[ The Real McCoy Online Home ]                                                                                                                        May 22, 2009

Master gardeners helping 
BOSS gardeners meet goals

By Rob Schuette, The Real McCoy Staff

Almost any gardener — from novice to expert — can successfully grow plants if they use the best management practices applicable to the specific soils and plants available at a given location, said Bill Halfman of the University of Wisconsin (UW) Extension Office-Monroe County.

Photo: Members of the University of Wisconsin Extension Office-Monroe County present a gardening class to members of the BOSS garden plot program. (Contributed Photo)
Members of the University of Wisconsin Extension Office-Monroe County present a gardening class to members of the BOSS garden plot program. (Contributed Photo)

Halfman and master gardeners Terri Brown, Susan Zinke and Cynthia Erdman presented a two-day class to personnel participating in the Fort McCoy Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers (BOSS) garden plot program at Fort McCoy in late April.

The extension’s involvement with the program began when Halfman met with Maj. Douglas Huntrods to provide assistance. The visit led him to contact Mike Napsey, Fort McCoy BOSS adviser, and help other gardeners at Fort McCoy.

"There are many crops that can be grown in this area," Halfman said. "The first key for any gardener is to determine what vegetables they would like to eat." Or what other plants they would like to grow.

After that has been decided, the gardeners should review resources from the UW Extension or the University of Minnesota Extension to select the plants best suited to grow in the local climate and soil conditions, he said.

The next step is to pick a site, with preference given to one that has either morning or all-day sun compared to a site that only has morning shade or afternoon sun. Napsey said the BOSS garden plots at Fort McCoy were chosen to have the maximum exposure to all-day sun.

"The master gardeners will be going out to the garden area throughout the season to help the BOSS gardeners," Napsey said. "We plan on having future classes and based on feedback from the attendees will make adjustments to the curriculum etc."

Napsey said the program is intended to help personnel grow their own plants, develop a sense of community with their fellow gardeners and support the objectives of the Army Community Covenant, have fun and save money.

"There are many crops that can be grown in this area."

Bill Halfman,
Extension Office-Monroe County

Gardeners can take proactive steps to prepare a site for planting. If soil tests indicate fertilizer is needed, it can be applied and tilled in with a roto-tiller. On sandy soils, which are common in this area of the state, tilling in finished compost or peat moss can help increase water holding capacity. Napsey said many of these steps are done at the BOSS garden plots before they are issued.

Halfman said one other caution is frost can be a concern with sensitive crops, but this threat usually has passed by the end of May.

Planting can be done by seeds or transplant, he said. Some crops, such as beans, radishes, cucumbers, peas and sweet corn can be planted directly from seeds. Other crops benefit from being transplanted and many crops can be done either way.

"The key to transplanting is to do it on a cloudy day or late in the afternoon to minimize transplant shock to the plants," he said. "At this time, it is getting too late for starting transplants from seeds at home."

Transplants can be bought at many places, including major stores, and locations unique to the area, such as local high school agriculture greenhouse programs, Amish farmers, and area produce auctions, he said.

"No matter where people choose to purchase their plants, they need to inspect them carefully to select healthy looking plants," he said.

For both seeds and transplants, gardeners will have the best results if they ensure planting is done at the right depth and spacing, Halfman said. Some plants, such as tomatoes, require additional measures. Straw or a similar material should be used for mulching to keep soil from splashing on the leaves. Correct watering, fertility management and using tomato cages or stakes to keep the plants upright and the fruit off the ground also helps ensure success.

Plants should be checked at least every couple of days to ensure they’re receiving adequate moisture. Soaker hoses are more water efficient than sprinklers, and keep foliage drier, which helps reduce diseases. Halfman said adequate care will result in healthier plants and greater yields.

Fencing around the crops can be used to protect them from mammal pests. If pesticides need to be used to protect against insect pests, Halfman said the best advice is to use an appropriate pesticide and always follow the directions on the label for safe application.

Personnel who do not have access to a good garden growing option can consider growing their crops in containers, which is a very viable option, Halfman said.

The master gardeners count the time they assist with the BOSS garden plots as the volunteer time they need to maintain their status. Halfman said the UW Extension’s mission is to provide information and education, as established by priorities, through workshops, individual visits and printed materials to help people in their service area — including farmers and non-farmers — improve their lives.

Information about growing crops also can be found on the Internet. Two good sites include http://learningstore.uwex.edu/Lawn-Garden-C2.aspx or http://www.extension.umn.edu/garden/. The Monroe County UW Extension Office can be reached at 608-269 (or 372 for those living in Tomah)-8722.

For more information about BOSS garden plots, call Napsey at 608-388-6588. Tools, watering supplies, etc., needed to manage the BOSS garden plot sites are available on site.


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