Political Commentary

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

From the Gardens Registrar: Garlic Planting Workshop; Garden Arbor and Rain Garden; Squash Facts; Workday at Eagle Heights Saturday Morning

Hello Gardeners,

GARLIC PLANTING WORKSHOP – A reminder – garlic-master Gary K. will give his annual garlic-planting workshop, near the EH shed, on Saturday, September 14, from 9am – 10am. As always, he does not recommend planting garlic until October. In fact, he thinks that the best time this year will be after October’s full moon, October 13. His talk will cover how, when, and where to plant garlic. If you love Allium sativum, you should really hear Gary’s advice before you plant.

GARDEN ARBOR AND RAIN GARDEN – The beautiful Garden Arbor at Eagle Heights is maintained entirely by volunteers. We can always use more people to help out with weeding and other tasks. Yes, you get workday credit for your time. Please let me know if you’re interested. This year, we added more space to the Arbor Garden, by turning the former Plot 606A into a rain garden. The lowest area of the gardens, most of the 500 and 600 rows, was flooded much of last year, and again this spring. We had two reasons for creating this rain garden – one being to establish a perennial garden that would grow well under wet conditions. The other reason was to see if a rain garden could be helpful to neighboring plots. The rain garden volunteers dug out some of the dirt/mud in the space and lowered the area before the rain garden plants were put in. Hopefully, if/when we get heavy rains in the future, some of the water will run into the rain garden, leaving other nearby plots drier. The plants have settled in very nicely and are growing well. One result we’ve seen already is that the plants in this garden are attractive to butterflies – volunteers counted 15 Monarch larvae on the swamp milkweeds last weekend.

WHY ARE SQUASH CALLED “SQUASH”? – Our term for the vegetable,” squash” (okay, botanically, it’s really a fruit) comes from a Narragansett Indian word, askutasquash, which means, “eaten raw or uncooked.” Squash and pumpkins have been cultivated for food (and utensils in the case of gourds) for at least 12,000 years, and originally grew wild in Central America. When Europeans came to North America in the 1500s, they found the native peoples growing and eating a number of different kinds of squash, most of which are still grown and eaten today. Zucchini, like all the other squash, originated in the Americas, but were developed in Italy in the late Nineteenth Century, and then were brought back here by Italian immigrants. Here’s an article on squash history from the Library of Congress: https://www.loc.gov/rr/scitech/mysteries/squash.html

WORKDAY – We will have a workday at Eagle Heights this Saturday, September 14, from 9am – Noon. The task will be removing weeds and debris from the shed area and the 1300’s path. Please bring gloves. Meet at the garden shed. Here’s the link to sign up: https://doodle.com/poll/6zwnufbfhba8z4ai

Happy gardening,

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

From the Gardens Registrar: What to Do in the Garden Now; Birds; Plot Markers; Garden Juries; Freezing Beans; Workday To Be Determined

Hello Gardeners,

WHAT TO DO IN YOUR GARDEN IN EARLY SEPTEMBER  – There’s still time to plant a few quick-growing, cool weather-loving vegetables: beets, carrots, chard, lettuce, mustard, radishes, spinach, and turnips. But these should probably be planted in the next week or so, to give them enough time to grow before frost. If you have winter squash and it’s still blooming, you should take off any new flowers, to encourage the plants to put their energy into ripening the fruits that have already been set. (Thanks, Amy.) If you’re lucky enough to have fall raspberries, be sure to pick them as soon as they’re ripe – don’t let them sit and rot, and attract fruit flies. In fact, keep picking whatever vegetables and fruits you’ve got. You may still be feeling overwhelmed, but as the days get shorter, there will be less and less to pick.

BIRD MIGRATION – Some birds start heading south for the winter as early as July. Hummingbirds and warblers start their fall migrations in August. Many of the birds passing through Madison will stop over at the UW Lakeshore Nature Preserve, which our gardens are part of. Some of them may stop in our gardens as well, so be on the lookout for unusual birds, and listen for unfamiliar songs. Here’s some information from a Friends of the Lakeshore Preserve newsletter from a few years ago: https://www.friendslakeshorepreserve.com/uploads/2/6/9/3/26931781/2009_winter_friends_newsletter_p_3.pdf

PLOT MARKERS – Each garden plot should have three markers at the front along the path – one is the number marker, which should be in the middle, and the other two are corner markers, which are painted yellow. Many of these markers go missing every year. Sometimes, neighborhood kids play games with them and scatter them around the garden. Some of them are moved by gardeners to become stakes for tomatoes. Others are apparently sucked into black holes, nevermore to be seen again. The next time you’re at your garden, please take a look at your markers, and if you’ve moved them from where they belong, please move them back. They have a purpose.

