Celebrate Earth Day by Investing in Your Community and Your Health: Join the Forest St. Community Garden!

By Kerri Kiernan, Master Herbalist

This Earth Day, consider giving back to the planet, to your community, and to yourself by joining a local community garden. The Forest Street Community Garden is celebrating its eighth season and is now open to new and returning gardeners; it is located in downtown Eau Claire, just a couple blocks north of Phoenix Park.

The Chippewa Valley is blessed with several existing community gardens offering rental plots for the public. What differentiates the Forest St. Garden from other gardens is that it also offers a Shared Garden that is run jointly by members who share in the work and harvest. The Shared Garden also serves as a learning community for members to gain experience in basic gardening skills, leadership, teaching, coordinating, and community outreach.

Members of the Shared Garden participate in weekly sessions to maintain the nearly half-acre plot as a collaborative effort. Seeds and transplants are started in early spring, and members work together to plan and prepare the garden as the last frost ceases. During the garden season, the work and the produce is shared amongst the contributing members. Extra produce is harvested and donated to the Community Table, which supplements meal services benefiting Eau Claire residents who may not have access to healthy meals due to lack of finances, education, or due to other life situations.

Besides benefiting the community, Shared Gardeners experience a deep sense of connection to their community, to each other, and to the Earth. Social events such as potlucks and gatherings are often held at the Forest St. Garden Pavilion, where members and plot renters spend time together connecting over beautiful meals made from the very veggies they grew together in the garden.

Besides decreasing carbon emissions, gardening helps to increase physical activity and vegetable consumption and also helps to foster a sense of wonder and gratitude for the bounty of nature. The shared struggle of growing one’s own food serves as a relatable conversation topic between people who may otherwise never cross paths nor have much in common. Any gardener can share their own story of patience, diligence, failure, and success, but it’s the commonality of spending so much time in the dirt, paying very close attention to the rhythms of the weather, and savoring the fruits of one’s labor that bring people together through gardening.

Join the Forest St. Community Garden and learn how to grow food together. Prices increase after June 15. Please visit the Forest St. Community Garden website for more information.

 

To Join the Co-op/Shared garden or to rent a plot at the Forest St. Community Garden, please visit: http://eauclairecommunitygardens.com/ or email: eauclairecommunitygarden@gmail.com

Kerri Kiernan is a local Master Herbalist who works with plants from her garden as well as wild weeds from the Chippewa Valley to help people thrive with handmade remedies and personalized herbal consults. Kerri is the owner and operator of a small herbal business, River Prairie Apothecary, located in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and is also the founder CommuniTEA, the Herbalism Outreach & Internship Project located downtown Eau Claire at the Forest St. Garden.

Contact Kerri: River Prairie Apothecary on FB: www.facebook.com/riverprairieapothecary/

www.riverprairieapothecary.com/contact.htm.

Spring Gardening Work

When beginning your spring gardening work, it’s also important to keep these points in mind:

▪ Stay hydrated.  When your body is low on fluids your muscles will become tense and are more prone to injury (picture twisting a piece of jerky!).  Though heat/environment may increase your need, typical fluid intake should include half of your body weight in ounces of water on a daily basis (e.g., if you weigh 100 pounds you should attempt to consume 50 ounces of water daily).

▪ The most dangerous activity for the low back is a bend/twist/lift.  This activity (e.g., raking, unloading items from the trunk, weeding, etc.) can place the joints of the lumbar spine in a vulnerable position and cause excess pressure on the lumbar discs.  It is always best to move your feet to rotate, rather than twisting your spine.  With raking for instance, it is best to use short strokes while holding the rake close to your body and switch from side to side (as opposed to planting your feet and bending/twisting to one side to reach the rake as far as you can).  The same goes for weeding (focus on the area in front of you rather than reaching off to the side).

▪ The body loves symmetry.  It is difficult to always be symmetrical with gardening activities but do your best to switch sides and take turns from right to left.  This will help to minimize injuries by building strength bilaterally and avoiding overuse of one side of the body.

▪ Utilize the proper tools and equipment.  This can make the yard work not only more efficient but also more enjoyable.  Stools, kneelers, or knee pads can help minimize stress and strain on the knee joints and allow you to spend more time in the garden.

▪ Take breaks frequently.  Being in one position for more than thirty minutes can lead to muscle cramps and degrading posture.  Move around the yard or garden and change up your activity whenever possible. For those who love to garden but are unable due to available space, body limitations, etc., there are options!

Check out https://es87578.towergarden.com/ to learn more about the Tower Garden, an aeroponic, vertical garden. The unit can be used outside or inside and requires no dirt and no weeding!

Dr. Emily Smith, of Smith and Prissel Chiropractic, has a specialty in Chiropractic Pediatrics but loves working with patients of any age.

Energy AlertHousehold energy data varies by geographical location, but the U.S Department of Energy reports national averages that pertain to our sources of fuel and our lifestyle choices:

• 34% of our household energy consumed goes to space heating
• 34% goes to lighting and other appliances
• 13% goes to heating water
• 11% goes to air conditioning
• 8% goes to refrigeration

This chart shows the number of pesticides that might be on the  non-organic produce you buy.

