About kathyedoisy

I'm a retired MU entomologist and stream ecologist. I've been an avid gardener for over 40 years and love to cook and preserve what we grow in our garden.

Don’t Get Left Behind; It’s Almost GARDENING Time!

Are you thinking about your 2021 garden? You should be! There’s plenty (drought, pests, disease) that can go wrong despite good planning. Why make things more difficult by waiting until the last minute?

Here’s what I do every January when it’s bitterly cold or icy and I don’t want to venture outside. First I get out my gardening journal — surely you have one! I admit that I didn’t start keeping a yearly garden journal for almost 20 years. Then I forgot and bought seeds for a tomato variety that I had grown before and didn’t like. What a waste of valuable garden space! Lesson learned! Anyway, I go through my notes from the previous year and see what varieties I planted and how they did in regards to yield, diseases, pests, etc. Then I ask my co-gardener, Matt, what he liked best about the garden (sugar snap peas!) and what he didn’t like (kale—but it’s good for him!). Then I trace a new garden outline into my journal from my layout map and start planning what will make the cut this year.

Kathy's husband standing between rows of trellised peas in their garden
Matt in the sugar snap peas

Knowing how many square feet you have to plant is critical to proper spacing of your plants. If there’s one complaint I hear more than any other it’s “my plants didn’t do well and I barely got anything from them.” I’d estimate that 80% of the time it’s because the gardener tried to cram too many plants into too small a space. While intensive gardening can be very successful, it is usually the result of mixing different plants with different requirements throughout the season — not planting 4 pepper plants in 4 square feet.

I’d suggest referring to this MU Extension guide for suggested spacing if you are planting a lot of one type of vegetable. If you want to do intensive gardening in a small space, consult this section of the MU Extension Missouri Master gardener manual.

While CGC gardeners will be offered seeds and plants of tried and true varieties during the season, it can be fun to look to other sources for new and exciting varieties. Your choices are mind-boggling. If this interests you, I suggest looking now while the best varieties are still available because that seed goes fast!

After deciding what plants I want to grow, I go through all my leftover seeds. Questions I ask myself are: what types have I got, how old are they, and is there enough for the upcoming season. Did you know that many seeds are good for several years if stored under cool, dark, and dry conditions? Opinions vary on seed viability lengths but here’s a quick rundown from Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalog:

1 Year: onions, parsnips, parsley, salsify, spinach

2 Years: corn, peas, beans, chives, okra

3 Years: carrots, leeks, asparagus, turnips

4 Years: peppers, chard, pumpkins, squash, watermelons, basil

5 Years: cauliflower, broccoli, beets, tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers,
muskmelons, celery, lettuce, endive

one red and two green tomatoes on the vine

Next up, are you growing any plants from seed at home? Each year, I grow a variety of our favorite heirloom tomatoes from seeds that I have saved from last year’s fruits. It’s really very easy, just get on the Internet and type in “saving tomato seeds.”

However, if you’re inspired to try this yourself keep in mind that only “open-pollinated” seeds will breed true and be nearly identical to the parent plant. In other words, do not attempt this with hybrid varieties unless you are okay with mystery vegetables! For tips on the necessary supplies and methods of starting various vegetable seeds at home check out this MU extension guide.

Finally, for a good overall guide to get you started, try Vegetable Gardening by James Quinn and David Trinklein, Division of Plant Sciences, University of Missouri.

Here’s wishing you a happy and productive 2021 gardening season!

Interfaith Garden Planters

3 Interfaith gardeners standing at the garden with some of their harvestThis fall, my husband Matt and I took a tour of the Interfaith Garden with Lily Chan, the garden leader. This garden is located behind the Beth Shalom synagogue at 500 W. Green Meadows Road and is a collaboration between Beth Shalom and the Newman Center. Volunteers grow a wide variety of organic produce such as greens, beans, tomatoes, okra, sweet potatoes, herbs and even persimmons for the Central Missouri Food Pantry.

