Wednesday, August 26, 2020

From the Gardens Registrar: Water Your Garden!; All About Eagle Heights Birds; Free Tomatoes 

Hello Gardeners,

WATER YOUR GARDEN – It looks like the current heat wave will be over in another day or two, but we haven’t had a good rain in weeks, and the forecast is not hopeful. It’s turned into a very dry summer. Most of our plants, such as tomatoes, really like this warm, sunny weather, but be sure to keep everything watered. A good soaking twice a week is better than shorter watering sessions every day – you want to encourage your plants’ roots to go deep. That protects them better in dry conditions. And mulch your garden, if you haven’t already done so – that helps keep moisture in the soil. Morning is the best time to water, but if your schedule doesn’t allow that, just water when you can.  And by the way, if your plants look droopy in the middle of the day, even when you’ve kept up with the watering, don’t panic. They may be okay in the morning or by evening – but when it’s very hot, they get a little behind in keeping hydrated. Here’s a lot of information on when and how to water what:

BIRDS AT EAGLE HEIGHTS – Today, I saw two birds in the gardens, about one minute apart. The first bird was one of our hawks, who was perched on top of the shed. The next bird was a hummingbird, which was drinking nectar from one of the red cannas by the share shelves. The hawks are year-round residents, and every year, they have at least one offspring. This year’s youngster spent several weeks screaming constantly, to try to get its parents to feed it. But it’s as big as they are now, and they’ve told it that it’s on its own.

The hummingbirds, on the other hand, will be flying south soon. The hummingbird migration begins in August. The purple martins, which lived for a few months in an apartment birdhouse at the Biocore Prairie, have left for the year already. The garden is still full of goldfinches, and one day I saw two indigo buntings – one at EH and the other at UH. There have been more than 255 species of birds identified in the UW Lakeshore Preserve, which our gardens are part of. In the next month or so, we’ll be seeing a lot of birds flying through on their way south for the winter.

But the bird that most interests (or preoccupies) EH and UH gardeners is the turkey. Yes, every year, we have more and more turkeys, and they eat more of our delicious vegetables. We consulted a UW Wildlife Specialist, who suggested, unfortunately, that fences around individual plots would probably be the most useful approach. He also suggested that gardeners should yell at them (we already do), chase them, and otherwise scare them (without actually harming them) to try to discourage their presence. I suspect, though, that they’ll decide that the great food makes up for the lousy ambience. He also sent a factsheet with more information than you’d ever want to have about these animals:

While we’re on the subject of birds, a gardener saw some children chasing our crane family. Please do not harass our cranes. We are happy and proud to have them in our gardens. Also, you really don’t want an adult crane mad at you – it would not end well, for you at least.

FREE TOMATOES – One of our partners at Eagle Heights (I’m guessing it’s F.H. King, the student agriculture organization) left a huge number of beautiful ripe tomatoes on our share shelves today. Go  check them out, and take as many as you want.

Happy Gardening and Stay Well,


Wednesday, August 19, 2020


From the Gardens Registrar: The Arbor Garden; Where Are the Tools? Canada Fleabane; A Few Volun-teer Opportunities; Refrigerator Pickles

 Hello Gardeners,

 THE ARBOR GARDEN – At Eagle Heights, we have a Garden Arbor, next to the 600 row, where gardeners can rest in the shade and have their lunch. Surrounding it is the Arbor Garden, which is maintained entirely by volunteers – very hardworking and conscientious volunteers. Last year, we expanded the Arbor Garden to include a rain garden – this is a plot which has been lowered and planted with native plants that can tolerate wet conditions. This rain garden has really helped other low plots in that area to handle the few big rainstorms we’ve had this year. The Arbor Garden has been receiving a lot of attention this year and is flourishing, so here’s a big thank you to the volunteers!

By the way, the Arbor itself will be taken down some time this fall – it’s old and not in good shape any more. It may be a while before we can replace it, but we will try to find some way to provide shade temporarily until the new structure can be completed.

WHERE ARE THE EH TOOLS? – This is a serious question, and I don’t know the answer. We should have lots more tools at EH than we currently do. This suggests that some gardeners have been keeping our tools in their plots. Please remember that the tools and carts are all shared – we have a lot of them, but if some are being hoarded, then we don’t have enough for everybody. So don’t bogart the tools, ok?

