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Northern Gardening

  • 2nd Thursday 7-8pm
  • and following Saturday at 6am
News & Information

Recipes | Local Food on the North Shore

Northern Gardening covers a variety of gardening topics relevant to our northern climate. The program airs on the second Thursday of each month from 7-8 p.m. and is rebroadcast the following Saturday at 6 a.m. The program is a partnership between the Northwoods Food Project, the Cook County U of MN Extension Office, and WTIP.

The Northwood's Food Project is a non-profit organization who's purpose is to increase Cook County's long term food sustainability and self-reliance by eating and growing locally produced food.

Learn more about the partnership between WTIP, the Northwoods Food Project, and the Cook County U of MN Extension Office that makes Northern Gardening possible.

Jeanne Wright and daughter Olya, Diane Booth, and Melinda Spinler in the WTIP studio for Northern Gardening.

What's On:

All About Tomatoes

allabouttomatoesApril10.mp354.03 MB

On the April 10, 2014 edition of Northern Gardening, it's all about tomatoes! Listen in to hear tips on how to grow tomatoes in the north shore climate, plus several informative interviews.

Guests to the program were Samantha Johnson, author of The Beginner’s Guide to Vegetable Gardening, and Changbin Chen, an associate professor from the University of Minnesota, Horticulture Department.  Samantha lives in northern Wisconsin and loves to grow heirloom tomatoes.  She shared some of her favorite open-pollinated tomatoes.  Changbin and his students have been playing with chromosomes in tomatoes and has developed 7 dwarf tomato varieties that are short-day and very productive. 




Straw Bale Gardening and More

Northern Gardening Sept 12.mp354.34 MB

Northern Gardening hosts Diane Booth and Joan Farnam interview guests about straw bale gardening and other techniques and how effective they could be for growing vegetables on the North Shore.



All About Growing Beautiful Roses in Zone 3

Northern Gardening July 11.mp351.66 MB

Northern Gardening interviews rose breeder, Dr. David Zlesak, about growing roses in Zone 3. Is it possible? He also talks about some of the roses he has bred which are hardy, disease resistant and require less maintenance than others.



Great Christmas Gifts for the Gardener

NorGard_121312.mp3109.7 MB


Great Gifts for Gardeners from the December Northern Gardening Radio Show


Here are some of the ideas ---



• Yard Butler’s GKS-2 Garden Kneeler and Seat

“I bought one of these about 2 years ago at Buck’s Hardware because I am getting older and it’s harder for me to get up and down in the garden. Wow! What a difference this kneeler/seat has made! I bet it has given me at least another 10 or more years of gardening life! I love it! I bet Buck’s would order it for those who want to shop local. Otherwise you can order one on I have seen them for sale in seed catalogs as well. Deep Seat Kneeler (Gardeners Supply Company carries them.) The cost will range from $29 - $39.95. You can also add a tool pouch kit to put your pruners, knife, markers, twine, etc.”

Hori-Hori Japanese Weeding Knife

This is probably one of the most useful tools for gardening we’ve found There are two different kinds. You can get it in stainless steel or carbon steel. The handle is wood and very sturdy.

The Hori-Hori (which means diggy-diggy in Japanese!) blade stays sharp, smooth, and rust-free, and it has a sharp side and a serrated side for cutting through landscape fabric or tough roots. The tip has a sharp point, so it goes into the soil smoothly and can get weeds with long taproots out. 

It’s great for planting annuals or six- packs, too, and just running underneath the soil to destroy tiny weed seedlings. 

Stainless steel blades work better in  clay soils, since the clay sometimes sticks to the carbon steel. And the stainless steel blades are sharper. On the other hand, the carbon steel is a heftier tool, and can be used for bigger jobs.

Either are highly recommended. A great gift.

$28 -$32 Duluth Trading Company or 

Soil Scoop puts the digging ability of trowels to shame. It’s got a great scooping portion, with serrated edges and a sharp tip so you can break up harder soil, enlarge planting holes, or get out weeds. If I did a lot of veggie gardening in raised beds or annual flower bed planting, this is the tool I’d pick up. (And HURRAH! It comes in purple! You can also have a nice birch wood handle.) $19.95  at Lehman’s but lots of other places like Burpees, etc.

Tub Trugs. When I first started gardening I didn’t think about good containers to put produce in or carry fertilizer or mulch or anything. I would use what I had – a bucket or a basket. They really didn’t work very well. I really like those Tub Trugs. They come from Spain. They are like a flexible bucket with strong handles. The original ones are made from 100 percent Food Grade plastic. They are frost and UV resistant. They come in sizes ranging from 1.3 gallons to 11 gallons. Some are taller and deeper and others are wider and squatter. Some places that sell them offer plastic covers as well for an additional $8. They come in fabulous bright colors, blue, red, green, yellow purple, and can range in price form $10 - $22. Gardener’s Supply Catalog has them, but so do lots of other places.

Agribon or Floating Row Covers: 83” x 50’ Insect control $19.99 – Frost protection $29.99.

(Peaceful Valley Farm) 118” x 50’ $23.95 (Johnny’s Selected Seeds)

•  Excalibur Dehydrator Deluxe 3000 Series (BPA free plastic) Easier to clean, 10 year warranty, even dehydration, heavy duty motor, adjustable thermostat, etc. $250. Harvest Essentials, Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply, on-line…

•  Felco By-Pass Pruners #6 Fits better for smaller hands, weight 7.5 oz. Best for flower growers because you can get closer to the stem of the plant. .8 inch diameter for cutting. $45

Felco 2 Pruner Works well with larger hands. Can cut up to 1” diameter with weight at 8.5 oz. $49.00 Both can be purchased at the Felco Store as well as other places. They have a limited lifetime.

Other tools and things for the garden:
• Promise to build a small greenhouse or a raised bed or two.

Electric roto-tiller

• OXO Good Grips Green Salad Spinner: Push the top down and spin the lettuce dry.$30. There are available at Target, etc.

Garden/English/Potato Fork: Garden forks are designed for either digging or scooping. The number and shape of the prongs (known as tines) depends on the intended use of the fork. I like the broader tines with a sharp end on them for digging potatoes or breaking up clay. Forged from a single piece of steel will make them last a very long time. $99.00 Johnny’s

  Soil Thermometer: $11.95

Compost Thermometer: $31.50

Bug nets /head nets: $8.95 ;

Walls-O –Water: perfect to keep tomato & pepper plants warm and toasty in June and July.  18” tall x 17” diameter $13.95, many seed catalogs carry them now.

Gift Certificates to favorite seed companies like Seed Savers, Seed of Change, Johnny’s or Fed Co.

Colored Twine Gift Pack, Gardeners Supply, 8 different colors of twine, 50’ of each color, great for both fun and practicality in the garden. $9.95.

• Garden Markers. I like the small plastic 6” markers. If you write on them with pencil, you can erase

and keep reusing. Wooden ones don’t seem to not hold up. If you use them outside, use a UV garden marker $4.25 Templars, Permanent Copper Plant Tags ‘Engrave with ball point pen. 20 for $6.95. Gardener’s Supply. 

Nitrile Gloves: You want the thin, flexible ones and you want to by them in a 4 – 6 pack because everyone loses them. They come in different sizes and sell for $16 -25. Single pairs for $4 – 7. They can be found many different places both locally and on-line.

•  Deep Rim Boot Trays: If you have mud, kids, grand kids. 21 2/3” wide x 2” deep by 43 ?” long. Two rubber grids go inside. $35.00 Gardener’s Supply Company This also works for snow.

Local Gardening Gifts:
Gift certificates to Buck’s, Hilja’s or the Blue Moose for plants/ seeds, garden art.

• Gift Certificate for bags of Black Gold, Western Lake Superior Sanitary District’s incredible compost. Buck’s carries it. ($5 for a 40 lb) etc.

• A personal gift certificate for an hour of weeding and/or watching children so a gardener can enjoy planting the garden by themselves;

Soil testing to the U of M is $15. Pick up a form at Extension, Buck’s, on-line by googling ‘U of M Extension soil testing’. They have forms you can print directly. Put the form and the $15 together in an envelope and you have a great gift!

• Support local producers. Buy local jams, jellies, maple syrups, wild rice. Great stocking stuffers. 


Tools to process all those veggies:
• Cabbage cutter for making kraut, 

• Vegetable Brush: $2.95
• A set of good cutting and paring knives.

