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International Master Gardener Conference, Valley Forge PA

June 19, 2019

There are 24 of us Master Gardeners representing Arkansas at the International Master Gardener Conference in Valley Forge which started this past weekend with pre-conference tours and wraps up this weekend with post-conference tours on Saturday. Julie and I have been attending all the educational sessions which have been outstanding. I did break away today to get out of the hotel and visit a public garden.

After 3 days of attending inside lectures, I along with 5 other Arkansas Master Gardeners went to nearby Chanticleer in Wayne PA. This is a 35 acre pleasure garden known for being visually exciting, imaginative & romantic. Contemporary design complements historic features. Plantings range from native to exotic, hardy to tropical. Strolling through this garden reminded me a lot of the garden around the Fayetteville Square.
Here is the name sake of what once was the summer retreat home of  Adolph Rosengarten, Sr., and his wife Christine. The family’s pharmaceutical firm would become part of Merck & Company in the 1920s. Mr. Rosengarten’s humor is evident in naming his home after the estate “Chanticlere” in Thackeray’s 1855 novel The Newcomes. Playing on the word, which is synonymous with “rooster,” the Rosengartens used rooster motifs throughout the estate.
Many of the original plants still exist today in this well kept garden. Underneath this japanese maple, the ground is moss covered as well as an assortment of hardy ferns. A moss covered doll house is seen on the left. The interior walls are covered with murals.
Garden paths lead you through open meadows and into wooded shade gardens. The plant collection is outstanding. Many of the plantings are in ‘garden rooms’ which put them to scale representing someones backyard.
The “ruins” add great garden interest and mystery to this garden. Yes, the water feature suppose to look like a coffin. Other features of the “ruin”, make this part of the garden contemporary. Quite interesting!
The garden featured a fabulous vegetable garden. I was very impressed with the design and the use of good gardening techniques. Fennel was ready to be harvested as well as the cabbage.
You step out of the vegetable garden gate into this large well spaced annual and perennial plant trial. Leaf mold was used within the beds for mulch and pine needles are used to form the garden paths. On the right you can see hot beds. The glass covers can be seen leaning up on the back side. These old hot beds still had a few vegetable and annual transplants in them.
The Franklinia tree, Franklinia alatamaha, was discovered by John and William Bartram in 1765 along the Altamaha River in southern Georgia. It is believed that the cuttings collected so long ago, was from the last remaining tree of this species in the wild. Several nice specimens can be found in this garden.
This chair, made of concrete, known as the “Flintstones Family” furniture, is one of several concrete chairs with the back side covered with trailing hydrangea. This garden attracts families with young children and visitors are encouraged to have picnics in the open lawns and use the abundant lawn furniture and benches which can be found throughout this estate.

Strawberry Beds need Work Now!

June 14, 2019

Strawberries are quickly shutting down in producing berries. They are going into the growth stage and producing lots of runners. With all the new runners strawberry beds get crowded and will need to be thinned. The remaining plants will have space to grow strong enough to set flowers for producing fruit next spring.

Soon after you picked the last fruit, thin out your bed so plants are 6 to 8 inches apart. Yes, you will be throwing a lot of plants onto the compost pile. The remaining plants will produce new runner plants to fill the beds as it were before.

After thinning, apply a quickly soluble nitrogen fertilizer, ammonium nitrate, urea, or blood meal will do at the rate of 1/2 to 3/4 pound per 100 feet of row. This will encourage vigorous runner and top growth. Keep the planting free of weeds and lightly cultivated which allows runners to peg down easily and without competition. Water during dry periods, especially in August and September. This is when strawberry plants form flower buds deep within the crown, which stay dormant until early next spring.

Make an additional fertilizer application the first of September which will boost flower set. Have a soil analysis done by your County Agent for the type and amount of fertilizer your bed needs. After this fertilizer application, apply a thick layer of mulch or straw which will help in retaining moisture as well as weed prevention. Runner production will have ceased by then.

This strawberry planting is in the Kurz family garden near Lonoke. Yes, I see the weeds. Weed control can be tedious around all the new runners, but stay after it.

Harvesting & Storing Irish Potatoes

June 14, 2019

Spring planted potatoes are starting to die down and need to be lifted, dried and stored. Harvest potatoes after most of the vines have yellowed and starting to brown. Handle tubers as gently as possible during harvest. Do not wash potatoes that you have intentions to store for several weeks to months.

Before placing the potatoes in storage, the tubers should be cured. The recommended curing method is to place tubers in an area with temperature of 50 to 60 degrees F and a relative humidity of 85 to 90 percent for two weeks. Not many of us have a root cellar or walk in cooler that could provide this environment. So, the best we can do is dry them down by placing them in a cool garage or like location and place a fan on them for two weeks. Healing of minor cuts and bruises and thickening of the skin occurs during the curing process.

