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Fresh Produce Food Safety and Food Safety Training for Specialty Crop Growers

Fresh Produce Food Safety Another food illness outbreak linked to fresh vegetables has made the headlines. The pathogen E. coli 0157:H7 caused 24 illnesses and two deaths in the United States and Canada. Canadian health officials have declared the outbreak over, and have placed the blame on romaine lettuce. The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has not been able to l...

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Spring Soil Preparation

Posted by Kari Houle - Articles

In the last month, I've received calls and emails asking about what should be done to prepare the garden soil in the spring once the grounds is no longer frozen and ready to be worked for the new gardening season. Questions such as – what fertilizer should I apply, can I apply manure to my garden, if I do apply manure should it raw or composted, what about peat moss or should I use regular comp...

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Winter Bird Feeding with Suet

To say our weather has turned cold is an understatement. Last week, while sledding with my children my pants froze! We did not last long on the sledding hill that day. When I open the door to let out our dog Murphy, he looks up at me with what I can only describe as a "You've got to be kidding me" facial expression. Despite the dogs and his owner's hasty retreats out of the cold, there...

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2018 Garden Intentions

Posted by Kari Houle - Articles

I'm not one to make New Year's resolutions. Instead I think about things I would like to accomplish next year and if I do, great, if I don't I'm not feeling bad for "breaking" my New Year's resolutions. So here is my 2018 Garden Intentions List: Grow my soft succulent collection. Have I told you how addicting they are?! The variety, the colors, the ability to propagate mo...

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Disposing of Cut Christmas Trees

Not long after the presents are unwrapped, relatives are back home, and the outside Christmas lights end their merry twinkling, one more task is taking down the Christmas tree. For those, like me, who use a fake tree, the process is simple. We take down the ornaments, fold the tree like an umbrella, and store it away downstairs until next year. Growing up my parents always got a fresh c...

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Stepping into the world of Succulents

Posted by Kari Houle - Articles

So recently I've become a bit re-obsessed with succulents, especially soft succulents you can grow indoors. It started back when I did a presentation on Hardcore Houseplants and came across a kalanchoe called Panda Plant in my research. Then I was up visiting my mom for Thanksgiving and she has a very large Jade plant that needed a trim. Being a sucker for plant propagation – I took the cutting...

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What if Winter Never Arrives in the Midwest?

I've heard it on the news, in conversation, and social media, "This warm late fall weather sure is great! I hope the entire winter is like this!" Is this weather great? Of course! Last weekend I took my kids out to Dickens on the Square, a pleasant downtown event in Macomb. In years past, we are bundled up, freezing as we walk from activity to activity. This year, 2017, Dickens on the S...

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Waltzing Through Seed Catalogs

Posted by Kari Houle - Articles

Eeep!! It's December! Where did 2017 go? This time of year is always a bit melancholy but for gardeners, the sun is right over the horizon. Seed catalogs will soon be gracing mailboxes all over. I love seed catalogs – all the beautiful pictures and information to entice you, usually resulting in your eyes being bigger than your garden space. It's so easy to be drawn in by new varieties...

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Giving Thanks

What is on your list of thanks this Thanksgiving? After all, that is the question of the week. I am grateful for many things. Too much to list here. If I could distill down to a few core items for which I give thanks, the following is what I have to offer. I am grateful for healthy soil. Yes, I said soil. The same stuff most people call 'dirt.' The same thing we work so...

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Grow Herbs and Lettuce Indoors this Winter

Posted by Kari Houle - Articles

Just because days are shorter and colder and the outdoor gardening days are over, doesn't mean that it all must come to an end. Indoors we can have our green houseplants, but what if I told you – you can have herbs and lettuce and eat them too! You can grow a number of herbs and lettuce indoors even in the middle of winter, short days and all. Whether you are growing indoors or outdoors...

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A look at some Illinois native trees

Posted by Kari Houle - Articles

The other day I was teaching a group about native Illinois trees and of course I was all excited because I was teaching about trees which is my number one passion. I know in the past I've talked about native plants and have of course mentioned my number one favorite tree that just happens to be an Illinois native – Taxodium distichum Baldcypress. So I figured this time around I would f...

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What to do With Fall Leaves?

Once again, it is that time of year. Farmers toil in the fields, families meander through corn mazes, and neighborhoods prepare for masked and hooded goblins and superheroes. Windows flung open, welcoming the crisp, fresh air of autumn. Everything becomes pumpkin flavored and…*cough, cough*! Oh no! Close the windows! And yes *cough* people start burning leaves. Though most municipalitie...

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Emerald Ash Borer Discovered in Hancock and Adams Counties in 2017

Posted by Kari Houle - Articles

Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) is an invasive and destructive insect pest of Ash trees ( Fraxinus sp.) that was discovered in Michigan in 2002 and first found in Illinois in July of 2006. Since that time EAB has been spreading throughout Illinois and 29 other states in the US. In 2017 EAB was positively confirmed in Quincy, IL and Nauvoo, IL The destructive lif...