• Canning jars, water bath for processing jams/ jellies, pressure canner for beans and corn.


Unusual, fun gifts in the West End: 

1. Water’s Edge: Plates of fused glass with flowers gorgeously arranged in the glass made out of glass. Very unique and different for that gardener who loves the one-of-a-kind gift. $21+

They also had candles with scents from honeysuckle, tuberose, peony, sweet pea, etc. $13, Butterfly wing earrings from Butterfly Artworks.

2. Caribou Highlands: Maple leaf sticky notes in bright red $8.95; delicate soap leaves in the shape, thinness, size of leaves $9.85.

3. Mountain Shop: Morning flower earrings $14.95 - $24.95 Fresh Jewelry made from actual flowers $26.95. Healing touch pottery with a worry stone on the top of the handle $24.95.

Birdhouse ornaments $11.50; Klutz makes a wristlet purse in the shape of a chicken complete with feet for that unusual child who loves having chickens in the garden. $15

There are lots of other great gift ideas, but these were suggested by local gardeners for local gardeners.

Happy Holidays from Joan and Diane!



Organic Gardening, one of the best magazines about organic gardening with lots of how-to articles, discussion of issues, etc.

“The Weeders Digest”  was suggested by one of our listeners as a great magazine that shares the best of personal garden writing. So if you have a writing / gardening friend this is a perfect gift for them.  1 year subscription $19.97  It has 4 issues per year.

Northern Gardener is put out by the Minnesota Horticultural Society.  What is nice about it is it focuses on issues for Minnesota gardeners.   $62 for one year.

 • Fine Gardening is a great gift for the gardener who loves to get ideas about garden design. Published by Taunton press, you receive s six issues a year for $29.95 or 3 years for $69.95.


Book Ideas: (Check local book stores to see what they have, too.)

 Beginning Gardeners:

 • Joy of Gardening by Dick Raymond. $13.97 - $16.47  This is probably one of the best beginning vegetable books ever written. 1982 by Garden Way, Charlotte Vermont.  Talks about each vegetable, cultivation, pests, very, very good.

The Vegetable Growers Handbook by Frank Tozer.  2008  $3.69 - $17.21  Everything you need to know about common vegetable crops.  Frank has gardened for 30+ years is a warmer climate but has great information about each vegetable, very short, concise and clear.  Includes some seed saving tips and even some recipes.

Homescaping by Anne Halpin 2005.  If you have a gardener who likes garden design or someone who is thinking about landscaping or re-landscaping their home, this is a great book to help a homeowner really think about what they need to do or would like to do to reflect their style in the landscape.  $8.42 - $26.72.  Great photos!

Step by Step Landscaping by Better Homes & Gardens.  1991.  (2007) This is a great book for the person who needs step by step instructions on how to do a patio, how to build walkways or paths, installation and construction ideas for the not so handy person who wants to learn how to do this.  Great photos!            


More Experienced Gardeners: 

The New Seed Starters by Nancy Bubel. 1988.  $5.73 - $12.70.  A great handbook for starting seeds indoors.  If you are looking for a gift for a  gardener who wants to start all their own plants, en this is a great book to give as a gift.

American Horticultural Society Plant Propagation:  The Fully Illustrated Plant-by-Plant Manual of Practical Techniques by Alan Toogood.  1999. $18.66 - $23.10.  Discussion of plant propagation techniques followed by sections for 1,500 plants.  Which method to use, how long does it take, special treatment for seeds, etc.  A good overview for many gardeners and a  reference book to come back to for more information.

Growing Perennials in Cold Climates:  Revised and Updated Edition by Mike Heger, Debbie Lonnee and John Whitman.  2011  If you have a gardener who has started to grow perennials and wants to do more with them, this is the best book out there by far for perennial growers.  $24.50 - $26.37.

Greenhouse Gardener’s Companion Revised:  Growing Food & Flowers in Your  Greenhouse or Sunspace by Shane Smith.  2000  This is probably one of the very best books you can purchase for anyone who has a greenhouse or is thinking about getting a greenhouse.

This talks about the greenhouse environment, setting up your greenhouse interior, selecting plants, plant propagation, pollination, scheduling your plant growing, and pests & diseases.

 $10.99 - $15.61.

 • Northlands Winter Greenhouse Manual by Carol Ford & Chuck Waibel 2009  $14.40.

The Flower Farmer by Lynn Byczynski  2008.  This is an organic grower’s guide to raising and selling cut flowers. If you know a gardener who grows flowers and would like to do this as a small business venture, this is the perfect gift.

• The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Pest & Disease Control by Rodale Press and edited by Fern Bradley, Barbara Ellis and Deborah Martin.  2009  This is pretty good reliable guide to have on your garden shelf for battling garden problems.$11.88 - $17.13


Newer/ Other Books:

The Holistic Orchard by Michael Phillips.  2011.  Explores the connection between home orchard and permaculture.  Native pollinators and their importance, field tested organic solutions

for some pest controls.  $26.37.

Free-Range Chicken Gardens: How to Create a Beautiful, Chicken-Friendly Yard by Jessi Bloom. 2012  $10.85 -$13.57  With chickens becoming a larger part of the landscape in both urban and more rural settings, this book would be a great gift for someone interested in doing both. 

The World According to Monsanto by Marie-Monique Robin.  2008  This is a very good book and a DVD is also available that discusses the whole story of Monsanto from the release of PCBs, Agent Orange, and why some people are concerned about ownership of seeds for the world food supply.  $12.39 - $13.57

Growing Vegetables with a Smile by Nikolay Kurdyumov.  2011 translated from Russian. This is for the gardener who grows not just for the food but because they enjoy the process of  growing food.  It goes beyond the technical aspects of gardening and is just a fun book to read.                           $19.49 - $20.58.  Sold a million copies in other languages.

The Beginner’s Guide to Growing Heirloom Vegetables:  The 100 Easiest-to-Grow,  tastiest-to-eat Vegetables for Your Garden by Marie Iannotti. 2011  If you enjoy learning more about heirlooms and some that have been tested, this is a fun book.  My German butter ball potatoes that I grow every year is included so that definitely lends credibility to this book.  $3.98 - $13.57.

How to Grow Food in Your Polytunnel by Mark Gatter.  2010  For gardeners more food in poly tunnels, this book is nice to have to read through all the season where discussions about holding food over during the winter is discussed.  $12.55 - $15.62.

And finally, here's Kent's sugggestion for great gifts to the gardener-- good soil, plenty of sun and water, a cold beer and Ibuprofen.

Merry Christmas, everyone!
Brought to you by your hosts, Diane Booth and Joan Farnam




Tips on how to handle our insect invasions & Charlie Butter on square-foot gardening

Nor Gard_071212.mp3111.19 MB

This month, Northern Gardening hosts Diane Booth and Joan Farnam talk to Jeff Hahn, U of M. Extension entomologist and author of “Insects of the North Woods” about the insect invasion in our gardens this year, and local gardener Charlie Butter talks about his square-foot gardens and a new vegetable garden project at the hospital that he has developed.

Some garden insect pests that are being seen this year in Cook County include the following:
1. Flea beetles
   • Numerous species: striped flea beetle, western black flea beetle, spinach flea beetle, potato flea beetle
   • 1/16 – 1/8”
   • Black, bronze, bluish or brown to metallic gray, stripes
   • Large black legs used for jumping when disturbed
   • Overwinter as adults in the leaf litter, etc.
   • Early spring adults lay eggs in small holes in roots, soil, leaves
   • Common on radishes, broccoli, cabbage, turnips, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, spinach, melons,
   • Following egg hatch they feed on roots – little damage except to potatoes
   • Adults cause most of the problems feeding on foliage.
   • Typical damage are small rounded, irregular holes usually < 1/8” diameter looking like shot-holes.
   • Monitor with yellow sticky cards
    • Use floating row covers
   • Plant a trap crop – radishes before you plant your main crop

2. Onion maggots
   • A fly (Delia antique) lays eggs in early spring at the base of an onion and in nearby cracks in the soil.
   • The larvae form is what burrows into the onion bulb or lower part of the onion.
   • The foliage wilts or is stunted as the first sign.
   • If you pull the onion you will usually find the culprit burrowed into the bottom part of the onion. They feed on the bulb and rot invades as well.
   • A floating row cover can protect your plants from having the adult fly lay their eggs.
   • Rotate your onions so you don’t plant them in the same place.

