The Milkweed Ecosystem

These are some pictures taken by one of our Master Gardeners, Lisa LaRue, back in mid-August. We always love our butterfly and pollinator bed because it is beautiful and beneficial to the environment of our garden. These pictures take a closer look at everything that is going on in that garden.

44625915202_b52652e825Of course, this is one of the things we are hoping to see when we plant milkweed in our garden. Lots of happy, monarch caterpillars munching their way through life.

43766023875_3ca52f18e3What many people planting milkweed don’t realize is that you can get a whole bunch of other insects as part of the bargain. It is very common – and completely normal – for milkweed to be just coated with bright orange aphids during the summer. They also will often get milkweed bugs (the black and orange bugs pictured). So…what to do? The thing is that you can’t spray anything without causing harm to the caterpillars you are trying to encourage. The good news is that the aphids and milkweed bugs are really not causing any harm to the milkweed, or anything else in the garden. By this point (a month later), the aphids are completely gone and no harm was done.

29737327267_965959af87_zThe other benefit of leaving those aphids where they are is that they provide a food source for hungry ladybugs. The hoards of aphids are a feast for ladybugs, and by letting the aphids stay on a plant that isn’t being hurt and that really doesn’t matter for anything other than looking nice and feeding caterpillars/butterflies, you are actually “farming” more ladybugs for the rest of your garden. This picture shows two ladybug pupa (the stage between the larvae and the adults) on the milkweed.

This is how ecological gardening is supposed to work, and a great example of how lots of diversity in your garden is beneficial. We certainly aren’t eating the milkweed, and if you were strictly focused on what you could harvest from the garden to eat, it would seem like a waste of space. But by growing something that benefits our beneficial insects, we now have a higher population of ladybugs in the garden for when there are aphids on something we DO want to eat.

43766024035_d54d486668_zThis has nothing to do with the rest of the post, but I wanted to show the swallowtail chrysalis just for fun. We have had a great time this fall finding all the places that both the swallowtail and monarch caterpillars go to make their chrysalis!

June & July in the SNAP-Ed Garden

We have had some very successful harvests from our SNAP-Ed garden in the past two months! Our tomato cages made from tree branches and twine seemed to hold up for our giant Juliet tomato plant, which was a big producer!  snap ed garden

We also had a good turn out from our zucchini, regardless of a squash bug appearance. Our SNAP-Ed educator was able to use the zucchini for multiple of her nutrition classes making zucchini bread, and cooking with the high schoolers making a pasta with zucchini in it!

zucchini

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Our other varieties of tomatoes are coming in quite nicely as well! Green beans and cucumbers were successful this growing season. Our peppers were wonderful, garden salsa peppers, big bertha peppers and carmen peppers were among the few that we have harvested so far! snap ed garden 3

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We found this guy and had him make it out alive! 🙂 cuucmbercucumber 2.jpg

As mentioned in our previous post about the SNAP-Ed garden, we have been weighing all the produce after each harvest and comparing it to grocery store prices. Below is how much you would be paying at the grocery store for how much produce we’ve grown so far:

Green Beans – 3 lb 11.8 oz – worth $6.63
Zucchini – 11 total – 10 lb 6.3 oz – worth $15.48
Juliet Tomato – 135 total – 8 lb 15.4 oz – worth $31.70
Big Bertha Pepper – 11 total – 2 lb 3.8 oz – worth $10.89
Garden Salsa Pepper – 20 total – 15.2 oz – worth $1.90
Phoenix Tomato – 11 total – 4 lb 4.6 oz – worth $6.44
Marconi Pepper – 1 total – 3.2 oz – worth $0.99
Carmen Pepper – 1 total – 2.2 oz – worth $1.79
Solar Fire Tomato – 8 total – 3lb 4.9 oz – worth $4.96
Bush Goliath Tomato – 5 total – 1 lb 9.0 oz – worth $2.35
Cucumbers – 15 total – 10 lb 5.8 oz – worth $10.35
Oregano – 4.7 oz – worth $17.80
Thai Basil – 10.9 oz – worth $41.28
Sweet Basil – 4.2 oz – worth $15.91
Parsley – 4.7 oz – worth $2.79

Year To Date: $249.44

Why Horticulture?

Kids with bowl of blackberriesThis bowl of blackberries represents the importance of horticulture. The importance to our families, our communities, and our state.

On the surface, we might sometimes be tempted to boil down our impact as horticulturists to something like the following statement:

“Through educational programming, this family learned the appropriate fertilization and pest management practices to grow blackberries in Kansas, resulting in an increased yield and higher productivity.”

That’s great. But does it tell the whole story? I would argue that it doesn’t remotely touch on the whole story.

This bowl of blackberries is from a variety that was bred and selected for heat tolerance and thrives in our Kansas climate. It represents a wide range of trees, flowers, grasses, fruit, and vegetables that have been developed for the harsh climate we live in. We may live on the prairie, but there is still a value to our community in having beautiful green spaces, safe athletic fields, shade, and healthy produce. We shouldn’t have to move to Oregon, Michigan, or Maine to enjoy these things. Even knowing that water quantity and quality is a current and future concern, we can still find a way to have a green world around us through a commitment to horticulture science and research. A commitment to these things helps keep young families in our community, adds value to our properties and landscapes, and makes this a better place to live. This is community vitality.