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Nuisance Invaders on the Move

Posted by Kari Houle - Articles

Last week my boyfriend and I were outside repainting the porch on the south side of my house. I was looking at the pillars and saw a number of Asian Multicolored Lady Beetles gathering towards the top. Look a little bit further down and I see a Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (BMSB) on the same pillar. It's definitely that time of year where we are seeing insects that are going to be looking for pla...

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Drip tape in the high tunnel turns on via automatic timer.

How Should I Water My Plants?

Two weeks ago, my topic for this column was that we need to be watering our plants due to the dry fall weather. Two things have happened since that article. First – It rained. We finally received a nice steady fall rain event. However, the precipitation totals varied throughout West-Central Illinois. In Monmouth this past weekend, that area only received 0.3 of an inch. Farther south, Perry, Il...

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Getting a Handle on Pruning

Posted by Kari Houle - Articles

Eeek!! It's October already. Where did September go? Wait where is 2017 going? Sometimes life seems to move so fast and we get wrapped up in the daily grind and we blink and the gardening season is coming to an end. There is still work to do in the garden – typical fall clean up, but there are definitely somethings you should avoid. It's so easy to take a walk outside to do fall yard cl...

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Dealing with Fall Drought in the Home Landscape

"The cracks in my yard have cracks," I recently heard a colleague remark. In Central Illinois, spring and fall typically bring reliable rainfall. Dependable fall and spring precipitation is why we say these are the best times of year to plant trees in our region. Fall of 2017 is off to a dry start. There has been little significant rainfall in the past month, and we experienced a string...

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Fall Garden Mums in the Garden

Posted by Kari Houle - Articles

Everywhere I go I see huge displays of fall garden mums for sale. Beautiful colors and a reminder of cooler days to come. Mums are a great addition to containers and the landscape to add color when our summer flowers are faded or finished. With a little extra planning those mums you buy now can be a permanent fixture in your garden. Garden mums are hardy in zones 5-9 and the one interes...

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Home Hydroponics

Posted by Kari Houle - Articles

The other week I received a call asking about small scale hydroponics. This is something that I had never really looked into before so of course it inspired me to learn more. One of the things I love about my job is that I am constantly learning about new things so I dived right into researching small scale hydroponics. Hydroponics is derived from two Greek words – "hydro" meaning water...

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Hardcore Houseplants

Posted by Kari Houle - Articles

I always joke that I'm the kind of gardener that will try any plant and if it can survive my level of care then it must be pretty durable. It goes to the old adage of do as I say not as I do, but from my houseplant escapades it's given me pretty good insight into which houseplants are more forgiving then others. One houseplant that I cannot for the life of me grow no matter where I've lived and...

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Soils Tests, Site Considerations, and Changing Gardens

Posted by Kari Houle - Articles

One of the suggestions we usually tell gardeners is to have a soil test done especially on new garden sites. It's better to see where your pH and soil fertility levels stand prior to applying anything and leads to determining better soil management practices. Before applying fertilizers what are the existing levels of phosphorous and potassium and are they at optimal levels or are they on the e...

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Why Do We Grow Garden Tomatoes?

The tomato. A native to Central America and bred over centuries to become a staple summer crop. Gardener's across the United States compete openly and sometimes covertly to be the first with ripe tomatoes. Ribbons and trophies are handed out in nearly every community for the best-tasting tomato. Competitive tomatoe growers hold dear to 'secret' cultural practices. Some of these tricks never lea...

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Favorite Illinois Natives

Posted by Kari Houle - Articles

I was super excited the other day when I looked over while sitting on my back porch and noticed that my Cup Plant ( Silphium perfoliatum ) was in bloom. The common name comes from how the leaves are attached to the square stem in such a fashion that they form a "cup". It's a native plant to Illinois and I have a beautiful stretch of them along the one side of my house and here and there...

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Don’t Seed A Cool Season Lawn in the Summer

A scenario: Sometime between the end of May to the end of July you've noticed your lawn is in bad shape. You go to the garden center and see shelves full of grass seed. If the store is carrying seed that must mean it is okay to sow your new lawn at this time, so you purchase a bag or two. But what type of grass did you get? Cool season or warm season? In my neck of the woods (Central Il...

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Plants and Pets

Posted by Kari Houle - Articles

I was working on a PowerPoint the other day for an upcoming program on houseplants. As I sat there thinking about what information I wanted to include and being a dog person (I have an English Bulldog who thankfully leaves my plants alone) got me to thinking about plant toxicity and animals. I have a number of houseplants as well as the plants in my yard and decided to do some research into wha...

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