Posts Tagged ‘gardening’

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”.



Tips and Tricks of Yesteryear Gardening

Monday, March 23rd, 2015
Courtesy of

Courtesy of

Every gardener worth his or her salt probably has a few tried (if not true) gardening tips and tricks up their sleeve, passed down from a family member or learned over time… Perhaps something they read years ago, an old wives’ tale someone thought worthy of re-telling, or advice from an old neighbor.

Courtesy of

Courtesy of


Legend and Lore…

Modern science and the increased study of horticulture, botany and entomology have proven most of these proverbial gardening words of wisdom false. A few of these lessons passed from one green thumb to another do have some scientific merit, practical purpose and sound reasoning, though… Gardeners tend to their gardens in the manner that works for them, and would not so readily share instruction with others if such was not the case.

A few sage tips have proven effective over time and continue to be practiced by the seasoned gardener, but perhaps are not yet known to the newbie. Others have faded into gardening myth and legend. It is not recommended to try any of these tips without first researching each and do note that what may be good for one plant could be bad for another.


Pinterest has Nothing on the Past…!

Interesting gardening tidbits told over-and-over again include pouring a ring of gravel around bulbs when planting to discourage moles and other bulb-lovers from eating them, and placing pinecones in flower beds to deter cats from digging (a Pinterest modern-day take on this utilizes plastic forks instead of pinecones).

Violets are said to bloom longer and more luxuriously if rusty nails are added to nearby soil. Old pennies (newer pennies are not made from copper) in the garden will keep slugs away.  Slate in the soil will grow your hydrangeas blue. Broken terra-cotta pots in the soil are believed to be good for azaleas.

Gardeners have long been saving eggshells, coffee grounds, banana peels, and other kitchen scraps to add to their gardens.  Epson salt added to tomatoes and peppers will make them flourish. Ashes, banana peels, and teabag residue around roses is thought to nourish them.  Wood ash around fruit trees in the fall and winter will result in sweeter fruit, and wood ash or lime around lilacs will increase bloom. Pickle juice is good poured around gardenias, ferns, and cleyera. Beer has been used to trap and drown slugs and/or added to the soil around hollyhocks to promote growth.

Courtesy of

Courtesy of


Polyculture by Common Practice…

Forefathers of today’s “Companion Planting” include dill near tomatoes to discourage worms and radishes or spearmint near squash, acting as a natural insecticide. Growing alium and garlic chives near roses deter japanese beetles, and french marigolds in the garden keep bad bugs at bay.

Other gardeners advise to leave a few carrots overwintering in the ground so that they bloom the following spring. Carrot blooms resemble Queen Anne’s Lace and attract beneficial insects to the garden.


Planting by the Moon and Getting that Garden Started…

Courtesy of

Courtesy of

And as for gardening lore regarding the actual planting of a garden…?  Some say to plant food-bearing plants when the moon is waxing (increasing to a full moon) and ornamentals when the moon is waning (decreasing). Willow water or Aspirin is heralded as helpers for rooting starts, and cinnamon or chamomile tea and water sprayed on seedlings may deter damping off disease. Soaked cigarette tobacco in water (five cigarettes to a gallon of water) is reported to kill fungus and slugs on all non-food plants, and baking soda spray (one to five tablespoons per quart of water) is used as a fungal control.

And finally, an old saying reminds that when planting trees and shrubs; “The first year it sleeps, the second year it creeps, and the third year it leaps.”

A Visit to ‘Seed Savers Exchange-Heritage Farm’

Monday, March 16th, 2015

After work on Friday, September 26th, 2014 I drove 6.5 hours to Decorah, Iowa so that I could attend the ‘Seed Savers Exchange’ Fall Harvest School.  It was a long drive, but very well worth it.  The one-day workshop promised lessons on seed saving, fall gardening, canning, and fermentation.

Seed Savers' Heritage Farm

Seed Savers’ Heritage Farm

         A Beautiful Drive

Lilliam Goodman Visitors' Center

Lilliam Goodman Visitors’ Center

Unfortunately darkness had descended so I was unable to fully appreciate the scenery of my drive, nor did I get to enjoy the transition from the flat plains of southeast Nebraska to the glorious rolling hills and gentle mountains that awaited near Minnesota.

