In looking towards our next hands-on food program in March, enjoy a preview of the 5 Ingredient Fix class.

Recipes with five ingredients or less help you save money, spend less time preparing and cooking meals, and, in some cases, use a fewer number of dishes. These recipes do have limits on flavors, since few ingredients are used.

Register today at 217.877.6042 or online at http://web.extension.illinois.edu/dmp/ for this class on March 27. If you are not able to join us, take these tips into your kitchen to make a short-ingredient recipe.

I enjoy meal prep with minimal equipment. It means fewer dishes to wash, and many times, less time getting from cooking to eating. In this post, let's explore some different vegetables that do not require a knife to prepare. If I missed some of your favorite no-cut veggies, let me know in the comments.

1. Pour from the bag. In a store, these veggies are often pre-bagged for purchase. Wash with clean water before eating raw or cooking. Mini bell peppers have few seeds, and can be eaten in a couple bits. If your bagged radishes are very large, they may need some cutting.

Aggressive, invasive, and my personal favorite, a garden thug are all terms commonly used by gardeners to describe those garden perennials that tend to overtake their intended areas. It all starts with good intention. Usually a garden friend who wants to share a division of a plant they have an abundance of, or a gorgeous plant at the garden center whose label fails to note its aggressive growth habit.

January is Soup Month, and a great time of year to warm up with a bowl of your favorite soup. Or try a new recipe this month. Many soups are packed with protein, veggies, and grains, making them a great one-pot meal option on a busy night. You can easily adapt your recipes to make a healthier soup too.

"Arbor Day….which has already transplanted itself…to every state in the American Union and has even been adopted in foreign lands…is not like other holidays. Each of those reposes on the past, while Arbor Day proposes for the future" said J. Sterling Morton of Nebraska, founder of the first Arbor Day in 1872. Affected by Morton's enthusiasm, the Nebraska State Board of Agriculture even gave prizes to counties and individuals for the highest number of properly planted trees, resulting in one million trees being planted on that one first day.

Bees and Pesticides in the Garden" is the title of a recent article by Ric Bessin, Extension Entomologist at the University of Kentucky. Anyone who grows fruits and vegetables knows the importance of pollinators for pollinating crops and insuring a bountiful harvest.

The leaves are falling and the days are gorgeous outside! You know, in the vegetable garden, its best practice to clear away all plant material to reduce risk of over-wintering fungal and bacterial diseases, correct? So clear away to your hearts content, and feel good. But, as unpopular as this may sound; some areas of our yard and lawn areas should remain messy, for a very special purpose. Pollinators and other beneficial insects need you too. Yes, it's true, I'm proposing leaving some areas outside alone for our pollinator friends.

Are you wondering what to do with your fresh cut Christmas tree now that Christmas is over? How about recycling it? If you have a landscape recycling center or compost facility nearby, take it there and it will be converted into a renewable mulch  or compost. Before you recycle your tree, it must be undecorated - no ornaments or lights or tree stand.

Growing Herbs and Vegetables with Hydroponics

Last month I posted about the first passive hydroponic setup I've tested to grow herbs and vegetables indoors.

As part of the Older Americans Act, those 60 years of age and older are invited to receive food at congregate meal sites, often for lunch. For those 60 years and older who are homebound, home-delivered meals are available. Many programs include individuals under age 60 who have disabilities.

See the Resources list below to learn more about local congregate and home-delivered meal programs in DeWitt, Macon, and Piatt counties.

Features

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been getting many phone calls from people describing giant wasps in their yards. These have turned out to be the Eastern Cicada Killer (Sphecius speciosus), which is a mild mannered wasp. The stinger on the female wasp is used to paralyze cicadas and the male has no stinger.

Last week we discussed how to go about properly identifying a pest in your landscape or garden. Once you've identified that pest problem in the garden, the next step is to create
A great way to have a healthier holiday is to include fruits and vegetables, with their important vitamins, minerals, and fiber.  Any of these three dips would make a great addition to a potluck or holiday party.

Thanks to the Mt. Zion District Library for hosting us for a hands-on class making dips for the holidays.  With an unexpected combination of ingredients, the Peanut Butter Pumpkin Dip was a favorite of the group.  Which one will you try?

