North Dakota State University Extension Service
January 2010 A newsletter for gardeners in North Dakota Vol. 3, No.1
Dakotans choose best veggie varieties
This is a wonderful time of the crease yields, reduce the need for due to rising food costs. One out
year for vegetable gardeners. It’s pesticides, and produce higher of every three households in
a time of hope and optimism. The quality food. North Dakota grows vegetables—
seed catalogs are arriving in the worth well over $30 million. Three
On the other hand, gardeners
mail and it is amazing to see all of out of four persons in our state
who sow a lousy variety are
the varieties being offered. But do not eat enough vegetables for
headed for frustrations. No mat-
what variety is best for us? a healthy diet—this makes us
ter how hard they work in prepar-
more susceptible to infectious dis-
It’s an important question. Se- ing the soil, watering, weeding,
eases (such as the flu) and
lecting a good variety is the first and spraying their crops, they
chronic diseases (such as cancer
step to success in growing a pro- may have disappointing results.
ductive garden. Gardeners who
We need to identify the best Continued on back page
sow a superior variety can in-
varieties for our state. Consumer
interest in gardening is soaring
INSIDE THIS ISSUE
Testing veggie varieties 1
Attracting bluebirds 2–3
New European cosmos 4
Growing a pineapple 4
Favorite seed catalogs 4
New plum for the north 6
Gardening tips for January 5
Tom Kalb, Extension Horticulturist
Page 2 Dakota Gardener January 2010
Have you ever seen a bluebird?
Most people haven’t. These
people are missing out on a re-
Bluebirds are gentle creatures
that naturally bring a smile to your
face. The sky blue color of their
plumage is rich and brilliant--it is
a shade of blue rarely found in
nature. The rusty feathers of its
breast further accentuate its
The Eastern bluebird is a sum- nesting sites so they can suc-
mer resident of North Dakota. Its cessfully raise their young.
cousin the mountain bluebird
Building a bluebird nesting box
sometimes nests in the northwest
is a fun project. Many designs are
corner of our state.
available (see story on next page).
Once threatened across the Some common features are the
Great Plains and Midwest, blue- use of one-inch-thick wooden locate an insect, they will swoop
bird populations are starting to boards; holes at the top of the box down to eat it.
make a comeback. for ventilation and at the bottom
of the box for drainage; a one and Bluebirds raise one or two
The decline of bluebirds was broods from late April through
a half-inch-diameter entrance
mostly caused by the reduction of early August. Nest boxes should
hole in the front of the box, and a
its habitat. Bluebirds prefer to be visited at least every seven
door that opens for monitoring the
nest in cavities of older trees and days during this period.
progress of the nest.
wooden fenceposts. But more in-
tensive farming practices, in- Keep the nesting sites at least Bluebird nests are easily iden-
creased use of metal fenceposts, 100 yards apart. A pair of boxes tified. They are neat and cup
greater use of pesticides, and the is often mounted at each site. shaped, and typically made of fine
sprawl of urban development Often a bluebird will nest in one grass. The eggs are powder blue
have reduced the available habi- box, and another bird such as a or white.
tat for bluebirds. house wren, tree swallow, or
In contrast, sparrow nests are
chickadee will nest in the other.
If that wasn’t enough, two ag- messy and coarse in texture.
gressive species of birds were Install your nest boxes in ar- Their eggs are cream in color with
introduced from Europe into the eas that provide open space, such irregular brown speckles.
United States. These species, the as near open grasslands, pas-
By checking on a regular ba-
house sparrow and starling, vi- tures, orchards, hayfields, and
sis, you can defend the bluebirds
ciously kill bluebirds and take along roadsides.
against sparrows and other natu-
over their nesting sites.
The ground below should have ral enemies. You can also watch
The most effective way to re- grass. Bluebirds will perch on the progress of the birds as they
store the bluebird population is to fenceposts or branches to look for raise their young. You won’t be
provide adult bluebirds with good insects in the grass. Once they disappointed!
January 2010 Dakota Gardener
Building a bluebird house
Years of extensive testing in Min- diam. x 2-1/4 long (1-1/2 project-
nesota have shown the Peterson ing inside). Nails: 26 galvanized
bluebird house to be a preferred 1-1/2” long
nesting box. It’s a little more diffi-
Use the rough side of lumber
cult to construct compared to the
for outside. Make two parallel saw
standard rectangular boxes, but
cuts 1/8” deep beneath the entry
its beauty and the increased odds
of attracting a bluebird couple
hole for perching. Leave exterior European delights
unpainted, or paint with light
make it worth the effort.
shades of gray, beige or green. Look across the Atlantic when you
Materials: All lumber is stan- Do not paint interior or entry hole. need a special flower for your
dard 1” (actually 3/4” thick) ex- Use wood stain or latex paint. garden. While searching for vari-
cept back, inner top and bottom eties overseas, start with those
For more information, includ-
pieces, which use standard 2” x varieties worthy of the
ing more (and simpler) bluebird
4” (actually 1-1/2” x 3-1/2”). Back: Fleuroselect Award, comparable
house designs, you may contact
1-1/2” x 3-1/2” x 24”; front: 3/4” x to the All-America Selection Award
the Bluebrd Restoration Associa-
3-3/8” x 12-1/2”; inner top: 1/2” x in the USA.
