Aug. 25: NCC Day in the Garden

August 22, 2012 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension, Events

Join the New Castle County Master Gardeners and Master Food Educators for a Day in the Garden.  FREE, and for the entire family.  Saturday, August 25, 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm.

Master Gardeners and Master Food Educators will be available in the Vegetable Teaching and Demonstration Garden at the University of Delaware New Castle County Extension Office at 461 Wyoming Road to answer home gardening-related questions and share a taste of the garden harvest.

Displays will offer information on the following:

  • food safety
  • nutrition
  • growing and harvesting summer and fall vegetables and fruits
  • freezing and canning
  • worm bin and backyard composting
  • pollinators
  • seed starting
  • and more….

Samples of fresh salsa, gazpacho, and vegetables, harvested from the garden on that day, will also be available for tasting.

For more information, contact Carrie Murphy, Horticulture Educator, New Castle County Cooperative Extension.  (302) 831-2506, cjmurphy@udel.edu

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UD Extension Scholars involved in range of projects this summer

August 15, 2012 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Ask Donald Seifrit, Jr., what he does as a University of Delaware Extension Scholar and he hesitates before answering. It isn’t easy to sum up all the tasks he has taken on during this summer-long internship program.

Under the direction of Carrie Murphy, a horticulture agent in the New Castle County Extension office, he might start his morning by identifying fungus on a cherry branch or insect holes on a tomato leaf. He’ll then contact the gardener who dropped off the plant or insect sample and suggest solutions to the problem.

In the afternoon, he may head to a UD greenhouse where he’s working on three different research projects with Richard Taylor, an Extension agronomy specialist. Seifrit has been busy evenings and weekends, too, at events ranging from a farmers’ field meeting in Middletown to preparing for a community garden workshop in the Southbridge section of Wilmington.

The Extension Scholar program gives students and recent grads the opportunity to gain real-world experience as interns with UD Cooperative Extension.

Jan Seitz, former associate dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and director of UD Cooperative Extension, created the program, which is supported by an endowment fund established by Dover growers Chet and Sally Dickerson.

“I’d like to work in industry, initially, but I also think it could be rewarding to get my teaching certification and be a high school agriculture or biology teacher,” says Seifrit, who graduated in June with a plant science degree. “The Extension Scholar program is giving me a taste of careers in which I could use my plant science degree.”

Andy Kness is another Extension Scholar with a new plant science degree from UD. Kness knows he wants to be a researcher and will be back in the classroom in September, pursuing a master’s degree in plant science. In the meantime, he’s working with Cooperative Extension entomologist Brian Kunkel.

One valuable lesson Kness has already learned is that research doesn’t always go smoothly. Take, for example, a stink bug project that he and Kunkel had planned to tackle this summer.

“It’s a dud; there’s nothing to talk about right now,” says Kunkel. That’s because the brown marmorated stink bug – that nonnative stink bug that has caused crop loss and landscape damage in Delaware – is in remarkably short supply this summer.

That’s good news for homeowners and farmers, not so good if you’re trying to evaluate the effectiveness of insecticides against the stink bug as well as the natural enemies that attack this pest. Kunkel and other UD researchers want to be able to present solutions when the stink bug does make its inevitable return.

One recent morning, a few forlorn stink bugs munched leaves in a rearing container while Kunkel and Kness focused their attention on the insect that has kept them busy this summer – red-headed flea beetles.

“These critters chew holes in plants and can cause significant destruction to nursery plants,” says Kness. “It’s not really a problem for homeowners as much as it for nurserymen. They can’t sell plants with flea beetle damage even though these plants aren’t really damaged and will look fine in their second season.”

Kness is assisting Kunkel with a project that could provide an environmentally sustainable way to control this beetle. The answer may lie in a tiny white worm, more formally known as entomopathogenic nematode. This parasitic worm attacks the larvae of the red-headed flea beetle by releasing bacteria that eventually kills it.

Two weeks ago, Kness introduced these worms into petri dishes filled with red-headed flea beetles to evaluate their usefulness. Next up, he and Kunkel will replicate the experiment in greenhouse plants and then out in the field.