When Lily showed us some planters that the Boy Scouts had built for them, I couldn’t help noticing that they looked almost identical to the ones that my husband, Matt had been building this year for us and our neighbors. When Lily mentioned that they wished they had more of these planters, I filed it away for later to ask Matt if he was willing to build some more for them. (My happy relationship tip is never volunteer your spouse/significant other without asking first!) Matt was willing! He put together an estimate for two more planters, and the Community Garden Coalition approved it and paid for the supplies. A couple of weeks later, we delivered them to the garden.

Interfaith Garden board members and Matt Knowlton pose at the garden with raised planters

Interfaith Garden board members and Matt Knowlton (center) pose at the garden with the raised planters

Here’s what Lily had to say:

Thank you so much for the beautifully made planters you donated to the Interfaith Garden. It was a work of art. Brent, Mike, Susan, I, and all our volunteers are very grateful to you both for your generosity and kindness towards us and for contributing to the Interfaith Garden’s mission of feeding the poor in our community. And the timing is so perfect, too. We can start putting plant remains in there and top them with leaves and compost so they will be ready to be planted by spring.

This is just one of the many ways that the Community Garden Coalition is helping to support our community. Please consider making a donation to support gardens like the Interfaith Garden this December.

You can donate via CoMoGives through December 31!

 

Do Your Part to Help Community Gardening Thrive


One of the best parts of being on the board of the Community Garden Coalition is the opportunity to visit all of our gardens. Although it’s been less frequent this year due to the virus, I’ve still been invited to socially-distanced garden parties, harvesting events, and just to talk with gardeners and see how things are going.

When I’m struggling to fill out all the forms for our city grant (which only provides about half of our funding), I find it’s wise to take a break and look at some of the garden pictures we’ve taken during the year. It reminds me how important this organization is to so many people, and why I want to continue doing my part to help!

You can do your part to help others December 1-31, with a donation to the Community Garden Coalition through CoMoGives.

New this year, we are pledging half of what we raise through CoMoGives to Friendship Community Garden!

This newer garden located on Smiley Lane at the Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, has been growing in membership despite a lack of good soil, a storage shed and a water spigot. We are hoping that you will help us to help them!

Friendship Garden leaders and members have done a lot of creative problem solving in their few years of existence. From coming up with a water hauling and storage system last year to pivoting during the pandemic to offer a garden education program to kids displaced from their regular summer camp. Their efforts are inspiring and the CGC wants to help them continue to improve their garden.

CoMoGives logo

Even a small donation can go a long way in our budget! Your dollars stay local, and they’ll go directly back into supporting community gardens used by your neighbors and friends with hoses, wheelbarrows, lawnmowers, seeds, compost and more.

You and your friends can also stay in touch with CGC and check on our progress by following us on Facebook. Thank you for your support and consideration, and happy holiday season from myself and the rest of the CGC Board of Directors!

Kathy Doisy, President

CGC Board Members
Jenny McDonald, Vice President
Bill McKelvey, Treasurer
Ann Marie Gortmaker
Kristin Hatton
Cheryl Jensen
Sarah Kendrick



Fall Garden Spotlight: Green Beans

I love fresh green beans, but most of the ones I find at the store look nowhere near “fresh.” Plus, fresh, commercially-grown, non-organic green beans did not pass Consumer Reports’ recent pesticide residue tests (Consumer Reports, “Stop Eating Pesticides,” August 27, 2020). They recommend eating organic green beans. So here’s an idea for you gardeners out there.

At my house, we plant green beans every spring in either April or May depending on the weather forecasts. We harvest LOTS of beans throughout the summer until they start to decline in early August. At that time, we either rip those plants out and replant, or, if we have the space, we plant a couple new 8-foot rows of bush beans, wait a week and plant another couple of rows. By mid-September, we start getting beautiful, damage-free beans, since most of the insect pests of beans are waning in numbers. This year, we’ve been picking about a half-pound a day for weeks. Yesterday we had a full pound, and that was just from two of the 8-foot rows! Not bad for October! This is a great way to get a second crop from areas of your garden that may not be producing much anymore. Although I missed the boat this year, I have also had success planting Sugar Ann peas for the fall. Both crops work with bacteria to fix nitrogen in your soil.