3. Variegated cutworm
   • Eggs of the variegated cutworm, Peridroma saucia, were found in large numbers on windows, siding, screens this spring.
   • Apparently, variegated cutworm moths from outbreaks in southern states were blown north over a period of a few weeks in May and eggs were laid at night on emerging crops, gardens, fence posts, buildings, trees and almost anything that holds still long enough.
   • All these eggs will hatch, yielding tiny, translucent caterpillars with a few dark hairs and over-sized, black heads. They will be hungry. And, they have an extremely wide host range: most vegetable garden plants, fruit trees, rhubarb, raspberries, strawberries, ornamental plants, shrubs, hostas, canola, wheat, corn, sunflower, clover and other row crops. Cutworms feed at night and rest during the day so it is hard to find them, but the damage will be easy to spot: seedlings nipped off at ground level and large holes eaten out of leaves all season long.
   • The variegated cutworm is also called the climbing cutworm because mature caterpillar stages will spend both days and nights on their host plants in contrast to most other species of cutworm. After feeding, they'll pupate in the soil, emerge as moths and start another generation, likely in July. Adults created from this generation will migrate south in October to other states in order to overwinter.
• Projections for next year…. what can we expect? Will they pupate and overwinter in our soil, adults fly south to overwinter? If we have a cold winter, the cutworms will not survive it.
   • Variegated cutworms are beginning to show up in alfalfa in SW MN. The variegated cutworm is a migrating moth that makes its way into the region and occasionally arrives early and in large enough numbers to cause problems. Alfalfa is one of several host crops the moths are attracted to for laying eggs. The most distinguishing characteristic of the variegated cutworm is the 4 to 7 pale yellow, circular spots on the back of the larva. Its general body color is variable (olive to nearly black), but usually brown. The underside of the caterpillar is cream colored. There is a narrow, orange-brown stripe along the side.

4. Earwigs
   • Became noticeable in Minnesota in the 1990’s.
   • Forficula auricularia
   • Many areas of Minnesota experienced high earwig numbers last year. Cook County had a high infestation two years ago and we are seeing some again this year. Be on the watch for them in your garden this summer.
   • Earwigs are about 5/8 inch long, with a flat, reddish brown body and very short wings. They look like a cockroach or a rove beetle but are distinctive because of the pair of pinchers (cerci) on the tip of their abdomen. Nymphs are similar to adults except they are smaller and generally lighter in color.
   • They love moisture and usually come out to feed at night.
   • They are scavengers that often feed on decaying plant or insects. They will also feed on healthy plant tissue including flowers and vegetables.
   • The damage often looks like slug damage except there isn’t a slime trail.
   • Oil traps vs. rolled up newspaper traps in the garden. You can set out rolled up newspapers or similar objects to trap earwigs. You can also place old tuna fish cans baited with fish oil or vegetable oil. Set them out during evening in areas where you are seeing earwigs in your garden. In morning, shake the traps above a pail of soapy water to remove and kill the insects. 
   • Keep the top of the soil dry in your garden.
   • Permethrin around the perimeter of your home may help deter them from coming inside. It is best to caulk everything and prevent them from getting into your indoor space.

5. Spotted milk millipede
   • Blaninlus guttinlatus
   • Snake-like slender body (whitish / translucent) with pinkish spots on the side
   • Soil inhabitants that feed on decaying plant material.
   • They have been found here eating zucchini plants – feeding damage to the root system. They can also attack other plants especially when we have dry weather.
   • Last year they were especially bad for one grower in Cook County.

6. Imported Cabbageworm / Cabbage Butterfly
   • Pieris rapae
   • Winter is spent as a pupa amongst plant debris.
   • Adult females lay yellow bullet shaped eggs on leaves.
   • 2-4 generations a year
   • Like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage
   • Use of exclusion with reemay
   • Bacillus thuriengensis

7. Strawberry Root Weevil
   • Otiorhynchus ovatus
   • Very small, ¼ inch long, black or dark brown with rows of pits along their back
   • Feed on roots of strawberries, evergreens, raspberries, grapes, etc.
   • Adults emerge in early summer and feed on the edges of foliage, leaving a characteristic notched appearance
   • In hot dry summers, they can become invaders in your home looking for cool, damp conditions. They are attracted to moisture.
   • They are being found this year near water on docks, lakeshores and in basements, sinks, bathtubs.

8. Colorado Potato Beetle
   • Leptinotarsa decemlineata
    • Found occasionally in Cook County
   • Adults 3/8” long, yellow and black stripes on back
   • Larvae are reddish / red-orange with a dark head
   • Usually one generation a year
   • Hand pick

9. Potato Leafhopper
   • Empoasca fabae
   • Pale green, 1/8” long, move sideways when disturbed
   • Yellowing of tip of leafs followed by browning, cupping, distortion.
   • ‘Hopper burn’
   • Rose leafhoppers similar, but nymphs cannot move sideways. Pale yellow to creamy white color.
   • White apple leafhopper is also similar.

10. Four-lined Plant bug
   • Poecilocapsus lineatus
   • Adults are yellow usually with 4 dark lines on their back.
   • ¼ -1/3” long / immature forms are bright red-orange with black dots on the thorax
   • Feeding damage is little round circles of necrotic tissue damage

11. Tarnished Plant Bug
   • Lygus lineolaris
   • Adults are generally oval, about twice as long as wide, and about ¼ inch long. Generally brown with some yellow and reddish markings.
   • Feeds on developing leaves, flowers, fruits, killing the areas around the feeding site.
   • Catface injuries to fruit; hard nubbins for strawberries, etc.

12. Tobacco or Geranium Budworm
   • Heliothis virescens
   • Caterpillars can reach 1.5” and feed on flowers and buds. Found in Cook County by holes in geranium and petunia buds.
   • Hand pick or use Bacillus thuriengensis

13. Corn Earworm
   • Helicoverpa zea
   • Migration of adult moths can occur in our county. (Don’t overwinter here)
   • Eggs are laid on the silks of the corn
   • The small larvae tunnel down into the corn and eat for about 4 weeks.
   • Mineral oil on the silks when moths are around?
   • Cut off the damage to the end of the ear of the corn and use the rest.

14. Japanese Beetle
   • Popillia japonica
   • Overwinter as a nearly full-grown grub below frost line in winter.
   • Adults emerge in late June and early summer, feed on foliate, mate, and return to lawn areas. Females lay eggs in small masses in soil cavities 2-4” deep. One year cycle but can extend to 2 years.
   • Adults feed on foliage of more than 300 species: rose, mountain ash, willow, linden, grape, Virginia creeper, birches, ornamental apple, plum, cherry, etc.

15. Aphids
   • 1,300 species+
   • Normal reproduction is asexual. Sexual forms usually occur in one generation a year.
   • Suck sap from the phloem of plants and can cause injuries including transmit viruses, etc.
   • Honeydew that is secreted can be associated with sooty mold.
   • Common: apple aphids; lupine aphids; balsam twig aphid;

16. Leafhoppers carrying Aster Yellows
   • What leafhoppers are most common for this? Aster leafhopper? (Macrosteles quadrilineatus)
   • Phytoplasma that is picked up by the leafhopper, develops for up to 10 days or 3 weeks before it can be transmitted through saliva from the leafhopper to another plant.
   • 1-5% of all leafhoppers carry the aster yellows phytoplasma during the growing season.

17. Gladiolus thrips, iris thrips, daylily thrips
   • Thrips simplex
   • Feeding at the base of emerging leaves produces silvery scarring that later turns brown.
   • Infestation of the flowers produces scarring and distortion.
   • Corms can be corky, sticky when infested with thrips.
   • Store corms at 35-40 degrees for 4 months to kill thrips.
   • Napthalene flakes can be added to the corms in a tight paper bag for storage?