Six students were named Extension Scholars this summer. The other interns have been working with military youth at Dover Air Force Base, developing State Fair programs, teaching 4-H equine camps and assisting with honey production at the UD apiary.

“I wish there had been something like this program when I was in school,” says Murphy. “I think it’s a fantastic way for students to learn job skills while gaining an understanding of the role that Extension plays in the community and the wide range of things that we do.”

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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Delaware nature-lovers share their favorite places to enjoy summer in the state

June 27, 2012 under Cooperative Extension

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass on a summer day listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is hardly a waste of time. — John Lubbock

Officially, June 20 was the first day of summer, even though the unofficial signs of the season — flip flops, hammocks, water ice — blossomed weeks ago. For most of us, the workaday routine means we’re stuck inside a lot more than we’d like. When the weekend rolls around, we’re itching to get outside.

So where should we spend our precious free hours? We asked area birders, entomologists, horticulturalists and other nature-lovers about their favorite places to enjoy summer in Delaware.

Here’s what they told us:

Nature with a side of history 

My favorite spot is Brandywine Springs Park, which was an amusement park in the early 20th century and is now a county natural area.  I enjoy the sound of the water rushing through Hyde Run, a tributary of the Red Clay Creek, as I take long walks among the old trees. Since I am a history buff and a member of Friends of Brandywine Springs, I especially like the historical aspect of walking the old boardwalk area. Spending a few hours taking in the sights and sounds there refreshes me.

Eileen Boyle, horticulturalist, Hagley Museum

Flitting dragonflies

I enjoy Millstone Pond in White Clay Creek State Park. There is a small rock outcrop overlooking the pond and a nice place to sit in the shade on a sultry summer afternoon contemplating of the world around — dragonflies coursing over the pond, birds in the trees, wild flowers blooming. Just outside Delaware in Caroline County, Md., is Idylwild Wildlife Management Area. When I want to see many rare dragonflies and damselflies native to the Delmarva Peninsula that is where I go. However, one may need to suffer to be rewarded. One needs to bring water, be willing to hike a ways, and carry insect repellant.

Hal White, University of Delaware professor and author of “Natural History of Delmarva: Dragonflies and Damselflies”

A riot of blooms 

In summer, I love the rainbow of blooms in the Color Trial Garden at UD’s Botanic Gardens. Mid- to late July, it’s probably at its peak. Commercial seed companies rely on trial gardens such as this one to provide unbiased feedback about new varieties. For the public, the garden provides a sneak peek at more than a hundred yet-to-be-introduced varieties of annuals and perennials. It’s not uncommon to see people wandering through the trial garden with pencil and paper in hand to write down their favorites.

Valann Budischak, volunteer and education coordinator, UD Botanic Gardens

Cool running 

I run a lot at White Clay Creek State Park but recently I also have been working out at Lums Pond.  Especially in the summer, it is really nice to run (or walk) near a body of water. Even if you aren’t in the water, the sight and sound of water is cooling. As to plants I enjoy now, Delaware is mostly green at this point. Ferns are probably the prettiest vegetation in the summer.

Sue Barton, triathlete and UD Cooperative Extension specialist in ornamental horticulture

Sunset on the water

I like canoeing up the headwaters of Haven Lake, outside of Milford, from a public boat ramp off Williamsville Road. It features narrow channels and small islands and teems with birds, beavers, dragonflies and damselflies. You can even see insectivorous sundew and pitcher plants. Sunset is my favorite time to be on the water.

Jason Beale, manager, Abbott’s Mill Nature Center in Milford

A park that’s got it all

I like to go to Bellevue State Park because as a family it meets all our needs. Bellevue has gardens, nature trails, meadows, a pond, playgrounds, horses, community vegetable garden plots and more. My daughter, Teagan, is almost 3 years old and she likes the diversity of so many different things to look at. She is just fascinated by the horses. I jog on the trails and I also like to check out the garden plots. Many Master Gardeners have plots at Bellevue and I love to see what people are growing and how they are growing it.

