master gardener

Getting Started with Vegetable Gardening

It’s exciting for those of us who are already passionate about gardening to see the recent interest in vegetable gardens. Seed companies have been doing a great business. Every winter I love to browse seed catalogs and gardening websites and dream about the perfect garden. There is a special joy in eating something you grew yourself, it is convenient to have fresh food at hand, and you can even save money.

While there are wonderful benefits of growing your own food, it can also be challenging. How can you be successful from the beginning? Where can you turn for reliable science-based information? UConn Extension has numerous resources available online and you can reach out to any of our nine Master Gardener offices around the state with questions.

Before you spend money on seeds, plants or fancy tools, ask yourself if you can provide the basics of adequate sun, soil, and water. Without at least 6-8 hours of sun, few vegetables can thrive. Similarly, if your soil pH is not in the correct range, plants struggle to get nutrients from the soil. Finally, you should have a way to easily water your new vegetable garden if it does not get at least an inch of rain per week.

As long as you can provide enough sun, a yard isn’t necessary. Container gardening is an easy way to get started without a big commitment. Make sure the container is deep enough for the roots to grow and look for dwarf varieties that will be happy with less room to grow. See the container gardening section for more information.

Consider creating a small raised bed in a sunny area. A few tomato plants, 2 or 3 cucumber plants, lettuce, radishes, and basil fit in a 4 x 8-foot raised bed. Purchased garden soil eliminates the need to dig.  Remember to allow space between plants so air can circulate and reduce the chance of disease. If deer, rabbits, and other animals are a problem, you can use netting and stakes to create a simple fence around the bed.

As a beginning gardener, start small so that you aren’t overwhelmed by weeds, insects, other potential problems, or your aching muscles. Grow what you like to eat. I grew Swiss chard for several years because the foliage is colorful, but I don’t actually like to eat it! Consider choosing plants with fewer pest or disease problems. Cool season vegetables like radishes and lettuce grow quickly from seeds planted in the garden and they have few pests. Soil should be at least 40 degrees and not too wet. Beans can also be direct sown in the garden, but watch out for Japanese, Cucumber, and Mexican Bean beetles. Luckily, hand picking insect pests is manageable in a small garden. Home grown tomatoes are delicious, but they are susceptible to disease and take a long time to mature. Seeds must be started indoors 6 weeks before the last frost date (average of mid-May in CT) or you can buy plants to put in the ground in early June. Warm season vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant need warm soil (at least 60 degrees) to thrive so don’t start too early.  Whether you grow from seed or plants, keep track of when you plant and how it grows.  This can be as easy as taking pictures with your phone.

Welcome to the world of gardening!

Article by Michelle Winkler, Litchfield County Extension Master Gardener Coordinator

Common Garden Mistakes

vegetable sprouting out of soil with words common garden problems written on the photoMistakes are a great learning tool, but they also can dampen any enthusiasm for a new project. When early mistakes compound problems further down the road, they can turn someone away from a pastime that offers great satisfaction, healthy activities and a renewed appreciation of the natural world around us.

So, if you are just starting on the gardening odyssey, let’s look at how to avoid a few common mistakes. Avoiding these trouble spots will make gardening easier, much more productive – and fun!

There are three main components to consider when starting out: sun, soil and water. In simpler terms, location, location, location. If you provide your garden the right combination of these three items, you sidestep many problems that can occur as the growing season progresses. These concepts apply to both vegetable and ornamental gardening, and to any specific type of plant you want to grow.

Let’s start with sun. Different plants have different light needs. Plants are categorized as sun, part sun/part shade and shade – but what do those labels mean? Here’s the breakdown. Full sun means at least six to eight hours of full sunlight a day and you start calculating that after 10 AM. Early morning sunlight isn’t considered strong enough to be included in your calculations.

Part sun/part shade is four to six hours of sun daily and anything less than four is considered shady. Make these calculations after the trees have leafed out in the spring; the sunlight in your yard shifts from winter to summer.