Starfire Signet Marigolds

Beautiful Orange Blossoms

Beautiful Orange Blossoms

Teaching Garden at Heritage Farm

Teaching Garden at Heritage Farm

Heaven on Earth

‘Heritage Farm’ is beyond beautiful and is the headquarters of ‘Seed Savers Exchange’. Located six miles north of Decorah, Iowa, the farm sits on 890 acres and boasts itself (according to the website) a “living museum of historic varieties”.  Thousands of heirlooms are grown organically on-site in the Preservation Gardens along with a Historic Orchard home to many near-extinct apple and grape varieties.  The farm is one of only two locations in North America where Ancient White Park Cattle may be seen.  Surrounded by stately cliffs and enormous pines, the rustic red barn and accompanying gardens looks a lot like paradise.

A Full Day of Lessons  

The Fall Workshop started bright and early with visitors from all over crowded in and around the ‘Lillian Goldman Visitors Center’.  Attendees were divided into smaller groups and the day’s schedule was broken down accordingly.

The first class I attended was on fermentation, a subject I knew absolutely nothing about.  The lecturing nutritionist shared recipes for homemade coleslaw, fermented beet juice, and many tips and tricks.

The second class was on seed saving.  Attendees were taken to the nearby teaching gardens, where we were instructed on how to harvest, save, and store seeds from beans, peas, melon, squash, and tomatoes.  We were given free-reign of the teaching gardens and allowed to harvest some seeds at-will.  Despite the gardening season obviously winding down and winter soon approaching, the teaching gardens were still gorgeous and I was exposed to so many new varieties of both flower and vegetable that I had never seen nor heard of before.  I went home with a few Radish and Dill seeds, some yellow Drumstick, Hungarian Blue Breadseed Poppy, and gorgeous burgundy Amaranth seeds, which can be enjoyed as both a cereal grain and as a garden ornamental.

Following lunch were classes on canning/food preservation and preparing the fall garden for the following spring.  Visitors saw demonstrations of proper bed clean-up and division of perennials, and discussed the use of nutrient-enriching cover crops.

Seed Shopping!!!  



Following the classes, this blogger lingered to talk with fellow attendees and like-minded gardeners, and patronized the ‘Visitors Center’ where all 2014 seed packets were on sale.  I somewhat maintained restraint and stuck to my shopping list, but did allow for several added varieties (They were on sale!) that I had fallen in love with on-site, which were displayed in the gardens.  I could not leave without having purchased seeds for the brilliant, tall ‘Purple Verbena’ that I had seen covered by masses of butterflies, nor could I leave without the ‘Black-Eyed Susan Vine’ and the prolific ‘Kiss-Me-Over-the-Garden Gate’, which will add an abundance of charm and cheery pink color to my front flower garden this coming season.

This blogger urges anyone able to visit the ‘Seed Savers Exchange-Heritage Farm’ to do so.  I left awed by the majestic beauty, inspired by the bountiful gardens, and determined to practice the art of seed saving as I was taught on that day.

Glorious Trees at Seed Savers


Please visit to learn more!

ALmost Wordless Wednesday: National Pi Day!

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015

Today, on National Pi Day (The day honoring a number which seems to go on forever) let us enjoy the infinite and timeless beauty found at Seed Savers’ Heritage Farm in Decorah, Iowa.

Pi has been been calculated to over one trillion digits beyond its decimal point… a number so large that most cannot conceive its enormity.

Seed Savers’ Heritage Farm

Seed Savers and other like-minded organizations work diligently to promote and preserve heirloom seeds and to prevent the inconceivable loss of centuries of plant genetics and gardening heritage.

Grandpa Ott's Morning Glories in full glory

Grandpa Ott’s Morning Glories

The birds and the bees love these beautiful blooms!

The birds and the bees love these beautiful blooms!

Dramatic yellow blooms of the Black-Eyed Susan Vine

Morning Glories growing against the Barn

Seed Swapping and the Social Media

Friday, March 6th, 2015
A just-opened "Round Robin" seed box that traveled from State-to-State.

A just-opened “Round Robin” seed box that traveled from State-to-State.

Seed sharing has evolved…

Sharing and trading seeds has gone from neighbor-to-neighbor and from family member-to-family member to stranger-to-stranger. No longer just passing seeds over a white picket fence or bringing them with you to the next community soup supper. With the advent of the internet and the rise of social media, the way we share and trade seeds has evolved dramatically these last few years.

Google “Seed Swap” and countless entries appear in seconds. From the ‘National Gardening Association’ Seed Swap website to the ‘Old Farmer’s Almanac’, hundreds of promises of seed trading and sharing beckon. Facebook itself is home to many seed trading sites.

Find it on Facebook!

