Field Days Promise Sweating in the Garden

AMES,Iowa — You've heard of "Sweating to the Oldies."  Well, Cindy Haynes asks, how about 'Sweating in the Garden' this year at the 2012 Home Demonstration Garden Field Days? "Sorry, but sweating in the garden is bound to happen this year with all our heat, even with evening field days," said Haynes, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach consumer horticulturist. "There is nothing like a little bit of 'truth in advertising' right? But seriously, finding truth in advertising is what this series of field days is all about."

Every year several ISU Research Farms host field days that showcase different vegetables and annual flowers to the public. Plants and themes for the garden are selected in the winter while Iowa State horticulturists peruse various gardening catalogs and websites. They select plants using only the pretty pictures and short paragraphs touting the novelty of each plant, selecting some of the newest and most unusual and test them at each garden. There are six demonstration gardens this year testing how accurate those descriptions really are for Iowa gardens.

Some of the themes for this year are: compact, space-saving plants; foliage plants; sweet corn; and several other new varieties of flowers and vegetables.

Space Savers

Vegetable gardens are rarely as big as the 80x40 foot garden at each Demonstration Farm. But since most gardeners try to pack in as many vegetables as possible, Haynes said the field days will showcase several of the veggies touted for compact, or bush type, habits planted in a 20x40 foot section of the garden. Twenty-one different space-saving vegetable varieties are showcased, including zucchini ‘Elite’ and muskmelons ‘Honey Bun’ and ‘Minnesota Midget’ each of which uses less than half the garden space of regular sized varieties. Some of these varieties are touted as container tomatoes since they should consume such little space. One tomato is ‘Mega Bite’, which is supposed to produce medium-size fruit on compact plants. "We shall see!" Haynes said.

Foliage Plants

"Despite the heat, this is turning out to be a good year for foliage plants at the Demonstration Gardens," Haynes said. Flowering annuals in typical gardens or landscapes are suffering from our summer-long heat and drought. But foliage plants are holding up well at the demonstration farms. Haynes invites gardeners to come check out the millets (‘Purple Majesty’ and ‘Jade Princess’), variegated sweet corn (‘Field of Dreams’), red leaf cotton, Alternanthera (‘Purple Knight’) and a few ornamental peppers (‘Black Pearl’, Purple Flash’ and ‘Tricolor’).

Sweet Corn

Sweet corn is back in the 2012 Home Demonstration Gardens. "We have devoted a quarter of the garden to it — just so we can taste it at the field day," Haynes said. "That is our plan, anyway, with the new 'augmented type' of sweet corn." Augmented types of sweet corn combine the traits of the sugar-enhanced and super sweet varieties into one. Field day visitors will taste test the three varieties on display to find one they like.

New Varieties

The horticulturists didn't know in the winter while looking through catalogs for ideas for this year’s garden they would end up selecting several heat and drought tolerant plants. This summer is turning out to be the perfect year to test the mettle of these plants. "Look for the new varieties of rose moss, marigold and Agastache to perform well across the state this year," Haynes said. "The other new varieties of annuals, such as wishbone flower and coleus, may not be fairing quite as well." She invites visitors to check out the new vegetable varieties of tomato (‘Red Bounty’ and ‘Tasty Lee’), pepper (‘Delirio’ and ‘Cayennetta’), cucumber (‘Gold Standard’), and spaghetti squash (‘Pinnacle’) to see how they are holding up to oppressive summer heat.

Field Days and Locations

Regardless of the heat – each of the following sites below will be hosting a field day. During the field day there should be plenty of water, a shady spot to gather and a few tasty treats from the garden. Fortunately, gardeners are a tough breed and a little hot weather shouldn’t deter them from visiting a nearby Home Demonstration Garden, Haynes said. "Where else can you check out some potential flower and vegetable additions for your garden next year and sweat a little at the same time?"

Dates, times and locations for 2012 Home Demonstration Garden field days:

  • July 24, 6 p.m., Lyon County Fair Grounds, Rock Rapids
  • Aug. 2, 6:30 p.m., Armstrong Research Farm, Lewis*
  • Aug. 7, 6:30 p.m., Muscatine Island Research Farm, Fruitland*
  • Aug. 8, 6:30 p.m., Horticulture Research Station, Gilbert*
  • Aug. 9, 6:30 p.m., Northern Research Farm, Kanawha
  • Aug. 11, 4 p.m., Northeast Research Farm, Nashua

*BioChar, a byproduct of biorenewable fuels, will be also be featured as a potential soil amendment at these field days.  


Black Pearl Ornamental Pepper
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Tricolor Amaranth - 325 KB