Carrie Murphy, horticulture agent for New Castle County Cooperative Extension

Biking the by-ways

I moved to Delaware in January so I still consider myself new to the state. I enjoyed Cape Henlopen many times before I moved here and now I’m making new discoveries. On summer weekend mornings, I have found that the scenic by-ways following the Red Clay and Brandywine creeks are surprisingly quiet and great for road biking.  Traveling by bike, you see so much more of the creeks, historic homes, fields and forests than when traveling by car.

Brian Winslow, executive director, Delaware Nature Society 

Woodpecker and eagle hang-out 

My favorite place at Hagley is the area that extends from the steam engine display to the boat house. The view of the iron bridge, the Brandywine, the dam and the woods is spectacular. You may even see an eagle flying over the river or our pair of pileated woodpeckers feeding in the large maple next to the boat house.

Richard Pratt, supervisor of gardens and grounds, Hagley Museum 

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily

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Baked kale chips are Delaware’s hottest new snack food

April 3, 2012 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Put aside the sour cream and onion chips. Abandon those messy, orange cheese curls. Toss away the nachos topped with gloppy processed cheese. Make way for Delaware’s hottest new snack food – baked kale chips.

If the Delaware Urban Farm Coalition has its way, every Delawarean will soon be munching on this snack sensation. “Kale chips have the crunch and flavor that people love but, unlike most snacks, they’re nutritious, too. Kale is rich in vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants,” says Carrie Murphy, a University of Delaware Cooperative Extensive horticulture agent and the interim chair of the Delaware Urban Farm Coalition.

“The Urban Farm Coalition wants to generate excitement about growing local foods and eating local foods. Coalition member Tara Tracy hit on the idea of creating a buzz about kale chips,” says Murphy.

“When we posted a kale chip recipe on the coalition’s Facebook page, we had positive feedback from everyone from mom bloggers to health specialists. The recipe has caught everyone’s attention,” she says.

Kale chips are easy to make (see recipe below) and kale – which is related to cauliflower and broccoli – is easy to grow. Plus, kale is readily available in most Delaware supermarkets and, later in the season, at farmers markets and farm stands.

However, for many residents of Wilmington, it’s not easy to obtain kale and other fresh produce. Large swaths of the city have been termed “food deserts” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture because they lack convenient access to a supermarket and limited or no opportunities for residents to grow their own food.

The Delaware Urban Farm Coalition is doing a lot to change that. Since its inception in 2008, the coalition has worked to expand community gardens and on other ways to improve access to healthy foods in the city. In addition, it helps to teach local residents about healthy eating (including how to make kale chips) through programs run by coalition members such as the Food Bank of Delaware.

The coalition is made up of almost a dozen organizations. Key partners are UD Cooperative Extension, Delaware Center for Horticulture and Delaware Department of Agriculture. The coalition’s presence can be felt in dozens of neighborhoods, from a nascent garden in Edgemoor to the thriving “West Side Grows” garden in the Cool Springs area of the city. But the cornerstone of the coalition’s efforts is the 12th and Brandywine Urban Farm, which had its first harvest in 2010.

“What makes the urban farm different from a community garden is its focus on production agriculture,” explains Tracy, who is urban agriculture manager for the Delaware Center for Horticulture. “Our 1,600-square-foot urban farm grows fruits and vegetables – including kale – that are sold at an on-site farmer’s market. In addition, we operate a 1,200-squre-foot community garden at this site, where residents can rent plots for a small fee. And, yes, we do grow kale in the urban farm and sell it at the farmers market.”

Delaware Center for Horticulture staffers and volunteers do the bulk of the planting, tending and harvesting at the urban farm. But a farm apprentice will be hired soon to assist with farm chores and engage more community members in the project.

Tracy is quick to note that East Side residents don’t need to pull weeds to help out. “A working mother who is too busy to volunteer is still helping the farm – and her family – when she purchases produce at our weekly farmer’s market,” she says.

The Delaware Urban Farm Coalition is now growing beyond its city of Wilmington roots.

“I’ve had phone calls from individuals and organizations throughout Delaware who want to get involved,” says Murphy. “The coalition has really become a statewide effort.”

If you want to learn more about the Delaware Urban Farm Coalition, contact Murphy at cjmurphy@udel.edu or Tracy at ttracy@thedch.org.