This bowl of blackberries is about $50 worth of fruit. (Probably another $10 worth was already eaten!) That is $50 that I do not have to spend on groceries this week, which I can save for another purpose or use to buy higher quality food. It represents family resource management and nutrition.

This bowl of blackberries is a healthy snack for my kids that enables them to eat fruit when they want it, rather than having it portioned out or eating crackers for snacks. We are supposed to make half our plate fruits and veggies – we are well on our way at this point! It represents health and nutrition, as well as healthy habits that are for a lifetime.

This bowl of blackberries represents learning by doing, an appreciation for our food system, and how food is grown. My kids learn practical skills like watering and harvesting, but also that some bugs are good for our garden – that we should protect and care for them. They learn about the circle of life, that actions have consequences and sometimes bad things happen – with a dead bird in the netting covering the fruit.

This bowl of blackberries teaches my children about family time and relationships. We work together to reach a goal and learn about patience and persistence. This is part of our family culture.

This bowl of blackberries teaches my kids about community service and giving back. That our bounty is to be shared with neighbors and friends. It is part of being in a community and in relationship. These are some of the key 4-H life skills.

For those that lack a green thumb, this bowl of blackberries represents a local farm that they can visit with their family to still gain some of the same benefits of growing the fruit themselves, while supporting our local economy in a way where the money will benefit another family business and be reinvested in our community. This is part of global food systems and community vitality.

These blackberries were grown in my backyard, but they could have been grown at a school, in a community garden, or on a local farm. The value and impact of just this one “act of horticulture” can have wide-ranging and diverse benefits to a family, a community, and our state.

Underpinning it all is the basic science of horticulture, explored and taught by horticulture scientists, researchers, and educators for decades as part of the land grant mission at state universities across the country. While yield, productivity, and resource conservation are important, they aren’t the whole story and we do ourselves a disservice when we don’t share the bigger story of why horticulture.

Growing in the Garden

Every day there is something new growing in the garden. The spring and early summer have been challenging this year, leaving us with some good examples of what can go wrong (and right!).

40866316040_495a3f95f4First, the obligatory whole garden view for the week. Lots of green and growing!

41689429815_1881f2eef7A few weeks ago we found our bean leaves all Swiss-cheesy, almost overnight. Well, big munched holes usually mean a caterpillar or a beetle. In this case, Bean Leaf Beetle. Because we didn’t catch them right away, we opted to spray with permethrin, which took care of them. If you want an organic option, pyrethrin is the best choice.

41689404715_c26fc29c73And more holes in the cabbage leaves! These were caused by tiny, young grasshoppers. We opted not to spray the cabbage because it was closer to harvest and…

41689412315_4235424418…it was also pretty clear that the cabbage was not enjoying the heat. The red cabbages in particular bolted (went to seed) before developing any significant head. They may have performed better in a spring where it warmed up more gradually. They may also do well if fall planted. But this spring…not so much.

28715714068_af968fe92bWe did get a couple partially formed heads of the red cabbage. You can see the scorched interior leaves. But isn’t that a neat internal head color! No filters used in the photographing or editing of these pictures!

41689408495_a3f8589ae2We have reached the flowering stage for a lot of things. This is the flower of a new, trailing ornamental oregano, ‘Amethyst Falls.’

42626527292_d8b49b7ce1We are used to beans with white or maybe purple flowers. However, the ‘Scarlet Emperor’ Runner bean has bright scarlet-orange flowers. They are just starting to open this week.

42626524332_0eaf927909This isn’t a flower…but it’s still cool! We have over a 18 different pepper varieties this year, mostly growing in containers. This variety is called Fish, and not only does it have striped / variegated fruit, the leaves also show variegation.

That’s it for this update. Come visit us to see more of what’s going on in the garden.

SNAP-Ed Garden Update

Last week we had our first harvest of red saladbowl lettuce, spinach, and radishes, and finished off the harvest this week. We also planted some transplants including a variety of peppers, tomatoes, parsley, and basil; as well as seeds including green beans, zucchini, and cantaloupe.

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The green beans have sprouted, the tomatoes and peppers are growing bigger. We also experimented with branches, and made our own tomato cage!

Tomato Cage Y

We made a tomato cage out of branches to show how inexpensive gardening can be if you were to reuse items that are commonly on hand, such as tree branches, tied with some twine at the top.

Like I said, in the past two weeks, we were able to harvest red saladbowl lettuce, spinach, and radishes. We took this harvest, weighed each item, and compared them to grocery store prices. Below is how much you would be paying at the grocery store for how much produce we’ve grown so far:

Radishes – 87 total – worth $23.09 at the grocery store
Spinach – 1 lb 4.8 oz – worth $3.13 at the grocery store
Red Salad Bowl Lettuce – 1 lb 7.5 oz – worth $14.10 at the grocery store

Year to Date: $40.32

One of our SNAP-Ed Nutrition Educators was able to use the spinach and red salad bowl lettuce tossed with the radishes and some added carrots for a tossed salad in one of her SNAP-Ed classes at Inter-Faith Ministries!