Billings Arbor Day Activity

by Elaine Allard

Again this year, Master Gardeners took an active part in the City of Billings Arbor Day activities. This year’s event was held on May 2nd at Central Park.

Sharon Wetsch, Fay Danielson, Sue Weinreis, and Linda Brewer helped the City Arbor Day Committee with registration and a variety of other tasks. Charlie and Ron Hendricks helped all of us who arrived early and were scurrying to get canopies, tables, posters, and props for our educational booth set up before the fourth graders’ 9 a.m. arrival.

JAS 17Sheri Kisch and Sherry Doty presentations on pollinators and their importance to the environment captivated the students. With some help from the students, Merita Murdock and Elaine Allard mixed clay soil, potting mix, water, and native flowering plant seeds to form a ‘cookie dough’ consistency mixture. Mary Davis, Vonnie Bell, Rosemary Power, Debbi Werholz, and Bess Lovec helped the 175 students that rotated through our booth use the mixture to make their own ‘seed bombs’ and pack them into egg cartoons. At noon, after having a very fast moving and enjoyable morning, it was time to pack up, have lunch and start thinking about next year’s Arbor Day.

Seed Bombs to Create Habitat for Pollinators

Presented by Yellowstone County Master Gardeners

The seed bombs contain a mix of clay soil, potting mix, water, and flower seeds which bloom at different times. The flowers will attract pollinators (bees, bats, butterflies, moths, beetles, etc.) by providing them food (nectar) and a place to live. This will help to make a better environment for humans and many animals that depend on pollination for much of their food.

Directions

  1. Leave the seed bombs in the egg carton in a cool dry place for a couple of days.
  2. Throw or place the seed bombs in an area where the ground has been disturbed or in a flowerbed. The seed bombs do not need to be buried.
  3. Hope for good rains or help them along with a little water.
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A Blast from the Past

The late Dr. Bob is the father of Montana’s Master Gardener program. When he taught the classes nobody ever fell asleep. He was a writer of a great many articles on gardening. The following is just one of several hundred in my files.

A question to Dr. Bob: “How can I increase germination of my garden seeds?” (March 2002) Gardeners all over the country are right now wondering how to get better germination in the vegetable and flower seeds. Of course, start with good seeds and in most cases you’ll have good germination, but some seeds are notoriously tough with hard seed coats. Now, researchers in Georgia have found a common household substance that increases germination in watermelon seeds.

The seedless watermelon cultivars on the marker are for the most part, triploids. That means that they form fruit that has no developed seeds. While they are no good for seed-spitting contests, the melons do make great eating. The triploid cultivars are expensive to produce and, unfortunately, the seeds have thick coats that interfere with germination. Researchers have found that soaking the seeds in 1 percent solution of hydrogen peroxide at room temperature and in the dark greatly improves their germination. After just a day or two in the solution, the seeds germinated readily in petri dishes and would no doubt do so in the garden soil.

The 1 percent solution does not damage the emerging radicle, but solutions two percent or higher do severe damage to the young seedling. The hydrogen peroxide is generally available in the drug store and is a three percent solution, so you must dilute it with water. You can do that by adding two parts water to one part hydrogen peroxide. So far, researchers have only tested the solution on watermelon seeds, but they suggest that it might also improve germination in a wide range of “hard-coated” seeds, such as those of cabbage and broccoli.

Soil Testing

Soon, hopefully, it will be time to think about planting lawns, vegetables, flowers, shrubs and trees. Are you planning on a good harvest and growth? What are you doing to insure those results? Are you planting in good soil or just dirt? Does it have the capacity to hold water and nutrients or is it holding too much water and not enough nutrients? Do you know the PH of your soil/dirt? Checking in our area are two labs that can do soil tests for you. There is paper work to fill out, besides your name and location, like what do you want tested (N, P, K), pH etc.? What are you planning on growing, lawn or garden?

To gather your soil take a hand trowel and dig down to about 6” in about six different places in the lawn or garden and put it all in a pail mixing it together (discard the grass, thatch, rocks, worms and roots). From that amount, fill a 1 gallon zip lock bag with your name on it to half/two thirds full.

