Wednesday, October 30, 2019

From the Gardens Registrar: Parking on Eagle Heights Drive; Translation Requested; Co-Webmaster Needed; No Workday This Weekend

Hello Gardeners,

PARKING ON EAGLE HEIGHTS DRIVE – The University has put up the winter parking signs on Eagle Heights Drive – that means no parking for gardeners (or anybody else) on the street on weekdays. Weekend and holiday parking is still allowed through the winter. With the current weather and forecast, gardening is pretty much at an end for the season. But I know gardeners are still doing clean-up, so I regret the inconvenience. Hopefully, everyone has picked their winter squash and pumpkins, and hauled them home already. (If not, do it NOW because they can be damaged by frost. You can still eat them if they’ve been frosted, but they won’t keep.) If you do drive your car to Eagle Heights on a weekday, the closest parking is at Frautschi Point (2662 Lake Mendota Drive.) Meanwhile, the gardeners at University Houses can feel smug, which they don’t get to do very often.

TRANSLATION – One of the garden committee chairs of the past, Robin Mittenthal, wrote a wonderful guide to planting vegetables in Wisconsin, which is available on our website, at: _ The manual includes a five-page “Quick Reference Guide” (starting on Page 61), which lists common vegetables, and how and when to plant them in our gardens. Unfortunately, this guide is only in English – I think it would be very helpful to have copies available at our Seed Fair in the spring, and on our website, in Chinese and Korean. So I am looking for gardeners who would be able to translate, at least the names of the vegetables and the headings on the guide. Anybody interested? You’ll get workday credit for it – either this year (if you haven’t already done a workday) or else next year. I would also be open to translations into other languages, but we have so many gardeners from China and Korea that those languages are the ones we most need. Let me know if you’re interested.

WEBMASTER – The gardener who has been our webmaster for the last couple of years is giving it up. We have another gardener with excellent experience who has taken over some of the work, but we still need someone to manage the "backend" of the website. This includes wordpress updates and plug-ins, security monitoring, and interfacing with our host lunarpages/hostpapa. This also qualifies for workday credit. Please let me know if you have website experience and are interested. It’s not a lot of work, but when we do have a problem with the site, we need someone who can respond pretty quickly.

GROWING HERBS INDOORS – One of the worst things about losing your garden in the fall is that it’s the end of fresh herbs for a while. There are numerous websites on the Internet that tell you how easy it is to grow herbs inside in the winter, and have as much as you want to cook with. I have tried it, and it is not easy. I have had no success with this whatsoever. But I still want to try it. Here is a website with a lot of information and a more realistic approach:

NO WORKDAY THIS WEEKEND – We will probably have another workday or two before the season ends officially, but not this weekend. You can stay home and stay warm.

Happy gardening,

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

From the Gardens Registrar: Winterization; Lasagna Gardening; Gardening is Good for Us!; More on Sweet Potato Harvests; Workday This Saturday at EH

Hello Gardeners,

WINTERIZATION – The water is now turned off for the season in both gardens. The hoses and hose reels at University Houses Gardens have been collected and put into storage. The last day for the portable toilets at both locations will be November 6, so if you have to go, you better go before then. We will probably continue to hold workdays into November, depending on the weather. We haven’t set a closing date yet this year, but last year, we closed the gardens the beginning of December. Closing Day is the day when we put most of the tools and carts into the sheds for the winter, but we always leave a few outside, for those who are still working in their gardens.

LASAGNA GARDENING – If you’d like to try something new in your garden plot next year, you might consider a lasagna garden. Lasagna gardens aren’t gardens with tomatoes, basil, and cheese (though that sounds really good) – they are gardens that are layered. (It’s also called “Sheet Composting”) Fall is probably the best time to start this type of garden. You can start by clearing and hauling away weeds – or else you can just knock the weeds down and leave them in the plot – they’ll get covered up and will add nutrients to the soil as they decay. You then cover each bed with cardboard, and then layers of other materials – leaf mulch, newspapers, compost, straw, woodchips, coffee grounds, whatever you have.  Then leave it for the winter. In the spring, the layers will still be there, but your plants will quickly feed on the nutrients and decompose the layers, while the cardboard will keep out a lot of the weeds. You can plant right into the layers – you don’t have to dig up a lasagna garden. It’s less work for the gardener, and also it’s better for the microbes that improve our soil – they can be damaged by digging. My lasagna garden is now in its fourth year – it’s been reasonably productive, and very easy to take care of. As usual, I’m going to add more newspaper and leaves to it this fall. Here are some instructions:

WHY GARDENING MAKES US HAPPY – Speaking of microbes, this article explains one of the reasons that digging in the dirt makes people happy:

SWEET POTATO HARVESTS – I heard from a few more gardeners who planted sweet potatoes, in the ground (not in containers), and who got bumper crops. It’s good to know these were successful for some of our gardeners.

