Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

2015 Search for Excellence Awards – Youth — 1st Place Winner

Wednesday, January 13th, 2016

“The Misadventures of Peter Rabbit in Farmer McGregor’s Vegetable Garden”

Farmer McGregor and Peter RabbitEntering its sixth year, “The Misadventures of Peter Rabbit in Farmer McGregor’s Vegetable Garden,” an interactive and educational puppet show, presented by the Sussex County Master Gardeners, Delaware Cooperative Extension, has reached more than 9,000 children, primarily in the five- to eight-year-old age groups. Older children and adults also indicate they have learned something.

Sussex County is Delaware’s most rural, agricultural county. Even though our children are surrounded by farms, most kids know little about where their food comes from. “Are those vegetables real?” is a question we regularly hear from kids. Many children have never held a raw potato, do not know that potatoes grow under the ground, and often do not realize that French fries are potatoes. Additionally, Sussex County has an increasingly multicultural, diverse population, and there are a large variety of ways vegetables are prepared in their homes.

Inspired, but very loosely based on the Beatrix Potter version, this typically 30-minute presentation focuses on bits of botany, agriculture, food culture, nutrition, entomology, and Integrated Pest Management (IPM). However, it is quite different from the book we all know. When Peter is tricked by Ripley Rat (he’s not a Beatrix Potter character) and loses his money to Ripley, he faces a moral dilemma until he is convinced by Ripley it is okay to help himself to Farmer McGregor’s vegetables.

The interactive show then focuses on Farmer McGregor, a look-alike Master Gardener, talking with the children about how vegetables are grown and the parts of the vegetable plants we eat. The children learn the “fruits of the vine” (tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers), the leafy vegetables (cabbage, lettuce, greens), the roots, tubers, and bulbs (carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions), the seeds (corn, beans, peas), and the flowers (broccoli and cauliflower).

Peter interacts with the children about the nutritional benefits and how the vegetables are prepared (cooked and raw, plain and seasoned, whole and shredded, alone or with other foods). Peter Rabbit Georgetown Farmer and Foodie Festival


A busy bee talks about gathering nectar and pollen for the hive, and both the bee and a beautiful butterfly talk about the importance of pollination. A ladybug beetle and a Japanese beetle talk about whether they are “good” or “bad” bugs in the garden, and a large predator, a praying mantis, dispatches a Japanese beetle.


When Farmer McGregor returns to find his vegetables gone, the audience admits that Peter stole his vegetables. McGregor threatens to make bunny burgers out of Peter, and a chase scene erupts which the children thoroughly enjoy. The show concludes with Peter admitting his transgression to Farmer McGregor and wishing to work to pay him back. They jointly open an organic vegetable farm stand. Even Ripley Rat is convinced that vegetables are better than candy and “all’s well that ends well.”


Everyone gets a sticker emblazoned with Peter’s picture and “I love vegetables”

The Peter Rabbit players perform in the Peter Rabbit garden in the Sussex County Demonstration Garden, at libraries, schools, 4-H clubs and other youth groups, daycare centers, farmers markets, churches, garden clubs, community festivals, and anywhere else there are children who love a good story and willingly eat their vegetables.


The props are lightweight and portable for “on the road” shows. The backdrop features a photo of the painted fence behind the Peter Rabbit garden in our Demonstration Garden. It’s supported by a simply-made PVC pipe structure for both inside and outside performances. At times, a long table laden with vegetables invites the children to “Please Touch the Vegetables” or in smaller venues, children sit in a circle and the vegetables are passed around. In between shows at festivals, Farmer McGregor, Peter Rabbit, and other puppeteers roam the grounds handing out tickets (produced by a simple Word document) with the show times listed to encourage the children to attend.