18. Eriophyid Mite Galls
   • Erinea (red felt-like patches) on maple leaves
   • Maple bladder galls
   • Ash flower galls

19. Iris Borers
   • Macronucutua onusta
   • ‘Water logged leaves’ are a typical sign. Larvae feed at the base of leaves and hollow out the rhizomes. Wound areas are frequently colonized by rots and the plants may be killed
   • Larvae are pale pink with a distinct brown head; adults are dull brown moths

Square-Foot Gardening

Charlie Butter has been working with square-foot gardening in his yard for the last few years and has seen some impressive results.
• The square-foot gardening technique is based upon the book by Mel Bartholomew by that name first published in 1981.
• Use a square foot system to make the most use of your garden space allowing you to raise only the amount of food you really need and will eat.
• 1 square foot = 4 lettuce plants, 1 pepper, 9 spinach or bean plants, 16 carrots or onions or radishes.
• Defines boundaries so that you take care of the plants you do have – less work, carefully grown plants – higher production.
• Vine crops are grown vertically to take advantage of smaller spaces.



All About Worms

NorGard_061412.mp3109.41 MB

Welcome to Northern Gardening!
Hosts Joan Farnam and Paula Sundet-Wolf hosted this month’s program with guests:
Ann Russ, local gardener and retired teacher who talks about using vermiculture in the classroom,
Kent Jones, local gardener, who talks about his experiences with worm composting and worms in the garden and
Cindy Hale, scientist with NRRI (Natural Resources Research Institute) in Duluth who talks about her research on earthworms and what is happening in our local forests.

Northern Gardening airs on the second Thursday of every month and is hosted by Cook County Extension and the Northwoods Food Project. It is also rebroadcast at 6 a.m. on the 2nd Saturday morning of the month.
Northern Gardening airs on the second Thursday of every month and is hosted by Cook County Extension and the Northwoods Food Project. It is also rebroadcast at 6 a.m. on the 2nd Saturday morning of the month.

Gardeners have been told for years that worms are great for the soil and they have some wonderful attributes they bring to the garden. Composting bins for worms or vermicomposting has exploded in the gardening realm and many gardeners use vermicompost as part of their starting media for plants or as a gardening additive.

• There are approximately 4,500 species of worms in the world and of those, about 2,500 are earthworm species.
• Minnesota has at least 15 species of earthworms.
• Earthworms are either earthmovers or composters.
• They tend to be solitary species with tunnel through the earth, aerating, decompacting and mixing soil strata and thus making surface nutrients available to plant roots at lower levels. Good for gardeners / not so good for native plants growing in our forests.
• Composters live in organic matter on the soil surface where they consume bacteria present in dead vegetation, animals and manure, turning it into humus.

Are earthworms native?
• Any native North American species of earthworms that may have been living here were destroyed when glacial ice sheets covered Minnesota. So our local forests evolved without an earthworm population.
• Earthworms were brought over in the 1800’s by settlers who brought plants with them from Europe. Earthworm egg cases were probably brought in with the plants.
• Ships would also use soil and rocks as ballast that would be dumped on shore when they adjusted the ballast for the ship.
• Recently, using worms as fishing bait has also increased their populations in forested areas. Unused fishing bait is often dumped out rather than taken back home. Road building activities that move dirt, vehicle tire treads can carry egg cases with them, etc.
• Without humans moving them, earthworms can move only about mile in only about 100 years.

Specific species of earthworms are causing damage in the forest
• Earthworms that are being found in hardwood forests can cause forest decline because they change the ecosystem substructure that many forest plants rely upon.
• If you don’t have earthworms in your annual leaf litter, decomposition is controlled by fungi and bacteria. Decomposition is much slower and the result is a thick, spongy forest floor called a “duff” layer. This layer can be 4-5” thick in very rich sites. This duff layer is essential for some understory plant species to survive. Small tree seedlings and understory plants have their root systems in this duff layer and are able to survive.
• When earthworms are introduced into this layer, decomposition occurs much faster and the duff layer pretty much disappears. They also mix the organic layer with the mineral soil layer. This has resulted in small tree seedlings not being able to germinate and survive. Additionally, many of the understory plant species cannot survive. This then has a domino effect leading to the loss of cover for ground nesting birds, small mammals, amphibians and reptiles, insects and spiders. Primary habitat and food sources are lost.
• Different invasive earthworms species have different habitat/feeding preferences (belong to different “functional groups”) and thus different impacts on the ecosystems into which they spread or are introduced. Different combinations of species can result in different impacts as well (Hale et al. 2008).

Boreal forests and earthworms
• Boreal forests composed of pine (Pinus sp.) and spruce on sandy and / or acidic soils are likely to be more resistant to invasion, as they have been in northern Scandinavia despite the presence of lumbricids for thousands of years.
• The presence of deciduous tree species with low C:N ratio litter, such as aspen and birch mixed with pine and spruce is likely to allow earthworms to inhabit a site, especially those species such as Dendrobaena octaedra.
• The rate and magnitude of the removal of the forest floor and consequences for native forest plant communities depends upon the species of earthworms invading.

Ann Russ set up a worm composting bin in her classroom.
The worms that are used by most worm composters are called red wigglers or are the species Eisenia fetida. These cannot survive our winters here if they are released into the outdoors. Since the decline of horses in agriculture, most populations are in artificial situations.
Lumbricus rubellus is being used in vermicomposting now, too. A population of L. rubellus can consume 10 cm or more thickness of intact forest floor within one growing season, which is faster than plants rooted in the forest floor can adjust, resulting in increased plant mortality during initial invasion.

Things to make us feel better:
• Most of us did not import these earthworms into our garden, they pretty much were already there in the soil when we started gardening. (We can blame our ancestors!)

• Earthworms: Their primary food source is bacteria, although they will eat fungi, nematodes, protozoa and organic matter on or in which these microorganisms live. Worms can live for 15 years. They shred organic matter, aerate soil, aggregate soil particles and move organic matter and microorganisms in the soil. Vermicastings(worm poop) are 50 percent higher in organic matter than soil that has not moved through worms. Worms’ digestive enzymes unlock phosphate and other nutrients making them available for plants.

They do great things in our agriculture soils.
• One study has shown that each year on an average acre of cultivated land, 7,200 kg of soil can pass through earthworms and be deposited atop the ground — almost double that amount can be moved in really wormy soil. 

How do I know if I have a good soil food web present in my soil?
• If you have 5 – 30 earthworms in your garden soil in a square foot.
• Set a soil trap. Bury a quart sized container in the soil so that the lip of the container is at the ground level. Put an umbrella over it or something to keep the rain out but keep it open at the soil level. Add a couple of moth balls. Leave alone for 3 – 7 days. Check to see what you have in your trap. If your soil is pretty good, you will have centipedes, millipedes, other macroarthropods.

TIPS to be responsible with your gardening when it comes to earthworms, etc.:
• Keep your gardening/agriculture soil totally separate from your forest soils.

• Don’t bring in soil from another location like down south that may contain egg cases for earthworm species you don’t already have in your garden.

• If you are using vermicompost, make sure if you are using it outside in your garden that you know exactly what species of earthworm you have present. Sometimes when you order a vermicomposting kit you can still have egg cases from other species present that you don’t know. It could be a species that may be harmful if it escapes into other forested areas.

• Don’t take garden soil from your garden and dump it into the woods. The same would be true with potted plants. Be very careful what you do with soil that comes in potted plants from other places.

• Don’t dump your leftover fish bait (worms) you have purchased into your garden or onto the forest soil or into a lake, hoping they’ll drown. They won’t, and you will have introduced them to that area.

Extension Updates: Variegated cutworm:
We are starting to see some of the larger cutworm larvae stages feeding on different plants in our gardens this year. Holes in potato leaves, broccoli leaves, pea and bean stems cut through could be due to cutworm larva.
• You can wrap several layers of newspaper around the stems of your plants about 1 to 1/5” below the soil and the same above to prevent the cutting off of the main stem by a cutworm larvae. Tinfoil will also work as will cardboard if it is close to the stem.
• You can spray or dust your leaves with a garden product like Thuricide or Dipel that contains Bt (bacillius thuriengensis) or Btk (bacillius thuriengensis var. kurstaki) as the active ingredient. This is a bacteria, ingested by a susceptible caterpillar, that will release a crystalline protein called an “endotoxin” that poisons the insect’s digestive system. Eventually holes in the caterpillar’s gut allow digestive juices to leak through the holes and cause a general infection that kills the insect.

Advantages of using Bt or Btk:
a. Caterpillars that die after ingesting Bt or Btk are not considered dangerous to birds or other animals that feed on them.
b. Generally, sunlight and other microbes destroy Btk applied to foliage, so Btk does not multiply or accumulate in the environment.
c. Btk does not appear to post any significant threat to human health or to pets.