THANK YOU TO THE GARDEN JURY MEMBERS – The five groups of garden juries have completed their work for this year. These people have surveyed the gardens to look for abandoned and weedy plots. The June reports were not bad. There were a few more bad plots in July. But the August surveys found large numbers of weedy, dreadful-looking plots in both gardens. This is thoroughly depressing. I am still digesting the last jury reports, but I very much appreciate all the work and thought that went into their sessions. So far, 25 garden plots have either been given up by the gardeners or were confiscated, thanks to the work of the juries. Those 25 plots are being worked now by enthusiastic new gardeners. We all benefit from this, so thank you, jurors.

FREEZING BEANS – If you’re still picking beans, and you’re tired of eating them, remember that the easiest way to preserve them is to freeze them. It’s standard to blanch them first, which means giving them a few minutes in boiling water, and then cooling them quickly in ice water before you put them in the freezer. Some people claim their texture is better and they have more nutrients if you blanch them first. Other people think it’s not worth the extra trouble. Why not try doing it both ways and see if the extra step is worthwhile? Here’s a website with detailed instructions: https://www.thespruceeats.com/blanch-and-freeze-green-beans-1327653

WORKDAY – If we have a workday this weekend, I’ll send out a separate announcement.

Happy gardening,

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

From the Gardens Registrar: Why Do People Garden?; Why Do People Not Garden?; Remove Your Tomato Blossoms; Annual Garlic Planting Seminar; Workday on Sunday at University Houses Gardens

Hello Gardeners,

WHY DO PEOPLE GARDEN? – People garden for many reasons. Here are just a few – to grow vegetables to feed their families; to know where their food comes from and to show their children where it comes from; to grow food they eat in their home countries that they can’t get here; for health and exercise; for an excuse to be outside; to be creative; to enjoy the company of the birds and butterflies; they remember their parents gardening; they find garden work relaxing and meditative; because it’s satisfying, and some people can’t imagine NOT having a garden.

WHY DO PEOPLE NOT GARDEN? – If you have garden neighbors who don’t take care of their plots (and yes, I know what it’s like), you may have nasty thoughts about them. “When are they going to cut down their weeds? Why did they get a garden if they weren’t going to take care of it? Why are they letting their tomatoes rot?” It’s true that our garden rules state clearly that “Weeds must be kept under control.” We have garden juries to inspect gardens in the summer, and they tell me when they find gardens that are exceptionally weedy or that seem to have been abandoned. Then I contact the gardeners for those plots. Some people don’t respond, and some people explain that they’ve left town. Those plots get confiscated, and turned over to new gardeners. But quite often the gardeners say they’re very busy – many of our gardeners are students, with jobs, and families. They want to work in their gardens, but they have so many other obligations in their lives. And quite often also, gardeners or family members have been sick. Eventually, weedy gardens do get cleared, one way or another. But sometimes it takes a while – it’s not always a quick process. I’m not excusing people for having weedy plots, but some gardeners really do have good excuses. Please think good thoughts when you pass a bad plot, if you can.

TOMATO BLOSSOMS – I’m sorry, folks, but Fall really is coming soon. After September 1, it is time to start taking any new flowers off of your tomato plants. That will encourage the plants to put more of their energy into ripening the fruit they’ve already set. This is especially important with large-fruited tomatoes. Same goes for larger-fruited peppers and eggplants.

GARLIC PLANTING SEMINAR – Although garlic-master Gary K. is no longer gardening at Eagle Heights, he is going to visit the gardens on Saturday, September 14, from 9am – 10am, to give his annual garlic-planting workshop. You can meet him at the EH shed. As always, he does not recommend planting garlic until October. In fact, he thinks that the best time this year will be after October’s full moon, October 13. His talk will cover how, when, and where to plant garlic. If you love Allium sativum, you should really hear Gary’s advice before you plant.

