Political Commentary

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

From the Gardens Registrar: Garden Committee Co-Chair Needed; Freezing Tomatoes; Plots Are Still Available; Zinnias; Dilly Beans; Workday at University Houses Gardens on Saturday

Hello Gardeners,

GARDEN COMMITTEE CO-CHAIR VACANCY – One of our co-chairs is leaving us at the end of October to take a job at a prestigious agricultural research station, so, sadly, we will need a new co-chair starting in November. The co-chairs run the monthly garden committee meetings and set the agendas. They help develop garden management policies, and may be called upon to settle disputes. The work is very responsible, but generally takes up very little time. What do you get in exchange? Beyond workday credit, you do get to use your knowledge, skills, and opinions to help our gardens keep operating, and, hopefully, continue far into the future.  If you’re interested, please send me an email. We’ll want to know why you want the position, what kind of time commitment you can make (we would prefer a one-year commitment), and any relevant experience you may have.

FREEZING TOMATOES – If you have any freezer space at all, and you’ve got extra tomatoes, you should freeze tomatoes for the winter. All you need is plastic freezer bags or containers, or canning jars. Wash the tomatoes, dry them, put them into the containers, and then into the freezer. That’s it. You don’t have to blanch them or do anything else to prepare them. You can also puree your tomatoes, and freeze the puree, or you can make sauce, and freeze that. Whichever way you do it, you’ll be happy to have your very own tomatoes to cook with in January.

PLOTS ARE STILL AVAILABLE – This time of year, empty garden plots are accumulating, and are available at no charge. You can take a plot, clear it of weeds in lieu of a workday, and get it ready for planting next year. A gardener is only allowed one (full) plot, but if you have a half-plot now, and you’re thinking you’d like more growing space next year, this would be a good opportunity to get another half-plot.

ZINNIAS AND BUTTERFLIES – Many gardeners plant zinnias in their plots. They’re colorful, easy to grow, take very little care, and may be beneficial to some of your vegetables. They attract bees, which pollinate plants, and they also deter cucumber beetles and tomato worms. But this time of year, they’re especially enjoyable, because they attract butterflies – monarchs, swallowtails, and others, which come to the flowers for nectar. https://www.growveg.com/guides/why-zinnias-are-perfect-companions-in-the-vegetable-garden/ Frankly, your registrar dislikes zinnias. But which would you rather have fluttering around your plot – a big beautiful butterfly or the registrar? You don’t have to answer this.

DILLY BEANS – These are very easy, and very good. http://www.shutterbean.com/2015/refrigerator-dilly-beans/

WORKDAY – We will have a workday at University Houses Gardens this Saturday morning, August 18, from 8am – 11am. The task will be clearing and chipping paths. Here’s the link to sign up: https://doodle.com/poll/6ys8fy26e3u2v4sb (University Houses Gardens are at the end of Haight Road, past Bernie’s Place Childcare Center.)

Happy Gardening,

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

From the Gardens Registrar: A Reminder – Workday and Gardener Gathering Today at Eagle Heights; Weedy Plot Notices; Garden Buddies; Squash Bugs; Weed of the Week – Burdock

Hello Gardeners,

TWO REMINDERS: Today’s workday is at Eagle Heights from 4pm – 7pm. Here’s the link to sign up: https://doodle.com/poll/2s487kymykv4ri8w

Also, from 6pm – 7pm this evening, there will be an informal gathering at Eagle Heights to meet your fellow gardeners, and look at each other’s gardens. Meet at the shed at 6:00 if you want to tour, or else you can work in your garden and talk with other gardeners when they walk by.

WEEDY PLOT NOTICES – Here’s a quiz for you: what should you do if you receive a weedy plot notice from the registrar?

A.      Ignore it               B. Panic                C. Send an email back in response

The correct answer, of course, is B. I mean, C. We have four garden juries inspecting the plots at Eagle Heights, and one jury at University Houses. They send me monthly reports, I take a look at the plots they’ve marked, and then I send notices to the weediest ones. We inspect plots to try to solve two problems. One problem is that sometimes people give up gardening and don’t let the registrar know. This means that a plot can sit and get more and more weedy before anybody does anything about it. The other problem is that some kinds of weeds spread very easily, through roots and/or seeds, to neighboring plots. Very weedy plots can also harbor rabbits and voles. Plots in this kind of condition cause problems for other gardeners.