The ‘Self-Sustaining Seed Swappers’ is one such nonprofit seed sharing site and is currently home to 132 members, chosen and invited to join the exclusive community of fellow gardeners and proven-worthy, reputable traders with solid trade history. The site is perhaps the “best of the best” and promotes the safest, most-welcome location for its’ members to meet online, swap stories, share seeds and so much more… Members who have joined the site looking to score a hard-sought, rare seed variety often end up not only with the longed-for seeds, but having created lasting friendships.


The amazing contents of a recent seed box that traveled a from participant-to-particpant.

The amazing contents of a recent seed box that traveled
from participant-to-particpant.

Gail Leonard started the group in mid 2014 for people living in Central Ohio, as Gail had noticed that there were no groups in her local area. Gail met Ashley Hafer on another site while trading Wisteria for Oleander. Ashley joined the group, the name changed, and the site grew larger as the group expanded to include traders that either Gail or Ashley had experienced excellent seed trades with in the past. Ashley noted that “(We) just wanted to share and trade with honest people!…” and that “Facebook is great because people are already using it; it’s free, it’s accessible from smartphones… and the benefits are numerous.  Not only are we swapping and sharing seeds to grow food and beautify our yards, but we are making amazing friendships!”


Just a few of the seeds this blogger has acquired via swapping and sharing over social media.

Just a few of the seeds this blogger has acquired via swapping and sharing over social media.

Ashley adds that since the group keeps their numbers small “it really has become a community. (We) celebrate birthdays, holidays, send get-well cards, thinking-of-you presents…” The group allows for individual trades, member-hosted contests and prize giveaways, “Round Robin” seed boxes, etc.

The ‘Great American Seed Swap/Trade Project’ is another Facebook seed trading site that has (at last count) 14,894 members and 8 administrators. All are welcome to join the group and it is a wonderful place to get started in the seed trade community. A beginner can join with no seeds to share and the generosity of fellow seed lovers will soon amount to many varieties of seed all for the price of a SASE (Self Addressed Stamped Envelope.)

For just a SASE (Self Addressed Stamped Envelope)…

If desiring to share excess seeds, it is advisable to request any interested parties to send a SASE (two stamps is the norm as any seed envelopes must be hand processed so as not to crush and damage the seeds inside.)  When mailing seeds,carefully wrap the seeds (contained in a small paper envelope or a plastic baggie) in bubblewrap and be sure to write either “hand cancel” or “hand stamp” on the envelope.

In this fashion, this blogger was able to go from having a few varieties of native perennial pollinator flower seeds to enough vegetable seeds to plant next year’s garden and share with countless others and a mind-boggling variety of annual flower seeds to experiment with.

With all that the internet and social media has to offer, sharing and trading seeds has never been so easy or fun and almost everyone can spread the gardening love with just a few clicks of the mouse!

Wordless Wednesday – Fall in The University of Arizona Maricopa County Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners’ Vegetable Demonstration Garden

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013
Fall in The University of Michigan Maricopa County Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners' vegetable demonstration garden, Phoenix, includes (from top left) Bitter Melon, Melokhiya (also Molokhiya), Chile pepper 'Fresno,' Rutabaga, Turnips, String Beans, Peanuts, dragonfly visitor, and a row of Chinese Cabbage 'Wong Bok,' Chinese Cabbage 'Qingdao 65,' & Bok Choy

Fall in The University of Arizona Maricopa County Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners’ vegetable demonstration garden, Phoenix, includes (from top left) Bitter Melon, Melokhiya (also Molokhiya), Chile pepper ‘Fresno,’ Rutabaga, Turnips, String Beans, Peanuts, dragonfly visitor, and a row of Chinese Cabbage ‘Wong Bok,’ Chinese Cabbage ‘Qingdao 65,’ & Bok Choy

Eileen Kane,
Maricopa County Master Gardener
University of Arizona Cooperative Extension

Master Gardeners and Food Day 2013!

Sunday, September 29th, 2013


Logo Food Day

Food Day Oct. 24, 2013

Food Day is a year-round nationwide celebration of and movement toward more healthy, affordable, and sustainable food culminating in a day of action on October 24 every year. Created by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest and driven by a diverse coalition of food movement leaders and citizens, Food Day aims to bring us closer to a food system with “real food” that is produced with care for the environment, animals, and the women and men who grow, harvest, and serve it. Food Day 2012, the 2nd annual celebration, featured more than 3,200 events in all 50 states!