Your soil is the foundation of your garden, both literally and figuratively. It provides support, nutrients and water to your plants. Just like humans, different types of plants have different preferences in nutrition and water. Find out what you can provide and choose plants that will thrive in those conditions. First and foremost, if the site is new to you, or it’s been at least five years since the last one, get a soil test. Find out what you do – and don’t – need to add to your soil. Soil tests are available from the UConn soil lab at http://www.soiltest.uconn.edu/sampling.php

You can amend your soil with additional nutrients and elements, but it’s difficult to significantly change water-holding capacity. The test will help you determine how well your soil holds or drains water, allowing you to choose plants that are happiest in those conditions. Observation will also tell you a lot: how quickly does an area drain after a rainstorm? Is it wet is spring, but dry in the summer? Is it always damp?

A related issue is access to water. While an established plant in the right location may not need any supplemental water, both vegetable gardens and newly planted ornamentals will. Is it easy to get water to this area? Do you need to develop a water storage system, such as rain or water barrels? Or is another location really a better overall choice?

Once you know the characteristics of your space, you can then choose plants that will do well in that location without a great deal of extra work. The old phrase ‘Right Plant, Right Place’ is a valid one. Don’t try to significantly alter the location for a favorite plant that really isn’t right for the spot. It will only lead to frustration and poor results. Instead, find plants that like your location and choose from those. Let your gardening provide a positive experience!

For answers to your gardening questions, go to https://mastergardener.uconn.edu/ask-us-a-question/  . We’ll be happy to help!

Article by Sarah Bailey, UConn Extension State Master Gardener Coordinator

Job Opening: Tolland County Master Gardener Coordinator

pink roses in a natural garden in West Hartford
Roses in a garden in West Hartford. Photo: Max Pixel
The UConn Extension Master Gardener Program is seeking applications for the position of Master Gardener Tolland County Program Coordinator. This is a 16‐hour‐per‐week position and is a temporary, six‐month appointment. Renewal is optional pending coordinator review and availability of program funding.
 

Still Time to Apply to Become a UConn Extension Master Gardener

STILL TIME TO APPLY TO BECOME A UCONN EXTENSION MASTER GARDENER –

APPLICATION DEADLINE IS FRIDAY, OCTOBER 18.

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

The deadline to apply for the 2020 Master Gardener program is this Friday, October 18. There are still some seats available. Go to https://mastergardener.uconn.edu/2019-uconn-extension-mast…/ to either apply online or download a paper version. This session we’ll be offering a Saturday class, to be held in Vernon, along with weekday classes in Torrington, New Haven, Norwich and Stamford. Classes begin in January!

UConn Extension Master Gardeners have an interest in plants, gardening, people and the environment.  Specifically, they are willing to share their knowledge, passion and enthusiasm with their communities, providing research-based information to homeowners, students, gardening communities and others. They receive horticultural training from UConn, and then share that knowledge with the public through community volunteering and educational outreach efforts. UConn Master Gardeners help with community and museum gardens, school gardens, backyard projects, houseplant questions and more.

“The Master Gardener Program opened my eyes to the wonderful world of horticulture, gardening, and the fragile ecosystem we Master Gardener logoshare with animals and insects,” says Pat Sabosik of Hamden, who completed the program in 2017.

The program is presented in a hybrid class format with three to four hours of online work before each of the 16 weekly classes, followed by a half-day classroom session. Classes run from 9 AM to 1 PM. New this year is a weekend session which will be held in Vernon on Saturdays.

“The combination of in-depth classroom learning with subject matter experts, extensive reading materials, and hands-on projects and outreach experiences is a good balance of learning experiences”, says Anne Farnum who also took the class in 2017.

Classes begin the week of January 6, 2020. Subject matter includes basic botany, plant pathology, soils, entomology and lectures on other aspects of gardening, plant groups, and pest management. Lectures and reading are combined with hands-on classroom experience. After the classroom portion, students complete 60 hours of outreach experience during the summer.