Red Pepper Hummus (Serves 10)

Salsa in the summer? Yes please! I like salsa as part of my lunch during summer as a way of getting vegetables in my diet in a different way from my usual bell pepper slices.

My trouble with jarred salsa I buy is that the sodium amount is higher than I would like. I also prefer my salsa less chunky than I can usually find in jars, or even sometimes as fresh salsa in the deli. So making my own is a good choice for me.

I'll admit it. I have a succulent addiction! They're everywhere at my house and I think you'll enjoy them just as much as I do. If you've never grown succulents before, I'll walk you through how to plant a succulent container garden here.

What gets a gardener through the dark days of winter? Thinking about spring planting of course! What better way to get prepared for spring planting, than getting some seeds started in preparation.

Why start your plants from seed?

Every year, people have a lot  of questions about identifying pests around the lawn or garden; which pesticide to use or not to use; how to apply it and how much should be applied. Pesticides used correctly are one of the tools a gardener can use to control pests.

April hosts "Money Smart Week" (MSW) from April 22-29, an event started by Chicago-area agencies to bring awareness to money and finances. University of Illinois Extension holds events around the state to assist in this campaign, so look in your area.

In DeWitt, Macon, and Piatt counties, take on the Savvy Savers Food Challenge!

At this time of the year, the wildflower, Wild Carrot or Queen Anne's Lace, is in bloom. It is known for its beautiful white compound umbels of flowers that measure 2 to 5 inches across and is the source of our cultivated carrots. People will pick these flowers for drying and later using in dried flower arrangements. The wild carrot is a biennial that stands 2 to 5 feet tall and has compound leaves that are rather lacy or fern-like.

Discover and celebrate the power of pollinators and the monarch butterfly as they migrate across Central Illinois next month at the third-annual Monarch Madness co-sponsored by the Macon County Master Gardeners and Rock Springs Nature Center! Be a part of this family friendly and hands-on celebration from 2 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, September 17.

A Chinese proverb says, "The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second-best time is now." This is so true, and fall is a particularly good time to plant a tree!

Parents, teachers, and students: welcome back to school!

Along with education, social engagement, and student personal growth, food is a major part of school culture.

Consider the different times foods can pop up during the school day:

The Garden Walk is back and better than ever in 2017!

Enjoy a self-guided tour of seven beautiful Decatur-area gardens from 2 to 6 p.m. Sunday, June 11. Explore historic gardens near Millikin University, learn about urban gardening techniques at The Good Samaritan Inn and check out what the homeowners say is the oldest tree in Decatur. You can even win door prizes!

 

I have been composting yard and organic material for a while now, and will continue to do so. However, when I have just a few food scraps, sometimes it can be inconvenient either to carry them outside to the compost pile, or to save to do later. Deciding to add options to my repertoire, I thought I'd give worm composting, also called vermicomposting, a try. Laziness and thinking of impending winter was part of my impetus to try indoor composting, I admit, but also I was just curious about it!

As you travel along Illinois highways this time of the year, you may have seen a tall, dried, spiny plant with huge showy seed heads. You might have even considered taking some seed or seed heads home to plant and use as an accent flower or for use in dried flower arrangements. PLEASE DON'T!! This invasive weed is spreading into our parks, public lands, pastures and open woodlands (savannas).
Fall is here and with it comes apples. October is National Apple Month. Did you know that the average American eats about 17.5 pounds of fresh apples each year, and an additional 30 pounds of apples in other products such as juice; canned and frozen products; and dried.

One-pot meals have been my favorite cooking method lately. Put it all in – protein, whole grains or starchy veggies, and non-starchy veggies – and dinner is served!

I try to make one-pot recipes that are full meals in themselves. Occasionally, I decide to make one-pot dishes and add some crackers, apple slices, raw veggie sticks, or another quick addition on the side to complete the meal.

Try these tips when you make one-pot meals. And join us for a hands-on cooking class about one-pot meals on September 28 in Macon Co. Register today at 217-877-6042 or online.