Costs are minimal with volunteer time and effort. Also included with the script is basic budget information: $100.00 will buy enough puppets to start. $200.00 will buy a menagerie. A backdrop is not necessary, but the cost is around $170.00. Peter Rabbit Georgetown Farmer and Foodie FestivalTo build the PVC pipe support is around $50.00. Stickers could be printed on a home computer or thousands can be ordered for a few hundred dollars. Fresh vegetables and gas money for each performance are minimal.


Part of the fun is to ad-lib. All you really need are a few Master Gardeners who enjoy children.



For More Information: Contact Tammy Schirmer at (302) 856-2585, extension 544 or
Cooperative Extension  programs and policies are consistent with federal and state laws and regulations on non-discrimination regarding race, sex, religion, age, color, creed, national or ethnic origin; physical, mental or sensory disability; marital status, sexual orientation, or status as a Vietnam-era or disabled veteran. Evidence of noncompliance may be reported through your local Cooperative Extension Office.

2015 Search for Excellence Awards – Youth — 2nd Place Winner

Wednesday, January 6th, 2016

“Garden Candy” A Kindergarten Tomato Planting Project

The Kindergarten Tomato Planting Project has evolved since 2011 when our local hospital (Fisher-Titus Medical Center) invited the Huron County Ohio Master Gardener volunteers to help kindergarteners plant a vegetable to grow at home. garden candy 1This project culminated the hospital’s year long lessons presented in their program called “Game On: The Ultimate Wellness Challenge.” This wellness challenge was designed to help alleviate our county’s major health concerns of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. As Master Gardeners, we used this opportunity to help the children discover that healthy eating can be delicious and that growing their own vegetable can be fun. The vegetable we chose was a sweet, cherry tomato (Basket Boy) which is just the right size for a child to pick and eat. This program started in a small way with just one school. Each year the project grew so that in 2014 we met with a total of 625 students in 23 different classrooms. Those who replicate this program can expect to see smiles, smudges, and the delighted grins of children. The children enjoyed participating in a hands-on planting experience and could look forward to snatching a piece of “Garden Candy” during the summer.

garden candy 2The Master Gardeners conducted a thirty minute program with each kindergarten class. During those thirty minutes, we taught the life cycle of a tomato plant, gave directions and instructions for taking care of a tomato plant, and helped students at different stations plant, water, and package the tomato seedling to take home. Those waiting to plant were engaged by listening to the book Oh, No Monster Tomato by Jim Helmore and Karen Hall and singing an original Master Gardener tomato song. To conclude the program, the students recited the solemn pledge: “I promise…to take care of my tomato plant… to give it water…plenty of sunshine…and to check on it every day. “ We know the impact of this project will be ongoing throughout the students’ lives, and we did indeed help them “GROW!” garden candy 3

2015 Search for Excellence Awards – Workshop — 2nd Place Winner

Wednesday, December 30th, 2015

East Austin Garden Fair

What is the East Austin Garden Fair?

The East Austin Garden Fair is a free annual community outreach event designed to engage the whole family in learning about horticulture in a fun, festive and relaxed setting. Educational offerings are geared toward low-income residents of traditionally minority, under-resourced East Austin, with an emphasis on creative, low-cost “do-it-yourself” solutions, interactive learning, managing limited resources and making positive health choices. Master Gardeners offer University-based information to fairgoers on a diverse variety of horticulture topics, while partner organizations provide information on closely-related community services, programs and projects.

Travis County Master Gardener Sue Nazar gives a demonstration on backyard beekeeping at the 2013 East Austin Garden Fair. (File photo courtesy of Texas AgriLife Extension - Horticulture - Travis County

Travis County Master Gardener Sue Nazar gives a demonstration on backyard beekeeping at the 2013 East Austin Garden Fair.
(File photo courtesy of Texas AgriLife Extension – Horticulture – Travis County

What can fairgoers see, do and learn at the East Austin Garden Fair?

