Growing Together: NDSU master gardeners make it easy to donate vegetables to those in need

Don Kinzler
Forum News Service

Never in recent memory has it been so important to help one another. The pandemic has changed lives, and many are struggling. Food pantries are overwhelmed in many communities, and gardeners can help.

My parents were teenagers during the Great Depression, and I remember them describing how nearly everyone in the community was in the same boat; most had little or no money, but they pulled together, often sharing among neighbors, or trading extra resources as best they could.

The Victory Gardens of World Wars I and II had a similar camaraderie. People pulled together to grow vegetables in backyard gardens that fed the nation, which freed commercially produced vegetables for feeding troops overseas.

A Victory Garden initiative is alive and well in our current pandemic. Did you notice the garden seed racks after the spring planting season? Never have I seen them so bare.

Temporary shortages of food and other supplies reminded us that having vegetables at ready access in our own garden is reassuring.

This spring, we were encouraged nationally and locally to plant not only for ourselves, but an extra row or two to share with those without gardens, and to help stock food pantries with fresh, nutritious vegetables. According to nearly all national and local reports, food pantries have been overwhelmed with need.

How do we get our extra garden vegetables to a local food pantry to help others? In Cass County, the North Dakota State University Extension Master Gardeners have a well-organized method with a proven track record.

Last year, they collected and donated over 7,000 pounds of vegetables. The initiative, “Veggies for the Pantry,” is especially timely this year.

How it works

Master Gardener volunteers set up collection points across the Fargo-Moorhead-West Fargo-Harwood metro on Monday evenings, making it convenient for gardeners to donate their surplus vegetables and fruits.

You simply drop off your produce at one of seven collection sites on Monday evenings from 6:30-7:30 p.m., and they transport the food to Fargo’s Emergency Food Pantry and Moorhead’s Dorothy Day House.

Collection will start Monday, July 27, and continue until the first frost of fall. The Master Gardeners are also collecting unsold vegetables from three area farmers markets and delivering to the YMCA Women’s Shelter.

The Master Gardeners donating their time to this worthwhile effort are Deb Miller, Barb Keyes, Julie Vetter, Vickie Hardy, Joyce Larson, Candance Allen, Alice Fujita-Schwan, Lydia Jean Hillerson, Joan Faust and Carol Burley.

Where to donate

When: 6:30-7:30 p.m. Monday evenings from July 27 until fall frost

Fargo locations: The Bowler, 2630 S. University Drive; Longfellow Recycle Parking Lot, 2939 Elm St. N.

West Fargo locations: Maplewood Park Parking Area, 1504 17th Ave. S.; Community Presbyterian Church, 702 Sheyenne St.; Journey in Faith Church, 650 40th Ave E.

Moorhead location: Trinity Lutheran Church, 210 Seventh St. S.

Harwood, N.D., location: Sheyenne Gardens, 17010 29th St. SE

Fielding questions

Q: I have a problem with my evergreen shrubs. I have no idea why they’re turning brown. I’d appreciate your thoughts. — Fargo.

A: The shrub is called globe arborvitae. Browning as shown in your photo has been fairly common this spring and summer. It’s not a disease or insect, so there are no sprays or other treatments that will make the brown foliage revert to normal green.

There are three common causes. First is rabbits, who often hide inside the shrub during winter or spring and gnaw on the bark of branches. Check inside the arborvitae, looking at the base of the branches whose foliage is brown.

Second, winter weather can cause browning of foliage, which is commonly only on one side. It might be on the south or west sides, caused by winter sunburn as the bright sunshine is reflected off the snow. It might be on the north side, caused by winter windburn.

Third, if the damage is next to a sidewalk, or facing a sidewalk or driveway where a snowblower is used, it might be damage from the force of the blown snow. Evergreens can’t tolerate snow being shot directly at their foliage.

What to do at this point? No matter what the cause, if the brown foliage and twigs are brittle when bent, and there is no sign of new growth, that area is likely dead. Scratch the twigs, looking for live green under the outer bark.

Damaged portions like the photo are often irreversibly dead, and the only choice is to prune them out. This often ruins the shape of the globe, because new growth doesn’t rapidly fill the void. I’m afraid there isn’t an easy fix.

Q: We’ve got two snowball viburnum shrubs that I planted together four years ago. It grows well but never flowers, except for a few at the bottom. I cut them back in late fall to about 3 feet. I can’t find any solutions online. Maybe planting the two together created some kind of incompatibility? It gets sun three-fourths of the day. — Mike, Fargo.

A: Viburnums can be planted in multiples, so that’s fine. The failure to flower is caused by fall pruning.

Viburnums bloom on what is termed “old wood,” meaning during summer, the shrub is forming buds along the branches that will bloom the following year. By pruning in fall, you’re cutting off the flower buds that would have opened into next year’s bloom. The few flowers that you’ve seen on the lower part of the shrub have escaped the fall pruning.

Instead of autumn, pruning is best done right after flowering, after which the viburnum will produce flower buds along the branches for the following year’s bloom.

Q: Once again this year, the bottom ends of my tomatoes are all black and sunken. Is it too late to do anything? The large green tomatoes still look OK. — Sandy, Horace, N.D.

A: The disorder is called blossom end rot, and it is caused by the tomato plant’s inability to use calcium from the soil, so it sucks it out of the bottom of the developing fruit, leaving large, sunken black or brown lesions.

Most regional soils have abundant calcium, so adding more is counterproductive. To help the tomato plants access soil calcium, it’s important to keep the soil moisture consistent, as the calcium must be dissolved in solution for the roots to absorb it. Preventing fluctuations in soil moisture helps greatly, and can be done by mulching the plants with straw, shredded bark, landscape fabric or grass clippings to which no herbicide has been added.

The first tomatoes are the most commonly affected, and plants often overcome the situation with later fruits.

NDSU Extension’s Cass County Master Gardeners are making it convenient for gardeners to donate vegetables to local food pantries.
A reader wonders what’s causing this problem with their evergreen shrubs.