Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Garden Heroes

Community Gardens

The Harvard Community Garden germinated as an idea in 1999 when Dave Trumbell and Werner Heidtke got together with Kasey Murphy from the UI Cooperative Extension Service in Woodstock. The first garden was planted in 2001 and it has grown ever since, with the strong support of the City of Harvard and lots of community volunteers. Today, the garden sits on land donated by the City of Harvard and produces over 4,000 pounds of food for the Harvard Food Pantry.
The day I visited it was a great day to be out in the garden. It was cool and sunny and several volunteers had already harvested over 350 pounds of vegetables. There are several other community gardens in McHenry County, including one in McHenry at the Garden Quarter apartments, but the garden in Harvard is the largest. This year volunteers planted over 300 tomato plants, 100 plus peppers and lots of potatoes. They also grow broccoli, cabbage, peas, beans and zucchini. For the seniors that use the food pantry, they grow rhubarb, beets and turnips. To help keep down the weeds (and the work), the volunteers, who are mostly members of the county’s Master Gardener program, put down newspaper and straw between the rows. This also helps retain soil moisture.
The Harvard Food Pantry serves approximately 100 families, though this number fluctuates with the season. During the summer, when more people are working, it declines to 70-80 families. Senior citizens make up roughly 20-25 percent of the total families served.
The University of Illinois Extension Service helps coordinate the volunteers at the community gardens, gives cooking demonstrations at the food pantry and teaches nutrition classes. This government organization is funded by three sources: the federal government, the state and the county, hence the name "coopoerative." It is, I believe, an under-used resource in most communities. Originally founded to serve the agricultural community by taking the research done at our land grant universities and making that technology available to farmers, they soon realized that rural homemakers also needed information about nutrition. While still serving agriculture, they also focus on serving urban communities. The Master Gardeners volunteer to answer gardening questions and the extension staff does community outreach. A product of the 4-H program myself, I am an avid supporter of the extension service and hope that you take advantage of what they have to offer.

Still on my soapbox, if you have some spare time and would like to donate some of it to the community gardens, please give Kasey a call at 815.338.3737 or e-mail her at mailto:kmurphy@uiuc.edu .
And speaking of vegetables, it still not too late to get in a crop of lettuce or spinach. Stop by Countryside and get a pack or two of cool season vegetables we have already started for you.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Fall Bulbs

Planting Bulbs

Most of us think of bulbs only in the spring when we see crocus or tulips blooming in our neighbors’ gardens. I can’t tell you how many people we get at the store in April wanting to buy bulbs already in bloom and they are disappointed to learn that crocus and other bulbs are planted in the fall. We usually have a small amount of blooming bulbs ready to plant or use indoors. This is an expensive way to get early color in the spring. With a little planning you can achieve the same effect for a lot less money.

There are quite a few bulbs that can be planted this fall as soon as the soil temperature drops. Using a technique called "layering," you can extend the blooming period in a small space right through fall. Because different bulbs need to be planted at different depths in the soil you can plant over top of a lower layer of bulbs. The chart shows the depths that bulbs should be planted. Basically, a bulbs should be planted at a level 3 times as deep as its length. Thus, a crocus bulb that is 1" long should be planted about 3" deep in the soil. Remember to plant the bulb pointy end up and root end down.

To layer the bulbs, dig an area as deep as the biggest bulbs you will plant. Place those bulbs at the bottom, cover with dirt and then with some bulb fertilizer or bone meal. Then plant the next layer, cover with dirt and fertilizer. Continue until you have finished. Be sure to water in thoroughly. Bulbs put down their roots in the fall. This technique can also be used to plant up a container to force for next spring.

There are a variety of bulbs that can be planted to get color through three seasons. Within the daffodil and tulip families there are early, mid and late season bloomers. Alliums bloom in late spring or early summer. Lily varieties bloom early to mid summer. I have autumn crocuses and colchicums blooming now in my garden. I first saw the autumn crocuses in London one September and have enjoyed them ever since. The stamens from these plants is harvested for the pollen, which is saffron, the ingredient in pealla. The colchicums, which are often called crocus but aren’t, have huge, elaborate flowers. Several bulb varieties are even deer resistant, including daffodils, allium, grape hyacinth, lily of the valley, scilla, and fritillaria.