If you want to buy kale and other produce from the coalition’s farmer’s market, its opening day is May 7. Located at 12th and Brandywine streets, the market is open every Monday in season from 4-7 p.m.

If you want to grow kale yourself, now’s the time to plant this cool-season crop, says Murphy. Seedlings are available at garden stores throughout the state. Plant now and you’ll have fresh kale by early June.

And if you want to make your own kale chips, here’s what to do:

BAKED KALE CHIPS

1 bunch kale (4-5 cups)

1 TBS olive oil (olive oil spray works especially well)

1 TSP sea salt or seasoned salt

1 TSP vinegar

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a non-insulated cookie sheet with parchment paper.

2. With a knife or kitchen shears, carefully remove the leaves from the thick stems and tear into bite size pieces. Wash and thoroughly dry kale pieces with a salad spinner. Drizzle chips with olive oil or spray with olive oil. Sprinkle with vinegar and seasonings.

3. Bake until the edges are brown, anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes. Gently stir leaves halfway through baking.

Try different seasoning combinations, suggest Murphy and Tracy. Teens may prefer a spiced-up version; cheese lovers may want to sprinkle parmesan cheese on top before baking.

Article by Margo McDonough

This article can also be viewed on UDaily

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Master Gardeners see increased demand for vegetable workshops

February 28, 2012 under Cooperative Extension

From the time he was a young boy, Clyde Roberts grew tomatoes, cantaloupes and other produce on his family’s farm in Kansas. He earned agronomy degrees at Kansas State and Cornell and worked for DuPont Ag Products. Since retirement, the Hockessin resident has been a UD Master Gardener, teaching vegetable workshops and other gardening classes.

Roberts has long and deep ties to agriculture but he meets other Delawareans who are disconnected from their food source. They know they can find the first tender asparagus of spring at the supermarket but they aren’t quite sure how it got there.

“In our beginner vegetable gardening workshop, I’ve had people who were surprised to find out that carrots and potatoes grow underground,” says Roberts. “They assumed that every vegetable grows on a bush, like tomatoes.”

Roberts is delighted to help the rank beginner as well the more experienced gardener learn the ins and outs of growing their own vegetables and fruits. The only problem he and other Master Gardeners have is keeping up with the demand.

“There has been a surge in interest in vegetable gardening workshops in the last four or five years,” says Carrie Murphy, the horticulture agent for New Castle County Cooperative Extension.

Delawareans aren’t the only ones getting excited about growing their own produce. Nationally, vegetable gardening is on the rise, according to the National Gardening Association, which attributes the trend to rising food prices and health-conscious consumers.

In 2011, an estimated one in three American households grew vegetables, whether that meant a solitary tomato plant on a deck or a large garden, such as Roberts’ five plots, where he harvests veggies from April (radishes and lettuce) until the first frost (bell peppers and tomatoes).

Edibles take center stage in the New Castle County Master Gardener spring workshop series, which kicks off March 6.  While you’ll still be able to learn about such topics as pruning and ornamental container gardening, more than half of the classes are devoted to some aspect of vegetable gardening.

“For the third year in a row we’ll have separate classes for novice and experienced gardeners,” says Murphy. “We’re also offering specialized sessions, such as a workshop devoted exclusively to growing tomatoes and another on growing vegetables in containers.”

Classes get underway in less than two weeks and continue through May. Half of the workshops are in March, when gardeners are finalizing their plans, and in the case of some crops, starting to plant.

In Sussex County, spring Master Gardener classes began last Tuesday and continue through late June. Edibles take center stage in several workshops, including Feb. 28, when Darrell Hager explained how to use the web and software to plan and design a vegetable garden. Grape growing will be the focus of a workshop on March 21.

Roberts will teach a tomato class on April 5 that was created last year due to popular demand. Tomatoes top the list of the most commonly homegrown vegetables (even though technically they’re a fruit).  But they’re not always easy to grow, especially the heirloom varieties.

“Heirlooms are all the rage but they’re more challenging,” says Roberts. Heirlooms aren’t disease-resistant, like most hybrids, and they’re more susceptible to cracking and bruising.

