This week, our office celebrated 10 years of the annual Tomato Taste Panel. Each year, participants get to sample multiple varieties of tomatoes, including some heirlooms.  Not only is tasting a must at this event, but many participants get ideas for tomatoes they want to grow.

While sampling tomatoes raw off toothpicks is one way to eat them, many of us enjoy tomatoes combined with other ingredients too. A fun opportunity of the taste panel is sampling of recipes. This year, one unusual recipe made an appearance: Green Tomato Crisp.

Having finished a successful introductory class on quick breads – as part of our "Bringing Back the Basics: A DIY Approach to Living" series – it is time to share o

As the snow and cold continue, I find myself dreaming about ways to stay connected to the outdoors, the garden & living things! I know plant life outside is just dormant but tending to a worm farm in the winter can be a fun activity for all ages. Besides, they don't require the attention of other household pets – no walking or training required or risk of household destruction.

Did you know one pound of worms (roughly 1000) can consume up to 3 cups of food scraps a week? A 10,000-12,000 worm vermiculture system (a.k.a. worm farm) can take consume 5-8 pounds of food scraps a week!

The morning now greets us with a crisp chill and the darkness of the evening comes sooner than many would like this time of year.  For some, fall is a much anticipated time while others skip this season already dreading what follows - winter.

Have you wondered the aisles of your local garden center and had that same rush of adrenaline you get while looking through seed catalogs in the winter? Walking through a greenhouse in the spring is like going to the grocery store hungry – bring a list!

If you are a seasoned gardener or are just starting out with a new hobby, one way to glean numerous new ideas in a short time is by talking to other gardeners. You can share ideas, talk about lessons they have learned – the good & the bad, and ask some of those questions you've been wondering about for awhile. Most gardeners would tell you their garden is always changing and they are never finished.

In the past ten days, the number of Avian Influenza infected flocks in the Midwest has increased dramatically. No Avian Influenza has been confirmed in Illinois, but it has been confirmed in the bordering states of Missouri, Iowa, and Wisconsin. This disease does not affect human health but can be deadly to domestic chickens and turkeys.

As our gardens wind down the growing season, fall is the time to get our gardens ready for next spring. Have you ever considered planting a cover crop in your garden?

Maybe you should, cover crops improve our garden soil in many ways. Cover crops add a blanket of green to our otherwise bare soil that protects the soil from eroding, their roots keep soil nutrients from leaving the your garden soil. Cover crops add organic matter, which improves the tilth and drainage of your garden's soil. Also, they smother out winter weeds.
Recently I presented a program with a colleague about using edibles in the landscape. Eating out of your landscape can challenge your definition of "ornamental" versus "edible" plant.

The weeds are beginning to sprout between the rows of my vegetables out in the garden, so I need to get busy weeding. First thing to remember when controlling weeds in the garden is that the younger and smaller they are, the easier they are to control. The second important thing to remember is a sharp tool makes the work go faster. Third, work shallow in the soil, it takes less effort and it reduces soil moisture loss.

Did you hear that? It was a very faint buzz but it's there. The gardening bug has officially emerged! A few days of sunshine and 50 degree weather after a cold winter is all it takes for this very special bug to emerge and enter its human host. Once infected, the host may suffer excessive bounce in their step, unexplained trips down the seed aisle, fingers twitching, new gardening books appearing in their shopping bags or a trip by their favorite garden center just to see what's in stock. Of course the gardening bug is at the top of the list of beneficial insects!

Are you looking for a winter squash that squash bugs do not like? Take a look at the Hopi Orange squash. I have been growing this squash off and on over the past 10 years.  I have never a problem with squash bugs when I plant Hopi Orange squash, but I do if I plant any other winter squash (or pumpkin).

You know your dentist. You know your doctor. Do you know your farmer?

Farmer's markets are an excellent opportunity to get to know your farmer and pick up some tasty, nutritious foods.

Local farmers can offer a lot more varieties than a supermarket. Purple carrots are cool to find. Ever seen pattypan summer squash?

Try these three tips as your navigate your local markets this year!

1. Start Out Strong

At the holidays, it is often easy to forget about the people who produce the food we eat. I understand this can happen, especially here in central Illinois - in the heart of the Corn Belt, where we see a lot of corn and soybeans growing.

Ever had funny looking produce show up in your garden? Did you eat the harvest even though it wasn't pristine? I'm going to guess that most of you did because you tended that misshapen little fruit. I'm also going to guess that it probably tasted just fine and maybe even delicious because it was fresh and it was a product of your labor.

June 21 marks the first annual "Bee Blitz".

All nature lovers and concerned citizens in Illinois, Missouri, and Ohio are invited to get outside, snap pictures of honey & bumble bees on Sunday, June 21st, and upload their findings to BeeSpotter, the citizen science project run in collaboration between the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's Department of Entomology and the Office for Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education.

Last spring we set out to try a number of different container growing methods for vegetables. We demonstrated a few at the Piatt County Extension office, both commercially available and repurposed containers were featured. I planted a few different containers of tomatoes and peppers at my house as well. I thought I was done until one fateful trip to the garden center.

Having chickens at home has many benefits for a family. You can have your own fresh eggs and you have the peace of mind of knowing exactly how they were produce. In addition, it is a way for children to have the experience of helping to care for animals and to see where their food comes from.

New Year or not, everyone has a list of "someday, I would like to try…" activities. What is on your list? It can be something small or of epic proportion. Let's face it; life isn't going to get less busy so why not start working on that list now. What is stopping you?

Now that the glory of your Christmas tree has faded, what are you planning to do with your tree?

How about recycling your tree? Here are some suggestions for recycling your Christmas tree on your own property.
It's a bucket, a former vessel for pounds of icing, waiting to make the next birthday celebration a sugary delight. That same bucket can bring similar merriment to those who once had a garden but because of life events, aging bodies, various health situations or limited amounts of sun in their yards, on their balcony or patio, can no longer have the garden they once did. Last year we shared the idea of a Basic Bucket Garden with you and now we are in the second season of bucket gardening and the interest is still growing!

In May I wrote about my quest to renovate a flower bed in my landscape, converting it to include lower-maintenance plants-- specifically native plants and plants that attract

While you are scouring the markets for pumpkins, squash & apples – you might keep a look out for something a little more aromatic - garlic. If you reside in Illinois – October is the best time to plant garlic, usually by the second week of the month. The goal is to have it in the ground six weeks before a freeze. The cooler weather and shorter days of fall are ideal for root development and the beginning of shoot development.

With a well prepared site, a half-pound of garlic can yield 4-5 pounds of garlic by next summer.  Roasted garlic spread anyone?

A few weeks ago we talked a bit about the less than perfect produce that is naturally occurring in our gardens. Although it may not be perfect, it is edible and nutritious!

As the growing season begins to wind down for some crops you might find yourself scratching your head when it comes time to harvest your winter squash, pumpkins, cantaloupes and watermelons.

Many thanks to our participants who did such a great job in the hands-on, introductory class on yeast breads – as part of our "Bringing Back the Basics: A DIY Approach to Living" s

Not too long ago, the only winter squash that most people were familiar with were butternut, acorn, and spaghetti squash-- and of course Jack-O'Lantern pumpkins for Halloween. Today, a glance at even your average local grocery store or garden center is likely to reveal a wide variety of unfamiliar shapes, sizes and colors of winter squash.