Fairgoers can visit booths to get information, ask questions and share ideas, participate in hands-on demonstrations on building a rain barrel, raised bed or compost bin, and learn about waterwise irrigation methods and gardening in containers and straw bales. Kids can build a bird or bug house, make a herb sachet, recycled seed pot or seed ball, play seed identification games, and learn about good bugs and bad bugs. Booths on backyard chickens and beekeeping are a big hit with all ages. During the fair, interpreters circulate through the crowd to accommodate hearing-impaired and Spanish-speaking attendees. After completing an exit survey, attendees may choose a free vegetable seedling to take home, to encourage continued interest in horticulture and healthful eating.


Booth topics include:

  • Healthy eating, cooking, canning and preserving
  • Drought, rainwater collection, firewise landscaping and irrigation
  • Composting, recycling coffee grounds and vermiculture
  • Attracting birds, bees and butterflies
  • Backyard chickens and beekeeping
  • Community gardens, food forests and farmers markets
  • Food banks and temporary assistance for needy families
  • Growing fruit, herbs and vegetables
  • Growing native and adapted plants

Who plans the fair and how is it put together?

The fair is a wholly-owned project of the Travis County Master Gardeners Association under the direction of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension’s Horticulture Agent for Travis County and her assistant. Master Gardeners utilize three online tools (Volunteer Management System, SignUp Genius, Yahoo! Groups listserv) and two in-person meetings to plan and execute the fair each spring. A total of 89 Master Gardeners participated in 2013 and 2014, by developing a booth or demonstration that matched their area of expertise, or in a support capacity.

4-H Capital Youth Gardening Specialist Meredith O’Reilly (green shirt) and Travis County Master Gardener Ally Stresing (blue shirt) discuss backyard chickens with fairgoers at the 2014 East Austin Garden Fair. (File photo courtesy of Texas AgriLife Extension - Horticulture - Travis County/Caroline Homer)

4-H Capital Youth Gardening Specialist Meredith O’Reilly (green shirt) and Travis County Master Gardener Ally Stresing (blue shirt) discuss backyard chickens with fairgoers at the 2014 East Austin Garden Fair. (File photo courtesy of Texas AgriLife Extension – Horticulture – Travis County/Caroline Homer)

An outreach event of this size and scope would not be possible without ongoing input and support from our community partners. These organizations have experience, interest and expertise in community outreach, environmental issues, food and nutrition, gardening, health promotion, home improvement, and sustainability. In 2013 and 2014, we partnered with food banks and food assistance programs, community gardening programs and garden clubs, farmers markets, composting advocates, local health organizations, grocers and retailers. We also partnered with local AmeriCorps, Texas 4-H, and Master Wellness volunteers, in addition to two City of Austin departments: Watershed Protection, and Parks and Recreation. Our partners helped us promote the East Austin Garden Fair through email, radio, community newsletters, flyers and posters.

Funding for this free event comes from Master Gardener association dues, book sales and admission fees from a biennial garden tour. TCMGA budgeted $500 per year for supplies, signs, water and snacks, and came in under budget both years. Annually, Travis County AgriLife Extension covered printing costs of $300 and $125 for food to feed hungry volunteers. All other expenses were covered through donations from partner organizations.

How does the East Austin Garden Fair impact the community?

In 2013 and 2014 combined, Master Gardeners offered over 50 educational booths, activities and interactive demonstrations to over 900 fairgoers. A little over half of those who attended the fair were people of color. Most fairgoers reported they learned something new (95%), found the information understandable (95%), and expected to use what they learned to improve their health (93%).

Master Gardeners installed a raised-bed vegetable garden and a butterfly garden for community use and future fair demonstrations at East Austin’s Parque Zaragosa Recreation Center, the site for the 2013 and 2014 fairs.  Master Gardeners cultivated over 500 herb and vegetable seedlings each year to distribute to fairgoers, and gave away a rain barrel both years.

Exit surveys from fairgoers guide the planning committee’s focus the following year to ensure our outreach remains timely, relevant and specific to the East Austin community.

For more information, visit the Central Texas Horticulture website.