Flea Beetle Damage:
Use a floating row cover to exclude flea beetles from your crops. You can also plant a ‘trap’ crop. They absolutely love radishes and / or arugula. They will then leave some of the other plants alone and simply ‘nosh’ on the arugula.

Cook County Extension office located in the CC Community Center building in Grand Marais does have soil testing available through the University. We do recommend a soil test before you start adding amendments to your soil. We also have an animal husbandry and gardening library available for folks who would like to check out more specific information on topics we discuss on Northern Gardening.
Cook County Master Gardeners will be planning a container gardening contest this summer with prizes and a local garden tour on Saturday, August 18th. So if you are a gardener and would like to enter either your garden as an example of how people can grow in small spaces using containers or small raised beds, pick up entry forms and fill them out by July 18th.
Entry forms can be found at the CC Extension office as well as on posters hanging up around town.



Container Gardening & Early Diseases in Your Garden

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Northern Gardening hosts Diane Booth and Joan Farnam talk with the experts about container gardening and early diseases in the garden. Click to listen.

The hosts were joined by Ilena Berg, local container gardener, Michelle Grabowski, U of M Extension Educator in Horticulture and Plant Pathology and Jane Horn, U of M Master Gardener, who will be teaching a workshop on container gardening at the Community Center June 2.

Michelle Grabowski talked about plant diseases and prevention and control. Here is a summary of a few of the points she made. (Listen to the broadcast to hear all her advice.)
• Starting seeds indoors: Use a soil-starting medium, not dirt from your garden. Keep it moist but not too wet. It is very important to have enough drainage.
• Different seeds need different soil temperatures to germinate. Radishes, for example, can germinate in 50 degree soil, while tomatoes and peppers need 70 degrees to germinate.
• Soil thermometers are useful for garden soils as well as indoor pots.

How to have healthy plants
• Clean up your garden in the fall to eliminate habitats and overwintering sites for pathogens and pests
• Rotate where you put your plants in the garden each year for fertility and to deprive the pathogen of a suitable host
• Healthy soils with good drainage
• Proper plant nutrition
• Environmental management -- use physical controls like floating row covers to keep out pests and/or warm soils,
• Use cultural techniques such as proper timing or practices to avoid a pathogen
• Use disease resistant varieties and treated seeds

 IPM (Integrated Pest Management) At what point do we decide to intervene and decide we have a pathogen we need to take action against? It’s important to understand the pathogen and under what conditions it can become a problem where damage & economic loss is not tolerable.

Here are some of the specific issues with pathogens that we might encounter in Cook County.
1.  Anthracnose:  Caused by the fungus Colletotrichum lindemthianum, primarily infects snap beans and dry beans such as pinto, kidney, and navy beans.  It survives the winter in infected plant debris and produces spores in the spring that are rain splashed or windblown to healthy plants.  It may also be introduced into the garden on infected seed.  Develops quickly during cool, wet conditions.  Small, reddish brown spots on leaves and pods that enlarge.  Remove plant material as soon as noticed.
2.  Bean rust:  Caused by the fungus Uromyces appendiculatus, survives winter in infected plant material and produces spores in the spring that are wind blown. It is not seed-borne.  Appears as rust-colored pustules on the bottom of leaves and on pods surrounded by a yellow halo.  Remove plant material as soon as noticed.
3.  Bacterial diseases on garden beans:  Bacteria can be from the seed or infected plant material from the previous year.  Common blight, halo blight and brown spot infect the leaves and pods of many different beans.  Not all beans are susceptible.  The disease starts as a watersoaked spot that usually become brown surrounded by a yellow halo.
Don’t save seed from infected plants and remove infected plants from the area.
4.  Mosaic:  Virus that overwinters in perennial weeds.  It is transmitted to beans and vine crops by aphids.  Yellow and green mottling of leaves, plants are stunted, yields reduced, infected fruit is mottled, bumpy and misshapen.  Rogue out infected plants.

1.  Black Rot:  Light brown to yellow ‘V’ shaped lesion on the leaf caused by the bacteria Xanthomonas campestris.  When leaf veins are cut in half – they will be black. Seed-borne, water splash.  Moves very quickly under warm, moist conditions.
2.  Fungal diseases:  Black leg (Leptosphaeria maculans)light brown lesions with purplish outline often containing pinhead-sized black dots.  Favored by wet, windy conditions.
Seed-borne, water splash, crop residues, equipment.
Club root (Plasmodiophora brassicae) causes galls to form on the roots of infected planats.  First sign is wilted plants in warm weather because plant can’t pick up water due to galls.  Dig up plant and check for disease.

1.  Aster Yellows:  Plant disease which affects a wide range of plants:  aster, chrysanthemum, cosmos, daisy Echinacea, gladiolus, marigold, petunia, carrots, onions, potatoes, tomatoes.  Caused by a microscopic organism called a phytoplasma. Aster yellows is transmitted by leafhoppers and grafting.  The phytoplasma survives winter in perennial and biennial plants. Symptoms include:  stunting with outer leaves rust colored to purple; roots are bitter, stunted and deformed with tiny hair-like roots.  Flowers are often irregular, deformed, green.  Once infected, there is no cure.  Remove infected plants.

1.  Corn smut:  Common disease of sweet corn caused by the fungus Ustilago mayclis. Disease rarely kills corn plants, but results in smaller ears.  Fungus survives winter in corn debris or in the soil.  Spores are windblown or rain-splashed on healthy plants.  When the galls formed are small and silver or white you can eat them and they are considered to be a delicacy.  Remove before they turn brown and the spores erupt.  Some corn varieties are more susceptible than others.
2.  Purple leaves:  Low pH can cause purpling of leaves with yellow leaf edges.  Plants will be uneven in height if the pH is low.  Low phosphorus can also be seen in the spring with cold, wet soils. Plants will be uniform in height and not have the yellow leaf margin.

1.  Bottom rot:  Caused by the fungus Rhizoctonia solani.  Favored by warm, wet weather.  Plants are usually affected when they are nearly mature. First symptom is usually wilting of the outer leaves.  The fungus enters the plants where leaves are touching the soil. If conditions are favorable, the fungus continues to grow until the entire head becomes a slimy brown mass that soon dries and becomes darker.
2.  Sclerotina Drop: Fungi Sclerotina sclerotium and S. minor do well under cool, moist conditions.  Wilting of the outermost leaves is preceded by a water soaked area that appears on the stem near the soil.  As the fungus grows into each leaf, the leaf tips droop and wither with their tips touching the soil.
3.  Gray mold, lettuce mosaic, aster yellows, etc.

Onions, Garlic, Leeks
1.  Yellow Streak virus:  This is carried by the wheat curl mites that can be found inside of garlic cloves. Leaves are yellow streaked, stunted.  Loosen up the clove covers and soak the cloves for a few minutes in alcohol to kill the adult mites at planting time.
2.  Fusarium basal rot: Bulbs may become infected at any point during their time in the field.  Yellowing and browning of leaves begins at the tip and moves downward. Red brown rot appears where the roots are attached to the basal plate. Rot may happen in storage.
3.  Botrytis neck rot: Outer leaves yellow and die back.  Stem appears water soaked at the soil line.  Small, hard black fungal structures form in the decayed stem tissue.  Disease is common in cool wet weather or in heavy wet soils.
4.  Bacterial soft rot: Softening and water soaking of one or more of the inner fleshy scales of the onion bulb. Shows up just before or at the time of harvest or when in storage.  Pathogens are soil borne.

