Lincoln, Neb. —Here is the weekly crop of Master Gardener tips from Nebraska Extension in the Panhandle, relevant to local lawn and garden issues in the High Plains and consistent with research-based recommendations.
By Leann Sato, Nebraska Extension Master Gardener
Gardens grow more than food: Growing gardens helps sprout more than plants. Gardens also grow cleaner foods, variety, money and confidence. Home gardeners can raise clean food, free of fertilizers and pesticides. Raising herbs and vegetables can add variety to the dinner table and preserve hard to find heirloom plants. Raising produce reduces grocery costs and saving seeds for next season gives the pocketbook a boost too. And the confidence is a natural fruit from gardens that sprout more than food.
Ways to avoid food waste at home: 218.9 pounds – that’s the amount of food wasted annually per person in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). About two- thirds of that (131.34 pounds) is due to food spoilage. Practice smart food storage to avoid food waste. Keep the refrigerator temperature at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below and check often to track what’s there and needs to be used. Or freeze foods at 0 degrees F to keep foods safe until ready to eat. And refrigerate leftovers within two hours.
Native plants help protect landscapes – and water: Landscapes can be pretty and protective. Landscapes with native plants tend to require less water and their deep roots help infiltrate and filter stormwater runoff. Group plants by water use in areas where they can be fed by stormwater runoff or snowmelt. And use rain barrels to capture runoff for water during hot dry times to avoid stressing water systems. Native landscapes beautifully preserve not only the quantity of water but also its quality.
Healthy soils hold more water: Want to know a water storage secret? Create. Healthy. Soil. Dig less and plant more – establish a year-round living ground cover or let plants overwinter in the ground and minimize soil disturbance, like tilling. These two steps increase organic matter, which increases the soil’s water holding capacity. According to the USDA, a 1-percent increase in organic matter can increase a soil’s water capacity up to 20,000 gallons per acre. The secret is out – healthy soils hold water.
Healthy soils make healthy gardens: Healthy soils also reduce nutrient runoff, soil erosion and boost carbon storage in soil, which all protects our water too. Healthy soil works with plants to perform phytoremediation, or pollutant removal, in six possible ways: Pollutants can be eaten by microbes, trapped in the soil, absorbed by the plant, filter through roots, digested by the plant, or volatized during photosynthesis. Phytoremediation doesn’t just help make healthy soil and gardens, it makes healthy water, too.