The program fee is $450.00, and includes all needed course materials. Partial scholarships may be available, based on demonstrated financial need.

For more information, call the UConn Extension Master Gardener office at 860-409-9053 or visit the UConn Extension Master Gardener website at: www.mastergardener.uconn.edu , where both the on-line and paper application can be found.

Master Gardeners Help Community with Peoples Harvest Garden

  • vegetables in a row in the garden

The Peoples Harvest Garden in Pomfret is just one of the tremendous projects that UConn Extension Master Gardeners and UConn Extension support and participate in. The garden was started by the Windham County Master Gardeners in 2005, is still going strong, and all produce grown is donated to local kitchens that serve those in need. Typical totals for the season are between three and four thousand pounds of fresh produce. The garden serves as a demonstration project for food security an a destination for local schools to volunteer. Using natural practices, shoestring budget, and a lot of effort- the garden also demonstrates effective use of pollinator pathways and proper cultural practices for vegetable crops. 

 

Apply to Become a UConn Extension Master Gardener

APPLY TO BECOME A UCONN EXTENSION MASTER GARDENER –

APPLICATION DEADLINE IS OCTOBER 18.

Master Gardener logoGarden harvests are underway, and it’s a great time to plan ahead for next year. Apply now for the 2020 UConn Extension Master Gardener Program. Classes will be held in Vernon, New Haven, Norwich, Torrington and Stamford. The deadline for applications is Friday, October 18, 2019.

UConn Extension Master Gardeners have an interest in plants, gardening, people and the environment. Specifically, they are willing to share their knowledge, passion and enthusiasm with their communities, providing research-based information to homeowners, students, gardening communities and others. They receive horticultural training from UConn, and then share that knowledge with the public through community volunteering and educational outreach efforts. UConn Master Gardeners help with community and museum gardens, school gardens, backyard projects, houseplant questions and more.

“The Master Gardener Program opened my eyes to the wonderful world of horticulture, gardening, and the fragile ecosystem

Photo: Molly Deegan

we share with animals and insects,” says Pat Sabosik of Hamden, who completed the program in 2017.

The program is presented in a hybrid class format with three to four hours of online work before each of the 16 weekly classes, followed by a half-day classroom session. Classes run from 9 AM to 1 PM. New this year is a weekend session which will be held in Vernon on Saturdays.

“The combination of in-depth classroom learning with subject matter experts, extensive reading materials, and hands-on projects and outreach experiences is a good balance of learning experiences”, says Anne Farnum who also took the class in 2017.

Classes begin the week of January 6, 2020. Subject matter includes basic botany, plant pathology, soils, entomology and lectures on other aspects of gardening, plant groups, and pest management. Lectures and reading are combined with hands-on classroom experience. After the classroom portion, students complete 60 hours of outreach experience during the summer.

The program fee is $450.00, and includes all needed course materials. Partial scholarships may be available, based on demonstrated financial need.

For more information, call the UConn Extension Master Gardener office at 860-409-9053 or visit the UConn Extension Master Gardener website at: www.mastergardener.uconn.edu , where both the on-line and paper application can be found.

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

Join us for a Garden Party

Garden party invite graphic with logo

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

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

Susan Saint James Home*
Litchfield, CT

Speaking program includes:

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

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

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

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

Plant Sales on May 18th

Fairfield Plant Sale flyer Windham Plant Sale flyer

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

Join Us for #UConnGives

UConn Gives logo

UConn Gives is BACK for year two. And we need your help to grow our programs, and continue serving Connecticut communities. Put your paws in by supporting UConn 4-H, the UConn Extension Master Gardener Program, the 4-H Sports and Nutrition program, or the Natural Resources Conservation Academy on March 27-28, 2019. 

Extension program collage

All four of these programs work in communities statewide, and we need your help to increase their impact. Please consider donating $1 (or more) to the program(s) of your choice.

#AllPawsIn