So as you start to plan for next year, here’s what I suggest: don’t plant all your bean seeds in the spring. Hold back a few, and give this a try. You may be happily surprised with a nice harvest of fresh green beans before those cold winter days and frozen vegetables become the norm.

Ash Street Garden – A True Community

Hari Poudel at the Ash Street Community Garden

One of the ways that the Community Garden Coalition gets funding for our efforts (besides your generous donations) is through a small grant from the City of Columbia. To receive this grant, we must apply every two years and go through the same rigorous process as agencies with paid employees. Part of the review process includes taking Health Department commissioners on a tour of one of our gardens. This year, Garden Leader Hari Poudel and other gardeners hosted this tour at the Ash Street Garden, and I went along.

That tour was a revelation for me! I wish that everyone could have been along to see how important this garden is to so many people. I always knew that we helped people grow tasty and healthful produce for themselves, family and friends, but I didn’t realize how many people originally from other countries used our gardens to grow their native produce and medicinal plants. According to Hari, there are thirty different families gardening at Ash Street, many of whom came from Nepal, Bangladesh, Taiwan, South Korea and China.

I recently asked Hari if he would mind answering the following questions so more folks could get a glimpse of the Ash Street gardening community.

Q: What inspired you to become the garden leader at Ash Street?

Hari: First, I am very glad to serve as a garden leader in the Ash St garden. The key motivational factor is my intention of serving local communities where I live. Second, when I am at the garden, I feel it is my second home. It is also a place to meet people from different backgrounds, experiences, and cultures. More importantly, a community garden can serve as a social network place which helps in enhancing social ties and building a greater feeling of community. Lastly, I am able to learn different vegetable farming practices from people from different countries. It’s a great learning opportunity.

Q: Please describe the gardeners at Ash St. and how you think the garden helps them and their families.

Hari: The garden has a broad impact at the community level. About 30 households, including 67 family members, are actively involved in Ash St garden. Gardeners have grown a wide variety of vegetables. More than 50% have been gardening for more than four years. We always have new applicants on our waiting list. The planting season starts right after our garden kick-off day in April and it will go until late October or early November. During my four year experience as a garden leader, I would say more than 90% of the gardeners depend on fresh vegetables for about 5-6 months on the garden. Thus, I would say that our garden has significantly contributed to help in providing fresh vegetables to our gardeners. I am also one of the beneficiaries.


Thanks to Hari and all the gardeners at Ash St., the Health Department commissioners were very pleased with their garden tour, and the City has once again awarded the CGC with a social services grant to continue our support for gardens like these.

CoMoGives logo

This December, you can also show that you support community gardening by making a donation to the CGC through the CoMoGives local giving project. Your dollars go directly to pay for water, tools, mulch and more at gardens like Ash Street. Find our CoMoGives page here, and don’t forget to donate by December 31!

It’s Sweet Potato Time!

Have you ever noticed that as you grow older you start to like foods that you thought you didn’t like at all? I sure have! One vegetable that I really didn’t like in my youth has gradually become a favorite of mine. What vegetable is it? Sweet potato! 

cluster of sweet potatoes just pulled out of the ground

Sweet potatoes are related to the morning glory vine, and if you see some flowers on yours late in the season you will recognize the similarity. They are only distantly related to common potatoes and not at all related to true “yams.” They are believed to have originated in central or southern America and Columbus appears to have been the first to bring them to Europe (Wikipedia). By the time European colonists came to what is now the U.S., sweet potatoes were already a part of their gardening plans. 