This year, Food wants to reach 4,500 events! And Master Gardeners will be a huge help in reaching our goal. Let’s Get Cooking with Kids is the theme of this year’s Food Day in an effort to teach our children about nutrition and decrease childhood obesity. Gardening with kids is an important part of teaching kids where our food comes from and that fresh, unprocessed foods are the best for us. Not only that, but instilling a love of gardening will get kids away from the TV and computer and outdoors getting activity!

Food Day isn’t just for kids either! Getting adults involved with Food Day and educating them about our food system is just as important. Here are some ways the Master Gardeners can get involved in Food Day this year:


Get Involved

  • ·         Start a school garden
  • ·         Teach a kids class on growing, harvesting, and identifying fruits and vegetables

    Food Day 2013

    Photo credit: Mihline Zahoran

  • ·         Take kids on a garden or farm tour
  • ·         Have a fresh veggie taste test
  • ·         Apple and/or pumpkin picking

You can do similar things for adults, along with:

  • ·         Hosting a gleaning day
  • ·         Teaching a class on composting
  • ·         Teaching a class on winter gardening

Register Your Event

Any classes or events that you already have planned that involve food for the month of October can be a Food Day event! Just register your event on the Food Day website:


Food Day 2013

Photo credit: © 2012 Philip Greenberg

Molly Geppert is a Food Day fellow at Center for Science in the Public Interest. She has had a love of gardening from a young age, when she would grow pumpkins and sunflowers on the side of her home in Colorado. Two of her family members are Master Gardeners in Maryland and Florida. 

Exploring our Roots – A Short History of Extension and the Master Gardener Program

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013

(Editor’s note: Exploring our Roots is an excerpt first written by Bob Kellam for the North Carolina Extension Master Gardeners Volunteer Association Newsletter.  His preface is directed at members of the North Carolina Extension Master Gardener Association, but has relevance for all programs exploring the roots and connections between Extension and the Master Gardener program.}

Preface:  Those of you who attended last year’s conference in Asheville may remember the lively discussion we had at the membership meeting concerning the addition of “Extension” to the Association’s name.  I was struck by the number of Master Gardeners who wondered aloud why we would want to do that.  What does Extension have to do with the Master Gardeners anyway?  It occurred to me that, beyond the fact that our program is part of Cooperative Extension, my own understanding of how and why Extension came to be was sadly lacking.  So I set out to do some research on the subject.  The results of that effort are below, albeit a bit condensed.  Some of the questions I set out to answer were:  Where did the name Cooperative Extension come from and why do you usually get blank stares when you mention it?, Who was the first Extension agent?, What was the real reason for creating 4H?  and, Where does the EMG program fit in?  I hope you will find the answers as interesting and illuminating as I did. – Bob

The Beginning: Industrial Revolution Brings Progress, Agriculture Struggles

It wasn’t so long ago that about half the U.S. population lived on farms.  Now only about 2% of us do, and only 17% live in what are called “rural areas”.  80 years ago, most of us would have been very familiar with the work of Extension. Now only about 1 in 5 would recognize the name.  And therein lies the rub: Extension has never been just about agriculture, but even most of the 20% would say: “oh, yeah, that’s 4H and the ag agents.”

In the latter part of the 19th century, the industrial revolution is well underway and the cities are growing, but half of us still live on farms, and it has become, for the most part, a hardscrabble life.  Agriculture in America is an unproductive system, built on tradition, superstition, and backbreaking toil.  Families spend as much as 40% of their income on food, and the disparity between the quality of life on the farm and life in the city is getting larger, with a considerable proportion of the former suffering from poverty and illiteracy.  Most farmers are suspicious of the new techniques being developed by the fledgling USDA, referring to them as “book farming.”  As a result, productivity is down, soils are being depleted in as few as 5 years, and food prices are going up.  Something has to give.

By the 1870s America's Cities are bustling with activity

By the 1870s the industrial revolution is in full swing and America’s cities are bustling with activity


Poor crop rotation and lack of contour plowing are depleting soils at an alarming rate

Poor crop rotation and lack of contour plowing are depleting soils at an alarming rate


Life is different on farms

Life is different on farms in late 1800s, where poverty and illiteracy grows

Morrill Act Forms USDA and Land Grant Universities

Early in President Lincoln’s first term, Congress finally gets its act together, despite the fact that there’s a war on, passing in the same year the “Organic Act” which formed USDA and the Morrill Act of 1862.

The Morrill Act establishes “Land Grant” universities in each State to educate citizens in agriculture, home economics, mechanical arts, and other practical professions.

Morrill Act

Morrill Act


In the first year as a land grant university (1889), NCSU boasts 72 students and 6 faculty.