For us here in Central Illinois, it appears as though a hard frost will finally reach us this week, which means it's time for gardeners to bring any plants worth saving indoors. Whether that means the houseplants we put on the patio for the summer, or the geraniums we want to try and overwinter for next year. I know my patio in particular, is full of succulent pots and orchids that will need to be brought in before frost.

But, how can I bring my houseplants in from outside without bringing in spiders or other insects with it?

Coming this week, our Buckets, Bales, and Bushels blog will become Know How, Know More. Don't fret, the new Know How, Know More will have the same great content, just with some additional avenues of learning!

Have you noticed more hands-on food programming in UI Extension? I have been working to developing programs that involve participants in their learning in a new way. While several hands-on programs have been active, the freezer meal class was a new one. Thanks to our participants who made a freezer meal to take home.

If you are familiar with freezer meals, think of taking out a frozen entrée or a frozen lasagna from your freezer. The meal is prepped and ready to go, but needs cooking. But there are variations and different ways to maximize your freezer so mealtime is quick.

What do you do when you want to grow veggies at an office surrounded by gravel with no available growing space? You create containers! This was the dilemma this spring at our Clinton Extension Office. The summer Junior Master Gardener program was starting and we needed a way to grow vegetables with the kids, but we had no available soil to grow in and I knew that traditional containers would take a lot of maintenance in keeping them watered.

Consider starting your blog reading today with the agriculture perspective about pawpaws - Pawpaws, a Native Fall Fruit Taste Delight – from our Small Far

Hydroponics continues to be a popular topic in the horticulture industry, but usually it's on a very large, greenhouse scale. But did you know, you can try it easily at home?! If you're not familiar with the term hydroponics, it's a method of growing plants in a nutrient rich water solution instead of soil. Why, you may ask? Because the growth rate can be 30-40% faster in this type of system. And it's just pretty darn cool!

Soil health is getting a lot of attention and it well deserved. Do you know why? First, the most well-known and essential benefit of healthy soil is food production. Healthy soil is full of organisms that turn dead matter and minerals into vital plant nutrients. President Franklin D. Roosevelt stated it another way, "A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself."

If you have never eaten a pawpaw, try this tasty, fall fruit. While the pawpaw, Asimina triloba, is the largest

 

Many people long for summer during the winter months, but then…the heat waves hit and it's hard not to feel withered. To help you and your living landscape, I've comprised a few tips to help combat the heat and summer blues that hot dry conditions can inflict on your lawn.

Are pests and diseases reeking havoc on your plants indoors or outside? It's bound to happen every once in awhile, but before you start to treat the problem, it's important to figure out what the exact problem is.

In looking towards our next hands-on food program in May, enjoy a preview of the No Cook Meals class. If you want to join the in-person class, register at 217.877.6042 or online at http://web.extension.illi

When fall rolls around, it is easy to just be done with gardening for the season. You've worked all season long to water, weed, and keep things looking great and the idea of more gardening may not sound so enticing anymore. Don't give up yet though, there really are numerous fall gardening activities that can be completed at the end of the season and many of these will help prepare your garden for greater success next season!

Don't we all wish we could capture the beauty of summer, with its lush growth of greens, yellows, purples and pinks? Recently, University of Illinois Piatt County Master Gardner Kristi Pyatt shared a different way to preserve those colors and shapes of growing plants; Eco-Dying!

A small group of people were lucky enough to attend a presentation on Eco-Dying at Allerton Park and Retreat Center on June 21, where Kristi helped attendees made uniquely dyed silk scarves using flowers and plant parts collected from the many beautiful gardens and natural areas found at Allerton.

Happy New Year! In the spirit of the new year and the winter season, look to try one of these winter food activities this January.

1. Food Pantry Experience. There are so many volunteer opportunities related to food insecurity in your communities: volunteer at a local soup kitchen serving food or helping clean-up, help with a mobile food pantry event, or work with a regional food bank unloading boxes.

Our grass clippings are too valuable to waste! When left on the lawn, properly mowed grass clippings filter down to the soil and decompose rapidly,usually within a few weeks. During the breakdown process, the clippings feed soil organisms, recycle plant nutrients, and contribute organic matter to the soil. These are all great things for our lawns.