The largest tornado on record plowed through the vicinity of El Reno June 4th. In spite of the destruction, the State Master Gardener Conference was held at Redlands Community College June 13th and 14th. Some very interesting Breakout sessions...Read more....

June 17 2013 Blog

Becky Emerson Carlberg

Did you go to El Reno this past Thursday or Friday (June 13 and 14th)?  The State Master Gardener Conference was held for all state Master Gardeners at Redlands Community College. The theme was “Picture Perfect Gardening”.   The Canadian County MGs made sure all were welcome, beginning with the social held Thursday night.

I was not there.  Four student delegates and their sponsor, James Graham, my husband and I sweated it out at the Japanese Garden.  We watered, weeded and picked up trash.  The city is readying another contract for the completion of the track, so some of the garden edges will be put back into order soon.  They are to deliver a load of mulch sometime this week.  Most of last year’s mulch floated away during our tiny little rain showers this spring.   Tiny sounds more manageable than torrential.  In spite of the severe drought last summer, most things are hanging in there, determined to live.

The Friday morning drive to El Reno was uneventful until we neared El Reno.  Four large cranes with buckets were straddling Interstate 40 holding up electrical lines.  I wondered if it had anything to do with their monster tornado that hit June 4th.  Something over 2 ½ miles across with swirling winds probably over 250 mph means business.  Wheat fields were laid down, the stockyards were flattened with only outlines of pens or some skeletal metal beams remaining upright, balls of metal debris the size of trucks were spread out over miles of fields, and hundreds of trees had been decimated.  The west side of the Redlands campus had damaged buildings with several windows blown out.

But none of that deterred the dedicated people involved in the conference at El Reno.  Vendor booths were set up, refreshments were available, the classrooms clearly identified, and goodie bags were given out containing a t-shirt, samples and reading material.  Several Master Gardener groups set up their own panels, and I must say the Multi-County MG display was well-done.  The candy was delicious.

After registration came the opening remarks and Keynote speaker, Dr. Robert Lyons, Director of the Graduate Program in Public Horticulture, University of Delaware.  He presented “Outstanding Herbaceous Plants:  Your Rx for Long-Lasting Color in the Landscape”.  In pictorial form was shown a range of perennials from very tender to very hardy as well as conventional annuals.  In his university garden grew giant elephant ears (Colocasia gigantea) with leaf fronds over 6 feet in size.  Yes, they loved water.  Decorative sugar cane (Saccharum officinarum) is a specimen plant that makes a statement and Centauria gymnocarpa looks like Dusty Miller on steroids.  Most plants he highlighted could grow in Oklahoma.

My breakout session #1 was   “Therapeutic Benefits of Herbs” with Monica Arndt.  She and her husband own Skyridge Farm in Jones, OK.  A variety of herbs had been rolled in on a portable table, and Monica talked about several, such as Aloe Vera (for burns and vitamin E added to the fresh gel helps preserve it), Bone Set (alleviates the effects of Dengue Fever), Ginger (stomach trouble), Jewel Weed (counteracts poison ivy), Wooly Lamb’s Ear (leaf has coagulant that stops bleeding) and others.  She talked about Essiac Tea, a Native American remedy for building up immunity, Four thieves vinegar, a concoction of vinegar, wine and herbs that protected against the plague, and aroma therapy. 

The one thing I remembered best was she mentioned her great grandfather rode with Belle Starr and her gang.  Belle (1848-1889), better known as May, was a reputable young lady that graduated from Carthage Female Academy in Missouri and liked to play the piano.  She began to associate with disreputable men (the James and Younger Brothers) and later became an outlaw queen.  She was a crack shot, dressed with style, had been married three or more times (no one is sure about the possible marriage to Cole Younger) and died at the age of 41.  Belle was ambushed and shot dead outside Eufaula.  No witnesses.  A colorful character we knew about in eastern OK-western AR as Belle was tried by “Hanging Judge Parker” in Ft. Smith, and sentenced to serve time for stealing horses in 1883. 

