Master Gardeners say no need to spend lots of green on growing green things

March 26, 2013 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Quick, hide the credit cards; spring is here. Even the most budget-conscious gardener can get into trouble now. A trip to the nursery for a flat of plants results in three flats, plus a new spade and pair of garden gloves. A plan to grow tomatoes in containers morphs into a raised bed of pricey redwood. Even a stop at the market for bread and milk brings about a new basket of blooms.

University of Delaware’s Sussex Master Gardeners feel your pain. “We’re garden-a-holics; we have a tough time controlling ourselves in spring,” acknowledges Fran Meehan, a Milton-based Master Gardener.

While they can’t help you with your self-control, the Master Gardeners do have some good advice on saving on gardening expenses.

For starters, get your soil tested, says Tracy Wootten, a horticulture agent with UD Cooperative Extension who oversees the Sussex Master Gardeners. You’ll spend a few bucks for the test but could save in the long run. For example, if you have acidic soil, cabbage and other vegetables won’t do well. You’ll need to fix the problem with limestone or other amendments before planting.

Master Gardeners say no need to spend lots on green thingsMany of the Sussex Master Gardeners save money by starting vegetables from seed. It’s also easy to start flowers from seed, notes Maggie Moor-Orth, a Delaware State University horticulture agent who provides technical assistance to the Master Gardeners.

If you’ve had bad luck starting plants from seed, try using a sterile, soil-less medium, says Moor-Orth. Seeds started in soil can suffer rot because of over-watering or non-sterile conditions.

Save money on your soil-less medium by buying dry mix rather than the wet mix formulation, advises Melora Davis, a New Castle County Master Gardener. “With the wet mix, you’re paying for water,” she notes.

Don’t buy those special (and expensive) plastic trays for starting seeds. Recycle plastic containers you already have; just be sure to punch drainage holes in the bottom. Davis suggests using single-serving coffee pods (such as the K-Cup brand).

Garden accessories are another area where you can economize. Stakes, twine, plant markers and weed fabric can get pricey so the Sussex Master Gardeners are creative recyclers. Cut pieces from an old mini-blind for plant markers, suggests Betty Layton of Greenwood. Pantyhose can be used instead of twine, and T-shirts work well, too. “One year, I grew three-pound watermelons on a trellis and used my husband’s old T-shirt as a sling,” recalls Wootten.

“Some gardeners like to use bamboo for stakes,” she adds. “It’s such an aggressive plant that if your neighbors have any, I’m sure they’d be happy to let you cut some for garden stakes.”

Carrie Murphy, horticulture agent for New Castle County Cooperative Extension, has even seen old golf clubs used to stake vegetable plants at Bellevue State Park’s community garden.

If you’re willing to consider more radical ways to save, get rid of your lawn. That’s what Master Gardener Brent Marsh did about 10 years ago. Ever since, he hasn’t spent a penny on lawn fertilizers, re-seeding bare spots, watering the lawn, lawnmower repair, or gas to run the mower. In place of turf grass, Marsh’s one-acre Georgetown yard is filled with perennials, shrubs and trees.

Even if you remove a portion of your lawn, you could save money.

“If you’re mowing a lot of lawn, you might think about turning part of it into a meadow planted with native grasses and wildflowers,” says Marsh. “You’ll see lots of birds and butterflies, enjoy the sounds of those songbirds and insects, and provide food for baby birds. And you won’t have as much grass to cut.”

Of course, Marsh didn’t go out and buy all those plants that now fill his yard. When a sapling turns up – its seed carried by wind or birds – he allows it to grow. He also propagates his plants by taking cuttings, seeds, and dividing them.

Murphy has been waiting patiently to divide some ornamental grasses that she purchased three years ago. She wanted to hold off until she had good-size divisions to add to a new landscape bed at her North Wilmington home. Those original three plants will become six plants – for the price of just three.

Once you’ve decided to divide your plants, it’s important to divide at the appropriate time of year. Murphy divides her perennials in early spring or later in the fall, depending on when they bloom.

Backyard propagation

May 14, 7 p.m.: Minimize the costs of gardening by reproducing plants in your backyard. New Castle County Cooperative Extension office, Newark. $25. To request a registration form, call 302-831-COOP or download the form online.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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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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2011 GAP/GHP Training Sessions Announced

February 18, 2011 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension, Events

University of Delaware Cooperative Extension will offer voluntary food safety Good Agriculture Practices (GAPs) and Good Handling Practices (GH’s) training sessions for fruit and vegetable growers in 2011.

The training includes certification issued by the Delaware Department of Agriculture.

According to Gordon Johnson, extension specialist and assistant professor of plant and soil sciences, “For wholesale growers, this training certification program satisfies some wholesale buyer requirements that growers attend GAP/GHP training. For those expecting to go through an audit this year, this program will help you to know what is covered in an audit and how to develop your farm food safety plan.”

Smaller growers that do not market wholesale are also encouraged to become trained and learn about the best ways to keep produce safe from food borne pathogens.

Limited or no wholesale, mostly direct market growers will need to complete only 3 hours of training, while significant wholesale growers must attend 6 hours of training in order to receive certification.

Training sessions in 2011 include:

Kent County

Wholesale growers: 9 a.m.-3 p.m., Thursday, March 3.

Small growers (limited or no wholesale): 6 p.m.-9 p.m., Monday, April 4.

Both sessions will take place at the Kent County Extension Office, UD Paradee Building, 69 Transportation Circle, Dover, DE 19901.

Call (302) 730-4000 to register, and contact Phillip Sylvester (phillip@udel.edu), Kent County cooperative extension agent, for more information.

Sussex County

Wholesale growers: This will be broken up into two sessions. Session 1 will take place 6 p.m.-9 p.m., Thursday, March 10 and Session 2 will take place 6 p.m.-9 p.m., Thursday, March 17.

Small growers (limited or no wholesale): 6 p.m.-9 p.m., Thursday, April 14.

All sessions will take place at the University of Delaware Carvel Research and Education Center, 16483 County Seat Highway, Georgetown, DE 19947.

Call (302) 856-7303 to register or contact extension agents Tracy Wootten (wootten@udel.edu) or Cory Whaley (whaley@udel.edu) for more information.

New Castle County

Small growers (limited or no wholesale): 6 p.m.-9 p.m., Tuesday, April 26.

The session will be held at the New Castle County Extension Office, 461 Wyoming Road, Newark, DE , 19716

Call (302) 831-2506 to register or contact extension educator Maria Pippidis (pippidis@udel.edu) for more information.

Trainings are also sponsored by the Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association of Delaware.

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