Archive for January, 2008

City gardens

Temperatures may hover below freezing, but I know spring is close at hand. That’s because the renewal notice for my city garden plot recently arrived in the mail. The 20-by-50-foot land is where I’ll spend the majority of my time throughout the spring, summer and early fall, if not physically, at least in spirit.

 Gardeners who leased a Cedar Rapids plot at Ellis, Squaw Creek and Tuma parks  last year can renew the gardens from Feb. 11 to Feb. 22. Unclaimed garden plots – I’m told there are sometimes a few at Ellis and Tuma – are available to the public beginning March 3.

For $20, it’s plenty of land to grow a variety of your favorite vegetables (and flowers!) or as some gardeners do, put it all in one crop, such as sweet corn. Gardeners must go to the Ambroz Recreation Center, 2000 Mount Vernon Rd. SE, to reserve the plots. Ambroz is open 8-5, Monday through Friday.

Comments (1) »

Melting the ice

This is information compiled by Linn County Master Gardener Darrell Hennessey about a question frequently asked the Horticulture Hotline, regarding environmentally friendly alternatives to using salt for melting ice:
 Most deicing compounds are salts that melt the ice on our roads and sidewalks by reducing the melting point of water below 32’F.  Unfortunately they can damage metal, concrete and plants.  There are other alternatives to consider along with their relative merits and limitations:
 Sodium chloride (NaCl)—this is the more common table or rock salt.  It is one of the more readily available compounds and is least expensive.  However, we’re all familiar with the corrosive effects salt can have as well as damage to plants and soil.
 Calcium chloride (CaCl2)—this compound does not leave the white residue on floors and carpets that NaCl does, but it’s also highly corrosive to concrete and metals.  It’s only slightly less damaging to plants than common salt.  It is effective to about -20’F.
 Magnesium chloride (MgCl2)—effective down to about +5’F, and it doesn’t leave the powdery residue.
 All of these salts can damage landscape plants when used to excess.  High levels of salts can accumulate in the soil with the result that water uptake by plants is inhibited and either we count on heavy spring rains or manual flushing from the root zone to limit the effects.  High levels of salt restrict the uptake of essential nutrients by plant roots.  Salt deposited directly on plant foliage can result in dehydration of the plant tissue.
 Some alternative to consider:
             * Avoid using salt entirely (use coarse sand).
             * Reduce the effects by pre-wetting with a salt brine.  An abrasive such as 50 lbs. of sand, cinders or ash mixed with 1 lb. of salt can be an acceptable compromise.
            * Place a barrier between driveways and walkways and susceptible plants.
            * When all else fails, use plants sufficiently tolerant of exposure to salt.  The Extension office has a list of plants with varying susceptibilities.
Master Gardeners are available to answer horticulture questions in an unbiased, research-based manner as a free service to the community at (319) 447-0647.

Comments (1) »

Gardening events

I’m starting a listing of area gardening events on this blog. If your organization has something scheduled, you can send the information in a message here or via e-mail to me at: 

Here is one coming up this weekend: The state Local Foods Conference will be in Cedar Rapids on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 1-2. The Iowa Network for Community Agriculture’s annual conference will include a showing of the film, “King Corn” on Friday night at the African-American Museum in Cedar Rapids. Topics covered Saturday at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church include micro dairy practices, information for market and CSA gardeners and more, as well as a potluck lunch. The conference offers an opportunity to learn about local and sustainable food systems. There is a fee, depending on how many days you attend and if you are a member or not. For more information, go to: 

Comments (2) »

Mission: Bonus corn and Jube Jels

Late January is good for two things: buying seeds before the best varieties sell out, and finding the elusive Jube Jel cherry hearts, which are only available around Valentine’s Day.  I struck out on both this weekend. Besides the addictive candy, I was on a search for Bonus corn seed, also known as “baby” corn, the variety used in stir fry. My friend Marlene, our much-missed former ag reporter, told me about the corn a few years ago and got me hooked.

Because baby corn must be harvested while the ears are tiny, there’s less chance the raccoons, or worms, will get to it before you do. For some reason, I haven’t seen the seed this year in catalogs and the stores I checked don’t carry it. I did find some good news for fans of heirloom plants. Earl May in Cedar Rapids will be carrying 65 seed varieties this year of vegetables, herbs and flowers from Seed Savers in Decorah.

Now, if anyone knows where to find Bonus corn, drop me a line. I’m probably better off without the Jube Jels.

Comments (1) »

Fair full

I’m told that a record number of people – about 600 –  signed up for the Feb. 2 Winter Gardening Fair at Kirkwood.  So many, in fact, that the classes are now full and registration has been closed. No room for walk-ins, either. If you didn’t get around to signing up, we’ll be listing other events on this blog throughout the season.