WORKDAY ON SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 1 AT UNIVERSITY HOUSES GARDENS – A long-time UH gardener will lead a workday at UH Gardens on Sunday, September 1, from 8am – 11am. The task will be clearing weeds from around the leaf pile and the paths. Please meet at the garden shed. The U Houses Gardens are at the end of Haight Road, next to Bernie’s Place Childcare Center, which is at 39 University Houses. Here’s the link to sign up: https://doodle.com/poll/yyeas8biy6ubdpf9

Happy gardening,

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

From the Gardens Registrar: Mexican Bean Beetles; Renewing Your Garden for 2020; The Proper Use of Weed Piles; Weed of the Week – Canada Fleabane; Workday TBA

Hello Gardeners,

MEXICAN BEAN BEETLES – I haven’t seen any bean beetles this year in my plot – I think the Japanese Beetles must be chasing them off my plants – but gardeners have been reporting that they have them. One gardener sent me a picture of some strange yellow, spiny creatures under his bean leaves. They are bean beetle larvae, and they’re born hungry. As always, with these beetle pests, the safest and most effective way to get rid of them is to pick them off your plants, and drop them into a container of soapy water. Here’s a link to information on bean beetles, with pictures of their different life phases, suitable for framing: http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/veg/bean/mexican_bean_beetle.htm

NEXT YEAR – It seems early, but I’m already getting inquiries about applying for garden plots for next year. So here’s the scoop. The 2020 garden applications will be available on-line and at the Eagle Heights Community Center starting on December 15. For people who have gardened in 2019 and want to renew their plot, the deadline to get your application in is February 15. After that date, any garden plots that haven’t been renewed will be assigned to new applicants. If you have gardened this year, and you want to garden again next year, but you want to move to a different plot, you can indicate that on your application, and I’ll try to find you something else.

THE WEED PILES – Folks, this message applies to gardeners at both EH and UH. Please do not dump weeds near the weed piles. Please do not dump weeds next to the weed piles. At Eagle Heights, there is a concrete slab for weeds. At University Houses, there is an area with concrete walls. Please put your weeds on the slab at EH, and inside the concrete area at UH. At EH, please approach the weed pile from the south side (the side towards the woods.) Thank you.

CANADA FLEABANE – Erigeron canadensis is a very tall weed that grows throughout our gardens on abandoned or poorly managed plots. It’s also called horseweed. This plant is a major agricultural problem, because it’s developing resistance to herbicides. But in our gardens, it’s easily controlled – just pull it up, and don’t let it get big and tall. It’s not very interesting to look at, anyway, and doesn’t seem to be edible or have medicinal uses. http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/crops/facts/ontweeds/canada_fleabane.htm

WORKDAY – We might have a workday this weekend – if we do, I’ll send out the notice separately.

Happy gardening,

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

From the Gardens Registrar: The EH Sign is Back!; There Ain’t No Cure for the Summertime Blues*; Preserving the Harvest; Clearing Empty Plots for Workday Credit; Workday Sunday at EH

Hello Gardeners,

EAGLE HEIGHTS WELCOME SIGN – Many thanks to Will and Dave for remaking and repainting our welcome sign at EH. It looks beautiful. It’s great to have it back up.

SUMMERTIME BLUES – Did you have big plans for the summer? Getting outside a lot! Bicycling! Travelling! Doing aaaamaaaazing things in your garden! And now, we’re less than three weeks from Labor Day, and what have you accomplished?

Many of our garden plots are still looking wonderful. But I’m seeing increasing numbers of plots that look like the gardeners are wearing out and falling behind. Folks, it’s too early to give up. We still have more than two months before frost, and there’s plenty of time to grow beautiful and tasty things. If you have weedy patches, get those weeds out, and plant something new – beets, radishes, carrots, lettuce, greens.  Or cover the area with a good layer of leaves, so it doesn’t get weedy again. Improving your garden is indeed a cure for the summertime blues. And let me know if you could use some help. We are a community garden, and we can and do help each other.