2015 Search for Excellence Awards – Workshop — 3rd Place Winner

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2015

Seed to Supper

Seed to Supper is a joint program of the Oregon Food Bank and the Oregon State University Extension Service Master Gardener Program.

Hunger and food security are issues that all communities face. Buying seeds and starts to grow can increase a family’s access to nutritious food. But unfortunately, many people lack the skills or confidence to plant and tend a garden.

Seed to Supper is a comprehensive, 5-week beginning gardening course that gives novice, adult gardeners the tools they need to successfully grow a portion of their own food on a limited budget.

A 96-page workbook was written as a resource for participants to use during and after the class. It contains researched-based information in the areas of

  • Garden site and soil development
  • Garden planning
  • Garden planting
  • Maintaining the garden
  • Harvesting and using your bounty

Because classes are often taught during the cool months prior to the gardening season, in locations that do not have access to a garden, five PowerPoints have been developed to help assisting in the teaching of the material. They follow the five chapters of the workbook and provide a visually stimulating method for teaching outside the actual garden.

The PowerPoints also provide a method to insure quality control from class to class, as different volunteers serve in the roles as garden educators.

While the workbook and PowerPoints provide for a consistent program, Seed to Supper has been designed to be flexible. In their role as gardening educators, teams of Master Gardeners modify the curriculum to meet the needs of their individual audiences. They have changed the number of days taught, added hands-on activities, brought tools as visual aids and grown starts to help people get their gardens started.

After the 2013 pilot year the Seed to Supper program was edited to a more accessible reading level and translated into Spanish to help us engage a more diverse audience.

The programs adaptability and popularity can be seen in the fact that it has spread from the tri-county Portland area where it started in 2013 to being taught in 15 counties this year.

For more information on the Seed to Supper program you can go to the program’s website hosted by the Oregon Food Bank.


Submitted by Lynn Cox, Washington County Oregon Master Gardener

2015 Search for Excellence Awards – Special Needs — 1st Place Winner

Wednesday, December 16th, 2015
2 Camp Woodchuck at Demo Garden

2 Camp Woodchuck at Demo Garden

Accessible Gardening for Life

Master Gardeners from Sedgwick County in Wichita, Ks have been busy working  with people of all ages and “abilities” teaching them the many benefits of gardening.  Several Master Gardeners built wheelchair height garden beds making gardening more accessible for many.  Some of these beds are on site and are being used in our demo. garden by clients from various agencies.  Some of the special raised beds have been donated to various groups to use at their facilities.   Another master gardener drew up the design plans for these accessible beds and a pamphlet was published so the public could build their own.

What started with a Workshop for Activity Directors entitled Accessible Gardening for Life has led to new opportunities for us to work with a variety of groups and skill levels.  Several times during the spring and summer we work directly with clients from Assisted Living Facilities and Day Programs helping them select, plant and grow flowers and vegetables.  At one of the facilities, we will have a “Tasting Party” with the clients,  sampling the vegetables they have grown.

Master Gardeners are involved in a Community Garden working with developmental and intellectual “differently-abled” adults.  Time in the garden is “hand on learning” for the clients.  We work together teaching them to water, weed, plant and grow a variety of vegetables and flowers.

2015 Search for Excellence Awards – Innovative Projects — 1st Place Winner

Wednesday, November 25th, 2015

Plant Problem Scenario Training

It takes a while for many Master Gardeners to become comfortable and proficient in face-to-face dealings with clients.  Some never do.  We recognized the need for improved training methods in this area and so, in 2011 Benton County (Oregon) Master Gardeners formed the Plant Problem Scenario Committee and developed a creative new program which uses veteran Master Gardeners playing roles as clients with small groups of trainees.

In order to standardize our message and our delivery, the committee developed notebooks  containing 50 scenarios, taken from the most common complaints found in the Benton County Master Gardener records and adapted them as problems that clients would bring to a Master Gardener table in a request for assistance.