If you get a weedy plot notice, please email me back as soon as you can, and tell me what’s going on. Some gardeners will get right to work, and will clear out the weeds within a couple of weeks. That’s the best scenario. Other gardeners will admit that they’re busier than they expected, and will give up their plots. That’s the next best scenario. The worst scenario is the people who say they’ll get to work, and then nothing happens. Please don’t do that. Your garden plot is your own, but everything you do, and don’t do, affects other gardeners – that’s because we’re a COMMUNITY garden.

WHO’S YOUR GARDEN BUDDY? – Here’s our next quiz: what happens in your garden when you’re away for a week or two or three?

A.      Everything just sits there in suspended animation until you return
B.      Some vegetable plants die, some vegetables rot, and the weeds go crazy!

If you want to have a good garden, but you also want to (or have to) travel, be sure to find yourself a garden buddy. This is a person who will look after your plot while you’re gone – they’ll water if it’s very dry, pull a few weeds, and pick (and devour) your produce. Presumably, you’ll do the same for them when they travel. Because, (in case you guessed wrong), your plants and weeds will keep growing, even if you’re not around to watch. Let a friend, or one of your garden neighbors, know that you’ll be gone, and ask for their help.

FROM THE WISCONSIN PEST BULLETIN - SQUASH BUG - Adults and nymphs are active in pumpkin and winter squash plantings across the state. Vegetable growers should continue to inspect the undersides of leaves for the bronze-colored eggs, deposited in groups of 15-40 between leaf veins or on stems, as long as small nymphs are present. Squash bugs are capable of damaging mature fruit, thus control may be needed as the crop nears harvest.

BURDOCK – Today’s weed is burdock, which is an invasive plant which grows all over our gardens. Although the roots (and sometimes the stems) are eaten in Italy, Japan, and China, and are considered very healthy, I believe that most of the burdock in our gardens was not deliberately planted, and is not likely to be harvested. It makes a long taproot, which is hard to dig out, so try to find this and pull it out when it’s still small. The plants have lots of seeds, which spread widely, and the plant also can serve as a host for diseases which can attack your plants. Here’s some pictures: https://www.fs.fed.us/r3/resources/health/invasives/pinkForbs/commonBurdock.shtml


Happy Gardening,

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

From the Gardens Registrar: What to Plant in August; Harvesting Garlic; Rabbits; Swiss Chard; Workday Tomorrow Evening at Eagle Heights

Hello Gardeners,

WHAT TO PLANT NOW – If you have empty space in your garden, this is a good time to start some fall crops, such as beets, carrots, chard, kale, lettuce, spinach, mustard, turnips, and radishes. Root crops and leafy greens are your best bets for productive fall vegetables because they grow pretty quickly, and many of them are hardy enough to survive some frost. I know – it’s only August, but we will be thinking about frost before you know it.

Planting this time of year is always tricky – some of these plants don’t do well in hot weather, and if you start them too early, they’ll just shrivel up. But you have to start them early enough to give them enough time to grow. Since the solstice (late June), the days are getting shorter and the sun less direct. This means that, despite warm temperatures, everything grows progressively slower in late summer and fall.

If you plant now, be sure to water frequently. It can be helpful if there’s shade in your garden (maybe from your taller plants) to start these cool weather-loving plants.

HARVEST YOUR GARLIC – For those lucky gardeners with garlic, this is the time to harvest it. Here’s an article on how to tell when your garlic is ready, how to dig it, and how to cure it for storage: https://www.epicgardening.com/how-and-when-to-harvest-

RABBITS – Are there more rabbits in the gardens this year than usual? Maybe not, but I’m seeing lots of them, and they’re fat and healthy-looking, too. No wonder – they’re stuffing themselves with our fresh, organic vegetables. There are a number of things you can try to repel rabbits, but there’s one thing for sure – if you have tall weeds in your garden, that gives rabbits (and voles) a place to live and hide. Remove their habitat, and it’s bound to help. This is the sort of reason we have garden juries reporting on weedy plots.  Here are some other ideas: https://www.gardeners.com/how-to/rabbit-control-in-the-garden/5465.html

