Political Commentary

Wednesday, August 5, 2020


From the Gardens Registrar: Organic Gardening; New Co-Chair Needed; Are You Going Away?

Hello Gardeners,

ORGANIC GARDENING – According to our rules, all garden plots at Eagle Heights are to be gardened organically. At University Houses Gardens, the A and B rows are officially organic. (Gardeners in C, D, E, and F plots are not required to garden organically; they can stop reading this and go do something more pleasant until it’s over.) What does this mean? First of all, no chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, or insecticides are allowed in organic plots. Anything you apply to improve your soil, destroy weeds, or protect your plants from insects must be organic, a natural substance, rather than the product of a laboratory. As organic gardening becomes more popular, more and more organic products are available at garden centers, but be sure you see the word “organic” on the label before you buy anything and bring it to your EH or UH garden.

This affects more than just your own garden – if you use chemicals in your plot, whoever gardens in that space after you leave will inherit those chemicals. Also, your garden neighbors may be affected by those chemicals. Again, we are a community garden – we are all in this together.

But there is more to organic gardening than simply not using chemicals. Organic gardening is about a different relationship with your garden and the natural world. It’s not about making your vegetables grow. It’s more about understanding how they grow, and learning, through observation and experience (and a fair amount of dumb luck) how to work with natural processes to help them grow better. It’s more work gardening organically, but it’s better for us, and our plants, and the planet.

NEW GARDEN COMMITTEE CO-CHAIR – Our gardens are run by the Garden Committee, which consists of gardeners. Any gardener can join the committee and help make decisions to keep the gardens going. The Committee in turn is run by 2 Co-Chairs. The Co-Chairs set the agendas and run the meetings. They also sometimes help to settle disputes with gardeners or take on special projects. Most importantly, they look at larger issues with garden management, and guide the Committee and the gardens to develop better procedures and policies. We currently have a vacancy for a Co-Chair. The position generally requires very little time – being present for a one-hour meeting once a month is most of it. (It’s okay to miss a meeting occasionally.) But it’s helpful if you read your email regularly and can respond to the urgent questions and situations that sometimes come up. We would also be particularly interested in having a Co-Chair with a plot at University Houses, who can represent that constituency. We would appreciate a one-year commitment. Please let me know if you’re interested, or would like more details about what is involved.

ARE YOU GOING AWAY (WITH NO WORD OF FAREWELL?) – Just a reminder – if you’re leaving Madison at the end of the summer and giving up your garden plot, please let me know. There are generally new people looking to get garden plots this time of year, and I’m always anxious to find empty plots I can move them into. Or if you’re realizing you don’t have the time or interest in gardening any more and want to quit, let me know. Please don’t just walk away from your plot without communicating with me. And by the way, if you have a friend you’d like to give your plot to, we can accommodate that. Let me know, and I can transfer your plot to your friend. But please don’t just arrange it between yourselves. Let me know. Or to put it another way, let me know. And thanks.

Happy Gardening and Stay Well,
Kathryn

Wednesday, July 29, 2020


From the Gardens Registrar: Reminder – Don’t Go In Other People’s Plots; Covid 19; 
Leopold Benches; Lakeshore Preserve Hours; Too Much Squash?

Hello Gardeners,

REMINDER – DON’T GO INTO/THROUGH OTHER PEOPLE’S PLOTS – We have a few garden plots with fruit trees that are now bearing fruit. Naturally, other gardeners want to pick that fruit. But our standard rules still apply – no gardener is allowed into another’s garden without their permission. Further, you are not allowed to walk through anybody’s garden on your way somewhere else. Please have some consideration for your fellow gardeners.

COVID 19 – Despite the self-sacrifices that many of us have been making since March, the number of coronavirus cases in the U.W., Wisconsin, and our county have been going up. As far as I know, no one has become sick from coming to our gardens. Nevertheless, the pandemic is far from over, so it seems like a good idea to remind people of basic precautions. If you are not feeling well, don’t come to the gardens. If you have tested positive for the virus, even though you don’t have symptoms, don’t come to the gardens. People should maintain at least six-foot social distancing at all times with anyone other than their own family/housemates. The latest county order suggests that people wear face masks even outside (suggests, but does not require.) Considering how large our gardens are, I still don’t think it’s necessary to wear a mask while gardening, but I do recommend that you always have one with you, in case you want to have an extended conversation or work closely with another gardener. Lastly, wash your hands frequently, with soap, which we have provided, particularly before and after touching shared tools and faucets.

(Thanks to EH gardener J.B., who also coordinates the Sheboygan Avenue Garden, for sharing the information he shared with his gardeners.)

