It is our hope that the Buckets, Bales & Bushels blog will become a resource for you to explore new ideas, become more familiar with the farms & farmers in your area, as well as broaden you knowledge about the foods available to you every day. Connect with others in your community as you take the opportunity to "Learn, Grow & Share" with us!

Are you looking for a way to learn more about gardening, meet people with common interests, and give back to the community? Well, I have an idea for you – the Master Gardener program might be a great fit. Don't be intimidated by the title; people of all gardening abilities and interests are welcome.

Dawn and Ted Maddox raise fresh sweet corn on their farm near Warrensburg. It started out as a way for the family to sell the excess sweet corn from their garden, back in the early 1990’s. Each year since the business has grown and now, they raise about 80 acres of farm fresh sweet corn.

The Maddox’s’ sweet corn is sold at their farm stand as well as other stands around Decatur. In addition, they supply over 70 County Market, Kroger and Wal-Mart stores in the central Illinois area. Also, they are the sweet corn supplier for the Annual Sweet Corn Festival held in Urbana.

Here in Central Illinois and particularly in Piatt County, we see a lot of corn and soybeans growing and very few grazing animals. In fact the joke around here is if the plants in the field are tall and green – they’re corn plants, and if the plants are short and green – they’re soybean plants.

I really burst my husband's bubble last week when he proudly told me how he gave some of the 'Indigo Blue' tomatoes I've been growing away to someone we know. He said they were beautiful and "totally blue and ripe". When I told him that not a single one was even close to being ripe, and the blue color had nothing to do with ripeness, he got very defensive. "Well how in the world do you tell if it's ripe if the blue has nothing to do with it?!?!" he asked.

It is time to put a cover on your garden, a cover crop that is. Cover crops are an amazing addition to any garden.

There is a new CSA in DeWitt County and its name is Triple M Farm. Greg and Mariah Anderson are the owners and have been in business since 2008. They started by raising fall mums and this year they have expanded to growing bedding plants, and fresh local produce.

I had pretty much given up growing lettuce or other salad greens in my garden because of our local rabbits' insatiable appetite for fresh salad greens. These determined creatures found a way to dig or chew their way past any barrier I set before them.

How About Visiting Your Local Pumpkin Patch!!

We have a new pumpkin patch in our area - Sheffer Farms Pumpkin Patch. They are open Thursday through Sunday, this fall. The Patch has over 75 varieties of pumpkins, squash and gourds, a corn maze and activities including a pumpkin carving and decorating area.

Gardening in a straw bale.  That's right, a straw bale.  It is an immediate, relatively inexpensive, 100% compostable, raised bed.  I feel like I'm telling you about a magic gardening pill that will help you grow garden fresh produce in as little as 10 minutes a week.  (Call now!) According to others...it's true.

This was the name of a 4-H Special Interest club that gave children the opportunity to visit several local farms to see: greenhouse (high tunnel) vegetables, dairy cows, beef cows, chickens and fruit orchards. All these farms were within a 20 minute drive of our office.

For the ninth year in a row, Macon County Master Gardeners, Green Thumb community gardeners and I have planted a selection of tomato cultivars for our annual Tomato Taste Panel. During this event, community members to join us in tasting 30-40 different heirloom and hybrid tomato cultivars. The goal is to introduce people to the incredible diversity among tomato cultivars, and encourage people to try new ones in their garden.

This past week, I got to enjoy what I think is one of the best ways to experience the goodness of home garden - the Caprese Salad.

In case you do not know what a Caprese Salad is, it is the wonderful combination of sliced ripe tomatoes, fresh basil, sliced fresh mozzarella cheese and olive oil. Not only is it a taste delight, but it is so easy to prepare. Add a piece of fresh bread for good measure and you have a delicious, healthy quick summer meal. What more could you ask for?

The recipe is very simple:

Just the title of this blog post will have some people exclaiming "Yuck!" I absolutely love Brussels sprouts, but there are plenty of people out there who just as passionately hate them. I would argue that a lot of these haters have never eaten a properly prepared Brussels sprout. It makes a huge difference! In my opinion, one step in turning that "Yuck!" to "Yum!" is to grow your own Brussels sprouts or buy the freshest ones you can find at your local Farmer's Market or grocery store.

  • Benjamin Franklin proposed that the American wild turkey be the national bird.
  • 46 million turkeys are eaten each Thanksgiving
  • The wild turkey is native to northern Mexico and the eastern United States.
  • The turkey was domesticated in Mexico and taken to Spain in the 1500's, where it was selectively bred with European turkeys.
  • Commercial and heritage turkey breeds all resulted from crossing European breeds with American wild turkeys.
  • Only about 30,000 heritage turkeys were raised in all of 2013, compared to the estimated 240 million comme

Our bucket gardens have attracted a lot of attention to the Piatt County Extension office. There were some doubters, even in our own office, who said we would never harvest anything fit to eat from them. Today we proved them wrong and served a delicious lunch of cream of broccoli soup and kale chips using two of the crops we grew in buckets. Everyone enjoyed our creations and I think everyone at the table had more than one helping! Here are the recipes if you would like to try them with your family:

Check out our exciting new blog that connects you with the food, farmers, and community resources that are all around you!  Look for feature articles about local farms and farmers, try out some new seasonable recipes, and see "grow along" posts sharing what is happening in other gardens.

If I say squash, you might say butternut, acorn, spaghetti ; perhaps even delicata or carnival if you're an avid stuffer of squash. How about Sunshine, Thunder, Australian Butter, Jarrahdale to name a few? These lovely beauties not only look festive but taste good too. Fall is a great time to find some lesser known (or tasted) squash to add to your dinner table. Figure out which ones you like based on look, taste or both and consider putting them in your garden plan for next year.

If you've been following the Bucket, Bales & Bushels blog for long, you know we're trying our hand at Straw Bale Gardening for the first time this year. Despite a seemly slow start,

The peas are producing and the broccoli is generating small florets for snacking. The bush beans & pole beans have both germinated. Moss rose was planted to replace the lettuce in the gutter garden which will tolerate the heat of summer without any trouble. The impatiens are flourishing in their A-frame pallet garden.

We've all been there, there at the garden center toward the end of the season when there are tons of unclaimed plants and the growing season is coming to a close. What happens to the poor unclaimed annual plants? Well, they go home with people for really, really cheap depending on where you do your shopping. (Insert plant happy dance here!)

After one more round of snow last week, it looks like the weather will probably hold for the gardening adventures to expand.  Take a look at what's taking shape at the Piatt County Extension Office.

With very little investment, we have started constructing various demonstrations around the Extension Office in Monticello.  So far, we have a pallet A-frame, numerous bucket gardens, a vertical gutter garden on a "fence" and a potato planter.  (Pictured above for your reference)  Still to come are the Earthboxes and the straw bale gardens.