SWISS CHARD – Chard is a Mediterranean green (It’s not Swiss), that grows very easily in Eagle Heights gardens. It can be planted in spring or summer, requires little or no care, can be cut repeatedly, is healthy, tastes good, and is versatile to cook with. So if you haven’t planted it before, try it. 
WORKDAY AUGUST 2, AT EAGLE HEIGHTS – We will have a workday at Eagle Heights tomorrow, Thursday, August 2, from 4pm – 7pm. The project will be rechipping the 1300 row, and possibly working more on the weeds in the tree line. Please bring garden gloves. Here’s the link to sign up: https://doodle.com/poll/bngfz4mxzte47i6f


Happy Gardening,

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

From the Gardens Registrar: 700/800 Water Line; Leaking Water Station at University Houses; Surplus Produce; Keep Your Paths Clear; Workday Thursday Evening; Plot Clearing; Bean Recipes

Hello Gardeners,

700/800 WATER LINE – Over the last few weeks, our garden workers have been trying very hard to fix a water leak towards the end of this line at Eagle Heights. They have tried a number of different parts, but the leak has continued. Consequently, the water has been turned off and on a number of times. Yesterday, there was another attempt, which we hope is successful. As I type this, the water is back on. But don’t be surprised if it’s off the next time you need to water. We are sorry for the constant problems and uncertainty. Look, we’re at least as desperate to have this fixed for good as you are.

LEAKING WATER STATION AT U HOUSES GARDENS – Just to make sure that the U Houses Gardeners don’t feel left out, we are also fixing the second water station at your gardens, which has been impossible to turn off for the last week or two.

SURPLUS PRODUCE – One of the many annoyances of gardening is the way we either have nothing or we have too much. Take beans, for instance. After you plant them, it seems like a long long time before they begin to produce. Then, at last, you get the first few delicious little beans. Then, suddenly, the deluge starts and you’re drowning in beans. Please remember – if you have more vegetables than you can eat, don’t stop picking them. You can always put the extras on the share shelves. But you can also take them to food pantries. One pantry is St. Vincent de Paul, 2033 Fish Hatchery Road. They accept fresh garden produce Mondays through Fridays, from 9am – 3:30pm, and on Saturdays, from 9am – Noon. A number of our gardeners have been bringing extra produce to this pantry for years. The pantry workers and the people they serve really appreciate fresh vegetables. https://svdpmadison.org/donate/food/

KEEP YOUR PATHS CLEAR – A reminder – you are responsible for keeping a six inch path next to each of your neighbors’ plots. This not only means you shouldn’t plant in that space, but you (and your neighbors) should keep your paths reasonably clear of weeds. The purpose of the paths is to give you and your neighbors full access to your garden plots, plus it leaves a corridor for your hoses if you don’t have a water station right at your plot.

WORKDAY THURSDAY EVENING AT EAGLE HEIGHTS – Tomorrow, July 26, we will have a workday at Eagle Heights from 4pm – 7pm. The project will be clearing thistles from common areas, and chipping the 1300 row, if time permits. Here’s the link to sign up: https://doodle.com/poll/d34gze2u4dii5mdk This is a great opportunity if you have trouble doing workdays on weekends. Plus the weather looks about perfect, and the moon will be almost full.

PLOT CLEARING – Thank you to everybody who emailed to volunteer to clear plots. We got dozens of volunteers. Right now, we have only a small number of empty plots, and we also have some new gardeners who are willing to take a weedy plot and clean it up themselves. But I’ll let people know when we organize some plot-clearing workdays, or when we might have a specific assignment for a few people.

BEANS – Here are some unusual, mostly simple green bean recipes: https://www.southernliving.com/food/entertaining/green-bean-recipes

Happy Gardening,

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

From the Gardens Registrar: What is Bugging You?; Our Spiffy New Weed Pile and How to Use It; Dragonflies and Damselflies; Dill; No Workday This Weekend

Hello Gardeners,

WHAT BUGS DO YOU HAVE? – After the first wave of potato beetles appeared in the gardens, we discussed spraying with Spinosad, but we never actually did it. Since then, I’ve heard that some people still have them, but others don’t.  Also, I haven’t seen any Mexican bean beetles (yet). Japanese beetles, on the other hand, are all over my plot, and throughout the gardens, in great numbers.

