Author Archives: Rebecca

2019 Garden Plans

It is once again the time of year where we plan what will be featured in our Demonstration Garden for the season. As always, we have a great mix of tried-and-true vegetables and some new and interesting things. When it is cold and snowy, it is a lot of fun to think about what will be growing in the garden in just a few short weeks. We will be starting the first of our seeds next week and it is all downhill from there!

Below you will find maps for each of our raised garden beds. The maps show the overall theme or focus for each bed as well as the specific varieties of vegetables, herbs, and flowers we will have growing.

Tomatoes - Bed 1Our tomatoes are in Bed 1 this year. Because of how this raised bed is structured, we will have roma tomatoes in one end, early maturing varieties on the other end, and some more common “comparison” varieties in the middle. The roma tomato varieties are a mixture of hybrids and heirlooms, with different colors, sizes, and shapes. We chose the “early maturing” theme because everyone always likes to have the first tomatoes! The six varieties we chose also are a mix of hybrid and heirlooms, with maturity dates ranging from 54 to 65 days from transplanting.

Spring and Fall Veggies - Bed 2

Bed 2 will feature a mix of cool season vegetables that are planted both in spring and fall. The spring plantings feature leafy greens, peas, carrots, radishes, and kohlrabi. The fall plantings feature two new cauliflower varieties, beets, daikon radishes, lettuce, spinach, and carrots. Our plan is to put row covers over at least part of the fall plantings to extend the growing season and overwinter them.

Slide3The theme for Bed 3 is the “Kansas Backyard Garden.” The idea is to feature common vegetables grown in Kansas. Most of the varieties are not too far out there either. A couple things that I’m excited about though are the bush-type vine crops. We are trying both a new bush watermelon variety, ‘Cal Sweet Bush’ that has only 18″ long vines, and ‘Cherokee Bush’ pumpkin that has about a 4′ spread.

Slide4On the other hand, Bed 5 is a long way from Kansas! We are featuring vegetables that are indigenous to Africa, especially sub-Saharan Africa. Researching this garden was an education, because we discovered that some of our common ornamentals were originally edible vegetables in Africa! Vegetables that you may be familiar with are eggplant, okra, kale, and peanuts. You may be less familiar with cowpeas, long beans (a type of cowpea), amaranth, cleome, celosia, and bambara beans.

You probably do know amaranth – but as pigweed. There are colored leaf varieties and varieties that have been cultivated for edible greens. Other varieties are grown for flowers and seeds. Cleome is a ornamental flower we know, but most of us haven’t eaten the foliage as a vegetable! Celosia is another common flower that you may have grown for color. But the leaves and young flowers can also be eaten as a vegetable.

Cowpeas, long beans, and bambara beans are all from the genus Vigna. Cowpeas you may recognize. The long beans are vining beans that produce 18″ long edible pods. Bambara beans are kind of like cowpeas…the peas look a lot like the cowpeas. But they are kind of like peanuts…the pods grow underground.

One of the best things about this garden theme is that these are all vegetables that thrive in hot climates, so we are excited to see how they do in Kansas!

Slide5For a second year, we have a bed that we are calling our “SNAP-Ed” bed. This bed is a demonstration of how to garden on a very small budget, using only seeds and plants that can be purchased from a store where it is possible to use the SNAP EBT (food stamp) benefits.

Slide6Also a reprise from last year is Bed 6. Agastache is the Herb of the Year featured at our Herb Day event on May 4th, so we kept this bed in the same location with several overwintering agastache varieties. The flowers and herbs are chosen for the attractiveness to butterflies and other pollinators.

Beds 8, 9, and 10 are all 4′ x 4′ beds. Bed 8 will feature ornamental gourds on a trellis. Bed 9 will feature sunflowers. Bed 10 will feature a popcorn variety called ‘Glass Gem.’

Slide10In the accessible garden area, we are featuring a “Salsa Garden” theme. In the tiered raised bed will be a roma tomato, herbs, and peppers. In the barrel planters will be a trailing tomato variety, more herbs, and some green onions.

Our containers around the garden will feature flowers this year, especially some new varieties of Pentas. We are excited for spring! What are you planning to plant this year?

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!

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.

FINALLY, Spring.

There’s no question about it, spring was reluctant to come and stay this year. While we have tried to stay on schedule with our planting, we ended up delaying a few things until it got a bit warmer. Thankfully, the warm weather coincided with tomato planting time, so we are pretty much back on track!

41567684981_0383065076 This is the garden in mid-April. You can see from the wooden stakes that things had been planted…but not much green was showing up!

41843273812_28b7977459Jumping ahead three weeks to today…there’s a lot more green to be seen, and you can also see that we have been adding trellises and tomato cages!

41169157274_a7ee443ed4Of our early spring planting, these plants are probably the most spectacular right now. These Chinese cabbages were transplanted the third week of March and have survived multiple nights below freezing with NO protection, snow, cold rain, and wind. The light green is ‘Tokyo Bekana,’ a loose leaf cabbage. The red and dark green are both heading types of Chinese cabbages that are just barely starting to form their heads.

41843272742_28e2656566Also beginning to look good is our SNAP-Ed garden. The radishes, spinach, and lettuce are all finally growing well, and we inter-planted the peppers, tomatoes, and herbs this week. Look for more about this garden to come next week!

41169154634_c1eea26f5fOf the lettuces we have in the garden this spring, this one is by far the most interesting. This is a variety called ‘Italienischer.’ It is very upright and dark green. At maturity it is supposed to be 18″ tall and heat tolerant. It also has the unique oakleaf leaf shape. It almost looks like an overzealous dandelion!

40078997300_5c3f9f8f87While not as beautiful, I also had to share this heirloom lettuce variety – mostly because of the name! The lightly red-tinged leaf lettuce has the name ‘Drunken Woman Frizzy Headed.” I don’t know who came up with that, but…it’s quite the name.

In addition to tomatoes, we planted most of our herbs (except the basil) and all of the various beans this week. Next week we hope to get the peppers planted as well as the cucumbers, squash, and melons.

Hope to see you at Herb Day tomorrow!