“I encourage brand-new gardeners to grow half of their plot with heirlooms and half with hybrid varieties,” says Roberts. “I don’t want new gardeners to give up and get discouraged if they have a crop failure.”

A great way to solve problems before crop failure happens is to attend a Garden Day, held in the Master Gardeners’ Native Teaching Garden on the second and fourth Wednesday from April through September.

From 9 a.m. to noon on these days, Master Gardeners work in the garden, all the while explaining what they’re doing – from scouting for pests to the right way to weed. They’re happy to answer specific gardening questions, too.

Roberts doesn’t contend with crop failure often; instead he usually has an overabundance of veggies. If your harvest is equally successful, do what Roberts does and donate the excess to the needy.

The Master Gardeners participate in Plant a Row for the Hungry, a national program that encourages gardeners to plant an extra row at the beginning of the season and donate this produce to a local food bank. The Food Bank of Delaware is always in need of fresh produce to supplement the canned and packaged foods it receives.

Check out the spring Master Gardener workshops online. New Castle County classes can be found at this website or by calling 302-831-COOP.

For information on Sussex workshops, go to this website or call 302-856-7303.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photos by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily

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March 3: Community gardens

February 6, 2012 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension, Events

Are you interested in starting or maintaining a community or school garden? Experts from the University of Delaware, Delaware Department of Agriculture, Delaware Center for Horticulture and Healthy Foods for Healthy Kids will hold an information session on Saturday, March 3, from 9 a.m. to noon, for interested educators, community members and gardeners.

The session will highlight successful, local garden projects and provide information to help participants in their community or school garden, whether that’s a vegetable garden, nature trail or butterfly garden.

“A workshop like this is long overdue,” says Carrie Murphy, educator for ornamental horticulture withUD Cooperative Extension.  “For the last two to three years, we’ve seen a major influx of phone calls, emails and in-person questions about starting and maintaining school and community gardens. Through the workshop, we hope to not only give people the resources that they need, but also give them a space to network with each other.”

In addition to expert presentations, Master Gardeners will have displays on a variety of topics including water conservation, soil testing, attracting pollinators and more.

The information session will be held in 132 Townsend Hall on the University of Delaware campus.  Townsend Hall is located at 531 South College Avenue in Newark.

To register, call or email Murphy at 302-831-2506 or cjmurphy@udel.edu.  Preregistration is required, but the workshop fee of $5 will be collected at the door.  Participants are asked to bring their own mugs for coffee.

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UD horticulturalists see understated attractions of winter landscape

January 26, 2012 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

The lyrics of “California Dreamin’” by John and Michelle Phillips are well known and appropriate for the season: “All the leaves are brown, and the sky is grey, California Dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.”

Although many yearn to flee the First State during the long slog of winter, not everyone is dreaming of California. For every Delaware gardener poring over seed catalogs and wishing for spring, there’s another gardener like John Frett who’s outside every day enjoying the landscape, regardless of the weather.

Frett, the director of the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens (UDBG), loves winter and spends time in his yard or the botanic gardens every day, all year long.

“I grew up in Chicago and lived in Maine for three years,” says Frett. “Delaware doesn’t know what cold weather is.”

Beyond a hearty constitution for the cold, Frett has an appreciation for the understated attractions of the winter landscape.

“The structure of the trees, shrubs and woody plants are more evident in winter when there are fewer things competing for your attention,” says Frett.

At the 15-acre UD Botanic Gardens, the leaves are long gone (evergreens excepted) so it’s easy to see that trees come in all shapes and sizes. There are columnar, round, conical, broad-spreading, upright-spreading, weeping and elliptical trees in the gardens. And a wide range of texture is now revealed, from the peel-away bark of the paperbark maple to the ridged and furrowed bark of the tulip poplar.

But it’s not just a lack of competing attractions that makes the winter landscape visually arresting for Andrew Olson, public landscape manager for the Delaware Center for Horticulture. He points out that the weaker winter sun casts a different light on things.

“The lower angle of the sun in the winter really highlights grasses and garden structures,” says Olson. “Even the silhouettes of trees ‘pop’ in the waning afternoon light. A garden or natural landscape that may seem brown and bleak can be spectacular as the sun rises or sets.”

