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Gardens educate as well as decorate

Aug. 18, 2014 | 0 comments


With Portage County's rich history of Polish immigrants, the ambitious group of Master Gardeners who helped with various installations at last week's Farm Technology Days decided it would be appropriate to have a heritage garden that reflected the roots of many descendents in the county.

The Polish heritage garden included rutabagas, cabbages, dill, beans, peppers, beets, tomatoes and carrots as well as tomatoes.

Lynn Caine, one of the women who spearheaded the educational garden exhibits, explained that many residents in the county still speak Polish so it seemed only right to put tags on the vegetables to prominently display what they would be called in that language.

For those with a Polish background the names might seem easy. For others not so much — how about kapusta (cabbage), zacheta (carrots), pietruszka (parsley) and the tongue-twisting vowel-defying szczypiorek (chives.)

She credited Todd and Lori Teuchert of Rosholt for growing the actual varieties of heritage vegetables that would have been grown by Polish immigrants. They kept the large vegetable plants alive in pots that could be installed in the ground at Tent City just prior to the show.

A covering of wood chips over the pot provided mulch and hid the pots that made the "garden" possible.

Caine explained that the plants had to be mobile because the crew of Master Gardener volunteers had only a few days to "plant" their gardens at the grounds near Stevens Point where the three-day, outdoor farm show was held.

Another garden volunteer Pat Mrozinski grew an herb garden that was installed in another area of the show's grounds.

Cindy Bredow, another of the Master Gardeners explained that the group didn't want to just beautify the grounds, which they could have done.

Education, ideas

"Master Gardeners are all about education and giving people new ideas, so we decided to do educational gardens here at the show," she said.

All of their garden plots were installed around the Progress Pavilion.

Caine installed a straw bale garden. "It's the idea that people could see it for themselves rather than just reading about it or seeing a picture of it," she said.

Because the show was held in potato country, the group included "towers" that were used to grow the tubers. Harvest is a snap — the towers are pulled away and the potatoes fall out rather than having to be dug out of the ground.

Another volunteer, Gail Zalweski, made all the signs, including those in Polish, and provided QR scan codes on signs in the gardens so visitors with smart phones or handheld devices could look up more information on the plants and growing techniques.

Window boxes and other containers showed visitors how they could grow culinary herbs and vegetables along with flowers for beauty and usefulness, even if they have very little space.

The women also showed visitors how to garden by the square foot — another small-space technique, growing different vegetables in small portions of a garden sectioned off with a grid.

Bredow said that many people have really bad soil in their urban yards and the raised-bed square-foot garden solves that problem by raising the garden up and putting only good soil in the box.

"A lot of city lots have pH levels that are way off and it would be too hard to get it right. It's often easier to just raise the garden and put really good soil in it," she said.

Easy garden

One display garden was as easy an idea as could be — they slit open two bags of potting soil and planted greens in them. They could be cut and harvested again and again to provide salads and included a mix of lettuce varieties and other greens.

The gardeners weren't without their challenges in getting the gardens done.

Many of the plants that were destined for Farm Technology Days were hit by golf-ball sized hail and were shredded weeks before the show.

Many of the plants that were to be displayed in Caine's pallet garden just didn't look good enough to bring. She had cucumber and green bean plants that looked perfect before the hailstorm hit, but were discarded after that.

Another garden the women put together was a salsa garden, which included all the plants to grow the ingredients for a variety of fresh salsas —tomatillos, a small lime tree, onion, cilantro and tomatoes.

In one large area, their Master Gardener group installed 1,000 plants of 25 varieties to create a prairie, complete with barn quilt signs and old farm implements.

Their group spent at least 12 hours the weekend before the show and several more hours on the Monday before the show opened. "It rained an inch and a half that day, so we didn't have to water," said Bredow with a laugh.

Many of the plants that were on display at last week's three-day show were started from seed last spring by 12 volunteers who helped tend pots in their own gardens until the show rolled around.

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