WORKDAY THIS SATURDAY – We’ll have a workday this Saturday morning, October 26, from 9am – Noon, at Eagle Heights. The task will be finishing the reorganization of the bricks and other construction materials we’ve been acquiring. Gloves are strongly recommended. Here’s the link to sign up: The current weather forecast looks good, but if it rains, the workday will be cancelled.

Happy gardening,

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

From the Gardens Registrar: Are You Leaving the Gardens?; Clean-Up; Workdays and Workday Fees; Garlic Planting; Sweet Potato Results; Workday Sunday Morning at U Houses Gardens

Hello Gardeners,

ARE YOU GIVING UP YOUR GARDEN PLOT? – If you know that you will not be gardening with us again next year, please let me know this fall. It really speeds up the application process when I can start out with a list of plots I know are going to be empty for the coming year. If you haven’t made up your mind yet, that’s okay – just be sure to make your decision by February 15, which will be the deadline for renewing for 2020.

CLEAN UP BEFORE YOU LEAVE – If you aren’t returning to your plot next year, please clean it up before you go – pull out dead vegetables and weeds, take them to the weed pile, and put some leaf mulch down on the plot. (If you’re at the garden that has some.) Please leave your plot looking the way you would like to see it if you were going to start gardening in it in the spring. Often, when people are assigned to weedy plots, they are never able to get them in good shape, and get so frustrated that they give up long before the end of the season. And then the plot may just get worse and worse. Break this cycle.

WORKDAYS AND WORKDAY FEES – We will probably still have a few more workdays before the end of the season, depending on the weather. So if you want to work one, you have a few more chances. But don’t put it off. If you don’t want to or aren’t able to attend a workday, you have to pay the $32 workday fee instead. This must be in the form of a check, made payable to UW Division of Housing. The deadline for paying this is December 1. I cannot renew garden plots for people who have not either done a workday or paid the fee. If you are not sure whether or not you did a workday this year, or paid for the workday with your 2019 plot fees, please email me, and I’ll be happy to check for you.

HOW LOW CAN YOUR VEGETABLES GO? – I mean, temperature-wise. The cabbage family members, lettuce, root crops, and chard can probably survive temperatures as low as 26 degrees. Brussels sprouts and spinach can survive 20 degrees. Kale can even handle temperatures as low as 10 degrees. Many of these vegetables actually are sweeter and better-tasting after frost.

IT’S GARLIC PLANTING TIME AT EAGLE HEIGHTS! – Isn’t there a song about this? Maybe not. Garlic is best planted in the fall, not the spring, and should go in about 4 – 6 weeks before the ground freezes.  You should start by loosening the soil, then plant the individual garlic cloves 3 – 4” deep, with the pointy ends facing up. You should then cover the bed with a thick layer of leaves or straw – this will give the garlic a chance to grow roots before the ground freezes. Here’s one of many websites on the topic:  If you’re not planting garlic saved from your own harvest, you can buy garlic to plant at garden centers (such as Jung’s), or farmers’ markets. You can even plant garlic from the grocery store – buy organic if you have a choice – some grocery store garlic may be treated with a chemical to prevent it from sprouting.
SWEET POTATO HARVESTS – I haven’t had many replies from sweet potato growers, but it sounds so far as though the people who did the best with these were growing them in containers. Most people who responded weren’t terribly successful. I’d still like to hear from gardeners who tried growing these.

WORKDAY SUNDAY OCTOBER 20 AT UNIVERSITY HOUSES – We will have a workday at U Houses Gardens on Sunday, from 9am – Noon. 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. The task will be collecting and storing the hoses and hose reels, plus some path work. Here’s the link to sign up:
Happy gardening,

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

From the Gardens Registrar: Cold Nights Ahead; Leaf Mulch; How Did Your Sweet Potatoes Do?; Do You Have Pictures to Share?; Brussels Sprouts; Workday on Sunday

Hello Gardeners,

COLD NIGHTS – The current forecast is for temperatures close to freezing Friday night, (33 degrees F), and continued night time temperatures in the middle or upper 30s for the next week. So pick your produce unless it’s frost-tolerant, or else protect your plants.

LEAF MULCH – The University Houses Gardens really need leaf mulch. As always, the problem is getting it there. We get our leaves from the Village of Shorewood, and when they start bringing leaves to us, later this month, they will bring a load to U Houses first. We don’t mean to slight U Houses, but with the only access being an unpaved road, and so much of the garden area being really wet and soft, it’s often just not possible to get supplies there.