LEOPOLD BENCHES – The plot in the 1100 row which includes two pear trees and a (former) sandbox, became very weedy over the last few years, and several brave gardeners have put a great deal of work into rehabbing it this year. Through their efforts, this will again become a pleasant place for gardeners and families to relax. We would like to have two small simple benches in the plot. We haven’t yet fully approved the plan, but in the meantime, I’m wondering if anybody would be interested in helping out (as a workday, of course) by building and installing Leopold benches? The first Leopold bench was built by the naturalist, (and U.W. Madison professor), Aldo Leopold. It is simple – 6 pieces of wood, and a few bolts and screws. Building one takes about 2 hours, and free plans are widely available on the Internet. We would like 2 of them for the Pear Plot/Sandbox, each seating 2 people. We would, of course, pay for the materials. Let me know if you’re interested.

NEW LAKESHORE PRESERVE HOURS – As part of its response to the pandemic, the Lakeshore Preserve has changed its hours – the preserve is now only open from sunrise to sunset. Our gardens are part of the Preserve, so gardeners should follow the same hours. Not that I think there are many people weeding their rutabagas in the middle of the night.

SQUASH - It’s that time of year – there has been a constant supply of overgrown zucchini and summer squash on the share shelves. Even if you have only one plant, you may still be getting more zucchini than you want. In case you’re running out of ideas, here is a link to a huge number of recipes: https://www.allrecipes.com/recipes/2455/fruits-and-vegetables/vegetables/squash/summer-squash/zucchini/

Happy Gardening and Stay Well,
Kathryn

Wednesday, July 22, 2020


From the Gardens Registrar: WORKDAYS – PLEASE READ; Beans; Donating Your Extra Produce; Planting for Fall

Hello Gardeners,

WORKDAYS – In normal years, one gardener from each garden plot must perform a three-hour workday. Those who prefer to not do the workday, or who don’t get a chance to do one, must pay a fee instead.

This is not a normal year. We have not been able to have our usual group workdays this year because of the coronavirus, and this situation does not seem likely to change. The individual workdays that some gardeners have been able to do have been really helpful, and there will be more opportunities for people to get a workday in this year. But there aren’t enough opportunities for everybody, and some gardeners seem to really be worrying about it.

Therefore, we have decided that, for workday purposes, 2020 and 2021 will be combined. If you have been able to do your workday this year, thank you very much, and you will not have to do one next year. If you are not able to do one this year, you will have next year to do it. Gardeners are still welcome to pay the $32 fee if they don’t choose to do a workday either year – but that fee only has to be paid once, either this year or next.

Please let me know if you have any questions about this.

BEANS – If your beans are bearing, you may be getting a lot of beans. Keep picking them – the more you pick, the more your beans will keep flowering and setting fruit. Of course, if you keep picking them, you’ll have to keep dealing with them. Green beans are delicious steamed and eaten plain. They’re great with dill, almonds, garlic, lemon – just about anything. They’re good cooked in stews and casseroles, or in cold, marinated salads. You can freeze them for the winter – it’s best to blanch them first. You can make dilly beans, and keep a jar in the refrigerator for snacking. Here’s a website with a wide variety of recipes: https://www.allrecipes.com/recipes/1087/fruits-and-vegetables/vegetables/green-beans/

DONATING EXTRA PRODUCE – If you and your family (and your neighbors, co-workers, and complete strangers you encounter on the street) can’t keep up with the beans and other fresh vegetables coming out of your plot, you can always put the excess on the share shelves, where it will be snatched up immediately. But also, we really encourage gardeners to donate extra vegetables to food pantries. Due to the pandemic, the community’s need for free food and other services is even greater than usual this year. But hours and procedures for accepting produce have changed. Please contact a food pantry directly for more information. Here are just a few: St. Vincent De Paul, Madison Outreach Ministry, and The River Food Pantry. Though the pantries are particularly requesting money this year, they still appreciate local produce. Be sure that what you contribute is fresh and of good quality.

PLANNING FOR PLANTING FOR FALL – You’ve got to be kidding. It’s hot and steamy, and the summer is obviously going to go on forever. Right? Well, no, the days are already getting shorter, and the fall will be here in a couple of months. This is a good time to start to plan for fall crops, such as lettuce, peas, greens, cabbage family vegetables, and root crops. The first thing to think about is our typical first frost date – in Madison, it’s usually at the end of October – say, October 20 – 30. Here’s a detailed article from the University of Minnesota about fall crops: https://extension.umn.edu/planting-and-growing-guides/planting-vegetables-midsummer-fall-harvest

Happy Gardening and Take Care,
Kathryn

Thursday, July 16, 2020


 
 From the Gardens Registrar: Beetles; Toads; Garlic; More Volunteer Activities; Got an Old Sandbox?