Food # of Different Pesticides

Celery  64
Peaches  62
Strawberries  59
Blueberries  52
Leafy Greens  51
Bell Peppers  49
Spinach  48
Apples  42
Cherries  42
Potatoes  37
Grapes  34
Nectarines  33

From year to year, this list of the top twelve items with the most pesticides on them changes.

Starting Seeds Indoors

By Erin LaFaive, Horticulture Educator, Eau Claire County UW Cooperative Extension
Do you want to get ahead of the growing season? Do you want to plant vegetables that need a longer growing season? Do you want to grow a plant that you can’t find in the stores? A solution to these challenges is to start your own seeds indoors.

Many plants do better if started indoors, because it gives them a jump start on the growing season. This is especially the case in northern Wisconsin where the growing season is shorter and some seeds have a difficult time germinating in the early season. Tomatoes and peppers are a great example of plants that need a longer growing season than northern Wisconsin can provide.

Containers
Any type of container can be used to start seeds as long as it is sterilized before planting and has drainage holes at the bottom. To sterilize pots, soak the containers in a 10 percent bleach mixture and thoroughly rinse. Single celled pots are sold in stores and generally only a seed or two are planted in one cell. Mass-sowing seeds are done in flats that do not have dividers, and they require transplanting after the seedling is bigger.

Soil
Use a seed starting mix or other soil-less indoor plant mixture. These types of soils have been sterilized and contain smaller particles so the embryos have an easier time pushing through. In addition, they are light weight and drain well. If you want to create your own mixture, use a pasteurized mixture of equal amounts of soil, sand, vermiculite or perlite, and peat moss.

Planting
Moisten the soil before you add it to the containers. It shouldn’t be soggy. The general rule for planting depth is four times the thickness of the seed. Also, check the seed packet for recommendations. Some seeds are very small and hard to see. In those cases, mixing the seed in sterile sand can help you see where you are spreading the seed. Very small seeds are simply sprinkled over the top of the soil. To cover seeds, use vermiculite or a layer of screened potting mix you are already using over the seeds. Leave about a ¼ of an inch from the top of the container to allow enough room for the vermiculite.

Germination
Cover the planted seeds with plastic leaving an inch to an inch and a half gap. The plastic helps to keep the soil from drying out and traps some heat. A heating source underneath the seeds will speed up germination. Place them in a window with moderate light but not in direct sunlight. The temperatures should be 55 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit at night and 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit during the day.

Watering
Keep the soil moist, but be careful not to overwater. Using a spray bottle works great for tiny seeds because a strong stream of water may move the seeds around too much. Even a stream being poured from a glass of water can be too strong. Watch for the growth of mold, which generally looks like white fuzz on the soil surface. When the first seedlings appear, take off the plastic. This is also the time they need stronger light, so they require a south facing window or artificial lights.

My plants are lopsided! My plants are spindly! This can be prevented by turning the container as the seedlings grow and by giving enough light. Fluorescent lights are another source of lighting. They need sixteen to eighteen hours of light each day. One warm-white, 40-watt bulb and one cool-white, 40-watt bulb used together are adequate for seed starting and seedling growth. You can also use fluorescent lights or grow lights.

Gradually acquaint the seedlings to outside by first starting with an hour and working up. The seedlings are not use to fluctuating temperatures, wind, and the sun, and this gradual introduction prepares the plant for new conditions.

These are general indoor seed germinating rules. By reading the seed package you will likely find more detailed information on seed depth, germination time, and any other specialized requirements.
Erin LaFaive is the horticulture educator for UW-Extension in Eau Claire County. Erin earned a M.S. in Environmental Studies from the Nelson Institute for environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She also earned a B.S. in geography with an emphasis in natural resource management at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

Inga Witscher: Organic Farming Rocks!

inga witscher

By:  Jan Carroll

Inga Witscher, host of Wisconsin Public Television’s Around the Farm Table, has been farming for nine years and now runs a thirty-acre certified dairy farm, milking eleven Jersey cows with the lower-tech bucket milking system. She is a fourth-generation dairy farmer, and it was her dad who talked her into moving to West-Central Wisconsin and trying her hand at this farm. The family had lots of experience with big vegetable gardens and an organic creamery as she was growing up. She was not sure about the new venture at first,but it didn’t take long before she felt at home. “I just fell in love with it. It completed me,” she said.

Witscher uses managed intensive grazing for the cows, a method that involves moving the cows to new pasture every twelve hours. This gives each patch of pasture a forty-day rest. Milk from her farm is shipped to Westby, Wisconsin, where it is made into butter, cottage cheese, and cheese and then sold in the Madison area. Witscher notes that even her cows eat locally, since she supports local farmers by buying hay and grain from them.

As a kid, Witscher says, everything the family ate was off their farm. She feels the trend toward organic sustainable farms that serve local markets will continue to grow because people are becoming more aware of it and more educated about it. She feels small and midsize farms will guide the community supported agriculture (CSA) movement. Although it can be an adjustment learning to eat some of the new foods you receive in CSA, she adds that “CSAs are great, because they push you out of your comfort zone.” Also, kids are growing up with fresh organic local food as the norm, so they will expect the same as they grow into adults who buy produce and other farm goods. “Wouldn’t it be great if we got rid of labels of local and sustainable because they had become so common?” she wonders.