Leave a comment »

Greenhouse escape

On days like today, it’s tempting to want to hop on a plane and escape the frozen tundra of Iowa. But my kids might wonder where I’ve gone. My boss might object, too. I thought a good alternative would be checking out a new horticulture class offered in the tropical air inside the Noelridge Park greenhouse, but apparently few others felt the same. Or maybe nobody knew about them or just couldn’t make the time. Two classes – perennial bed design and culinary herbs – were canceled due to low registration. The Cedar Rapids Parks Department is going ahead with one next week, I’m told. The program, sowing seeds, will be taught by a parks employee, who will talk about starting and transplanting seedlings. It’s from 9:30-11:30 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 31, at the greenhouse. The class is $10 for residents/$12 for non-residents. Call the Parks and Rec Department for more info at 286-5731. There is still room for more participants. I love the idea of classes in the greenhouse, but the weekday/morning hours don’t fit my schedule. What about you? Let’s hear from you. Would you go to classes there if offered on weekends or at night?

Comments (1) »

Winter Gardening Fair

More on the Winter Gardening Fair that appeared in today’s (Jan. 23) Gazette.  Melinda Myers, host of the PBS show, “Great Lakes Gardener,” has a handout with a list of more than 150 annuals, perennials and other plants that attract birds and/or butterflies. A sampling of her suggestions that have double power – beneficial for both birds and butterflies – follow:  Annuals: begonia, cosmos, nicotiana; Perennials: bee balm (monarda), columbine, gayfeather (liatris); Shrubs: azalea, butterfly bush, lilac; Trees: crabapple, plum, redbud; Vines: morning glory, scarlet runner bean. 

Melinda will have more examples at the fair on Feb. 2 at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids.

An added note: a new book by Myers will especially interest Iowa gardeners. It’s called Month-by-Month Gardening in Iowa. The book will be available beginning Feb. 1 at major bookstores, including Barnes & Noble, and online at

Comments (1) »

Melinda’s interview


I had the good fortune to interview Melinda Myers, host of the PBS show, “Great Lakes Gardener,” for an article in The Gazette about the upcoming Winter Gardening Fair. She will be the keynote speaker for the event on Feb. 2 at Kirkwood Community College. Melinda told me about one of her favorite flowers, called cuphea, or cigar plant, which is a favorite of hummingbirds. She also told a fun story about a visitor to her home who was shocked to see a “weed,” milkweed, in the backyard of this gardening expert. Click on the links below to hear these interview excerpts:

Comments (1) »

Master Gardeners

This post is from Linn County Master Gardener Claire Smith:

The holidays are over; your exercise program is already boring. You need something to look forward to.  Have you considered gardening?  Gardening is a summer job, you say?  Not necessarily.  Grab a seed catalog, your favorite snack, put your feet up and dream!   Don’t know where to start?  Welcome to the Iowa State University Linn County Master Gardeners!  We’re a group of men and women who have voluntarily completed a horticulture education training program and we’re dedicated and willing to share our knowledge with our community.

For example, an annual will grow and bloom only for one season where a perennial will grow and bloom (hopefully) for several seasons.  Once in awhile you’ll encounter a biennial.  Those plants flower every other year.

             Somebody said we’re in a zone.  That’s correct.  The United States is divided into areas—or zones—determined by weather conditions.  The Northern half of Linn County is in Zone 4 and the Southern half in Zone 5.  Purchase plants according to your respective zone.

            No equipment?  A good pair of gloves, a hat, a small spade and determination will let you create your master piece.

Still not convinced?  Have lots and lots of questions?  Master Gardeners  

provide several avenues to answer plant related questions.

*      Log on to this blog where we will routinely address a variety of  interesting topics.

*      Call the Horticulture Line at 319-447-0647 and visit one-on-one with a Master Gardener. (If we miss you, please leave a message.)  We willl return your call as soon as possible. 

*      Master Gardeners answer questions on Fridays at 11:50 A.M. on  KCRG.

*      Listen to WMT each Wednesday and Saturday. Wednesdays, 9:10-10:00 A.M. Saturdays, 7:10-8:00 A.M. for additional gardening advice and information.

            Look for future Master Gardener postings on a weekly basis on this blog.






Leave a comment »

Hello world!

Welcome! I am so excited to be doing this!! Homegrown is the blog version of a gardening column I wrote for The Gazette a few years ago, a reference to locally grown vegetables, fruits and flowers. First off, although I was born in the 1960s, I don’t consider myself a product of the ’60s, so if you’re looking for a less than legal “homegrown” substance, you’ve come to the wrong blog, dude. Everyone else, feel free to come back often – more will be added as we move into growing season – and please, offer your comments. I want to know what your interests are. I’m also thrilled to provide a forum for our Master Gardeners, who will be sharing their expertise, as well. Thanks for checking in. I look forward to hearing from you!

Comments (2) »