In 2014, the fourth year of the Plant Problem Scenario training, we provided 45 minutes of training on seven Master Gardener training days, from January to March.  Each day the class was split into nine groups of four trainees each and two veterans served as their role-playing clients.

Each scenario, as presented by the role-playing veteran, begins with a request for assistance, much like a Master Gardener might receive while seated at a help desk at the Saturday Market.  The veteran will follow with a slightly more involved description to get the trainees started in the right direction.

A series of questions an experienced Master Gardener might ask are provided as a helpful guide for the role-playing veteran, who may not have personal experience with the problem being discussed.  Depending upon the queries posed by the group of trainees, the veteran may offer one or more of the prepared questions to help guide their search. group photo

It is important to emphasize that a correct diagnosis of the problem is not our goal and in fact, we discourage trainees who recognize the problem from sharing their opinions early in the process. The correct conclusion will reveal itself if their questions lead them in the right direction, and if they are successful in using references. We do not allow the use of computers for the first three sessions; forcing the trainees to use and become familiar with the Pacific Northwest reference books. Computers are encouraged in the final four sessions.

In practice, the first couple of sessions only occasionally result in the correct diagnosis and the veterans have to provide the answer, but it is there that the foundation of insightful, deductive questioning is laid. Later in their Master Gardener training, the trainees usually discover the right diagnosis by their own efforts.

Pre and post-training surveys provided quantitative data about the effect of the training program. These data showed significant increases in the subjects’ confidence and personal evaluation of their own competence with regards to dealing face to face with members of the public. While the quantitative results are impressive, even more impressive are the subjective impacts. When given the opportunity to share their feelings of the Plant Problem Scenario training they’d received, every one of the respondents described the training in positive terms and several said it was the most effective part of the entire Master Gardener Training sequence.

In addition, in 2013 and 2014 between one-quarter and one-third of the MG Class participants have signed up to take part in the Plant Problem Scenario Training Committee in future years. They want to help pass on the training which has benefitted them so much.corn II Corn

The PPS Committee has been popular with veteran Master Gardeners because their own knowledge has been enhanced by their participation.

We have developed an on-line location where organizations and individuals can access and download the entire Plant Problem Scenario Training program at no cost. This also allows us to continue making updates or changes. The information is available at:

Researching Biochar

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

Now that the Extension Master Gardener biochar demonstration gardens 2014 annual report is finished, what have we learned?


Since 2012, University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners and Iowa State Master Gardeners have been helping researchers answer the question: “Is biochar (charred organic matter) a good soil amendment for home gardens?” To do that, Extension Master Gardener volunteers have been testing the productivity of vegetables and flowers in gardens amended with biochar at four sites in Minnesota and three sites in Iowa.


Each year, the demonstration gardens are planted with common vegetable and bedding plants such as tomatoes, green bell peppers, cucumbers, potatoes, zinnias, salvia, chrysanthemums and roses. Arb planting day - blogMaster Gardeners and youth volunteers maintain the gardens throughout the season, and Master Gardeners take growth and yield measurements at designated times. Results are compared across sites to help determine the effects of biochar, which was applied to all but each garden’s control plot in the first year of the project. No additional biochar applications have been made, and no additional organic amendments have been used in order to gauge the effect of biochar as a stand-alone additive.




2014 was the third of four years that Master Gardeners will be involved in what is known as the CenUSA Bioenergy project. Led by Ken Moore at Iowa State University, the five-year project includes institutions in several states and is funded by the USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture. The aim is to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil, as well as greenhouse gas emissions while increasing local renewable energy. (More information can be found at Iowa State’s website:


Written by Lynne Davenport-Hagen, CenUSA Biochar Research and Display Garden project coordinator, and Julie Weisenhorn, associate extension professor at the University of Minnesota, the 2014 annual report shows mixed three-year results. While there were notable growth differences in some plants, others seemed unaffected by biochar. For example, chrysanthemums appeared more robust in plots amended with biochar while shrub roses showed no significant differences.