Living in the city, it can be hard to connect with local organic farmers. Besides looking for them at area farmers markets, Witscher offers three ways to cultivate relationships with your local farmers:

  • Throw a local-food potluck party, where each guest brings some local organic food or a dish made with a local organic food.
  • She advises, however, to remember that these are working farms, and although farmers love to have you stop by, they will be taking time away from their work to talk with you, so limit your time there, bring a small token of appreciation like a bottle of wine, or offer to help with tasks around the farm, like weeding the garden. Leave your dog at home!
  • Invite local organic farmers to speak to your group or at your event or dinner party. This is nice, she adds, because it allows farmers to get off the farm.

Witscher lists two challenges to small and midsize organic farmers. One is the lack of available land. She’d like to increase her herd to fifty cows, but she’d need more land to do so, and it’s hard to come by. If you can find afordable land, if it hasn’t already been transitioned into organic land, that process takes three years, which is quite an investment since it is expensive to convert regular land to organic land. That process of going organic is also an emotional commitment for the farmer because it can often mean you lose the camaraderie of local conventional farmers. Second, she agrees that organic food often costs more, but she explains that is because the cost of farming is high, especially organic farming. But, she says, even though the cost of organic milk is high, there is a huge demand for it. There aren’t enough organic farmers producing organic milk to meet demand. Witscher says she strategizes often about how to make the farm more financially feasible.

In looking to the future, Witscher would like to have better communication and mutual learning opportunities between organic and conventional farmers, to get to know and interact “just as farmers,” sharing ideas such as cover crops to prevent erosion. In organic farming, “the soil is the foundation of everything else,” she explains. From there, the main thing is to make sure the cows are happy and relaxed, and then fewer other issues arise healthwise. She is happy to report that women “are the fastest growing sector in agriculture,” though it has taken a while to become accepted.’

Season 3 of Around the Farm Table will be on public television later this fall, probably in October sometime. Check local listings for day and time. Witscher says the goal of the program is to promote original local products and to show people what those products are like and how to use them, with recipes and ideas. By visiting and featuring organic farmers from all over the state, Wisconsin viewers can become more educated, and hopefully this will encourage them to try more local foods! Witscher loves the way the program “connects the consumer to the farmer.”

Winterizing Your Perennials

By Ben Polzin, Down To Earth Garden Center

Winterizing your perennials garden doesn’t have to be a big job, especially if you take little steps all year to prepare your plants for whatever nature gives us. The most important task is getting any diseased foliage cut back and removed to prevent any unwanted diseases or insects from overwintering in the plant or soil. Spending a little time in the garden this fall will help your plants reach their potential next year. It’s a great time of year to be out and enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of fall. Relax and enjoy the task; it’s the one chance you have to do a cleaning job that stays done for six months.

► How do I know what my plants need? While some varieties of perennials may need more protection than others, all of them will benefit from your attention
► When should I cut back my perennials? Most perennials are cut back after we have had a killing frost in the fall. This usually occurs in early October. It is important to clean off all plant debris after the frost to help minimize soil-borne diseases.
► What kind of protection should I provide? Most perennials simply need a good layer of mulch applied late in the fall. The purpose of mulching in this case is to protect the crowns of the plants from the alternate freezing and thawing that occurs very late in fall and in early spring. It is important that the ground be allowed to get cold before mulching, so wait until early to mid-November before covering the plants. Ideally an inch or two of frost in the ground is best.
► Are some mulches better than others for perennials? There are several mulches that work well for winter protection of perennials. Straw, hay, and leaves are the most common.
► How much mulch should I use? A layer 4 to 6 inches deep is best for most perennials.
► Are there any perennials I shouldn’t mulch? Bearded iris should either go without mulch or be mulched extremely late. The iris borer seems to be worse on mulched plants, especially those mulched early. If you have had any disease problems with your peonies, leave them unmulched as well.
► Should I continue to water in the fall, even after a killing frost? Making sure your perennials stay WELL watered until the ground freezes is important to successful wintering. Quite often we go through several dry weeks late in October. If the soil is dry an inch or two below the surface, give the area a thorough soaking.
► Can I divide or move my perennials in fall? Many perennials can be divided or moved in fall. Generally if a perennial blooms in spring or early summer, it can be divided or moved in fall. If it blooms in late summer or fall, it is best divided or moved in spring. There are a few exceptions, of course. Irises and day lilies prefer to be divided in August, and a few plants with taproots don’t ever want to be disturbed.
► When can I remove the mulch in the spring? Wait until all the frost is out of the ground before removing the mulch. If it gets very warm early, you may want to pull back part of the mulch, but leave at least 2 to 3 inches.Some gardeners leave mulches in the beds, just pulling them back away from the crown of the plants. This adds organic matter and helps suppress weeds. Mulches that have been removed can be composted.