Monica did not elaborate about her relative!

Lunch, then it was Breakout Session #2, a no show.  I had registered for “Garden Design in an Evolving OK Climate” with John Fluitt.  No one knew where John was, so Sam Minnick of Minnick’s Materials of OKC stepped up and gave a talk about soils and composts.  Soils can be temporarily adjusted, but will always go back to the native soil.  Best way to amend the soil is with compost.  He had Minnock’s composts on display:  Prairie Gold and Forest Mix.   The Forest Mix used OKC soil, Hobby Lobby sawdust, wood chips and hundreds of pounds of Wal Mart fruits and veggies.  In municipal facilities, as well as their own, the problem was plastic contamination, and that needed to be removed prior to composting.

My Breakout Session #3 was “Chesapeake Employee Garden, a Community Garden in a Corporate Setting” by Kathryn Grant.  Kathryn was the garden coordinator, and explained Chesapeake had a 2 acre site with 65 raised beds, each surrounded by short concrete walls, east of the campus.  Small and large plots are farmed by hundreds of employees.  75% of the gardeners are beginners and the total garden is the Green Initiative of Chesapeake; the goal is to be more personally sustainable.  Four toolsheds (one in each section), common areas with trees and berry beds, drip irrigation, and a center perennial garden are included within the community garden.  It costs the employee $25 for one plot/growing season.

Six Food Pantry plots are usually grown, and over 4,000 pounds of produce have been donated.  They have their own Green Thumb Club. Garden classes are offered several times a month.  The three bin compost system is in place, using water, 50% green matter and 50% brown matter layered with local horse manure.  It is a hot compost, creating temps that pump up to 140 degrees F for 3 days, followed by a maintenance temp of 110 degrees F the following week.  The piles are then turned and the process continues.  Kathryn pointed out horse manure already has the exact ratio of greens to browns built in!  Pollinators are encouraged to visit constantly and competitions are held periodically.  The best team name contest netted: “I Soiled my Plants”.

Breakout Session # 4 was advertised “Stop Before You Squish:  Good Things Come in Small Packages” given by Patricia Bolin Ratliff.  She renamed her presentation to “Thank You, Thank You Very Much”.  A professor at Eastern Oklahoma State College in Wilburton, Dr. Ratliff explained insects are very responsible for breaking down and redistributing nutrients in our world.  From taking care of dead plants, manure, road kill, and being used in forensic entomology, all insects are our friends to some degree.

The first example of Forensic Entomology occurred in China in 1247 AD.  A Chinese farmer was killed by a sickle.  All farmers were ordered to lay down their sickles in the hot sun.  Flies accumulated on the one bloody sickle.  Keep in mind Blow flies can arrive at a body within 3 minutes of dying.  Do you think the name of the Scissor-Tailed flycatcher has to do with it liking flies?  Nope, it catches its insect meals “on the fly”.  Before you dig into your next meal of chocolate, peanut butter or tomatoes, remember the highest known amount of insect fragments are allowed in these preparations.

The sessions I have mentioned were only a small part of what was actually offered.  Here were others:

“Let’s Get Social” with Dee Nash, using Facebook and social media for better gardening.

“A Myriad of Possibilities” with Casey Sharber talking about the past 2 years of renovations at Myriad Gardens.

“Nutrition, Safety and Flavor from Garden to Table” with Barbara Brown, the OSU nutritionist.

“Homeowner Pesticides the Good, Bad, and Ugly” with Charles Luper.

“Digital Garden Photography:  Seeing, Composing and Creating the Image” with our Keynote speaker Robert Lyons.

“Weather, Climate and Mesonet” with Al Sutherland.

The Express Ranch Tour was also offered as a last session.  Express Ranches are the second largest cattle seedstock producer in the nation.  Landscaping around the home and barns utilized over 60,000 bedding plants, 650 trees and 110 tropicals that had overwintered in the greenhouse and were used around the home and poolside cabana.    

Parting gifts included small pots of aloes and succulents.  Thanks to all for a great conference.