So what’s going on in your plot? Do you have any of these pests? Cucumber beetles? Squash borers? Please let me know. And remember – the simplest, most effective, and least-harmful-to-the-environment method of getting rid of insect pests such as beetles is picking them off your plants, and dumping them into a pail of water with a little dish soap in it. (The soap will keep the insects from flying out of the pail.) You can also put a dropcloth on the ground, and shake your plants to knock the insects on to the cloth, then scoop them up and remove them.

Some people claim that Japanese beetles are attracted to geraniums. Supposedly, they eat the blossoms, get dizzy, and fall down, after which you can sweep them up and dispose of them. Japanese Beetles are only in their adult stage for about 6 weeks, but they can sure do a lot of damage in that short time. They eat almost everything, but beans and raspberries are some of their favorites.

THE NEW WEED PILE – Last year, we completed a project that had been planned for some time – a concrete slab was poured to be the bottom of our weed pile. Remember how awful the weed pile used to be? It was always a muddy lake, and it smelled absolutely foul. Now, thanks to the concrete, it is clean and dry, and it doesn’t even smell (very much). Just remember please – dump your weeds inside the rock barriers, not outside or at the corners. The rocks and barriers are intended to contain the pile, so it doesn’t sprawl. There’s lots and lots of space on the concrete – try approaching the pile from the road, rather than from the 300 path.

DRAGONFLIES AND DAMSELFLIES – Dragonflies and damselflies are insects in the Order of Odonata. Dragonflies are generally bigger and showier. The damselflies are smaller, with slimmer bodies, and tend to hold their wings along their bodies when they’re resting, whereas dragonflies stick theirs straight out. Both kinds of insects are beautiful, and they eat smaller insects, such as mosquitoes, aphids, and gnats. Fortunately, we have lots of them in our gardens, including some kinds of bluets, the damselflies with vivid blue on them.  https://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/blogs/how-tell-difference-between-dragonfly-and-damselfly

WHAT TO DO WITH ALL OF THAT DILL – Well, I don’t know what to do with all of your dill, but I have some suggestions to pass on about some of it. In case you’re sorry you ever let dill get going in your plot, this is a link to an article about how healthy it is: https://foodfacts.mercola.com/dill.html  This link  has recipes: https://www.tasteofhome.com/collection/fresh-dill-recipes/view-all/ Of course, if you’ve got cucumbers, the best thing to do with dill is make pickles. You can process them, or you can just make up a jar and keep it in the refrigerator. Pickled beans with dill (dilly beans) are really good, too.


Happy Gardening,

Wednesday, July 11, 2018



Hello Gardeners,

700/800 WATER LINE IS TURNED OFF FOR REPAIRS – The 700/800 water line will be shut off until at least Friday mid-day, while our workers drain the area with the leak, and try to make repairs. (See next item.)

WHEN THE WATER IS OFF – Last week, our garden workers needed to fix a leak. So they turned the water off for that line, and left the area to dry. They came back very early the next morning, and found that someone had turned the water back on. The hole where they expected to work was full of water. They were a little annoyed. Okay, they were a lot annoyed. They asked me to mention this in my next message. So here it is: IF THE WATER IS OFF IN THE GARDENS, IT IS PROBABLY OFF FOR A REASON. We will try to do a better job from now on to let people know when we have turned off a water line, and if you have a question, you can always email me to ask what’s going on. (A number of gardeners did email me about the water being off.) Our water system is old and quirky, and needs frequent repairs. Most often, the water has to be turned off in order to make the repairs, and if the problem is below ground, the ground has to dry out before our workers can get at it. Our workers do their very best to fix water problems on weekdays so that the water is available on Fridays and weekends.

WHEN THE WATER IS ON – Now that we are no longer getting torrential rainstorms, gardeners are actually watering their plots again. Just a reminder: please do not turn on the water and then leave the gardens. Any time you turn on the water, make sure everything is turned off before you go away. This week, somebody left the water running in their plot all night, and flooded a neighboring plot.

LOST ITEMS – Last weekend, at University Houses, one gardener lost a black Garmin watch. At Eagle Heights, a gardener inadvertently left a blue bag on the share shelf, containing green garden gloves, a garden knife, twine, mosquito spray, and other items. The bag says “operation pollinator” on it. If you have any information on the whereabouts of any of these objects, please let me know.