The idea of a “land grant” is actually a practice we borrowed from Europe, in which the government provides a grant of federal land to be used for a specific purpose, or which can be sold to raise funds for that purpose.  In this case, the specific purpose is considerably different from the liberal arts curricula of most institutions of higher learning.  The implementation of the law leads to the formation of the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts in 1887 and it’s first class matriculates in 1889.

Hatch Act Creates Agricultural Experimental Stations

'Father of Extension'?

Seaman Knapp

In 1867, the Hatch Act creates agricultural experimental stations and, in 1890, the second Morrill Act, aimed at the former Confederate states, provides additional funds, but with a catch: the states must demonstrate that race is not a criterion for admission.  In those separate but not so equal times, this leads to the founding of our second land grant university, NCA&T.  But the USDA, charged with raising productivity and bringing down the cost of food, is still grappling with how to get farmers to embrace the new practices being developed.

Enter one Seaman A. Knapp, felt by many to be the father of Extension.  He is a physician by training, a college instructor, and comes to farming late, but is impressed by the new farming techniques being developed in Michigan and Iowa.  In 1902, he’s dispatched to Texas to start a demonstration farm to help combat the cotton boll weevil.  The farm is a successful cooperative venture with local farmers and the idea quickly spreads across the South.

In 1907, the USDA sends Cassius R Hudson to North Carolina to start a similar demonstration program.  Unfortunately, he isn’t received all that warmly by the local farmers who view him as just another Washington bureaucrat who is out of touch with “real agriculture.”

Cassius Hudson

Cassius Hudson

Under the rules of his employment he must be paid by the State, and the only federal support he is given is $1.00 for mailing expenses.  North Carolina grudgingly assigns him office space adjacent to the area where the corn and grain exhibit for the state fair is stored, and numerous, well-fed families of mice from next door visit regularly, much to the distress of the secretaries.

Clubs promote growing and food preservation practices

In 1908, to promote some of the new growing practices, NC State signs a memorandum of understanding with USDA to start Farmers Boys’ Clubs, the forerunner of 4H.  The success of the resulting “Corn Clubs” is still being celebrated 50 years later.  In 1911, Jane S McKimmon is hired to develop girls’ “Canning Clubs” and “Tomato Clubs” in response to an epidemic of food poisoning, due in large part to poor food preservation practices.  This focus on youth is largely motivated by the USDA’s repeated failure to persuade older farmers to adopt better practices.  USDA begins to realize that raising a new generation of farmers more open to improved techniques may be part of the solution.  And the strategy pays off.

Corn Club

Corn Clubs, the forerunner of 4H

Canning Club

Girls canning clubs help to combat food-borne illness

Smith Lever Act Extends Practical Applications of Research to Counties

The growing success (literally) of these programs leads to the passage in 1914 of the Smith-Lever Act, also known as the Extension Agriculture Act. Smith-Lever is designed “to aid in diffusing among the people of the United States, useful and practical information on subjects relating to agriculture and home economics, and to encourage the application of the same.”  The Act forms a partnership between the USDA and the land grant universities to extend the practical applications of research through demonstrations at the county level (e.g. your cooperative extension office), and requires the states to match federal funding on an equal basis.

Smith-Lever is still considered one of the most responsible and ingenious pieces of legislation ever passed by Congress.  It provides the authorizing legislation to create an Extension presence at the county level and does so by shared funding with state and local governments.

Father of Extension?

Squanto, the 1st Extension agent?

There is some dispute about who should be recognized as being the first Extension agent.  Seaman Knapp, of boll weevil fame, is one contender.  But another popular candidate, given the mission of Extension, is Squanto, a member of the Patuxent tribe who, legend has it, helped the Plymouth colonists through their first hard winter in 1621, by teaching them how to grow corn by adding a fish for fertilizer.

Core Principles of Extension Revealed Through Acts

The things that the implementers of the Morrill, Hatch, and Smith-Lever Acts learned in translating these laws into effective programs can be distilled down to a simple statement:

If you want to persuade people to undertake something, the effort needs to be: responsive to a recognized need or issue; cooperative and interactive; practical, well-demonstrated, and service-oriented.  Throw in un-biased, research-based information and include a focus on youth, and you pretty much have the core principles of Extension – and the Extension Master Gardeners.

Extension During the Farm and Great Depression

Over the next several decades, there are several more forces that help to shape Extension.  In the Farm Depression of the 1920’s the focus changes from production to economic concerns and quality of life issues.  Extension’s ranks thin, emergency funds disappear and the program become more dependent on volunteers.  This has the positive benefit of stimulating rural leadership, however, as well as the formation of local cooperatives.