tion of Wisconsin (www.braw.org)
3- 1/2” x 8-3/8”; top: 3/4” x 10 1/
or Bluebird Recovery Program of This year, there is a new
4” x 2-3/4 x 17-1/2” x 14-3/8; bot-
Minnesota (www. bbrp.org). Fleuroselect Award winning cos-
tom: 1-1/2 x 3-1/2” x 3”; pegs: 1/4
mos, ‘Rubenza’. This cosmos is
13” noted for its unique ruby red pet-
als that mature to a traditional
9-1/4” 7/8” 63° rose color. I can’t wait to try this
‘Double Click Snow Puff’ cos-
mos is another 2010 Fleuroselect
2-1/4” x Award winner. It has double flow-
3” ers of white petals with just a blush
of pink. They look like pompoms
and make an attractive cut flower.
14-3/8” Cosmos are one of the easi-
est annuals to grow. They toler-
ate both heat and cold (including
unexpected frosts), not to men-
tion drought and moist conditions.
Seed can be sown directly in the
garden or grown from transplants.
Look for these varieties at your
garden center; or to be sure of
availability, order them directly
from seed companies such as
Thompson and Morgan
Source: University of
Page 4 Dakota Gardener
Bring the taste of the
islands to your home
Remember the old TV show off easily from the
“Hawaii Five-O”? fruit, the pineapple
may be too ripe.
In this famous police show,
Steve McGarrett, Dano and other After you get
officers chased after evil criminals home from the
all over the beautiful tropical is- grocery store,
lands. There were lots of hula put on your Hawaiian
dancers, grass skirts, and ocean Once the plant gets 18 inches
shirt and flip-flops to get you in tall it’s capable of forming a fruit.
waves—and then every show the mood (wearing a grass skirt
ended with McGarrett catching the Put the plant inside a clear bag.
is optional). Slice off the top half Insert a couple of ripe apples into
crook and telling his detective: inch of the fruit, leaving the foli-
“Book him, Dano”. Now that was the bag for a few weeks. The
age intact. Clean out the pulp from apples will give off ethylene, which
a great show! the top so that only the outer rind will get the pineapple plant “in the
Although it’s wintry outside, you is left. Set the top near a sunny mood” to have a baby.
can bring a bit of Hawaii into your windowsill for a couple days to let
home by growing your own pine- the wound dry. Several months later you will
apple. notice a flower spike that will grow
Plant the pineapple top so that into a small pineapple. Be proud
Go to the grocery store and one inch of the lower foliage is of your accomplishment and taste
select a fruit that is freshly picked buried. Keep the soil moderately the goodness of the islands!
and still green. If the leaves pull moist and fertilize monthly. Aloha!
My favorite seed catalogs
Seed catalogs are great!. It’s so If you are interested in heir- Several other companies of-
fun to see what new varieties looms, you need the catalog of fer an impressive array of flower
are available each year. These Seed Savers Exchange. It’s the and vegetable varieties. These
are my favorites: largest source of heirloom vari- include Burpee, Gurney’s, Ter-
eties available. I’m not a huge ritorial, and Harris. Baker Creek
I highly recommend the cata-
fan of heirloom varieties in gen- Seeds and Seeds of Change
log of Johnny’s Selected Seeds.
eral, but the seed quality of this are noteworthy companies for
This company has developed
company is truly outstanding. their selection of heirlooms.
several outstanding varieties
Contact them at their web site
for short-season areas— If you are looking to buy
<www.seedsavers.org> or 563-
perfect for us in North Dakota! large volumes of seed, you may
382-5990. Join the organization
Request their free catalog by wish to get the catalogs of Jor-
and you gain access to 13,000
going to their web site at dan Seeds and Mountain Val-
<www.johnnyseeds.com> or ley Seeds.
calling them at 1-877-564- You will also like the cata-
6697. As a bonus, their catalog log of Jung Seed Company All of these companies can
is full of valuable gardening ad- (www.jungseed.com). It is full of be found online and their cata-
vice. varieties for the north. logs are usually free.
January 2010 Dakota Gardener Page 5
GARDENING TIPS FOR JANUARY
Trees and lawns
Sap can bleed profusely out of the pruning wounds of maples and
birches (as shown at right). Don’t worry—this bleeding is completely
harmless. We do not recommend putting wound dressings on these
trees. They heal better without the dressing, as dressings can some-
times trap moisture in the wound, creating rot.
Tree branches that cast shade over flower beds should be pruned
before spring so pruned branches do not fall onto growing plants.
Trees and shrubs have an economic value. If damaged by ice or
accident, they are sometimes covered by homeowner’s insurance.