Meanwhile, there is still lots of leaf mulch at Eagle Heights. As you pull out your dead vegetable plants, you can cover your garden with a good layer of mulch. It will protect any perennial plants in your garden from severe weather. Also, it will improve your soil as it decomposes, suppress weeds, and reduce soil erosion. However, it can also make a nice cozy winter habitat for voles. If you have a lot of voles in your garden neighborhood, you might want to wait until the ground is frozen before bringing the mulch.

SWEET POTATOES – I know that quite a few of our gardeners signed up this spring for the Dane County Sweet Potato Project. (The project provides free sweet potato slips to gardeners who are willing to share half their crop with food pantries.)  If you grew sweet potatoes this year, how well did they do? Did you try growing them in five-gallon buckets? (This was a separate, but related project.) Please email me ( and let me know how this worked out for you. Have you harvested yet? Once you dig them up, it’s best to put them through a curing process before storing or donating them. Here’s a link to the project’s website, which has lots of information about growing and harvesting these vegetables:

DO YOU HAVE PICTURES OF YOUR GARDEN TO SHARE? - Thanks to the generosity of a number of seed companies, which donate outdated (but still viable) seeds to community gardens, we are able to provide free seeds to our gardeners, at our annual Spring Seed Fair, and at other times of the year, as well. I’m sending thank you letters to these companies, and would like to enclose some pictures that gardeners have taken this year of their plots – particularly pictures that show gardeners planting and harvesting. We put pictures on our website, too, and could really use some new ones. Please email them to me. Thank you.
BRUSSELS SPROUTS – Some gardener pulled up their Brussels Sprouts, and threw them in the dumpster. Of course, they should have gone on the weed pile rather than the dumpster, but I can understand throwing them out. They’re not exactly my favorite vegetable, either. But some people love them. Here’s a recipe from the New York Times that sounds easy and good: By the way, Brussels sprouts, like other cabbage family relatives, were originally native to the Mediterranean region. The northern Europeans now known as Belgians started growing them as early as the Thirteenth Century.

WORKDAY – We will have a workday on Sunday afternoon, October 13, from 2pm – 5pm, at Eagle Heights. The task will be path and water system maintenance. Here’s the link to sign up: It will be chilly, even in the afternoon, so dress accordingly.
Happy gardening,

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

From the Gardens Registrar: It’s Time to Think About Frost; Tomatoes – Ripening or Green; Did You Take Boards From Plot 108?; Workday on Sunday

Hello Gardeners,

FROST – According to the long-range weather forecast, night-time temperatures may be falling into the upper 30’s by the middle of this month. This is fairly typical Wisconsin weather. We usually get a frost sometime in October. But that doesn’t mean the end of garden season. Some plants are killed by frost – tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, beans, squash, melons, and cucumbers, for instance. But lettuce, root vegetables, and cabbage relatives will survive. The early frosts are usually mild, and followed by short periods of warmer weather.

If you still have tomatoes and peppers ripening, you should probably plan to pick them in the next week or two. (see “How to Ripen Tomatoes”, below.) But you can also try covering your plants to protect them. This can really make a difference with light frost – if your protection raises the temperature a degree or two, that’s all that might be needed. You can use row cover, sheets, light blankets, buckets, boxes, all sorts of things. But unless the temperature is going to stay low the next day, you should remove the cover the next morning. There’s a point at which all this covering and uncovering becomes too much work, and then you might just want to give up for the season. Plants this time of year are growing really slowly, so saving them for a few more days doesn’t make much difference.

But whatever you’ve still got growing, and whatever you decide to do – pick or try to protect - start watching the weather forecasts and pay attention to nighttime temperatures.

HOW TO RIPEN TOMATOES OFF THE PLANT – Tomatoes will continue to ripen after they are picked. If you have just a few left, and they’re almost ripe, you can just leave them on your kitchen counter. But if you have lots of under-ripe tomatoes, and don’t want them to go to waste, a little more attention to the process may pay off. Here’s an article with a lot of information and alternatives:

THE JOYS OF GREEN TOMATOES – Or, just use them green. You can enjoy eating them, as long as you don’t think too hard about how delicious they would have been if they’d ripened. These recipes sound pretty good:

BOARD DISAPPEARANCE – Will whoever took two 6’ boards from Plot 108 last week please return them? The gardeners had plans for them. No questions will be asked. Thank you.

WORKDAY AT EH SUNDAY OCTOBER 5 – We will have a workday this Sunday, October 5, at Eagle Heights, from 2pm – 5pm. The task will be path and water maintenance. Here’s the link to sign up:  The weather is looking good for Sunday, but if it rains, the workday will be cancelled.

Happy gardening,