The reason I started growing them was curiousity. I had a little extra garden space, and my neighbor had some extra “slips.” Sweet potato slips are the rooted shoots from the tubers that are used to start a new crop. The CGC offers slips to gardeners during the warm season plant distribution each spring. I did some quick reading on how to plant them and stuck them in. A nice mounded trough full of sandy compost is ideal. No need for any chemicals in Mid-Missouri, plus they like hot, dry weather! By late summer, the vines had attempted to cover everything in and around the garden, including my husband’s truck! But any hassle they caused they made up for at harvest. From year to year my production has varied, but I have harvested as much as 160 pounds of tubers from four slips! Imagine getting that kind of production when there’s no grocery store to tide you through the winter. No wonder this crop has spread all over the world!

The author holding up a 12-pound sweet potato in front of her face.
Author with her personal record 12 pound sweet potato.

There is a trick to storing all that bounty. Sweet potatoes must be “cured” before storing. Curing not only improves storage (I still have one ready to eat from 2018), but also makes them sweeter and higher in nutrients. If you doubt this, try eating one straight out of the garden, make a mental note of how sweet it is, and then compare that to a cured potato one month later. In commercial production, tubers are stored in large buildings at 85-90 degrees (F) and about 90% humidity for anywhere from 5 days to 2 weeks. Unfortunately, that’s not so easy to replicate around here in the fall. 

Here’s what I do. For one thing, NEVER let frost touch your vines. Sweet potatoes are a tropical plant, and frost encourages them to quickly rot. Starting in late September, I keep a close eye on the weather forecast. What I’m watching for is a late hot spell. A day or two before it hits, we cut off all the vines (the leaves can be eaten). Then when it’s at least 80 degrees, we dig them up and let them sit all day in the shade of other garden plants. Next we gently knock off the dirt (do not wash them), and either place them in a shaded hot place outside or, if necessary, move them into the hottest room of our house, making sure they are shaded. I doubt I have ever met the humidity requirements, but like I said I still have an 11-month old sweet potato to eat, so I must be doing something right. When I feel like they’ve cured long enough, I move them down into the basement. Cured tubers keep best at about 60 degrees in the dark. 

So, what’s the best way to eat a sweet potato? For me, baked and then mashed with butter, brown sugar and fresh grated ginger — I actually converted a previous sweet potato hater with that fresh ginger addition. They are also good diced and roasted with a little olive oil and salt, or made into sweet potato fries. My neighbor who started me down this road makes them into black bean and diced sweet potato quesadillas for the kids at her daycare. Apparently they love them! And since sweet potatoes are chock full of beta carotene and vitamin A, nutrients that are lacking in many American’s diets, why not give them a try? 

For additional information on growing sweet potatoes here are some handy links:

When to Plant Your Warm Season Vegetables

When should you plant your warm season vegetables?

This weekend, May 11 and 12, the Community Garden Coalition will offer warm season plants like tomatoes and peppers to gardeners. See times and other details.

So, we thought we’d take a moment to explain why we chose a date in mid-May despite some long periods of warm weather in April.

Weather in Mid-Missouri is highly variable, as anyone who has lived here for more than a month knows! When gardening experts discuss freeze dates for our area there are two critical time periods. The first is the average frost-free date. The second is the final frost-free date.

Although these dates shift over time, a recent report by Pat Guinan the state climatologist lists April 10 as the average frost-free date for Boone County. However, local factors can impact this. For instance, valleys tend to be cooler than hilltops, and urban gardens are usually warmer than rural ones because all the concrete holds the temperature higher.

The latest frost on record in Columbia was May 9, 1906. That may seem like a long time ago, but we were close to freezing this year on April 27. We want to give our gardeners, especially eager new ones, the best chance for success. Distributing sensitive plants a little later can avoid the sad circumstance of a late frost killing everything.

garden plants protected wih buckets and sheetsHere’s what my vegetable garden looked like in preparation for the cool weather at the end of April. As an experienced gardener, I am a gambler and my heirloom tomatoes were getting too big for my indoor pots. As you can see, protecting those transplants from frost was a lot of work, and not many gardeners are up to that sort of challenge—material and time wise.

Another consideration is that many warm season plants, especially eggplant and peppers, don’t like “cold feet.” They want warm soil to send their roots into, and can become stunted and drop their flowers when temperatures dip below 50 degrees.

