Sunday, July 31, 2011

Beetle bags, good, bad or don't matter?

Another video blog (this time easy to hear!) about Japanese Beetle Bags. Watch, and then comment. Link to YouTube video blog to see it in full screen.

Well, what do you think? Please comment below on if these help, hurt or don't matter.

Thanks for watching!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Video blog - gardening missions

In my first video blog, I describe the many different gardening "missions" to consider when planning a garden. Perhaps a bit late for this year, but good to mull over for next.

This video is much more than my silly talking head (need more movement next time) - about a minute into the video I start showing some photos to demonstrate what I'm talking about. 

You can play the embedded video below or use this link to see the video on YouTube. (I was able to but a much larger format video on YouTube, where the photos look a lot better.)

p.s. sorry it's so quiet, I have to adjust levels but don't know how with this video. So turn your speakers up!

Monday, July 18, 2011

A SLUG worth knowing

I spent four days at a conference at the Lawrence University campus in Appleton, Wisconsin. We spent a lot of time in the student commons, and every time I walked to lunch, I had a great view of what was clearly a community garden across the road and down the hill. On the last day of the conference, I had an hour of free time and spotted people working in the garden, so I walked down and introduced myself.

Young squash plants, much later than most Wisconsin gardener


Rachel Graber, a  LU student and student teacher for the next academic year, told me about the project. The garden is called SLUGs, Sustainable Lawrence University Gardens, and it was established in 2005.  The students have expanded beyond the quarter acre garden since, and now have a nearby fifth acre orchard with 15 trees and an herb garden

The Sustainable Lawrence University Gardens, as seen from the student commons.
There are a number of things that make SLUGs a unique student group at LU. Many of the students who work on the garden live in a house where they cook together, often food from the garden.  The gardens provide an educational program for LU student who want to learn about urban gardening and local food production. The gardens are also part of an experiment in students teaching themselves. And a recent grant now allows LU students to involve local high school via a summer work program. Finally, the university doesn’t have a formal academic agricultural program, and the garden fills that niche nicely.
Rachel Graber, LU grad student (left), another LU student (foreground) and two local high school students in the back.

Another thing that makes the SLUGs student group unique is that it is the only LU student organization that physically changes the campus landscape. Since starting with the quarter-acre plot, the students designed and built a hoop greenhouse, improved the soil, build raised beds and started massive compost bins. “We get deliveries of food waste from the university food service several times a week,” says Rachel.

There is also a large and handsome garden shed in one corner of the plot. “Our first shed wasn’t this nice,” says Rachel. “The university built a large fire ring next to the garden that required demolishing the original SLUGs shed. They replaced it with this; we have great support from the university administration. Our president is an avid gardener and we have great relations with the university, the grounds crew and the cafeteria.”

The cafeteria?

Yes, the cafeteria. If you’ve read previous blog posts, I’m very interested in the idea of people working their gardens with a specific mission in mind. In addition to being a facility to teach and involve students in growing local food that the gardeners consume themselves, the SLUGs also sells produce to the university food service and the Appleton farmers market. Since the university food service is shut down during the summer months, SLUGs has a unique growing season to contend with. They don’t want to produce much of anything until school starts in early September.

This means that the garden currently has a huge bed of basil that was just transplanted into the soil, each plant a mere three inches tall. The winter squash plants have just two or three “true leaves,” and the tomatoes are way behind what most Wisconsin gardeners expect in mid-July.

With the plants at this stage, Rachel expects they’ll have plenty to consume themselves, sell to the university food service once it opens for the school year and sell at the local market. The food will just come in a lot later than for most Wisconsin gardeners.

One more thing makes this a very cool project. The group wanted to raise bees, but discovered that hives are considered livestock in Appleton. So, the group got political and one of the SLUGs members worked with the city to change a local ordinance to allow beekeeping in the city limits. “We found there is a huge interest beyond SLUGs to keep bees,” says Rachel. We successfully changed the ordinance to allow beekeeping in Appleton.” This spring, SLUGs established five beehives that are going to be used for educational and independent study. And, Rachel concludes, “Who doesn’t like honey?”

This is a sweet garden indeed.

If you’d like to contact SLUGs yourself, send an email to

Friday, July 8, 2011

Gardening with a mission – the anti-rabbit garden

I’ve been thinking more about the idea of gardening with a specific purpose (ok, besides the obvious to grow food)). Thanks to those who commented on the blog post about this idea, there were some great ideas and passionate words about why people put hands and seeds in the dirt.

Besides growing food, here's an idea of a way to organize what, to grow.

Rabbits. Most of us are working our cotton tails off to keep rabbits out of our gardens. In the American Family community garden, I’ve seen many different fencing options go up over the last few weeks. There are decorative picket fences, two-foot fences with chicken wire, three-foot fences of a very light-weight plastic mesh, and a few people are intent to keep even the most persistent deer out with six-foot nearly solid plastic mesh.

Jay and I started with a dense perimeter of marigolds, hearing they are supposed to keep rabbits out and if not, at least they are beautiful. However, when I spotted what looked to be rabbit damage on some newly-planted bean plants (thanks Diane!) I quickly erected a 1-foot fence of leftover hardware cloth around just the bean plants.

It then occurred to me, what if were to plant things that rabbits won’t eat. An Internet search on my phone from right there in the garden revealed that rabbits generally don’t eat any nightshades because they make them sick. This was great news, three quarters of our veggies qualify; eggplant, tomatoes and peppers. They also don’t eat anything from the onion family, which includes onions, leeks and garlic. Sweet! planted a row of leeks! So in our garden, all that rabbits are likely to eat are the newly fenced bean plants.

I don't think fencing is very inviting or attractive. Ok, picket fences are attractive but aren’t great rabbit defense. I’d rather not install any fencing. It's unattractive, messy (it always sags), and in our case, a fence would restrict access from the main path, a key factor in the keyhole raised bed design.

The only rabbit welcome in my garden.

So what if next year (groan, yes, I’m already thinking about next year) what if I plant with rabbits in mind, and don’t plant anything they’d want to eat? It would be much of the same vegetables that we’ve got in the community garden now plus garlic, and if I wanted to raise rabbit edibles, I would plan to only fence off that particular part of the garden. I also want to research what else rabbits won’t eat. Will let you know what I learn.