While working at the ACE greenhouse I met the true over achiever. He came in every couple days telling me how he had hauled buckets of sand, then manure, then compost. He had a very small vehicle which held two buckets in the rear, two buckets in the back seat and one bucket in the passenger seat. This was not a one trip for each of the above, but many trips. He was so proud of himself I could barely ask if he had ever had the soil tested for his garden. He hadn’t.

By mid-summer he came in quite deflated. His dream garden hadn’t produced anything. He did however have the soil tested and it was high to very high in N, P, and K. I felt so sorry for him all I could think to say was that maybe by next year it would be a better garden space.

In order to build anything you must have a good soil foundation. Thinking only about the end product is just dreaming. Local companies who provide soil testing for home gardeners:
B & C Ag Consulting – taking Soil Tests between 10 am and 2 pm on Mon., Wed.and Fri. 315 So. 26th St, Billings – 259-5779 http://bncag.com/ MG price $30.
Energy Laboratories 1120 So. 27th St, Billings – 252-6325
https://www.energylab.com/services/soil/ Lawn and garden analysis with recommendations $85.

Submitted by Sheri Kisch

Master Gardener Program and the Yellowstone County Master Gardener Association

Master Gardener Program and the Master Gardener Association
by Ann Guthals

Some Master Gardeners have asked lately what the difference is between the Master Gardener (MG) program and the Yellowstone County Master Gardener Association (YCMGA).

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The MG Program was started to extend the effectiveness and reach of the county extension agent by educating many people in the county with advanced gardening knowledge who could then reach out to others. The gardening classes started in Yellowstone County in 1994 and now consist of three levels of classes with tests and volunteer hour requirements for each level. To remain a MG in good standing requires a certain number of volunteer hours each year.

To keep MGs educated and in touch with other MGs, there are also classes, field trips, and social events outside the main series of classes. The MG program is overseen by Montana State University and is part of a national program of master gardeners.

In 2012, a group of MGs wanted to provide a mechanism for receipt of grant funds and other donations to benefit the existing MG program which is dependent on government funding. The hope was that this outside source of funds could help keep the MG program viable even if there were funding cuts and would be a nonprofit vehicle to receive donations to help the MG program.

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These MGs started regular meetings and in 2012 created the YCMGA, wrote Bylaws and Articles of Organization, obtained a 501(3) nonprofit status, applied for grants, and began formal association board meetings. The mission of the Association was to raise funds to support the MG program, to supplement educational efforts for and community involvement by the MGs, and provide ongoing opportunities for connections between MGs. The current association also seeks to educate residents and decision-makers in Yellowstone County of the value of the MG program.

To belong to the Association, a MG must be in good standing as a MG and pay annual dues of $15. About 40% of current MGs are also Association members. Association members may attend Board meetings and run for the Board when vacancies arise. The Association is active in promoting various volunteer programs such as the MG activities at the Metra fairgrounds and community gardens around the city. YCMGA also holds several social events during the year including summer barbecues and a winter Christmas party. The financial and volunteer help from the YCMGA takes some of the load off Amy Grandpre, the extension agent who runs the MG classes, and also allows her more time to pursue other aspects of her extension work.

In addition to helping financially support the MG program with dues and grants, Association members receive discounts at garden-related businesses in Billings and at some MG classes that require tuition. Dues fund some MG projects directly through mini “grants” from YCMGA.

The new Association President is Brian Godfrey who is excited to expand the scope of the YCMGA activities in new ways. He is interested in developing a mentorship program to connect seasoned with beginning gardeners. He would like to see more MGs who complete the courses remain active members and hopes to bring inactive members back into good standing as active volunteers. Brian and the Board are looking forward to celebrating the MG program’s 25th anniversary in 2019. And, having developed a MG project sign, they hope to see all projects display these signs to further educate the general populace about the reach and nature of MG volunteer projects in the community.

If you are interested in joining and becoming involved in the YCMGA, you may reach President Godfrey at 406.606.0184 or you may look up the Yellowstone County Master Gardener Association website (http://www. ycmgamt.com) to see Board members, minutes, articles, and a calendar of events.

Submitted by Ann Guthals

Brassicas

There are many vegetables in the cruciferous family that we can grow in Montana. Kale, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kohlrabi, and Brussels sprouts are some of the more popular ones. (Did you know arugula is also a brassica? Its nickname is rocket because it is quick to bolt in the heat, so remember to plant early and in succession for a longer harvest time.) Brassicas are some of the most nutritious vegetables you can grow. All members of the brassica family have similar nutrient profiles and contain calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorous, beta carotene, folic acid, vitamins C, E, K, and iodine. They have powerful anti-oxidants and they are beneficial eaten raw or cooked.