It’s always a guessing game to pick the optimum time to plant in mid-Missouri, but these are some of the factors we try to balance when we plan our events. Hopefully the warmer weather will hold for the rest of May and your garden will grow happily.

The Boone County Buzz: How to Foil Flea Beetles

Does it look like a tiny shotgun has blasted the leaves of your eggplant? (See Figure 1 for an example.) Chances are you have a flea beetle infestation. First of all, don’t worry, “flea” beetles only bite plants! These are not like the fleas on your dog or cat. That’s a whole different order of insects. These are very small (1/10 inch) leaf-feeding beetles that are called “flea” beetles due to their large hind legs which enable them to jump much like fleas (Figure 2).

Eggplant with flea beetle damage.

Figure 1. Eggplant with flea beetle damage. Photo, Ali Eminov [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

Adult flea beetle

Figure 2. Adult flea beetle

There are several species found in Missouri but the only species I see regularly is all black. Depending on the species, they may feed on cruciferous vegetables, spinach, turnips, radishes, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, beans or eggplant. The good news is that the adults die off in July. The bad news is, they can have two generations per year, meaning they can come back for your fall crops. Generally speaking I ignore flea beetles and their damage except when it comes to young seedlings. (Mature plants can usually sustain a bit of flea beetle damage to leaves and still provide fruit.)

For years, flea beetles have severely damaged my eggplant transplants. If I’m lucky, a couple plants survive, and, by late summer, I finally have plants that are large enough to produce. I have tried row covers to no avail. The problem here is that the adults overwinter in your soil and leaf litter. Despite clearing the plant debris from my garden in the fall there are still plenty of hungry adult flea beetles just waiting in the soil for some tender eggplant leaves.

Last year I tried an experiment. Since I only grow four eggplant every year, I went out and purchased some hard plastic domed frost guards. Eggplant are notoriously cold sensitive, so why not? In addition, I thought they might act as a physical barrier to hungry flea beetles. I figured if I found any beetles under the dome, I would shoo them off and quickly replace it since flea beetles jump when startled. In practice, I never needed to do this as the domes worked quite well. After a week I checked and the transplants were hole-free. To test my experiment, I uncovered one of my eggplants. Three days later, when I went out to compare it to the still-covered plants, I found that the unprotected plant was COVERED with flea beetles and feeding holes. The domes worked!

FRGD Frost Guards from Gardener’s Edge

Then, in an effort to save my sacrificial eggplant, I tried spraying it with organic neem oil. WOW! Another real find! It took several sprays, but apparently the flea beetles think it tastes as bad as it smells! They either died or left. My eggplant grew up, became highly productive, and I ended up with a freezer full of tasty ratatouille which my sweet husband enjoys.*

While I think I’ve cracked the code on safe ways to control flea beetles, there are some good suggestions on the websites listed below for other earth-friendly ways to lessen flea beetle damage:

* I have the BEST recipe for ratatouille. Email me at kathy@comogardens.org if you’d like it.

The Boone County Buzz: Are you a gambler?

I am! No, you won’t ever find me at the casino. I’m talking about gardening! I think most of us who garden have a touch of the gambler in us. How else can you explain the leap of faith we take every year when we put our seeds or baby transplants out in the wild world dreaming of luscious produce to come? Sometimes things go well and some not so well. That’s just part of life.

Well, today I want to encourage the wildest gamblers out there to take a chance on REALLY early spring lettuce. You know how all the seed packages say to plant your lettuce from mid-March to mid-May? I think they’re missing the boat!

mixed baby lettuceI followed those recommendations for years and what always happened was that as my lettuce finally started to head up it became bitter! The bitterness used to start around mid-June but I’ve had it happen as early as mid-May when temperatures are unusually warm. As a crazed, baby lettuce aficionado this is most frustrating.

Then about 15 years ago I was reading some book (?) where an old woman from the Ozarks said to put your lettuce seed out as soon as the snow melted. This seemed like insanity, but, again, I’ve got a gambling streak. I tried it. Yes, I ran out with a cloth sheet to protect it a few times. But I was eating beautiful baby lettuce salads by the end of March! Needless to say, I’ve been doing this ever since.