1.  Ascochyta blight: Disease involving three different fungi.  All survive winter in plant debris or enter the garden on infected pea seeds.  Plants generally show blackening of the stem from the soil line to about 7” tall.  Plants have yellow foliage, brown spots on leaves and stems and bud drop.  Pods and seeds can be infected.  Remove infected plants.
2.  Bacterial blight:  Disease caused by Pseudomonas syringae that initially appears as shiny dark green (water-soaked) spots on the upper and lower leaf surfaces.  Older spots may appear brown, papery and translucent with the center of the lesion lighter in color.  Remove and discard all infected material.
3.  Seed decay, Damping off, and Root rot: These are caused by a number of fungi with cool, wet soils favoring seed decay and damping off.  Infected seedlings may fail to emerge or collapse after they emerge.  Older seedlings may also fail as they develop a root rot.  Root rot is more common in heavier wet soils.  Plants infected by root rot fungi may appear yellow, stunted. Symptoms may not show up in cooler weather but as soon as the weather becomes hot and dry, plants die quickly.    
Peppers  (Diseases are similar to tomatoes)
1.  Common scab:  Disease caused by bacteria Streptomyces scabies is most severe in soils with a pH greater than 5.2 or under drought conditions.  Tubers are most susceptible but stems and roots may also be infected. Scab does not adversely affect potato tubers in storage. Scab tolerant:  Norland, Norgold, Russet, Superior.  Scab can also infect beets, carrots, parsnips, turnips and radishes.
2.  Verticillium wilt:  Soil-borne fungi that can affect tomatoes, potatoes, cucumber, eggplant, pepper, rhubarb, watermelon, beet, etc.  Wilting is the characteristic symptom during the warmest part of the day in August and then recover at night.  Leaf edges and areas between the veins appear yellow and then brown.  Vascular brown streaking can be found in stems near the ground.  Cool weather disease 65-83 degrees. Plant resistant varieties; remove and destroy plant material so it doesn’t overwinter.  Enters through wounds in roots – nematodes, etc. Resistant: Gold Rush, Itasca, Century Russet, Ranger Russet.
1.  Aschochyta leaf spot:  Leaf infection with Aschochyta rhei appears as small, green-yellow irregular spots less than ? “ in diameter on the upper leaf surface.  The infected spots turn brown, die and fall out – producing a ‘shot-hole’ appearance. Stalks are not affected.
2.  Phytophthora ‘root rot’:  Serious disease of rhubarb.  Slight, sunken lesions at the base of the stalks enlarge rapidly, resulting in wilted leaves and collapse of the entire stalk.  The crown & roots turn brown or black and disintegrate.  Control by setting out disease-free plants and plant in well-drained soil.
3.  Ramularia leaf spot:  Ramularia rhei shows up as small red dots that enlarge to form circular lesions a ?” or larger in diameter.  Stalk infections appear later and white fungus develops in the centers of spots on both leaves and stalks.    
Summer Squash
1.  Blossom end rot:  A disease most often found on summer squash under wet conditions.  Also may be found on pumpkins, etc.  Flowers are covered with white then purplish black fungal growth.  The blossom end of the squash is soft, rotted and covered in fluffy purplish black growth.  The fungus can survive in crop debris and spread by insects, splashing water, wind.  Good air circulation helps.
1.  Anthracnose:  Symptoms do not appear until the fruit is ripening.  The fungus is between the cuticle and epidermis of the fruit and is activated by low temperatures, fruit maturation or plant stress.  Small, depressed lesions appear circular in shape.  Lesions enlarge, become more shrunken, and eventually turn tan with black fruiting bodies.  Cut off as soon as you see the shrunken areas. This fungus can persist in the soils.
2.  Early blight: Target spot of tomato, potato, eggplant, pepper is caused by the fungus Alternaria solani. Symptoms usually appear at the end of the season.  Brown lesions first appear on older, lower leaves and spread up toward new growth.  Lesions are small, dry and papery and may develop dark concentric rings of raised and necrotic tissue.  Leaf tissue turns yellow at the edge of the lesion. Lesions on stems begin as small dark slightly sunken areas.  Fungus overwinters in the soil. Under cool, moist conditions, the fungus can produce numerous spores that are wind blown. Nitrogen and phosphorus deficiencies increase susceptibility to early blight.
3.  Late blight: Caused by the fungus Phytophthora infestans this can occur any time during the growing season but is more likely to be seen in late summer and early autumn.  Disease spreads rapidly during cool, rainy weather, killing plants within a few days.  Daytime temps between 60 – 70 degrees and night time temps between 50 – 60 degrees and high humidity create ideal conditions for infection and spread of disease.  Fungus becomes inactive during dry periods.  Fungus survives in potatoes and perennial weeds like nightshade. Late blight starts out as irregularly shaped, dark-green (water-soaked) lesions on the lower leaves of the plant.  Lesions enlarge, entire leaves turn grown, shrivel and die.  The entire plant collapses.  Rotate potatoes and tomatoes; don’t plant potatoes next to tomatoes; ensure good airflow; remove and dispose of any volunteer potato or tomato plants; apply chlorothalonil or mancozeb at the first sign of the disease.
4.  Septoria Leaf Spot: Caused by the fungus Septoria lycopersici.  The fungus can survive winter on diseased plant materials. Spores are wind blown or rain splashed to healthy leaves. Symptoms usually begin to appear on the lower leaves after fruit set.  Initially round, yellow spots develop.  Later, these spots enlarge and turn brown to gray.  Tiny black fruiting bodies form in the center of the leaf spots.  Exposed fruit may be damaged by overexposure of the sun.
Vine Crops: Cucumbers, Pumpkins, Watermelon, Squash
1.  Alternaria leaf blight: Caused by the fungus Alternaria cucumberina is most problematic on melons but can also occur on cucumber, pumpkin, squash.  Does not infect fruit but can reduce yields and fruit quality due to reduced plant vigor. Brown leaf spots that can cause leaves to turn brown, curl up, wither and die.
2.  Angular leaf spot:  Bacterial disease caused by Pseudomonas syringae with cucumbers less affected due to resistant varieties.  Leaves develop small, angular brown or straw-colored spots with a yellow halo.  Leaf spots dry out, leaving irregular shaped holes in the leaves.  Water soaked to tan small circular spots on fruit.  Thrives in warm humid conditions.  When fruits are infected, the seed also becomes infected. White sticky bacterial ooze can form.  Pathogen can survive on plant debris.
3.  Anthracnose: Caused by fungus Colletotrichum orbiculare that can attack all cucurbits but especially cucumbers, muskmelons and watermelons.  Irregular brown leaf spots form on squash, melon and cucumber.  The center of the leaf may drop out resulting in shot hole or ragged appearance.  Very common on cucumbers.  May have sunken elongate lesions on stems. Disease is favored by warm, moist environments.  First seen in mid to late season. Purchase clean seed; some resistant varieties are available for cucumbers.
4.  Bacterial wilt: Caused by bacteria Erwinia tracheiphila. This can cause severe losses in cucumbers, muskmelons.  Squash and pumpkins are less severely affected.  Watermelons are not affected.  Does not occur in Minnesota every year. Leaves first appear dull green, wilt during the day, and then recover at night.  Leaves eventually yellow and brown at margins, completely wither and die.  Striped and spotted cucumber beetles carry bacteria in their gut.
5.  Powdery mildew:  Primarily caused by fungus Podosphaera xanthii that infects vine crops. First shows up as pale yellow leaf spots.  White powdery spots can form on both upper and lower leaf surfaces rapidly covering entire leaf, stem, etc.  When majority of plant is infected, plant is weakened and fruit ripens prematurely. Humid conditions with temperatures 68-81 degrees and usually noticed in mid-late summer.  Older leaves are most susceptible.  Fruit has poor flavor, doesn’t store well, etc.
Sulfur applied when first noticed can slow spread.  Good air circulation, not over applying nitrogen, planting less susceptible varieties.
6.  Viruses: Infection with virus is common on all cucurbits.  It is very difficult to identify individual viruses by symptoms.  Virus infected leaves often have a mottling or mosaic pattern in shades of green and yellow.  Leaves may be distorted or deformed.  Early infections result in no fruit production. If you see symptoms, remove plants.  Keep tools and hands clean.

1.  Botrytis blight:  The fungus Botrytis cinerea attacks stems, buds and leaves.  It begins early in the spring, most common during cloudy, rainy weather.  Young stalks discolor at the base, wilt and fall over.  Gray, fuzzy fungal spores are usually characteristic of this infection.
2.  Phytophthora blight: The fungus Phytophthora cactorum is similar to Botrytis however doesn’t have the felty growth.  Infected parts become dark brown or black and somewhat leathery.  The entire shoot my turn black and die. Cankers can infect the stem, crown, etc.  Remove and destroy along with adjacent soil.

1.  Black spot:  Caused by the fungus Diplocarpon rosae it can cause almost complete defoliation by early Fall.  Circular black spots that are surrounded by a yellow halo.  Yellow leaves fall prematurely.
2.  Powdery mildew: Caused by the fungus Sphaerotheca pannosa. Young leaves can curl and turn purple.  Young canes can become distorted and dwarfed.  Leaves, buds, and stems are covered with a white powdery coating.

