watershed residents, through an outreach component designed to spread the word through projects, educational materials and other activities.

The classes will meet from 6 to 9 p.m. on March 9, 11, 23 and 25 in Room 101 of New London Hall at the college, 270 Mohegan Ave. The class is limited to 35 students.

The program is sponsored by Connecticut Sea Grant, the Long Island Sound Study, the UConn Master Gardener Program, the UConn College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources and the Connecticut College Arboretum. Now in its ninth year, the Coastal Certificate Program is the subject of an article titled “Gardening for the bees, butterflies and birds” is featured in the Fall-Winter 2019-20 issue of Wrack Lines magazine. The article can be found here.

Registration is available by visiting: https://mastergardener.uconn.edu and going to the Garden Master Course Catalog.

Registration is also available by visiting: https://uconnmastergardeners.gosignmeup.com/Public/Course/Browse

A pdf of the course flyer can be downloaded here.

For information, contact: Paul Armond at: Paul.Armond@uconn.edu; or Judy Preston at: Judy.Preston@uconn.edu or at: (860) 395-0465.

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. Like many detergents, 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. Download a copy of this article at http://bit.ly/HomePesticide.

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

Applications Open for FoodCorps CT

FoodCorps service member banner photo

Are you ready to #serveupchange in your community? Apply now for a year of service with FoodCorps Connecticut! The deadline is March 15, but aim to submit early: we’re reviewing applications on a rolling basis. Go to http://foodcorps.org/apply to apply yourself (or share this post with a leader who shares our passion for healthy food in schools!)

Celebrate 40 Years of the UConn Extension Master Gardener Program

Master Gardener banner photo
UConn Extension’s Master Gardener Program is celebrating 40 years of transforming academic research into practical gardening skills and techniques that everyone can use. The program sprouted in 1978 from the roots of the founding program at Washington State University. The program instructs participants in science-based horticulture practices and garden management, after which students apply their knowledge by engaging in community education, including lectures, educational displays, demonstrations and plant clinics, and various outreach projects throughout Connecticut.

Nancy Ballek Mackinnon of Ballek’s Nursery and Nancy DuBrule-Clemente of Natureworks are both presenting at a 40thAnniversary Celebrationof the UConn Extension Master Gardener Program on Monday, November 12thfrom 5:30-7:30 PM at the Pond House Café in West Hartford. Tickets are $75 per person and includes the presentations, small bites, door prizes, and a $50 donation to the UConn Extension Master Gardener program. The goal is to raise $40,000 to celebrate 40 years of wonderful work through several initiatives.

“We are marking the occasion in a few ways, but we’re really using the moment to look ahead to the next forty years,” says Sarah Bailey, state coordinator and Hartford County coordinator for the Master Gardener Program. “We love what we do and want to continue helping people of all ages learn and discover the joys of gardening and the natural world.”

Master Gardener’s outreach efforts are unique to each county and help meet local needs, often providing food to soup kitchens, food banks and residents living in food

students in garden
Nathan Hale students care for a garden bed.

deserts. UConn Extension Master Gardeners predominately work in community and school gardens and on farms and wildlife management areas, teaching crop selection and management practices to children and adults. In Pomfret, Windham County Master Gardeners care for People’s Harvest, a 15,000 square foot community garden that produces vegetables for area soup kitchens. People’s Harvest is popular with youth groups in the region, who learn about sustainable agricultural methods and food security from the volunteers. At Camp Harkness in Waterford, Master Gardener interns and volunteers practice horticulture therapy with adults with disabilities. Master Gardeners frequently attend farmers’ markets, fairs and other local events, eager to share their knowledge with the public.

Along with the certification process, the program offers Garden Master Classes, which allow further educational training. These classes are also open to the public,

providing instruction on gardening and a variety of related topics. The impact of their work has increased over time. In 2017, 574 Master Gardeners completed a total of 33,609 hours of service to communities and residents, compared to 23,500 hours in 2013. The restructured certification class debuting in January aims to create an even more robust and diverse group of Master Gardeners.

“The Master Gardener Program was founded to meet public need and encouraged individuals to participate. We’re continuing those traditions by growing as our audience changes,” says Bailey.

Tickets for the 40thAnniversary Celebration are available at http://s.uconn.edu/4hcor by contacting Amber Guilllemette at Amber.Guillemette@uconn.eduor 860-486-7178. To learn more about the UConn Extension Master Gardener program visit MasterGardener.UConn.edu.

Text by Jason Sheldon for UConn Extension

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.