When exactly do I take this risk? It varies with the weather and snow. Looking back in my garden diary (yes, you really should keep one) the first planting has been as early as January 5th but probably averages around January 25th. Have I lost my lettuce? Maybe once, but most varieties of lettuce can survive temperatures as low as 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Since lettuce seed is somewhat viable for up to 6 years I usually use old seed from a previous year, so if it is lost I won’t feel quite as bad. Sometimes, when the cravings are severe I’ve been known to start lettuce seeds inside in January and plunk the plants out in early February. Again, it’s a gamble but what an incredible payoff if you succeed! Take a chance!

Boone County Buzz: Our Insect Hotel Has Tenants! YAY!

Kathy Doisy

Kathy Doisy

In case anyone is wondering if our insect hotel is working, I have proof! If you look at the bamboo on the lower right, you can see that several of the holes have been covered with green pieces of leaves (Fig.1). This is the work of leaf-cutter bees (Fig.2). In July, a friend found me a mini-insect hotel that was going for cheap at Aldi’s — you know something is getting trendy when Aldi’s starts selling it. Anyway, while it didn’t have quite the flair of the one my beloved made for me, I thought why not? Well as you can see several of the holes have been sealed with mud by mason bees (Figs. 3 and 4).

Bamboo tubes filled with cut pieces of leaf.

Figure 1. Brood chambers of leaf-cutter bees.

Mason bees and leaf-cutter bees are represented by several species in the family Megachilidae. Most of the bees in this family are solitary bees meaning that each female performs all her own tasks, unlike the division of labor in a honey bee colony. She collects pollen on fine hairs on the underneath of her abdomen (this pollen spreads easily to the next flower making them excellent pollinators), then finds an appropriate tube to lay an egg in, while provisioning it with pollen for when her hungry larva hatches.

Picture of small bee on flower

Figure 2. Common species of leaf-cutter bee (USDA ARS free image).

She then seals that part of the tube with either a piece of leaf or mud, depending on the species, and goes looking for more pollen to repeat the process until all the space in that tube is filled. Whew, sounds exhausting! Which is why these small, gentle bees don’t waste their time defending their brood like honey bees. The only way you’ll get stung by one of these is if you grab it.

Image of bamboo tubes sealed with mud that looks like masonry.

Figure 3. Brood chambers of Mason bees.

Now here’s where it gets really interesting — at least to me. I went out to look at our homemade insect hotel and found that a new, different species has recently been using some of the tubes and stuffing the openings with grass (Fig. 5). I did a little research and found out there are several species of “grass-carrying” wasps in the family Sphecidae that also use these tubes for their brood. These wasps aren’t as good at pollinating as our solitary bees, but I’m a big fan of diversity and isn’t that grass cute? I’m hoping to catch one in the act.

Picture of small dark bee on flower.

Figure 4. Species of Mason bee (USDA ARS free image).

Picture of bamboo tubes with long pieces of grass sticking out the ends.

Figure 5. Brood chambers for “grass-carrying” wasps.

I think the take home point of this whole endeavor is highlighted by the fact that we live just a couple of blocks from the massive Brookside student apartment complex. Can sweet little pollinators thrive so close to all that concrete and trash? Apparently, yes. You can live downtown and still help nature. In fact, recent research indicates higher abundance and diversity of native bees in urban areas where there are higher densities of flowers and less pesticide use than fields in rural areas (D.M. Hall, et al. 2017. The City as a Refuge for Insect Pollinators. Conservation Biology 31:24-29.)

So, no more excuses! Start doing your part! Why not put a few native plants along the border of your veggie garden? If you don’t want a perennial, then plant a few annual sunflowers or zinnias. Both are good nectar sources for many insects and make lovely bouquets. For more information on helping these pollinators while producing nourishing food for yourself and friends, take a look at this website:

The Honeybee Conservancy