The Great Depression obliges Extension to become more dependent on  volunteers and local cooperatives

The Great Depression obliges Extension to become more dependent on volunteers and local cooperatives

The next major test is the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s.  Extension draws farm families into county, state, and national public affairs.  Home economic programs focus on self-sufficiency.  Ultimately, Extension is called on to manage several new agencies: initially the Farm Seed and Loan program and, later, the Soil and Water Conservation Service, Agricultural Adjustment Act, Rural Electrification, and Federal Housing Administration.

Volunteers Become Extension Backbone After World Wars

During and after the World Wars, Extension helps the country focus on food and fiber production for the war effort and volunteer leadership evolves.  It is during this time that volunteers become the backbone of Extension.

WSU Forms the First Extension Master Gardener Program

In 1972, the Washington State Cooperative Extension, in response to a high demand for urban horticulture and gardening advice, forms the first Master Gardener program.  By the end of the decade, the program has spread across the country to North Carolina.  New Hanover county gets bragging rights for creating the first gardening hotline in 1979, but Wake County, NC graduates the first class of Master Gardeners in the same year.  By the 2009 survey, there are more than 95,000 Master Gardeners nationwide, providing 5,000,000 hours of volunteer service annually.

So, How Does the Master Gardener Program Align with Extension?

One of the questions I had posed for myself when I began this research was: where does the Master Gardener program fit in to Extension? The answer I’ve come to understand is: just about everywhere.If you line the Master Gardener programs up against the core principles of Extension the match is clear:

  • We respond to the recognized needs of waterwise strategies, avoiding invasive species, and minimizing fertilizer and pesticide use.
  • We provide cooperative and interactive phone and email support, successful gardening clinics, speakers’ bureaus, farmers’ market assistance, and junior Master Gardener training.
  • We offer practical help in best gardening practices and teaching courses like Vegetables 101.
  • And we are service-oriented through our community gardening, Habitat for Humanity, and horticultural therapy programs.

Cooperative Extension Programs –  Yesterday and Today

And, should you be tempted to subscribe to the notion that Extension has somehow become less relevant as America has become less rural, consider the kinds of programs that Cooperative Extension currently offers to counties.

In Community and Economic Development, Extension offers municipal official development, rural-urban interface studies, land use issues, public policy, and water quality programs.  For families and youth, there are programs on health and food safety, managing family and household resources, strengthening family life, volunteer and leadership development, and improving the life skills of youth. In agriculture and natural resources, Extension manages programs in plant and animal science, fruits and vegetables, turf and gardening, farm management, forestry and forestry products, and marketing agricultural products.

It would appear that Extension’s responsibilities have broadened over the years.  If you focus on what Smith-Lever wanted to happen in the area of food production: greater reliance on research; higher and more efficient production; and cheaper food, you might argue that we have succeeded too well.  As far as the goals for its second century, we do have some hints: promoting local food (the current flagship program in NC), encouraging sustainable production (not depleting our resources faster than we can replenish them), and, at least, recognizing the potential adverse impacts of some of the research inroads we’ve made in the last few decades (pesticide and hormone residues, GMO, mono-cropping, and the narrowing of the gene pool.

Strong Belief in Equality of Individuals, Possibility of Change and Progress, Reliability of Scientific Information, Power of Education

If we focus on the underlying principle of Extension as improving the quality of American life, then the periodic adjustment and re-calibration of our goals is wholly consistent with a research-based organization.  And, throughout its history, the guiding philosophy of Extension has remained unchanged: a strong belief in the equality of individuals, the possibility of change and progress, the reliability of scientific information, and the power of education.

Liberty Hyde Bailey, another of Extension’s founders was a member of the Cornell faculty and dean of the New York College of Agriculture from 1903-13.  He observed:

  “Extension work is not exhortation.  Nor is it exploitation of the people, or advertising of an institution, or publicity work for securing students.  It is a plain, earnest, and continuous effort to meet the needs of the people on their own farms and in their localities.”

And, since he was a teacher, he had the habit of asking his students: “What do you know today that you did not know the last time we met?”


Five Seed Saving Lessons from the Ground Up

Sunday, March 31st, 2013

Oh, what I’ve learned about saving seeds!  Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to garden from zone 4 to 10; from frost shortened growing seasons to endless summers; from hot and dry, to cold and dry, to cool and damp. But when I moved to North Carolina I encountered “hot and humid” – a new “climate zone” for me although, per the hardiness zone map zone, only a zone 7/8 which I’ve lived in before.