Black knotty growths on plum and cherry trees should be removed
during winter. Prune 8–12 inches below where you see the fungus
to make sure you remove all of it (including the fungus within the
branch). Remove this diseased tissue from the area since it is in-
Kentucky bluegrass is not damaged by heavy snowmobile traffic
(80 passes), as long as there is an inch of snow over the turf. Seri-
ous damage is caused after warm spells when the snow becomes
slushy or when snowmobiles go over bare grass patches.
Flowers and houseplants
Check any flower bulbs that you have in storage. Toss out any soft,
rotted bulbs. Cool temperatures (40–50 degrees) will reduce the
likelihood of bulbs prematurely sprouting.
If your African violet has stopped blooming, it likely needs a bit more
light. Move it closer to a bright window that does not get harsh after-
Most houseplants do not actively grow in December and January.
We typically do not fertilize houseplants this time of year.
Tall, spindly hibiscus plants can be pruned back to develop a bushier
plant. Cut back to side shoots located down the branch. New shoots
will develop wherever you make the pruning cuts. A spindly plant
can be trimmed back to only six inches tall, and it will regenerate
itself. A three to four foot high hibiscus is generally ideal.
The vines of sweet potatoes make for an interesting houseplant
(shown). Start your plant by placing a sweet potato in a container of
water, leaving the top 1/3 exposed to air. Transplant the potato when
a strong root system develops.
North Dakota State University does not discriminate on the basis of race, color,
national origin, religion, sex, disability, age, Vietnam Era Veterans status, sexual
orientation, marital status, or public assistance status. Direct inquiries to the
Executive Director and Chief Diversity Officer, 202 Old Main, (701) 231-7708.
Photo credits: Jung (‘Black Ice’) and Thompson and Morgan (‘Rubenza’).
New plum for the north
Are you looking for a fancy plum plums. The trees are naturally
that is easy to grow? ‘Black Ice’ dwarf, making them easy to care
may be for you! for. This Japanese hybrid needs
a pollinator for good fruit set.
It’s a large plum hardy for
‘Toka’ is often used as a pollina-
North Dakota (at least to Zone 3B)
tor plum. The variety is being of-
with sweet, juicy, yellow flesh. Fruit
fered by Jung Seed Company
ripens in early August, about 2 to
4 weeks earlier than most other
Dakotans choose best veggie varieties (continued from Page 1)
A team of 360 gardeners prefer, and which of the varieties it turned bright orange in the sum-
across the state was formed in (one, none, or both) they recom- mer and matured very early.
2009—the largest team of its kind mend to other gardeners in North
in the USA—to evaluate promis- Dakota. An evaluation of the 2008
ing varieties. Project coordinator project showed 100% of respon-
Tom Kalb says, “The best way to The program is so simple that dents felt the project was useful
identify superior varieties for a kid could do it—and many kids to their gardening practices. All
home gardens is not at a research do this project with their parents respondents stated they would
station. It makes more sense to for school projects—as well as for recommend the program to other
focus on which varieties perform fun and togetherness. gardeners. Participants especially
best in home gardens under the appreciated being introduced to
Over 1,000 reports have been
management of home gardeners. new varieties as well as being part
submitted this fall and the final
Gardeners in North Dakota have of a research team with other gar-
results will be available by mid
been doing an amazing job of test- deners and the university.
January 2010. Some of the top
ing varieties for our state.” performers in the past two years “Thank you for the opportunity
The program is simple and have been ‘Bush Blue Lake 274’ to learn and grow as a gardener”
straightforward. Gardeners select bean, ‘Red Ace’ beet, ‘Nelson’ wrote a grower in Cass County. A
varieties from over 40 different and ‘Purple Haze’ carrot, ‘Sweet gardener in Ward County com-
vegetables—everything from A Slice’ and ‘Sweeter Yet’ cucumber, mented, “I loved the program—it
(asparagus beans) to Z (zuc- ‘Flashy Trout Back’ and ‘New Red will impact the varieties that I plant
chini). In many cases a new vari- Fire’ lettuce, ‘Early Frosty’ pea’, next year.”
ety is compared with a popular ‘Spineless Beauty’ and ‘Flying
variety. Gardeners receive Saucer’ summer squash, ‘Bright Kalb notes that “Many garden-
enough seeds to plant a 10-foot Lights’ Swiss chard, and ‘Hon Tsai ers thank the project for the op-
row of each variety. They receive Tai’ greens. portunity to participate. But we
simple planting instructions and a are the ones who should thank
Results show some varieties them for all of their work in help-
10-foot string to help them lay out
that win national awards do not do ing to identify the best varieties
their plots. Gardeners receive row
well in North Dakota. For example, for us in North Dakota.”
labels and an evaluation form with
simple questions. the Christmas melon ‘Lambkin’
won the 2009 All-America Selec- The project is always looking
The evaluation form has a tions Award for its unique flavor; for more participants. More infor-
checklist. Gardeners mark which however, it performed poorly in our mation on the project and previ-
of the two varieties germinated trials across the state. On the ous results are available at
best, was healthier, had higher other hand, gardeners in our state <www.dakotagardener.com>. An
yields, and tasted better. They raved over a fairly unknown online seed catalog will be avail-
note which of the varieties they pumpkin variety, ‘Neon’, because able in late January.