Category Archives: Around the Garden

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.

Garden Cleanup & Spring Planting

We have kicked off our planting season in the Demonstration Garden with work days the last two weeks. We went from a garden that was full of volunteer wheat and cheat to a garden that had the beginnings of our plans implemented for the season.

32929204433_3da4bdaab1As you can see, the weeds/grass and leftover plants from last year were having a field day. This picture actually looks better than it would have a day previously, as the Compost Committee graciously pulled the weeds and spread compost in Bed 4!

33742353865_00d3d30728Here’s the “After” shot from yesterday. We removed the old hops vines, most of the other dead plants and all the weeds. We added a whole bunch of compost to the beds that needed it, and got started with planting.

33742337345_7d221b99e1The Colonial Garden is probably the farthest ahead in the planting game, as the vast majority of the plants in this garden are spring/fall (cool season) veggies. We transplanted three types of lettuce that Thomas Jefferson had records of planting, as well as two heirloom cabbage varieties and an heirloom, vining pea. We also planted both parsnip and salsify seeds.

33613084431_28699f536cThe Accessible planters are largely planted already with spring crops. These planters will have a mixture of kale, chard, sprouting broccoli, spinach, lettuces, radishes, and peas for the spring. We will have a couple tomatoes later on, but again, lots of spring/fall crops.

33742361035_ea89ed1edfOne of the most interesting things in the early spring planting is this kale mix. It is called Kale Storm Mix, and we planted it in several of the containers. This is a multi-seed pellet, sometimes called a “fuseable.” They’ve been around the flower industry for a few years, but this is the first time I’ve seen them for veggies. The seed company took 3 kale varieties and mixed the seeds in a uniform ratio and put them into these larger “seed pellets.” The result is supposed to be an evenly mixed, visually attractive blend of kale. We’ll see how it turns out!

33357398180_178b3ba755The ‘Cascade’ Hops is also an interesting experience. Last year I was afraid it wasn’t going to do much for the longest time. Then it did finally take off and grow. This year it is already half way up the cage before April 1st! Yikes! Another fun factoid: hops shoots are edible like asparagus. We tried nibbling on them, and they do taste like asparagus at first. But then there is a really nasty bitter aftertaste. Ugh! There’s a reason hops are not grown for spring edible shoots!

This has been a busy week, because we also got all our tomato and pepper seeds started inside. I don’t have any pictures of the plants yet, but I’m sure you can go back into the blog archives if you want to get the idea!

And just in case you were curious, I’m not planning on planting my tomatoes any earlier than usual – at this point. It’s cold today, and there’s a lot of weather to come before it is tomato planting time!

Oriental Garden: What Did Well, What Did Not

I am already starting to switch gears into thinking about ideas for next year’s garden, but I wanted to wrap up a few thoughts on the vegetables we had in our Oriental Garden this year. We had a wide range of things, and some of them (literally) overshadowed the others.

Easy Winners

‘Ladyfinger’ Okra

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The okra started off to an inauspicious start with poorer germination that I would have wished for, but the plants grew so well that we didn’t want more of them. They were relatively naturally bushy and had a good yield. The variety was touted as being non-fibrous at larger sizes and this seemed to be the case.

‘Choryoku’ Eggplant

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Round Purple and Choryoku Eggplants

The long, Asian varieties of eggplant seem to always yield well, and this variety was no exception. The skin was tender and the flavor good.

‘Fushimi’ Pepper

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These plants were productive for the whole summer and into the fall. Once we actually got around to trying out the sauteing recipe that is traditional, we all regretted not using them more all year long!

Good Performers

‘Round Purple’ Eggplant

This eggplant was good and relatively productive, but it got overgrown by the nearby okra, so it wasn’t as productive as it otherwise might have been.

‘Hakurei’ Turnip

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Turnips, gold beets, and flowering Chinese broccoli

This salad turnip was a solid performer in the spring planting.

‘Summer Top’ Cucumber

Oriental cucumbers typically have good flavor and productivity. This variety was good in the early part of the season, but the plants didn’t last very long. It’s hard to say if that was due to competition with the other vines or a varietal characteristic.

‘Dark Purple’ Mizuna

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This new mizuna variety had purple veins and stems. It did what it was supposed to, but what put it above others is how long it lasted into the summer before bolting.

‘Golden & Ruby Streaks’ Mustards

These mustards have been around for awhile and we’ve grown them before. They did what they were expected to do, although they bolted a bit earlier than I would have preferred.

Worth Another Try, Sometime

‘Hybrid Fuji’ Kohlrabi

The seeds failed to germinate, which may be a fault of the seed source, not the variety.

‘Hybrid Golden Honey’ Melon

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As with any other Asian melon we have tried, they are very different from what Americans expect of a melon. The plants were fairly productive, although we did have some cracking of the fruit. The flavor of the melons was not as good as some other Asian melons I’ve tried.

‘Green Lance’ Chinese Broccoli

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The hardest thing with a Chinese broccoli is harvesting it fast enough to have good quality and yield. I would have to try some other varieties side by side with this one to judge well, but it seemed like these bolted very fast.

‘Purple Red Mart’ Long Bean

We’ve grown long beans in the past that have been highly productive, so these were a disappointment. We had hardly any harvest, compared to past experiences.

White Stemmed Chinese Celery

This celery is more of an herb than the big stalks we are used to. It never got very big, but it also didn’t die or bolt like I thought it would. If I’m honest, I kind of ignored it. It would be worth trying again sometime.

Not Worth It

Winged Bean

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We struggled with germination, then the plants just sat there for the longest time. Eventually a couple did grow (after we had given up and planted the long beans in the same spot). We had a handful of beans to pick, but that was it.

‘Dok Hybrid’ Luffa

The luffa vine took over everything, but either it was such long days to maturity or it was day length sensitive, because it didn’t bloom until late September/early October. It did set a few fruit, which would have been fine for fresh eating. (Yes, you can eat fresh luffa gourd like zucchini.) However, it had no chance of reaching sponge stage.

What’s Up with the Gingers?

The raised bed that had the ginger family plants really did pretty well by the end of the season. They typically take longer than one growing season to produce mature rhizomes, so we decided to dig them up and save them for next year.

The plants all grew well this year, once they were established. The cardamom was by far the smallest, shown here in the very front. When the nights started getting down into the 40s, we decided to pot them up. We tried to dig up a large root area to keep them growing well. We moved them into my office under my light stand.

Unfortunately, I had to trim the three larger plants back a bit to fit them under my lights. I don’t think this will be an option next fall.

I did pull off a piece of each of the three edible rhizomes. (The cardamom has small rhizomes. The spice part is the seed pod. This takes about 3 years to develop.) The light pink rhizome on the left is the greater galangal. The center rhizome is turmeric, and the right rhizome is the ginger. Technically, all of the rhizomes could be used at this stage, before they develop the fibrousness and skin typical of the mature root. They are crispy, succulent, and fragrant at this stage. Of course, they wouldn’t last long without the skins.

You could also regenerate the plant from these pieces. Each of the little nodules or pointy nodes you can see on the rhizomes will grow a new shoot.

The plan for now is to keep the plants alive for the winter. Or, at a minimum, keep enough of the rhizomes alive to regrow next year!