Saved seeds

Saved seeds

By the time we’d moved in and my husband prepared some raised beds for me, it was June and summer was in full swing, but I sowed all my unused/saved seeds from prior years anyway.

It’s better than wasting them and I’ve often been pleasantly surprised.

Lesson One – Know Your Seed’s Dormancy Requirements

The carrots and celery and several others didn’t come up and I just assumed that they were too old and hadn’t germinated. Then later in September I noticed some funny seedlings in my beds. They weren’t weeds but I couldn’t think what they could be – until I recognized the ferny foliage of carrots and feathery leaves of celery – then some cabbage popped up – they were the seeds I had sown in June and forgotten about when they didn’t come up. But their internal clock and thermostat were working and as days got shorter and cooler, they knew their time in the sun had arrived – a testimony to the ingenuity of seeds. Lesson on seed “stratification” learned!

Lesson Two – Where you grow is as important as what you grow…

Saying good bye to ‘old favorites’

I also enjoy growing unusual vegetable varieties. They’re like gourmet varieties because you can’t get them at the grocery store – they’re special, like lemon cucumbers. I also like to try new things like purple carrots or foot long green beans but I also have my old favorites like Early Girl tomatoes – not exotic but dependable and delicious. But here in North Carolina they just weren’t doing well. Some of my old standards, like Yolo Wonder bell peppers, weren’t as vigorous and didn’t produce well when temperatures soared over 95.

Saying hello to ‘new favorites’

Fortunately for me, I love going to the Farmer’s Market and there I can see what’s growing well for other people in my area.

That’s where I found some peppers called Cubanelles. They were delicious, so I bought some plants. While my standard variety struggled, the Cubanelles passed them by like they were standing still! I only bought three plants but I was giving peppers away and still freezing the leftovers. It dawned on me that some of my old favorites didn’t like the heat and humidity of the southeast while other plants were utterly unfazed by it!

I decided to experiment more with some of the vegetables the south is famous for like sweet potatoes. They were a super, trouble-free crop. They were not only unfazed by heat and humidity but had the added advantage of not being bothered by bugs or periods of drought. So as the light of understanding dawned, I realized that most of the seed catalogs I favored were produced in northern latitudes. I needed to find some southern sources to expand my variety of choices and also to experiment with seeds from other hot/humid locales. Valuable lesson learned!

Lesson Three – Citizen Science Opportunity

If you want to experiment and learn more about vegetables that might grow well in your area, you might be interested in participating in Cornell’s Citizen Science: Vegetable Varieties for Gardeners. It’s a web-based program that compiles information from gardeners from all over the US on what will grow well in different climates. The information collected can also help determine breeding efforts and seed availability.

Lesson Four – Saving & Sharing Seed

After getting better acquainted with our new surroundings, one of our neighbors brought over some okra seed that his wife’s grandmother had grown.

Okra seeds

Okra seeds (photo credit Connie Schultz)

Like the Cubanelles, they were unfazed by heat or bugs or humidity and grew 5 or 6 feet tall. The pods didn’t seem to get as tough as they grew larger either.

As gardeners we love to share our favorites or our new discoveries but, in order to share these treasures, the plants and their seeds need to be non-hybrid varieties (heirlooms fall in this category). Non-hybrid seedlings reliably reproduce the traits of the parent plants, the traits that made them desirable in the first place. For more information, see John Porter’s post Seed Saving: Knowing the Difference Between Hybrids, Heirlooms, and Open-Pollinated Plants

Hybrids are bred for certain traits like a short time to harvest for short season locations or for resistance to a virus or fungus but their seeds will not reliably reproduce these traits. So in order to share my new discoveries, I need to have non-hybrid seeds, something to consider when I’m buying seeds or plants. I’ve learned how saving heirloom vegetable seeds can help protect the bio-diversity of our food supply and help assure resilient plants and seeds. Another important principal learned!

Lesson Five – Finding Seeds through Organizations

Chive seeds

Chive seeds (Photo credit Sara Siegers)

One of the things I like best about gardening is that I’m always learning new things.

If you’re interested learning more about saving seeds to share or saving seeds to preserve old unnamed varieties like the okra I was given, you might want to join the Seed Savers Organization , a non-profit organization dedicated to saving and sharing heirloom seeds. If you want to get involved, they have a program they established in 2011 called the Member-Grower-Evaluation Network that evaluates the performance of heirlooms all over the world and helps build a larger base of information on each variety.