One of the things that does seem clear so far is that biochar appears to improve soil texture. Volunteers working in the wet spring soil reported that it was easier to plant in the amended plots than the control plots that contain no biochar. ARB Garden-blogThis was consistent across all of the sites, even though soil structure varies by location from sand to silt loam. Read on for a closer look at the results.


Variables to Consider

Each of the four demonstration gardens contain the same plants, as well as three plots: one with no biochar; one (TRT1) amended with 1/2 pound of biochar per square foot; and one (TRT2) amended with 1 pound of biochar per square foot. It appears that soil structure differences and other variables have had an effect on the data. For example, plants growing in the demonstration gardens at the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum and the University’s St. Paul campus were clearly more vigorous than those at the Bunker Hills Park site in Andover, Minnesota, and at the Brookston Community Center, Fond du Lac Tribal Community site in Cloquet, Minnesota.


This is most likely due to the first two sites having silt loam soils that better hold moisture and nutrients than the sandy soil at the other two locations. Nutrient deficiency was also evident at the Andover and Fond du Lac sites, which also may be attributable to sandy soil conditions. At all sites, Master Gardener volunteers worked hard to keep diseases, weeds and pest problems under control. No pesticides have been used at any of the demonstration gardens.


Last year, responding to community needs, the Fond du Lac tribal community Extension Master Gardeners worked with staff at the Brookston Community Center to create a gardening education program for youth. As part of that, youth were invited to help care for the demonstration garden and collect data. Before long, the garden became the focus of a 20-week-long Junior Master Gardener program developed by the Fond du Lac Master Gardeners. Students have enjoyed this change in direction, but because it may affect the research, data from this garden was not collected in the same way it was at the other three Minnesota sites.


A Look At the Results

Since the project aims to determine whether biochar would make a good amendment for home gardens, guidelines for data collection are based on growers’ recommended days-to-maturity. Using these optimal recommendations will make it more likely that data can be reasonably compared across sites.


About 35 Master Gardeners took data and recorded results in 2014, and though training was provided, it’s important to note that there are some inaccuracies due to individual interpretations and opinions. basil harvest 3-blogAlso contributing to problems with data collection were last year’s unusually cold, wet spring, as well as poor germination of some of the plants chosen for testing.


Tomatoes were the biggest surprise when it came to vegetables. Celebrity hybrid tomatoes in the control plots outperformed those growing in biochar-treated plots. This differs from 2013 data showing that tomatoes did best in the TRT1 plots compared with the control and TRT2 plots. Because of this inconsistency, it’s difficult to pinpoint whether biochar affects tomato productivity.


Basil appeared to grow better in TRT1 plots at Andover and the Arboretum. Overall, though, growth and yields were best in the TRT2 plots, particularly at the Andover site. Blue Lake bush beans did well in the TRT1 plots at Andover and the Arboretum, but yields were highest in the control plot on the St. Paul campus. This could be due to the plot’s location, which provides a warmer microclimate that allowed the beans to mature faster than they did at other locations.


The hybrid cucumber, Tasty Green, was tested in all four gardens in 2014, but patterns of growth were inconsistent. So the effects of biochar on the crop could not be determined. The soil amendment’s effect on the kale variety, Blue Curled Vates, also could not be determined. Black Seeded Simson lettuce and Sweet Treat carrots did not germinate well and both crops were considered a failure. No significant differences were noted between growth and yield of King Arthur hybrid bell peppers or the University of Minnesota’s new potato variety, ‘Runestone Gold’.


Data collected on ornamentals in the demonstration gardens included information on growth patterns, bloom and leaf color. ‘Victoria’ salvia and ‘Uproar Rose’ hybrid zinnia, for example, both showed better growth and leaf color in the biochar-amended plots at the Andover site. This may indicate biochar’s ability to help sandy soil retain moisture and nutrients.