A few botanical and biological controls
• Fermented nettle tea (preventative spray for fungus + nutrient boost)
• Equisetum tea (root dip during transplanting against fungal attack – dessication silica)
• Chamomile tea (preplanting seed soak to kill seed borne pathogens)
• Liquid seaweed (strawberries foliar treatment for nutrients / disease)
• Watery compost extract (suppression of soil borne plant pathogens?)
• 1% chlorine bleach solution for 10 minutes for some tomato or brassica seeds to reduce pathogens on seeds
• Baking soda /milk for powdery mildew

Container Gardening
Container gardening is becoming more popular with people living in rentals and/or downsizing their outdoor space. 
Ilena Berg talked to us about what containers she uses to grow plants, what kind of plants she grows, and her successes and failures.

• Small containers (1-2 gallons)  lettuce, spinach, peppers, radishes, carrots, beets, beans, patio tomatoes
• Medium containers (3-10 gallons)  eggplant, broccoli, cauliflower, determinate tomatoes, gourmet potatoes
• Large containers (greater than 10 gallons) cabbage, indeterminate tomatoes, high yielding potatoes, vine crops including cucumbers, melon, squash
• Full sun 8 -12 hours daily
Jane Horn was also a guest and talked to us about her experiences with container gardening. She began gardening 14 years ago when she moved into her first house and for five years has been a University of Minnesota extension Master Gardener.  Her garden was showcased as one of the Star Tribune's Beautiful Gardens and has been featured on the Better Homes and Gardens web site.  Her experimental garden planted in a pile of dirt on asphalt was the focus of an article on   
Container design is one of Jane’s strengths and she has placed in the top 10in Fine Gardening magazine's Container Design Challenge.     
Jane is also going to be teaching a Container Gardening Workshop on Saturday, June 2 at the Community Center hosted by the U of M Cok County Master Gardeners.
Here’s the schedule for that day.
• 7:30 a.m. Eleanor Hoffman teaching Yoga for Gardeners (Please wear loose clothing and bring a beach towel or mat.)
Following our yoga start to the day, refreshments will be available.
• 8:30 a.m. Container gardening workshop begins.
Topics will include: 
Growing Vegetables in Containers with Diane Booth;
Spicing up Your Garden by Planting in Containers with Jane Horn
Hands-on Container Planting Demonstrations with Nancy Carlson, Max Linehan, and Emma Bradley
Cost for the entire morning is $20 that includes handouts, etc. Call 387-3015 to reserve your splot.
Also, the Art Colony Potters are making a bunch of flower pots, containers and garden art as a fundraiser for the ceramics studio. They will hold a silent auction of the items during the workshop.

 • A Container Gardening Contest is being sponsored by the U of M Cook County Master Gardeners with sign-up information becoming available in May.  Categories will include:  Best Miniature Garden, Best Hanging Garden, Most Unusual Garden, Best Edible Garden, and Best Window Box Garden.  Prizes will be $25 for each category.  You need to sign up by Friday, July 13. Watch for the sign-up information or stop by the Cook County Extension office to pick up entry forms.
Gardens will be judged on Aug. 18 in conjunction with the container garden tour on that Saturday, Aug. 18 from 1- 3 p.m. as well.  If you are interested in being on the garden tour, please contact Diane in the Extension office at 387-3015. 
Cook County Extension office located in the CC Community Center building in Grand Marais does have soil testing available through the University. We do recommend a soil test before you start adding amendments to your soil.  We also have an animal husbandry and gardening library available for folks who would like to check out more specific information on topics we discuss on Northern Gardening.





All About Soils

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All About Soils

The Cook County Extension office receives a lot of questions about soils and how to build up soils in an area where many of us have gravel or clay. Organics added to your soils are the key to changing the soil structure over time. You know you have pretty good soil when you can take a handful of the soil and squeeze it with your hand, when you open your hand it retains its form until you take your finger an gently poke it. If it breaks apart when you poke it you have pretty good soil tilth or structure.
If you have questions about how your soils work, the information below is based upon a great book, “Teaming with Microbes. The Organic Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web.” It will help you understand much more how your soils work and what you need to grow great vegetables.

What are the characteristics of a healthy soil that will help your plants?

• Nutrient retention in your soil
• Improved soil structure (tilth)
• Improved disease defenses for your plants
• Influences soil pH for optimum plant growth
• Soil food webs are intact

How do we know if we have a healthy soil or not?
Most people start with a soil test.
When you do a soil test it usually tells you the percent of organic matter; pH (7 being neutral; acidic soils being below 7 and alkaline soils being above 7); amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (NPK).
What the soil test doesn’t give you is the soil texture; structure; whether you should garden organically or inorganically (what does that mean anyhow?), how to build up your soil to support a web system of local soil microbes, or how important the other macro and micro nutrients are to the success of your plants.

What does organic vs. inorganic mean when we are talking about soils/fertilizers?

• Inorganic or synthetic fertilizers: These are commercially prepared forms of nutrients. Nitrogen is obtained from the atmosphere and phosphorous and potassium are mined from the earth’s crust. They are generally concentrated. They don’t build the soil or support the microbial food web within the soil. A little bit of the nutrients are utilized at the root tip and the rest of the nutrients are often drained down through the soil until they hit the water table.

• Organic fertilizers: These fertilizers generally have a plant or animal origin. Animal manures or compost are some examples. Nutrients are contained generally in complex organic forms which will release more slowly over time. Nutrients are utilized by the microbes in the food web. They in turn release additional nutrients as waste materials and eventually die and decompose putting additional nutrients back into the soil.

In general, a garden should have about 8 percent organic matter in the soil or a little higher for vegetables.

Soil Texture:
This refers to the size of the mineral particles of the soil. Particles are sand, silt and clay. The relative proportions of those three make up your soil texture. “It takes 65 million clay particles to fill up the same amount of space as one grain of sand.” Ideal loam: 15% clay, 35% silt, and 40% sand, 5 – 10% organic matter.
These three particles are shaped differently and arrange themselves differently when grouped together:
~ loose & sandy
~ crumbly & light (loam)
~ compacted clay (particles are flat crystals that can pack together tightly leaving very little space for air)
You can’t really change the soil texture.

Soil Structure: (Tilth) This you can change. The soil structure refers to the way the mineral particles are arranged into aggregates (groups of particles loosely held together). The soil structure becomes a by-product of the decay of organic matter. You can change the structure of your soil with organic matter. The microbial life of the soil binds together the sand, silt & clay.

Organic matter – compost – humus – structure

Humus is the end product of organic decay. This decaying process usually takes place right under the ‘duff’ or layer of material you can recognize on the forest floor or the top of your garden. Humus is created by microbes. Humus is a fairly stable and complex carbon compound that serves to hold the pore structure of soil open. Little nooks and crannies in humus provide ‘condominiums for microbes’.

Pore space is a maze of minute continuous channels found throughout the upper layers of most soils. Very important for air and water flow. If there is inadequate pore space you may end up with air being utilized, no recharge of air occurs, and then you have anaerobic conditions that end up killing root systems.

Plant Roots: These act as places where ion exchanges take place. They are electrically charged with H+ cations. They give up these in exchange for anions like -NO3 (nitrate) or -SO4 (sulfate) or phosphate -(PO4). The cation exchange capacity of soils is based upon the amount of clay and organic matter it contains. Sand and silt have low exchange capacities.

pH: Every time a root tip exchanges a H+ (cation) it can be measured as pH or the concentration of H+ ions. The more H+ ions, the more acid the soil or solution. Root surfaces also take up negatively charged anions or hydroxyl (OH)- ions so that helps to balance out the exchange. pH influences the type of microorganisms that live in the soil. Certain fungi and bacteria are important to different plants to help them thrive.

Bacteria: They play a major role in plant nutrition. They lock up nutrients that might otherwise disappear due to leaching. They prefer cellulose over lignin. The bacteria remain on soil particles and that keeps the nutrients remaining in the soil. The bacteria in turn are eaten by protozoa and reduced to wastes. These nutrient wastes are picked up by the plant roots.
Bacterial slime raises soil pH; nitrogen-fixing bacteria generally require a pH above 7. Serve as barriers around roots to block entry of disease organisms.