WOULD YOU LIKE TO HELP CLEAR PLOTS? – We have a few empty plots that are getting increasingly weedy. If you want to do your workday, but it’s hard for you to do one on a weekend, please contact me. We’re going to try to assemble a small team of people to clear plots – maybe on a weekday evening.

PERUVIAN DAISIES – Sounds pretty, doesn’t it? I guess they are pretty. But they’re also one of the most numerous weeds at Eagle Heights. They’re also called Shaggy Soldiers, and Quick Weed (because they grow, flower, and set seed so fast.) They’re a garden escape that spreads quickly in disturbed areas, such as gardens. At least they’re small and shallow-rooted, so they’re easy to pull out by hand. In case you’ve ever wondered about these little plants, here’s a website with some information: https://www.minnesotawildflowers.info/flower/shaggy-soldier

RASPBERRY RHUBARB JAM – If you’ve got too many raspberries (if such a thing is even possible) and you’ve got rhubarb, why not try this? 

WORKDAY THIS WEEKEND – We are tentatively planning a workday at Eagle Heights this weekend, but, since rain is forecast, we will wait to schedule it until we know which day is more likely to be dry.

Happy gardening,

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

From the Gardens Registrar: Black Walnut Trees; Most of the Gardens Look Great!; Should You Prune Your Tomatoes?; Dark Leafy Greens; Weekend Workday to be Determined

Hello Gardeners,

Happy Independence Day, Everyone!

BLACK WALNUT TREES – I’ve been pulling black walnut tree seedlings out of my plot, and finding them all over the garden. They’re easy to pull when they’re small, so look out for them now, and pull out any you find. Besides the fact that you don’t want trees growing in your plot, black walnuts are particularly bad in a garden because they’re allelopathic. This means that they release biochemicals into the soil which poison the other plants growing near them. Tomatoes and their relatives are particularly sensitive to juglone, the chemical that black walnuts produce. Black walnut seedlings are not going to hurt your vegetables when they’re small, but if you let them get bigger, they will. Here’s a picture: https://marathonpundit.blogspot.com/2014/06/photo-black-walnut-seedling.html

GARDEN INSPECTIONS – This bizarre weather, especially the heavy rains that have soaked our clay-y soil, has made gardening particularly difficult this year. Yet, most of the gardeners have risen to the challenge. Congratulations particularly to the University Houses gardeners – most of the plots there look fantastic. I am particularly impressed by the half-plots along the north edge of the garden – I had no idea these plots hacked out of the wilderness could look so attractive and productive. Thanks, everybody, (or almost everybody) for persisting despite adversity.

TOMATO PRUNING – Since tomatoes are one of the most popular plants for backyard (and community) gardeners, there is a great deal of discussion on how best to grow them. One issue is pruning, which means basically removing “suckers”, which are extra branches that develop in the “v” between the main stem and the already-existing branches of the plant. Some people believe that you have to prune if you want your plants to produce well. Some people never do it. If you’re considering this, first, you need to know whether a tomato plant is determinate or indeterminate. A determinate tomato is programmed to grow only to a limited size, and then it will put all its energy into producing fruit. You don’t need to prune determinate plants, and in fact, you shouldn’t. Determinate tomatoes tend to be early, or paste-types (such as Romas), or dwarf varieties, mainly for patio planting. Some main-season tomatoes are indeterminate, though, so do look up your varieties on the Internet if you’re not sure what you’ve got. If your tomato is indeterminate, it will keep growing throughout the summer. If you prune it, you may increase the size of the tomatoes you harvest, but decrease the number you get. It depends on what you’re aiming for. Anyway, here is a link to a website that explains all: https://www.thespruce.com/should-you-prune-out-tomato-suckers-1403290

GREEN LEAFY VEGETABLES – Many of us grow greens, such as chard, kale, spinach, and so on. We grow them because we like to eat them. However, we can also enjoy the fact that these foods are very healthy and versatile. Here’s a website that lists the incredible numbers of vitamins these greens have, and includes ways to cook them: http://thescienceofeating.com/vegetables/best-leafy-green-vegetables/

WORKDAY THIS WEEKEND – We’ll probably have a workday this Saturday morning, but I’ll send out more details and the Doodle link on Friday if it’s a go.

Happy gardening,