 Hello Gardeners,
 
BEETLES – This is the time of year that many kinds of beetles descend on our gardens to nibble our produce. Here are some of the most popular, currently:
MEXICAN BEAN BEETLES – Although they’re a type of ladybug, these beetles don’t eat other insects – they eat bean leaves. When there are large numbers of them, they can do enough damage to kill bean plants. Also, they can spread diseases which hurt the plants. The beetles are orange, with black spots. The larvae are yellow and spiny. There are a few ways to minimize damage – plant beans early so that you get beans before the beetles arrive in July, and/or plant beans later in the season, so the beetles are done by the time the beans start growing. Row cover can help, although you’re not going to be able to cover your pole beans with row cover. Also, some varieties are more resistant to the beetles. As always, the most effective and safest treatment is hand-picking the beetles, larvae, and eggs off of your plants and tossing them into soapy water. Marigolds and onions may help to repel them. Also, there is a kind of wasp that eats bean beetles, Pediobius foveolatus, which we have purchased and which we are distributing around the gardens this week. Please note that these wasps are tiny, and do not sting humans.
JAPANESE BEETLES – I don’t worry about bean beetles in my plot, because the Japanese beetles seem to always get my beans before the bean beetles do. These are remarkably beautiful iridescent beetles, a type of scarab beetle, which don’t do much damage in Japan because they have natural predators there. But here, they are very destructive to hundreds of plants, particularly roses, beans, and raspberries. They’re all the more destructive because they feed in large groups. Again, hand-picking them off your plants is the safest method of getting rid of them. Neem oil and insecticidal soap may be helpful. Also, they’re attracted to geraniums, but the leaves make them dizzy, they fall off the plants, and you can sweep them up. And no, I didn’t make that up.
CUCUMBER BEETLES – These beetles are yellow with black stripes, though some are also spotted. Again, they eat your plants, but the damage they do comes mostly from their spreading diseases, such as wilt, which will kill your plants. Nasturtiums may help deter them. Also, planting cucumber seeds late could help. They also attack both summer and winter squash, and beans, if the bean beetles and Japanese beetles have left any. There are other pests that attack squash, but this is depressing enough for this week.
TOADS – Now, a more pleasant subject.  We have always had toads in the gardens, but I’m seeing more of them than I have for the last few years, and so are other gardeners. The species is American Toad, and they are amphibians. They are not only really cute, in a grumpy warty way, but they are great animals to have in your garden, because they eat lots of kinds of insects, as well as slugs, snails, and worms. (No, they don’t eat jumping worms, unfortunately.) They like to live in moist places, such as under boards. Some people make toad houses to attract them. I don’t know if it works, but here’s some sample instructions: https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/special/children/garden-toad-house.htm
GARLIC – Gardeners are starting to dig out their garlic now. Late July is the usual time around here. Besides harvesting at the right time, it’s important to cure and store it properly. Here’s a website with lots of information: https://keeneorganics.com/harvesting-garlic/
VOLUNTEERS – We’re looking for 3 people to help Megan, our garden worker, with weed whacking on a Monday morning – 9am – 10am. This is credited towards your 3 hour work requirement. Please let me know if you’re interested.
SANDBOX – Has anybody got an old sandbox they’d like to donate to Eagle Heights for the 1100 row?
Happy Gardening and Take Care,
Kathryn

Sunday, July 12, 2020

From the Gardens Registrar: Garden Horror Stories; Woodchips/Leaves; Black Walnut Trees; Sandbox on the Hill; Damselflies; EH Leaf Pile Temperatures
 
 
Hello Gardeners,
 
GARDEN TALES OF WOE – Last week, I asked gardeners if they had been losing vegetables to garden pests, and I got a lot of responses. Here’s a sample: “something furry eating my beet greens”, “beans, broccoli, peas lost to voles”, “beets eaten by bugs”, “my friends lost all their beets to voles”, “turkeys ate all the berries”, “beans eaten by small rodent”, “carrots, beets, cilantro lost to voles. Beans eaten – by rabbits?’, “beets, beans, broccoli, cabbage, and peas attacked by a bunny or deer?” A gardener also informed me that turkeys are eating his tomatoes – just before they turn ripe. I didn’t know that turkeys ate tomatoes, but yes, they do, unfortunately.
 