Once cured, sort through the potatoes and discard any soft, shriveled, or blemished tubers. Store the tubers in a dark location as potatoes turn green when exposed to light. If storage temperatures are above 50 degrees F, the potatoes will start to sprout after two or three months. When stored below 40 degrees F, potatoes develop a sugary, sweet taste. Sugary potatoes may be restored to their natural flavor by placing them at room temperature for a few days prior to use. Do not allow potatoes to freeze.

I had offered to help my mom dig two 30 foot rows of red and gold potatoes. This was Tuesday night so my plan was to dig them Wednesday evening. I got home from work Wednesday, about 5:30pm, my mom had dug them all and she had supper ready, yes new potatoes. So, after supper, I tilled up the area to plant sweet potatoes. Yes, now is the time to plant sweet potatoes and no later than the first week of July for fall harvest.
Tomato update in Kurz family garden. The early planted tomatoes are still stunted but are starting to ripen. Transplanted set out 3 weeks ago are starting to set and are taller than the first. I did plant 6 more this week to harvest late summer early fall tomatoes. You can additional tomatoes for another month for fall ripening.
My mom planted some southern peas and they are coming up nicely. Southern peas do not perform well in cool wet soil conditions, so this was the first opportunity we’ve had in this garden plot to plant southern peas. You can continue planting peas up to mid July for harvesting late August to late September.

Saline County MG Appreciation Banquet

June 12, 2019

Last night, Benton Mayor Tom Farmer, invited all Saline County Master Gardeners to the inaugural appreciation banquet at The Enclave which he wants to make a yearly event. Mayor Farmer thanked MG’s for beautifying the city of Benton with several eye appealing beds around town. Realtor Tom Baxley (also known as Mr Benton) echoed the same telling the crowd that what they have done has made a positive economic impact to the City. I was on the program where I shared the history, mission, and the connection MG’s have with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service.

Benton Mayor Tom Farmer expressed sincere appreciation of the beautification efforts that Saline County Master Gardeners provide to the community.
Saline County has 75 active Master Gardeners. In 2018, the most current reporting year, Saline County Master Gardeners provided 4,840 hours at 24 horticulture related community service projects.
County Agent Ron Matlock (center) is the lead U of A Division of Agriculture employee who provides directive and leadership to this active group of Master Gardeners.
The Mayor and his staff provided a delicious meal and ample desserts. The City’s Junior Council members waited on us hand and foot to provide top notch service. I sampled most of these desserts, and yes they were as good as they looked.

Saint Joseph Center was Buzzing

June 11, 2019

I was guest speaker for the Central Arkansas Beekeepers Association last night for their regular June meeting at the St Joseph Center in N Little Rock. My talk centered around what makes a flower attractive for a honeybee to visit and what landscape design concepts attract honeybees as well. My presentation is not online but the source of my information is on our State Extension website. Click on the following link to review ways you can attract bees and other pollinators to your garden.

Located in North Little Rock, St. Joseph Center of Arkansas is an independent, non-profit organization with a mission to preserve and restore this historic property though sustainable farming and food production, programs that educate and promote agri-tourism, and community outreach. Having grown up in central Arkansas in a Catholic family, my earliest recollection of this place was an orphanage run the the Benedictine Sisters out of Ft. Smith. These Sisters were under the directive of the Catholic Diocese of Little Rock, which still own the building and farm. The mission changed in the early 70’s and it was then that the orphanage was closed.
After my presentation we had an opportunity to tour part of the farm. The Center is the site for the North Little Rock community garden which is available for area residence to grow their own fresh produce.
How true these short rules for participating community gardeners to follow. As gardeners, all us need to remember the simpler things of life. Right after reading these simple rules I stepped through the garden gate with a big smile on my face. I entered a “Happy Place”. As for most of us, gardening is a stress reliever for me.
These small garden plots, managed by individual gardeners were all different and most had vegetables that were ripe for the picking. I had not eaten supper and I so wanted to pick a few of these peas to snack on.
As I walked out of the community garden I noticed this sign leaning up against the trunk of a large shade tree. Time has faded this sign, making it a little hard to read so here it goes: Grow a garden. Cultivate a community. Save your seeds. Share the surplus. Feed our future.
Such short sentences that carry such a powerful message.
Ruth Landers, a Pulaski County Master Gardener, volunteers at the St. Joseph Center demonstration garden along with several other Pulaski County Master Gardeners. Ruth was our tour host last night.
Cleome can be found in the Master Gardener demonstartion garden. Cleome is commonly known as spider flowers, spider plants, spider weeds, or bee plants.  This pass-along plant is a favorite of bees as well as other pollinators. Diversity is the key to attracting bees as well as other pollinators to your garden.