Carrie Murphy, New Castle County horticulture agent for UD Cooperative Extension, notes that a landscape’s backbone is completely revealed in winter. “Everything is completely naked and the landscape’s overall shape and structure becomes a focal point.”

“I also appreciate how sounds move through a winter landscape — everything is much more audible — the whipping winds, rustling leaves and movements of wildlife,” she says.

Eileen Boyle looks for the small details in the landscape. “While the perennials sleep off the winter and the bulbs wait their turn, I am enjoying the daily show of the ferns, mosses and other little plants that are last to go dormant,” says Boyle, a horticulturalist at Hagley Museum and Gardens.

Fellow Hagley horticulturalist Renee Huber says that she appreciates the structure of beech and sycamore trees in winter.

“I always enjoy the sycamore trees against the Brandywine this time of year; they’re like gentle giants with white and gray blotched bark,” says Huber.

Sue Barton, UD Cooperative Extension specialist for ornamental horticulture, likes the sycamore in winter, too. Other favorites include river birch, winterberry holly and the Emerald Sentinel variety of Eastern red cedar, which has vivid blue fruit.

Bob Lyons, director of UD’s Longwood Graduate Program in Public Horticulture, admits that he doesn’t much like winter. However, he does appreciate the architecture of trees now, especially when they’re outlined by a wet snow.  He particularly enjoys sweet gum, tulip poplar and deciduous hollies.

If the winter landscape looks enticing — that is, until you read the forecast and hear the winds howl — Olson has just two words of advice: “get outside.”

“Put on some layers and get out there,” he says. “You will be so glad you did.”

Here are some of the things to see in the late-January landscape:

• At the Delaware Center for Horticulture’s gardens, which are free and open to the public, a bloodtwig dogwood (Cornus sanguinea ‘Winter Flame’) gets lots of attention this time of year because of its intensely colored red and orange stems. Also look for the black pussy willow, which is beginning to display purplish black catkins. The Kentucky coffee tree, paperbark maple and river birch also look great this time of year, says Olson.

• Evergreen fans will want to check out the UD Botanic Gardens, which has a large collection of both conifer and broad-leaf evergreens. Native species include the loblolly pine and American holly. And you’ll find many other hollies — the UDBG features 50-plus varieties and is a test arboretum for the American Holly Society.

• At Hagley Museum and Gardens, snowdrops are in bloom in front of the Hagley residences and skunk cabbage is blooming in the woods and by the river. Boyle notes that the bright orange rose hips on old-fashioned antique variety roses provide perching and food for local birds.  Hagley arborist Richard Pratt loves Hagley’s osage orange in wintertime. “It stands like a large bronze sculpture with its deeply furrowed copper-colored bark on its majestic trunk and its crown spreading high and wide into the sky,” says Pratt.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily

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Master Gardeners Win International Award

October 24, 2011 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Gail Hermenau, New Castle County Master Gardener, of Middletown, Delaware, accepts the Search for Excellence Award at the International Master Gardener Conference on behalf of the entire organization.

Three University of Delaware New Castle County Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners—Suzanne Baron (of Middletown), Gail Hermenau (also of Middletown), and Eva Rotmann-Oehler (of North Wilmington)—and Horticulture Educator and Master Gardener Coordinator, Carrie Murphy, attended the International Master Gardener Conference in Charleston, West Virginia, October 11 – 14, 2011. During the conference, Gail Hermenau accepted the 2011 International Search for Excellence Award presented to the Master Gardeners for their small scale Grow your own Food themed home gardener workshops, demonstrations, and tours in the teaching gardens.

In 2009 and 2010, the New Castle County Master Gardeners responded to community need for information on how to grow your own food.  Master Gardeners worked together with their coordinator to develop opportunities that responded directly to this need.  The topics that Master Gardeners developed as part of their workshops and demonstrations included site and soil preparation, composting, plant selection, seeds and transplants, tips for growing vegetables, companion planting, beneficial insects, integrated pest management (IPM), fall gardening, harvest to table, growing berries, and putting your garden to bed.  In total, there were more than 20 events focused on the Grow your own Food theme, educating more than 300 community members.