When planning your garden, make sure to leave room for bulbs for color that begins early and can last through all three seasons.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A New Entry In The Giant Tomato Contest

Well, this didn't start out to be a contest, but another Countryside employee has grown a pretty darn big tomato. Unfortunately, she ate it before I could get a picture. Donna T. has been a cashier at Countryside for over 10 years and has been an avid gardener all her life. She enjoys ornamental gardening with perennials and annuals, as well as vegetable gardening. Her entry into the tomato contest is a Striped German, that weighed in at 2 lbs. 9 and 1/4 oz. It was 6 1/2" long, 6" wide and approx. 4" high. Donna says the Striped German has been one of her favorite varieties for years. She didn't have any special secrets for growing it, just regular watering and fertilizing. She grew it in a raised bed so drainage was great (which kept it from cracking with all the rain we've had). Some of her other favorites are: Prudens Purple (pink Brandywine heirloom) and Delicious ( hugh red)
For orange varieties which are less acidic -- Jubilee -- medium size, beautiful and cherry tomato Sungold (not heirlooms)
I also trial other varieties, but MUST have these.
Guess the best thing about heirlooms is the taste. The downside is they ripen later than most hybrids.

Donna also says she is looking for seeds for a red bell pepper called ' Vidi '. Not a better tasting red bell out there. Great for roasting.

If you've grown a great tomato and would like to share the experience with other Countryside gardeners, please e-mail the photo and a brief description of how you grew it to me at: leslieross@sbcglobal.net

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

One Big Tomato

Every year we (in the editorial sense, not me personally) plant up a big garden out behind the office at Countryside. Lori likes to trial new varieties that we are growing to see if they really perform as the seed catalogues say they do. One of her favorites is an heirloom tomato called Box Car Willie. This year she produced a whopper. This baby weighed 1.62 pounds! Lori used fertilizer spikes that last all season long (a time-saver tip).

And speaking of vegetable gardening, it is not too late to do a late season planting of cool season crops, such as lettuce, cabbage, brocolli, spinach and swiss chard. And we've done some of the work for you by starting these last month and they are now available in House 5. So if your veg garden is looking a little shabby after the rains we had in August you can revitalize it in time for fall.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Off to College

Well, I've had a life changing event this week. We sent the last kid off to college. All the way to Boston. For what ever reason both girls decided that the East coast was where they wanted to be. So Alexa and I drove out to Boston and as we like to do, we made a detour. I have always wanted to visit the Franklin Delano Roosevelt house in Hyde Park, New York. It wasn't too far off the New York State Throughway. The house actually belonged to his mother, Sara, and many of the original furnishings are still in the house. We also toured Eleanor's cottage, where she retired to after FDR died, Val-Kill, and a Vanderbilt mansion. There were gardens at both houses and Alexa allowed me to wander through them and take a few pictures.

The gardens at the Vanderbilt mansion were beautiful. At the time the Frederick and Louise lived there, in the late 1800s, at the height of the "Gilded Age," when the grandchildren were busy spending the money their industrialist grandparents and parents had amassed, the gardens supplied all of the cut flowers used in the house. According to our guide, 50-60 arrangements were made everyday. This bed to the right is planted with red cannas surrounded by what I recall to be dwarf pennisetums, or fountain grass. In front is a mass planting of pink zinnias.

This is a view of the Hudson river from the Vanderbilt house. This mansion is the smallest of all the Vanderbilt mansions, with a mere 54 rooms. Frederick Vanderbilt was the black sheep of the family, having married a woman 10 years his senior and divorced from one of his cousins. He recieved $10 million less than his brothers, but interestingly was the only brother to have any money left at the end of his life. The mansion was willed to a niece who immediately put it up for sale for $350, 000 and after getting no takers lowered the price to $250,000. Eventually, for $1 and a big tax break, she gave it to the US National Park Service after appealling to her neighbor at Springwood, President Roosevelt.

My Favorite Gardening Magazine

If I am reduced to writing about my favorite magazine, you would not be amiss if you assumed a slow news week here at Countryside. I don't know about you but I am really looking forward to some cooler weather and NO MOSQUITOS! In the meantime I've been thumbing through some of my Gardeners' World magazine that I wasn't able to thoroughly read when they arrived earlier in the summer.
This magazine is published by the BBC as an adjunct to their popular television series of the same name. I don't know if they show this program on HGTV, since I am the only person on the planet without cable, but all of the program's personalities write articles for the magazine. The pictures are fabulous. I especially like reading about new plant introductions and the section titled, "What to do now." There is a great section on container gardening and always lots of new ideas for the garden. It is very inspirational, especially during the dark days of winter. I took a bunch of last year's issues into work and left them on the lunch table, if you would like to come in and take a look.
What's your favorite gardening magazine? Drop us line and let us know.