Transitioning from Spring to Summer Vegetable Garden

June 7, 2019

Now that spring is officially over and we have moved into summer, there is change taking place in the garden. The cool season crops are on their way out. Lettuce and spinach are turning bitter and bolting, radishes are getting spongy and the sweet peas are finished flowering and setting pods. It’s time to cycle the cool season crops out of the garden and plant other crops adapted to the heat in their place. Gardening should not stop because the summer heat is coming. June is a great time to plant an additional crop of warm season vegetables such as summer squash, basil, southern peas, popcorn, peppers, icebox melons, cantaloupe, pumpkins, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, pole beans, winter squash, edamame soy and ornamental gourds. This list is lengthy and I’m sure I forgot a vegetable or two. Also, if you plan on having void areas in the garden, don’t let it grow up in weeds, consider planting buckwheat to till under for the purpose of increasing soil organic matter. Planting now again may be the second or even the third planting of some of these vegetables. Special care needs to be taken during this time of year as the fragile sprouting seeds can easily be harmed by hot dry conditions that our summer can offer. Keeping the seeds, newly sprouted seedlings and young plants well-watered until they are established is very important in their development and maximizing their future yields. Mulching the garden with grass clippings, clean straw, or any other organic material you have in abundance helps in keeping plant roots cool, prevents weeds, and aids in keeping soil moisture in the root zone longer. To avoid the heat yourself, plan on gardening 30 minutes to an hour early each morning or in the evening before nightfall. A little sustained daily effort accumulates into success with a bountiful harvest of produce.

My mom was busy in the garden yesterday. When I got home, she had a cart load of the remains of harvested cabbage and kohlrabi ready to be fed to cattle on the farm. She cleaned up the heads of cabbage which went into a second refrigerator for cutting up later, to be blanched and then frozen. She made kohlrabi salad for supper. The remainder she will also prep for blanching before they are frozen.
I’m going to leave the broccoli in the garden for a few more weeks. The main heads were harvested a month ago and since then my mom has harvested the multiple small heads that come on after the first cut. These will continue forming new heads as long as we have mild weather, but as soon as we get consistent 90 plus degree F. temperatures, broccoli will shut down.
Second planting of green beans are looking good. Plants are not as full because of the excess soil moisture conditions. I’m pleased with them and I know many of you struggled to get a good stand of green beans this spring.
Lima beans have struggled as well, but as you can see they have started to set pods. Lima beans and green beans alike, stop producing under dry conditions and temperatures above 85 degrees F. These two vegetables can be planted again, but not until August for the fall garden.

Summer Pruning of Shrubs

June 6, 2019

Yes, you can prune unwanted growth of shrubs in the summer with a few tips. In general, plants that bloom in the spring should be pruned immediately following blooming and plants that bloom in the summer should be pruned before growth begins in late February to early March. Shrubs that are not grown for its flowers can be pruned well into summer but early enough so that new growth can harden off before going into the winter. As with most gardening recommendations and practices, there are variances where you take in consideration of what the plant is and what you want the outcome to be. Crape myrtles are probably the most incorrectly pruned plants we grow, with “crape murder” being the norm, versus the exception. My father practiced “crape murder”. My advise fell on deaf ears because Father knows best. With my dad passing away last summer, I asked my mother if she would like for me to make changes with how the crape myrtles are pruned. She’s given me free rein to do what I want to do.

On the Kurz family farm north of Lonoke, several crape myrtles have been planted over the years. This one is a light pink variety that is meant to be a small tree but succumb to the “crape murder” method of pruning for years. Time to change, but I’m going into it knowing that it is going to take several seasons and the plant will look awkward for several years. Yesterday after work, I started.
I removed all limbs that were growing down or outward and removed all weak inside growth including dead wood up to about 4 ft high. I did not remove any top growth above 4 feet and I expect a full show of color in the next few weeks. Yes, I’ve exposed the gnarly growth to where my dad cut back each winter for a number of years. As I told my mom, mini skirts are in fashion and some girls have knobby knees. Over the next few years, I will remove any new growth originating from below where green leaves are now and I will be selectively remove 2 to 3 canes to the ground each winter until I’m down to about 5 canes. I will not ever get rid of the knobby knee look but over time it will tone down.
This is another crape myrtle on the farm planted not to far from the first one I worked on. This one had green growth all the way to the ground just like the first. I pruned this one the same but the difference is that my dad cut this one back to about 4 foot each winter. The gnarly growth is still there but being covered up. I did remove a couple of larger yet crowded canes by cutting them low to the ground. I have about 10 more trees to go and I hope most turn out like this one.
The Japanese persimmon tree fruit are coming on nicely. This tree was planted approximately 15 years ago and suffered greatly from extreme summer heat in both 2011 and 2012. This is the first year since 2012 with a heavy crop load. I will be putting wooden supports under some limbs to prevent them from breaking with the ever growing fruit. I really like the mild flavor of Japanese persimmon and I appreciate the ample fruit size versus the small american persimmon.
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