There was only one hopeful response, from a gardener who had huge problems with pests eating beans, peas, and radishes. They put up 3’ plastic netting around their bean plants, which were suffering the same fate, and the plants have made an amazing recovery. They don’t bury the netting; just its presence seems to deter the animals. We don’t encourage putting up fences, because they make so many problems between neighbors. But with what seem unusually high populations of voles, rabbits, deer, and turkeys, I’m afraid fences might be the only solution for some gardeners.
WOODCHIPS/LEAVES – Both gardens now have woodchips again. We are establishing some new relationships with mulch suppliers, as well as renewing old ones, so that we should be able to keep up a continuous supply. More leaf mulch will be delivered to UH as soon as we’ve cleared the front plots where they’ll be dumped. Volunteers are already working on this project, but we will also have to clear some large boulders before delivery can take place.
BLACK WALNUT TREES – A gardener from University Houses sent an email about black walnut trees and their bad effect on tomato plants. The roots of black walnut trees produce a substance that is toxic to many other plants. Tomatoes and their relatives, such as peppers, potatoes, and eggplants, are particularly sensitive to this chemical, juglone. This gardener noticed her tomatoes looking bad, and was able to transplant them to another part of the plot, where they recovered. There are black walnut trees growing in the woods next to our gardens, but also they often sprout in our plots and paths. If you know what they look like, pull them up immediately if you find any in your plot. Here’s some information on gardening near these trees: https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/growing_vegetable_gardens_near_black_walnut_trees
THE SANDBOX ON THE HILL – One of our gardeners has done extensive work clearing weeds from the plot on the hill under the pear trees, which contains a sandbox. This plot has been overgrown and inappropriate for children to play in for years. Now that it’s been cleared to some extent, do gardeners think we should put sand in the box again? (There’s not much left anymore.) Or should it continue to be a public area, but more for family and adult use? It is going to take constant maintenance to keep it in decent shape – are there any gardeners who would like to adopt it and take responsibility for it?
DAMSELFLIES – I hope that gardeners have noticed the damselflies in the gardens these days. These are a smaller relative of dragonflies. The ones I’m seeing are called Bluets, and I see them particularly hovering around dill plants. They’re not enjoying the flowers – they’re carnivores that eat tiny insects that are attracted to these plants. I don’t know the exact species we have, but here’s information on Azure Bluets: https://uwm.edu/field-station/azure-bluet/
EH LEAFPILE TEMPERATURES – One of the gardeners at Eagle Heights has taken the temperature in several spots at our leaf pile. The temperatures ranged from 104 degrees to 128. The lowest temperature was at eye level on the road side of the pile. Since I reported that jumping worms have been seen in the pile, a number of gardeners have asked if they should still use leaves. It’s up to you, but I would recommend that if you do use leaves, you  take them from the hottest part of the pile, (the side away from the road). Studies done last year at the UW Arboretum showed that temperatures over 100 degrees could kill the cocoons of these worms, so I think the risks are lowest where the pile is hottest.
 
Happy Gardening and Take Care,
Kathryn

Thursday, July 2, 2020




From the Gardens Registrar: What to Plant Now?; Get a Garden Buddy; Spotted Wing Drosophila; Volunteers Needed for Several Projects; Fun With Dill

Hello Gardeners,


WHAT TO PLANT NOW – At this point in the season, you can keep planting most vegetables, such as beans, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, and peppers.  With the heat, though, it’s not a good time to plant lettuce, spinach, broccoli, kale, or carrots. You can plant these cooler-weather vegetables a few weeks from now for fall crops. If your spring crops are done and you’ve pulled them out, you can always plant radishes again – they’re a quick, easy-to-grow crop - or put in more flowers.

WHO’S YOUR GARDEN BUDDY? – Being a successful gardener requires frequent visits to your plot to keep an eye on everything, pull weeds, water, and so on. But plenty of our gardeners love to garden and also love to travel, or have to travel for their jobs. Unfortunately, if you can’t be there, that doesn’t mean your plants and the weeds will go into suspended animation. Everything keeps growing whether you’re there or not. That’s why good gardeners have a garden buddy. This might be your garden neighbor, or a friend who also has one of our garden plots, or just a friend or family member from outside the garden. Whoever it is, don’t leave home for more than a week without making arrangements for your garden buddy to stop in to check your plot, water if it’s dry, pull a few weeds if they’re out of control, and pick and eat your produce if it’s ripe. Leaving ripe produce in your garden attracts insects and other animal pests, and can also lead to humans taking your vegetables because they don’t want to see them go to waste.