Arachae: Discovered in the 1970s, these life forms are now considered to be the most abundant life form on earth. They are the most 
abundant ammonia oxidizers in soil – making nitrogen available to plants. They are decomposers of organic and inorganic materials. They produce methane – a key component of greenhouse gas. They are important members of the soil food web – much of what is still unknown.

Fungi: Fungi are unable to photosynthesize and have chitin in their cell walls instead of cellulose. They prefer lignin (woody materials). A teaspoon of good garden soil will have several yards of fungal hyphae. They can transfer nutrients from one end of the hyphae to the other. Phosphorus is especially made available to plants by fungi as they have the ability to release it from its chemical and physical bonds. Their hyphae leave microscopic tunnels in the soil that water and air can flow through. Fungi are the primary decay agents in the soil food web. The nitrogen released by fungi is the NH4 (ammonium form). Enzymes released by fungi are acidic and lower the pH.

Myccorrhizal fungi: There are two kinds: ectomycorrhizal fungi, grow close to the surface of roots and are associated with hardwoods and conifers. Endomycorrhizal fungi actually penetrate and grow inside roots and extend out into the soil. These are preferred by most vegetables, shrubs, perennials, annuals, etc. Some require specific plant hosts and become mutually dependent upon each other. Provide additional water and phosphorus to plants

Protozoa: They eat the bacteria, a few fungi and other protozoa. In turn, they provide food for nematodes and other worms.

Nematodes: (Non-segmented blind round worms) One teaspoon of good soil averages about 40 – 50 nematodes. Many of these nematodes made minerals or nutrients available to plants by releasing them from the protozoa or fungi they feed on. Nematodes need less nitrogen that protozoa so they release more nitrogen and make it available to the plants. Fungi and bacteria ‘hitch’ a ride on nematodes to different locations in the soil.

Arthropods: Arthopods have segmented limbs/bodies and an exoskeleton. Soil arthropods are important because they are shredders, predators and soil aerators. The presence or absence of some of these key arthropods can tell you about the health of your soils and the plants growing in them. Examples: springtails, mites, millipedes, ants, sow and pill bugs, etc.

Earthworms: Primary food source is bacteria although they will eat fungi, nematodes, protozoa and organic matter on or in which these microorganisms live. Worms can live for 15 years. They shred organic matter, aerate soil, aggregate soil particles and move organic matter and microorganisms in the soil. Vermicastings(worm poop) are 50% higher in organic matter than soil that has not moved through worms. Worms’ digestive enzymes unlock phosphate and other nutrients making them available for plants.
Bad news about earthworms: Forest floors that have been invaded by earthworms have completely altered the soil food web by drastically increasing the decaying of organic matter to point where it is not healthy for the trees and the rest of the soil food web. Earthworms are not native to the Great Lakes region. Their introduction has destroyed the ‘duff’ layer that dozens of understory plant species rely on to survive. Some of these native species cannot survive without that duff layer. Fungi, bacteria and other arthropods and even small animals are affected by disruption of the ecosystem that was developed without earthworms.

How do I know if I have a good soil food web present in my soil?

• If you have 5 – 30 earthworms in your garden soil in a square foot.
• Set a soil trap. Bury a quart-sized container in the soil so that the lip of the container is at the ground level. Put an umbrella over it or something to keep the rain out but keep it open at the soil level. Add a couple of moth balls. Leave alone for 3 – 7 days. Check to see what you have in your trap. If your soil is pretty good you will have centipedes, millipedes, other macroarthropods.

How can I use soil food webs to increase the health of my soil and the health of my plants?

Some plants prefer soils dominated by bacteria; other plants prefer soils dominated by fungi. They need nitrogen for building amino acids. Bacteria predominated soils have –NO3 (nitrate) predominately and are more alkaline. Fungi predominated soils have more –NH4 (ammonium) and are more acidic.

Fungal to Bacterial ratio (F:B)

1. Carrots, lettuce, broccoli, cole crops F:B ratio of .3-.8 to 1.0
2. Tomatoes, corn, wheat F:B ratio of .8 – 1 to 1.0
3. Lawns F:B ratio of .5 – 1 to 1.0
4. Conifer trees F:B ratio of 50 – 1000 to 1.0
5. Maples, oaks, poplars F:B ratio of 10 -100 to 1.0
6. Orchards F:B ratio of 10 – 50 to 1.0
7. Alder, beech, aspen, cottonwood F:B ratio of 5 – 100 to 1.0 (mature)
(Frankia bacteria fixes atmospheric nitrogen in alders)
8. Annuals: Prefer bacterially dominated soils
9. Perennials, shrubs: Prefer fungal dominated soils.

Add compost. Compost can inoculate an area with microbes to support soil food web organisms. Compost made with C:N ratio of 25 -30 to 1 is best. You can manipulate that ratio for vegetables to 25% alfalfa meal; 50% fresh grass clippings and 25% brown leaves or bark for more of a bacterial compost.

• Put down your compost first and then add mulch.
• Provide different kinds of mulch: leaves, grass clippings, wood chips, etc. for your trees, shrubs, perennials. These will provide different soil food webs.
• Rhizobia bacteria associated with legumes can be added to your beans, peas and will make nitrogen available in about two weeks after inoculation.
• A green mulch will provide bacteria to the soil; a brown mulch will add fungi to the soil. Peat moss used as mulch is sterile. Pine needles and cedar chips contain terpenes that can be toxic to many plants.
• Wetting your mulch grinding it up and working the mulch into the soil will support bacteria; coarser, drier mulch on top of the soil will support more fungi. Keeping your mulch on top of the soil larger (3/8” or larger) will prevent nitrogen being used up by bacteria. There will be enough nitrogen to feed the fungi.
• Keep your mulch layers 2- 3” to avoid blocking air and water resulting in possible anaerobic conditions.
• Active aerobic compost tea does work when brewed at room temperature. It takes about two days to make, use within 4 hours of completion. Do not use simple compost leachate or hanging a bag of manure in water. That results in anaerobic pathogens and possible alchohols.
• Rototilling and compaction of soils all have a negative effect on mycorrhizal fungi. Reducing this activity is key to keeping your soil food web healthy.
• Applications of synthetic fertilizers can kill microbes.
• If you add additional organic fertilizers, use low numbers.

The first step is to take a soil test. Call the extension office at 387-3015 to find out how to do this.


Cook County Extension office located in the CC Community Center building in Grand Marais does have soil testing available through the University. We do recommend a soil test before you start adding amendments to your soil. We also have an animal husbandry and gardening library available for folks who would like to check out more specific information on topics we discuss on Northern Gardening. Please call Diane at 218-387-3015 if you have questions or stop by.

Youth Spring Gardening Class

A youth spring gardening class will begin Tuesday, April 17 from 4 – 5 p.m. in the 4H log cabin building at the Cook County Community Center. The class will run every Tuesday through May 22. Youth can sign up for the After School Lounge in the I.S.D. #166 office and walk over with our youth coordinator, Melissa Wickwire, right after school, have a snack and be ready for gardening with Max Linehan and Penny Ortmann U of M Master Gardeners.

Container gardening workshop

Saturday, June 2, starting at 9 a.m. at the Cook County Community Center, our U of M
Master Gardeners will be hosting a container gardening workshop with topics that include: Growing Vegetables in Containers with Diane Booth; Spicing up Your Garden by Planting in Containers with Jane Horn; and hands-on container planting demonstrations with U of M Master Gardeners Nancy Carlson, Max Linehan, and Emma Bradley. Save the date!
Also, the Art Colony Potters will be making planters and garden art as a fundraiser for the ceramics studio. They will be sold during the workshop.
In conjunction with the Container Gardening workshop in June, the Cook County Master Gardeners will also be planning a container gardening contest this summer with prizes and a local garden tour on Saturday, August 18th. So if you are a gardener and would like to enter either your garden as an example of how people can grow in small spaces using containers or small raised beds, watch for more information about this in May and early June.

Cook County Co-op
If you’re planning to grow vegetables for the Cook County Co-op this summer, be sure to talk to Jeri Persons right away. The Co-op has new rules for local growers this year. Call Jeri at 387-2503.

Cook County Farm & Craft Market
The Cook County Farm & Craft Market will be making a table available for local growers who just have a small amount of produce to sell this year as well. Call Joan at 387-3101 to find out more.