This is the third Search for Excellence Award presented to the New Castle County Master Gardeners at the International Master Gardener Conference in just four years.

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Fall in bloom

September 8, 2011 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

“I love fall plants, fall temperatures, fall colors, fall sounds. I think it’s the best time of the year for gardening,” enthuses Suzanne Baron, a Master Gardener with University of Delaware Cooperative Extension.

The “third season” is ramping up for Delaware gardeners and many, like Baron, consider it the very best season. It’s starting to get cooler, especially early and late in the day, making it easier to accomplish garden chores. It also happens to be an excellent time of year to get plants in the ground, notes Sue Barton, ornamental horticulture specialist with UD Cooperative Extension.

“Fall’s cooler temperatures and typically higher rainfalls help plant roots become well-established. The soil is still warm and allows roots to grow until the ground freezes,” says Barton. “In contrast, plants may get off to a slower start in spring because the soil is cooler and in summer new plantings can become stressed from heat and drought.”

Planting for fall interest is easy because there’s a wide range of perennials and shrubs that exhibit good color, in addition to the dramatic foliage of many deciduous trees.

At the Teaching Garden at the county Extension office in Newark, Baron and her fellow Master Gardeners have planted thread-leaf irownweed, which already displays bright purple flower tufts that will continue through early fall.  Another purple bloomer, Joe Pye weed, also is in flower. And while the pale blue flowers of Bluestar are long gone, its leaves will soon turn bright yellow. Later in the season, the black gum trees will turn bright red and the aromatic sumac shrubs will display brilliant orange, red and yellow leaves. Plus, the Teaching Garden features one of Baron’s fall favorites, goldenrod.

Baron has planted many varieties of goldenrod — ranging in color from vivid yellow to deep gold — at her farmette outside of Middletown. “I keep adding different ones to fill different needs in my gardens,” says Baron. “The flower lasts a long time and even in late October bees visit it.”

“Goldenrod is a great source for nectar in the fall,” notes J.W. Wistermayer, a Master Gardener who strives for a “riot of color” in his Newark-area yard.

Goldenrod and other fall blooms don’t just add pizzazz to the landscape, they also help out bees and other insects.  “Fall is an incredibly important time to think about flowering plants in the garden so that insects have a supply of nectar and can make it through the winter,” says Wistermayer.  “A lot of people think about planting for the pollinators in the spring and summer but tend to forget about it in the fall.”

In addition to goldenrod, pollinator-friendly choices include asters, spicebush and Joe Pye weed. “Joe Pye Weed is awesome as a nectar source and the hollow stems can be used by native bees when they lay their eggs,” says Wistermayer.

Carrie Murphy, horticulture agent for New Castle County Cooperative Extension, says that her home garden in North Wilmington starts out strong in spring but can be iffy in summer. She says the garden invariably “comes back to life” in the fall.

Murphy designed her garden with fall interest in mind, including such colorful choices as Virginia sweetspire, viburnum, blueberry and oakleaf hydrangea. “The oakleaf hydrangea never disappoints with its exfoliating bark, beautiful blooms that dry and hang on through winter and great fall color — reds, yellows, oranges,” says Murphy.

Asters, goldenrod and thoroughwort are the primary fall bloomers on Barton’s 11-acre property in Landenberg, Pa. They are complemented by the foliage of sourgum (brilliant red), sassafras (bright oranges and yellows), sourwood (red), sugar maple (yellowish orange) and red maple (bright red) trees.  She also has planted lots of sweet gums, which turn purple and orange all on the same plant. Most of these trees are at their peak color in October.

Barton also takes a long-range view on fall gardening. “Everyone focuses on fall color — foliage or flower — but bark, branch structure and remaining flower heads can provide a lot of interest,” she says, “especially late in the fall when most of the leaves are gone.”

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley


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Botanic Gardens tour highlights flowering magnolias

March 23, 2011 under CANR News, Events

Magnolias will be featured on the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens tour and at the annual plant sale.

When John Frett leads a guided walk of the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens on March 31, he’s hoping to point out a few early blooming magnolias. More likely, though, he’ll head to the greenhouse to show off magnolias in flower.