RASPBERRY FRUIT FLIES – Also, with raspberries starting to ripen, be sure to pick your raspberries, and don’t leave them to over-ripen and fall on the ground. This is the season for a raspberry pest called the Spotted Wing Drosophila. These insects lay their eggs on raspberries, especially over-ripe ones. Don’t encourage them. And when you pick your raspberries, be sure to eat them quickly or refrigerate them, because they may already have tiny eggs that could hatch. 

VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES – We have a number of garden plots which have been given up, and which need weeding. Also, we need a poison ivy volunteer to remove poison ivy from one of our plots – is there anyone with expertise in this? These tasks are all in exchange for workday credit. Let me know if you’re interested.

BEETS AND BEANS – One of our gardeners has had beets and beans attacked by garden pests, and wants to know if anyone else is having the same situation? Please let me know.

WHAT TO DO WITH ALL THAT DILL? – Is your garden full of dill? Unfortunately, it’s difficult to just have a little of this herb, and once you have dill one year, you will always have it in future years. But fortunately, it’s very delicious, especially with cucumbers and potatoes. Here are some recipes that use it: https://www.tasteofhome.com/collection/fresh-dill-recipes/

Happy Gardening, and Stay Well,
Kathryn

Wednesday, June 24, 2020


From the Gardens Registrar: Jumping Worms in the Leaf Pile at EH; Should You Prune Your Tomatoes?; Spinosad Spraying for Potato Beetles; Have You Lost a Necklace?; Wildflowers and Weeds; Nominate Your Favorite Plot

Hello Gardeners,

JUMPING WORMS – Sad to say, but not unexpected, it has now been confirmed that we do have jumping worms in the leaf pile at Eagle Heights. At this point, there’s not much we can do about that. But please don’t move plants from our EH gardens to your home or share them with friends outside of our gardens, because of the risk of spreading the worms to their gardens.

PRUNING TOMATOES?  - Tomato growers are divided about whether or not it is helpful to prune tomato plants. Partly, it makes a difference what kind of tomatoes you’re growing. “Determinate” tomatoes are bred to grow only to a certain size, and then stop. They are generally smaller, more compact plants, and will give you a large number of tomatoes at one time. You do not need to prune determinate tomatoes. Paste tomatoes, such as Romas, are determinate, and so are some larger-fruited tomatoes, such as Rutgers and Celebrity. “Indeterminate” tomato plants will keep growing throughout the season, producing their tomatoes over a longer period of time. Some gardeners believe these plants have to be pruned for best yields. But not everybody agrees. Here’s an article which goes into some of the pros and cons: https://www.thespruce.com/dont-prune-tomato-plants-2539820

SPINOSAD SPRAYING – Last week, I asked if gardeners were interested in our spraying spinosad, an organic insecticide, to kill potato beetles. Five gardeners were in favor, and two were opposed to the plan. Based on this response, we will spray only the plots of the five gardeners who were in favor. Spraying can only be done in the evening, when bees aren’t active. (The spinosad will dry overnight, so the bees will not be affected by it the next morning when they return to work.) It can’t be windy, to make sure the spray goes only where it’s directed, and there’s no point in spraying if it is likely to rain the next day. We will only spray one time. So if you want your plot sprayed, tell me in the next few days.

FOUND NECKLACE – Found, one nice-looking necklace, on Eagle Heights Drive near the garden parking, Tuesday evening. If you’ve lost it, let me know, and I’ll connect you with the gardener who found it.

WILDFLOWERS AND WEEDS – What’s the difference between these two things? One definition would be - if we have a plant that we didn’t put in our garden, and we like it, it’s a wildflower. If we don’t like it, it’s a weed. Essentially, they’re the same thing, except for our attitude towards them. Most of the weeds in our gardens are not native to this area, but they may still be attractive or interesting to look at, and many of them attract bees and other beneficial insects to our gardens. Many of our weeds are good to eat, and nutritious. Some have medicinal value. The weeds we definitely don’t want are “invasives”, which means that they take over garden areas, and crowd out other species. Here’s a link to an article by a gardener who enjoys at least some of their weeds: https://www.thegardenbuzz.com/2014/08/wildflower-or-weed-whats-the-difference.html

NOMINATE YOUR FAVORITE PLOT – Our garden juries have been surveying plots, and finding far fewer weedy gardens than usual. Good job, (almost) everybody. But the juries tend to concentrate on discovering bad plots. Some gardeners think we should do more to encourage good gardening by recognizing especially well-tended plots. So if there’s a plot you particularly admire, figure out the number, and let me know. Even if it’s your own plot!

Happy Gardening, and Stay Safe,  
Kathryn