WEED OF THE WEEK – CANADA FLEABANE – Conyza canadensis is a weed/wildflower that can grow quite tall – up to 7 feet. It is also called Canadian Horseweed. Though it is native to the Midwest, it is not particularly attractive, and because it can get so tall, it can shade your plants and your neighbors’ plants. Also, each plant can produce as many as 20,000 seeds, which spread around the garden and can live in the soil for several years. There’s quite a lot of it in the gardens right now – if you have it in your plot, please pull it out. Here’s some information:

A FEW VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES – Our garden worker, Megan, does an hour of weed-whacking every Monday morning, from 9am – 10am, and is always looking for volunteers to help her – we need three people each week. We’ve been doing these sessions at Eagle Heights, but we’ll also do some at University Houses. Also, we need a volunteer to haul mulch and woodchips  to the sandbox/pear plot in the 1100s, and also a couple of volunteers to haul woodchips to the cart yard next to the EH shed – keeping woodchips there keeps the weeds down. Please let me know if you’re interested, and I’ll give you more information.

REFRIGERATOR PICKLES – This is a basic recipe for pickled cucumbers to keep in the refrigerator, but you can use the same method to pickle lots of other vegetables too:


Happy Gardening and Stay Well,


Wednesday, August 12, 2020


From the Gardens Registrar: The Wonderful Wide World of Tomato Diseases; Preserving Tomatoes; Zucchini Gummies

Hello Gardeners,

THE MANY DISEASES OF TOMATOES – Early Blight. Stemphilium Gray Leaf Spot. Late Blight. Septoria Leaf Spot. Verticilium Wilt; Anthracnose. Blossom End Rot. The list seems endless. Tomatoes are a very popular vegetable in our gardens. People have been growing them at Eagle Heights for almost 60 years. No wonder our tomatoes are so subject to a long list of diseases.

Some of these diseases damage plants and fruits without killing them outright, but some can kill your plants. The most important strategy for an organic gardener is to build healthy soil, and provide enough water to prevent plants from getting stressed and vulnerable to diseases. It’s also best to rotate plantings – don’t plant your tomatoes in the same place you planted them last year (if possible, and it may not be.) If you can, plant varieties that are resistant to these diseases. These funguses spread more quickly when plants are crowded – good air circulation is important. When you water your plot, try to keep the water low, or use drip irrigation, because wet leaves can help spread funguses. Check your plants as often as you can, and if they show signs of disease, prune away the diseased leaves and remove them from the plot. Do a good clean-up at the end of the season, because some of these funguses can overwinter.

There is an OMRI-listed organic fungicide – copper. It can be sprayed both to prevent fungal diseases and to combat them. But although it is organic and acceptable for our gardens, it is very strong and can be dangerous both to plants and to people if it is not used carefully. This is best used as a last resort unless you really know what you’re doing. If you buy a garden fungicide which contains this, follow the directions and cautions exactly.

Here is some slightly old information from UW Milwaukee about three of the most serious tomato diseases in Wisconsin:  It includes a list of some disease-resistant tomato varieties. (I know, it’s a little late for this year, but you might consider planting some of these next year.)

PRESERVING TOMATOES – So, if your tomato plants aren’t withering away from horrible diseases, and they’re bearing well, you may have the problem of too many tomatoes. This is a non-existent problem, because almost everybody loves tomatoes, they’re easy to give away if you have more than you want, and there are many, many ways to preserve them for the future. Some people can tomatoes, or tomato sauce. If you have the necessary equipment (which doesn’t cost much), this is a pretty easy process, and you’ll really appreciate these tomatoes in the winter. You can also dry them. To me, the easiest method is freezing. Tomatoes freeze beautifully. All you need is good quality freezer bags (which you can reuse.) Wash and dry the tomatoes, put them in the bag, and put the bag in the freezer. That’s it. They come out mushy, of course, so you won’t be able to use them for sandwiches or salads, but they’re excellent in soups and stews. You can also freeze tomato puree or tomato sauce.

ZUCCHINI GUMMIES – Can you stand to see one more recipe for using up extra summer squash? This stuff is really good -

 Happy Gardening and Stay Well,


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,