Similar data is collected on perennials and while ‘Gold Country’ chrysanthemums did not do well at any site, the varieties ‘Betty Lou’ and ‘Maroon Pride’ appeared to do somewhat better in TRT1 plots over others. Inconsistent growth patterns of three varieties of shrub roses made it unclear whether biochar had any effect on those plants. Overall, when comparing data over the past three years, there do not seem to be significant and consistent benefits in yields or growth when plants are grown using biochar as a soil amendment.


Going Forward

Master Gardener engagement with the biochar project has been beneficial in many ways with volunteers getting firsthand experience with data collection, as well as the opportunity to participate in a high-profile research endeavor. Because the demonstration gardens are visible to the public, the project has also created a welcome occasion for talking about biochar, and many other topics, with gardeners and others who are interested in things like plants, food, soil and sustainability. In this last year of the project, the goal is to gather the most reliable data possible. A new online reporting system has already increased reporting accuracy.


Also of note, in September, 2015, the Extension Master Gardener teams from Minnesota and Iowa will receive the International Master Gardener Search for Excellence Award for their work on the biochar project. The award will be presented at the International Master Gardener Conference in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Though testing biochar for possible use in home gardens is just one small part of the overall USDA-sponsored research project, the results will help determine under what conditions biochar could be recommended as a soil amendment. With one more year to conduct the research, the Master Gardeners hope to see more patterns and consistencies developing.


—by Meleah Maynard, Hennepin County Master Gardener

Note: CenUSA Bioenergy is supported by Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant no. 2011-68005-30411 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

zinnias and salvia-blogmum-blog

A microcosm of microbes underfoot

Friday, April 10th, 2015

As we celebrate the International Year of Soils, we have to discuss the fact that soil is not just the mineral and organic matter (and air and soil) that we see.  Soil, well at least good soil, is a live and well, filled with all kinds of fauna.  There’s a huge microcosm of life underfoot, namely fungi and bacteria that have evolved over millions of years to live symbiotically with plants.  These microorganisms are necessary to sustain life on the planet- without them organic matter wouldn’t decompose to feed plants.

Rhizobia nodules on a legume root.

One specific set of bacteria live symbiotically with legumes by forming nodules on the legume’s roots.  These Rhizobia benefit from the plant, but also fix nitrogen from the atmosphere into ammonia that the plant can use.  Its a relationship that has developed over millions of years.  It can be a beneficial one for gardeners who want to add nutrients to the soil.

Read more about these bacteria in an article from blog contributor John Porter.



Contributor John Porter is an agriculture extension agent with West Virginia University Extension in Charleston, WV.  He writes a local weekly garden column called “The Garden Guru.”  You can find him on Twitter or on Facebook.

Wordless Wednesday – Year of Soils

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015

Terri James, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

ALmost Wordless Wednesday: The Earth Laughs…

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015

“The Earth Laughs in Flowers.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Below are just a few of the favorite blooms from gardeners across the country…  The return of spring and nearing arrival of the growing season is cause for much rejoice and laughter.


Climbing Pink Camellia courtesy of Judith Fuselier-Phillips

H.F. Young Clematis courtesy of Cheryl Day Lansdale

Peach Meringue Brugmansia courtesy of Jake Ouellete

Purple Iris courtesy of Judith Fuselier-Phillips

Amethyst Epiphyllum courtesy of Jake Ouellette


Magnolia courtesy of Angela Blue

Gerbera Daisy courtesy of Dorene Lee Harvey

Blood Lily Courtesy of Jan McMahon

Columbine courtesy of Sheila Gilliam-Landreth

Amaryllis courtesy of Eileen Hayzlett


Amaryllis courtesy of Cheryl Day Lansdale

Blooming Nectarine Tree courtesy of Terri Upchurch

Clematis courtesy of Briana Belden

Crocus courtesy of Lois Versaw

Dr. Ruppel Clematis courtesy of Jake Ouelette


 *The above images were shared with this blogger by members of the Facebook community

“The Self-Sustaining Seed Swappers”.