PRESERVING THE HARVEST – Too many tomatoes? There’s no such thing. There are lots of ways to preserve tomatoes, so you can enjoy them all year. None of them have to go to waste. The very fastest, easiest way is to freeze them, provided you have some freezer space. Pick the tomatoes, wash and dry them, and put them into good quality freezer bags or containers. Freeze. That’s it. You don’t have to blanch them or peel them or anything else. When you thaw them, they won’t be any good for salads, but you can cook them in many ways. If you want to take the skin off, just hold them, one by one, under the faucet, and the skin will slip off. You can also puree your tomatoes in a blender or food processor, and freeze the puree, or make sauce or salsa and freeze that. Canning tomatoes is more work, but it’s easy to do, and won’t take up freezer space. Or you can dry them in a dehydrator or an oven. Here are ideas and directions: https://www.thespruceeats.com/how-to-preserve-tomatoes-2217665

As for cucumbers, here’s a simple refrigerator pickle, which you can change to suit your own taste:  https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/22653/homemade-refrigerator-pickles/

As for zucchini and summer squash, one good and easy way to preserve them for the winter is to shred and freeze them. Then you can throw them into soups, casseroles, breads, cookies, you name it.  

WOULD YOU LIKE TO CLEAR AN EMPTY GARDEN PLOT FOR WORKDAY CREDIT? – We currently have sixteen empty plots – 8 at Eagle Heights, and 8 at University Houses. If you are willing to do a workday, but have trouble getting to scheduled weekend work, let me know, and I’ll assign you to clear a plot. If you have a friend who also wants to do this, I can assign the two of you to clear a large plot together. You can work on your own schedule, and you don’t have to do it all at once, although I would appreciate you getting the work done within a couple of weeks. Email me if you’re interested.

WORKDAY SUNDAY MORNING AT EAGLE HEIGHTS – We will hold a workday Sunday morning, August 18, at Eagle Heights, from 9am – Noon. The task will be working on fruit areas adjacent to the weed pile. We will cancel if it rains. This requires a limited number of people. Here’s the link to sign up: https://doodle.com/poll/mfddakivus9es5vb

Happy gardening,

*song by Eddie Cochran, 1958 

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

From the Gardens Registrar: Korean Translation Requested: Pick Your Produce; Plots Still Available; Tomato Diseases; Weed of the Week – Velvetleaf; Thai Cucumber Salad; NO WORKDAY THIS WEEKEND

Hello Gardeners,

KOREAN TRANSLATION – The CALS Research Plot staff are looking for someone who can translate a short message into Korean. Would any of our gardeners be able to help? Please let me know. Thanks.

PICK YOUR PRODUCE – If your vegetable plants are producing well, the most important thing you can do to keep them going is to keep picking. I know – it’s exciting to pick your first cucumbers or tomatoes, but after a while it becomes a chore. (In January, you’ll be amazed to remember that you got tired this summer of picking fresh, local, organic vegetables.) But if you stop picking, bad things happen – one is that you will find giant killer zucchini in your plot that you won’t really want, (and neither does anyone else.) Or your tomatoes will just rot, and there’s nothing rottener than a rotten tomato. Or your plants will decide that they’ve achieved their objective, which is to develop seeds to reproduce themselves, and then they’ll stop flowering and making vegetables. Then you’ll have nothing. So keep picking, every day, if possible, or as often as you can get here.

Remember – if you’re getting more vegetables than you need, you can pickle, preserve, or freeze the excess. Also, you can put extra vegetables on the share shelves. Another very good option is to donate your extra produce to a food pantry. There are a number of them in the area. One is St. Vincent de Paul, at 2033 Fish Hatchery Road, on the south side of Madison. They accept donations six days a week. You can look here to see the hours they’re open, plus a phone number if you have questions: https://svdpmadison.org/donate/food/  Please bring only good quality produce to food pantries – food you’d enjoy eating, yourself (if you weren’t sick of eating it.)

WE STILL HAVE GARDEN PLOTS AVAILABLE – We still have about a dozen empty plots that are available for free to EH and UH gardeners - large and small, and in both gardens. Send me an email if you’re interested. Or if you have a friend who’d like a garden, plots are half-price for new gardeners.