Non-native magnolias typically start blooming in Delaware in April while the native varieties wait until May.

With plenty of other March blooms to enjoy — winterhazel, forsythia, hellebores and some dogwoods — why the rush to spot magnolias?

The walk is a spring tradition that highlights plants available at the UD Botanic Gardens Plant Sale. Along with winterhazel, magnolias will be a featured plant of this year’s sale, which is open to the public April 29-30.

Almost everyone loves magnolias. Frett, the director of the UD Botanic Gardens, is no exception. However, he’s reluctant to single out a best-loved cultivar or species. “It’s like picking a favorite child, they’re all fabulous,” says Frett.

Magnolias vary widely. The 80 or so recognized species include trees and shrubs; deciduous plants and evergreens; cold-hardy varieties that do well in Maine and others that flourish in the tropics. About the only thing they have in common are the distinctive, tulip-shaped flowers. And most — but not all — are highly fragrant.

Under Frett’s leadership, the magnolia collection at the UD Botanic Gardens has been expanded to 100 taxa of magnolia, with some 125 magnolias in all.

“The UDBG’s fantastic collection of magnolias includes a nice variety of native and non-native species and cultivars,” says Sue Barton, Cooperative Extension’s ornamental horticulture specialist.

Magnolias are widely scattered throughout the UD gardens but large groupings can be found between Townsend and Worrilow Halls, south of Townsend, and also north of UD’s outdoor pool.

In assembling the collection, Frett looked for a progression of flowering, from the earliest species, in April, to varieties that are still going strong in June. He also included rich and unusual colors, found in the hybrid varieties. In addition to characteristic pink or white petals, magnolia blooms can be light to medium purple, deep purple that is almost red, and yellow.

Barton has one of the yellow varieties in her backyard. “I bought the ‘Elizabeth’ cultivar from the UDBG sale a number of years ago because my older daughter is named Elizabeth,” she explains. “This tree will be covered with yellow flowers in about a month.”

Despite its name, “Elizabeth” isn’t Barton’s favorite backyard magnolia. That distinction goes to the native sweetbay magnolias growing near her patio. “They’re multi-stemmed so they help enclose the patio but you can still view through them so they don’t make it claustrophobic,” she says.

Carrie Murphy, the Extension horticulture agent for New Castle County, says the sweetbay is the top pick for most Delaware gardeners. “Including me,” she adds.

“The sweetbay magnolia is by far one of my favorite plants — it has beautiful late spring and early summer blooms and is lightly fragrant.”

But what Murphy really likes about the sweetbay isn’t apparent at first glance. “I love the underside of the foliage — when the wind blows and rustles the leaves, the silver underside of the leaves becomes visible and it’s absolutely gorgeous,” she says.

Several sweetbays have been added to the Master Garden Demonstration garden at the county Extension office in Newark. At the demo garden, home gardeners often ask for recommendations for small flowering trees and sweetbay nicely fits the bill. It prefers moist soil and some shade and even works well in wet sites. But it’s also adaptable to drier conditions, says Murphy.

Three cultivars of sweetbay will be available at the plant sale: “Mardi Gras,” with a butter-yellow variegated leaf; “Perry Paige,” a new dwarf variety only five to eight feet tall; and “Green Shadow,” a selection that Frett describes as “nearly an evergreen.”

Two other native magnolias will be sold, Magnolia macrophylla “Big Leaf Magnolia,” featuring huge leaves with a tropical feel and Magnolia pyramidata “Pyramid Magnolia,” which is considered rare. Also available will be three hybrids from native species, including two that originated from a cross with the native cucumber tree.

Guided walk

March 31: An hour-and-a-half walk through the UD Botanic Gardens, focusing on plant sale selections. 4 p.m. $5. Call 302-831-2531 or email [kelsch@udel.edu] to register. Maximum 35 people.

UDBG plant sale

Public sale hours are 3-7 p.m., April 29; 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., April 30. For more information, call 302-831-2531 or go to the UDBG website.

Article by Margo McDonough
Photos by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be read online on UDaily by clicking here.

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