If you already save seed, perhaps you would like to help start a seed-saver program at your local library? Seed libraries are sprouting all over the US in local libraries. You can learn more about this new phenomenon by clicking the links in this paragraph.

Do you have seed lessons you’ve learned that you’d like to share? 

By Connie Schultz, Master Gardener/Composter (’95) Cornell, now serving in Johnston County, NC

Practical and Fun Garden Gift Ideas for Gardeners

Saturday, December 8th, 2012

I think my gardening friends and relatives are the easiest people to buy for on my Christmas list. This is partly because I get so many garden-related catalogs with great ideas and partly because I choose gifts that I would like to receive.

Garden Gift Idea 1 – Garden Gloves

Garden gloves

Garden gloves (Photo: Carla Albright)

Depending on your budget, thoughtful gifts can be as simple as a basket of a variety of gardening gloves. You might want to get ones that are lightweight for summer tasks or heavy, long-sleeved leather ones for working around roses.

Most of the pairs should be in the mid-weight range for weeding or general work. I like the nutrile ones for most chores as they fit my hands nicely and allow me to pick up small sticks or slimy objects like slugs. But I certainly need heavy duty ones for clearing new garden areas or breaking ground with a shovel.

To be smart, I will buy them all in the same color so I can easily replace lost ones or ones that have poked-out fingers. Gloves come in a wide range of prices from $4 to $24 a pair.

Garden Gift Idea 2 – Small Blade-Shovel

If you are looking for something in the line of tools, I might recommend a small-bladed shovel.

My father-in-law introduced me to this handy tool over 20 years ago. He called it a “lady’s shovel” as the blade is smaller than a regular shovel or spade. But I have seen them in garden centers and hardware stores since then with the more politically-correct name of “flower shovel.”

Although I use a regular shovel for large jobs, when it comes to transplanting perennials, this tool can’t be beat. Mine has a nice long handle which gives good leverage. I have used the same shovel for those 20 years and it’s my “go-to” tool of choice for planting or transplanting. They run about $20-$35 for a good one.

Small-blade shovel

Small-blade shovel (Photo: Carla Albright)

Garden Gift Idea 3 – Bird Houses/Bird Feeders

For gardeners who are also birders, there are very nice bird houses and bird feeders out there. In fact, some are so pretty I would classify them as “yard art.” These come in a wide range of prices, so it should be easy to find ones that fit your budget. Pair a feeder with a sack of good quality bird food or even a bird ID guide, and this makes a nice gift even for birders who don’t garden.

Looking for inspiration? Search Pinterest for bird feeder or bird house ideas.

Garden Gift Idea 4 – Homemade Garden Stepping Stones

If you have more time than money and are creative, how about creating a set of stepping stones for the garden? I have made several mosaic ones using a pre-made stone and using bits of stained glass to create an unusual and unique gift.

Homemade Stepping Stones (Photo source: Flickr, mary-lynn)

These will take some time, however, but they will be treasured gifts in the end. Of course, you could do just one mosaic stepping stone and let the rest of the set be plain.

Garden Gift Idea 5 – Garden Books and Magazines

And of course, I always can find loads of nice gardening books. Some are more like coffee table books with wonderful photos of gardens all over the world. Others are better for teaching and when it comes to gardening, there are countless how-to books.

The hard part here will be to find one your gardener doesn’t already have. I do try to read a chapter or at least leaf through a book to make sure it is suitable for the level of expertise of your particular gardener.

Magazines may be passé, but there are a lot of good gardening ones. Some are for educating and some are simply beautifully done with loads of glossy photos to allow some garden dreaming. And a subscription is something that will keep on giving the entire year, making it a special gift. Your friend will be reminded of you each time it comes in the mail.

Gardening books

Gardeners often make room for new gardening books (Photo: Karen Jeannette)

Garden Gift Idea 6 – Perhaps not Art?

One thing I have learned not to give as gifts is garden art. I find this is a very personal thing and unless you know the gardener’s taste very well, steer clear.

Of course if you happen to be shopping together, you can pick up on little hints in which case I would say “go for it.” Sometimes garden art is a splurge that we wouldn’t make on ourselves but if given as a gift, it can become a treasure.

Last but not least….

I like to shop locally – no matter where “local” is – for my gardening friends. Even a gift certificate to a local nursery would be a welcome present, especially if you pair it with a certificate to drive to the nursery and take your friend to lunch after you shop. Time spent with good friends, after all, is the most precious gift of we can give or get.

What fun things are you shopping for this season? Do you have something special on your list for Santa?

~ Carla Albright, Tillamook County Oregon Master Gardener