TOMATO DISEASES – Are tomato plants subject to more diseases than other vegetables? Or does it just seem that way? Leaf spot, wilts, blight and other funguses, blossom drop, blossom end rot, sunscald: the diseases are practically endless. Unfortunately, some of these diseases are in our soil, and so are transmitted to our plants, year after year. The good news is that most tomato plants will keep producing, even after they are affected by disease. Here’s a basic article that describes some of the most common tomato diseases: https://www.bhg.com/gardening/vegetable/vegetables/tomato-plant-diseases/

VELVETLEAF – This is a common weed in our gardens. It’s in the mallow family (related to hollyhocks and okra), and has a pretty yellow flower, and a distinctive seedpod. It’s been used in China for its fiber, and was introduced to the United States as a fiber crop. But it’s very invasive, and has become a major pest in farm fields, particularly corn. It’s easy enough for gardeners to pull up. But watch out – it grows very quickly, and can get very tall: https://wimastergardener.org/article/velvetleaf-abutilon-theophrasti/

CUCUMBER SALAD – Sliced cucumbers are very good with dill, onion, vinegar, and salt. But maybe the greatest cucumber salad of all is Thai. Here’s a simple version: https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/169593/thai-cucumber-salad/  Of course, you can use fewer hot peppers than this calls for. Some recipes also call for fish sauce, or other Thai sauces. Shallots are typical also. Peanuts are optional, if you’re allergic, but really good with this.


Happy gardening,

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

From the Gardens Registrar: Chinese Signs at Research Plots; Bricks at EH; Be Kind to the Tools; Beans; Garlic Harvesting; EH Chalkboard; Workday Sunday Morning at University Houses Gardens

Hello Gardeners,

CHINESE SIGNS AT CALS RESEARCH PLOTS – A number of Eagle Heights residents and gardeners have complained about signs put up at the research plots maintained by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, next to the Eagle Heights Community Garden. These signs are in Chinese, and tell people to not pick the vegetables being grown there. In the past, they also had these signs in English, but for some reason, this year only Chinese signs were put up. I am sure the researchers did not intend to offend anyone, but this was a serious mistake, and I’m glad that people complained. I have been told that more signs will be put up, in English, within the next week. (In our community garden, our signs are either in English or in a number of languages.)

BRICKS – We are getting a donation of a lot of bricks and blocks, which will be used eventually to build another retaining wall on the hill at Eagle Heights. We’re having them dumped between the weed pile and the leaf pile at EH, partly because there’s room there, and partly because they block an area where people kept dumping weeds. We have now covered the bricks to keep gardeners from taking them. I apologize - I should have communicated to people what the bricks were for. I didn’t think it would matter if a few bricks went missing, but some gardeners have started building fortresses with them, so I am hereby announcing that the bricks/blocks are off-limits for individual projects.

TOOLS – Once upon a time, long, long ago, garden tools had legs and wings.* But as tools evolved, these appendages gradually got smaller and smaller, until they didn’t have them anymore. So now, when you are finished using tools in your plot, if you don’t bring them back to the shed, the tools will just have to sit out there, helpless and alone. Please be kind to our tools, and bring them back to the shed when you are done working for the day, so they can relax and enjoy the company of the other tools. (If they hadn’t lost the ability to speak, they’d thank you.)

BEANS, BEANS, BEANS – Green beans are a very healthy food – no fat, no cholesterol, no sodium, and lots of vitamins and minerals, including calcium. Beans are delicious plain, and also you can make up for the lack of fat, sodium, etc. by adding butter, nuts (especially almonds), cheese, and lots of other flavorings, including garlic and herbs. Here are some simple but interesting ideas:  https://www.realsimple.com/food-recipes/recipe-collections-favorites/popular-ingredients/green-bean-recipes

GARLIC – It’s getting to be harvest time for those lucky people who have garlic in their plots. Timing the harvest is crucial for best results and keeping qualities. Here’s an article that tells you when to harvest garlic, and how to cure it for storage: https://www.thespruce.com/harvesting-garlic-1402402

EH CHALKBOARD REFURBISHED – Many thanks to two hard-working and highly skilled EH gardeners (M.D. and W.Z.) who removed the ugly dysfunctional green chalkboard from the share shelves, sanded it, covered it with multiple coats of black paint, and set it back up again. Now it is beautiful, and it will be a pleasure for me to write nasty messages to the gardeners on it. THANK YOU!

SUNDAY WORKDAY AT UH – Sunday morning, August 4, we will hold a workday at University Houses Gardens, from 8am – 11am. (University Houses Gardens are at the end of Haight Road, next to Bernie’s Place Child Care Center, 39 University Houses.) The task will be general maintenance – mainly cutting down tall weeds in public areas. Please bring a hat, water bottle, and gloves if you have them. Here’s the link to sign up: https://doodle.com/poll/m2isnzxn9cebhfk7

Happy gardening,

*completely made-up story.