Here in the harsh climate of Montana, timing is important and the shorter season vegetables and their cultivars will be the most likely to come to full fruition. Most brassicas do best in soil pH of 6.5-7.5, so a little elemental sulfur can be helpful. They prefer firm, very fertile, well-drained soil with plenty of compost and additional food during the growing season. They require full sun, which is at least 5-6 hours of sun a day and do best in soil temperatures of 50-65 degrees. They do not thrive in hot weather and therefore do better on the shoulder seasons. In fact, they not only tolerate light frost but often become sweeter after a little nip of cold. Furthermore, most brassicas need the stimulation of cold weather to form heads; Brussels sprouts in particular need cold to form the sprouts. Seeds are usually planted six weeks before the last frost. Transplants should be set out in the garden in the middle of May. The following Montguide is invaluable for determining the planting time of all veggies. http://msuextension.org/carbon/documents/yggarden.pdf

Working your garden in wet conditions, which we usually have in the spring, is harmful to the texture of your soil, and compaction is difficult to reverse, so it’s best to prepare your beds in fall so you can get into your garden and plant early without causing damage. It’s also best to plant brassicas from transplants that are started indoors, not only to get a jump on the season but to reduce the risk of disease and insect attack. Set your seedlings deep enough to cover the stalk up to the first set of leaves and make sure your hole is deep enough to keep the tap root straight. Press the soil around them gently and water in well. Remember to check your spacing for the different varieties so they don’t grow too close together.

A tip that I have found to be very helpful is the addition of mulch. Using mulch around your plants not only prevents weeds, it also keeps the soil cooler, retains moisture, reduces compaction from the rain, and keeps your plants cleaner. Along with cool soil and lots of nutrients, brassicas need consistent moisture, so remember to water regularly. Eat some of the lower leaves as the plants mature and remove any yellowing lower leaves to provide good air circulation and reduce the risk of fungal disease.

Insects and furry critters can be a real annoyance when growing brassicas. (Think cabbage moth and deer among others!) The least invasive defense against insects is a good squirt of water to the leaves, preferably done in the morning so they have time to dry before nightfall. This will disrupt the life cycle of soft bodied insects without using chemicals. If you are still struggling but don’t want to use chemicals, a floating row cover prevents insect attack and as a bonus keeps the deer and rabbits off too. This is best applied soon after planting to be most effective.

If you grew kale this season, you have probably already been harvesting for a month or more, but if you got a late start like I did, your Brussels sprouts may just be forming. Remember to be patient and keep your brassicas going through our early frosts for a longer, fuller and sweeter harvest! There are so many wonderful varieties of healthy veggies to try; if you didn’t plant any cruciferous vegetables this year, prepare your bed this fall and get ready to enjoy the glorious fruits of your labor next year! Some of the following reference links are live and some are not:

http://www.johnnyseeds.com/growers-library/vegetables/brassicas-timing-temperature-fertility.html

http://msuextension.org/carbon/documents/yggarden.pdf

http://mt.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Brassicas.pdf

https://www.gardenguides.com/96425-vegetables-grow-montana.html

https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/04/04/brassica-vegetables_n_5091657.html

https://www.healwithfood.org/list/healthiest-brassica-vegetables-benefits.php

 

Respectfully submitted by Ann McKean

Gardener’s Market at South Park

Sponsored by Riverstone Health, this Thursday afternoon market is small enough to be kid friendly and big enough to have a good variety of produce, crafts, and flowers. Master Gardeners this year gave away free vegetable and flower seed packets as well as information. There was also a children’s activity each week with the favorite being to sit a spell and color fun garden themed pictures – can you find a puppy hiding in the vegetables? If you didn’t have a chance to work this event, consider it for next year or at least stop by to support these small-scale growers who are sharing their bounty. What’s not to love about a little girl selling posies?

Submitted by Elizabeth Waddington

Originally posted in the Oct/Nov/Dec issue of the newsletter. Webmaster apologizes for the late posting – check on this for summer 2019!