Allen Garden Ready for Its Closeup

Framed by emerging spring blooms at UW-Madison's Allen Centennial Garden, freshman Rachel Smaby enjoys the area's return to more seasonal temperatures during a break among the botanical exhibits. Photo by John Hart, Wisconsin State Journal

Every gardener counts the days to spring. At Allen Centennial Garden on the UW-Madison campus, they have been counting the plants, too.

As interns work on an online plant databank, which should be ready by mid-summer, the garden’s new director, Ben Futa, is looking at a schedule that includes therapy dogs, slow food, 3,000 new bulbs and an updated Master Plan. A key point of that plan is that the garden should not grow beyond its 27 separate exhibit areas, but should mature. Education and public engagement will be a focus, in keeping with the hiring of an education coordinator, Elin Meliska.

The garden — it is singular — at Babcock and Observatory Drives may be the most accessible classroom on campus, with the most diverse syllabus. Even on a recent chilly Sunday, the walkers in the 2.5 acres surrounding the vintage 1896 Agriculture Dean’s House ranged from an old man and his dog to curious children to students from the nearby Lakeshore dormitories.

A visitor in the next week or so will be treated to a colorful result of a student project from last fall, when 3,000 Chionodoxa, Scilla, narcissus, hyacinth, and muscari bulbs were planted in the “English garden” area.

Futa, an Indiana native starting his second year as director, said that while several student interns and a new education coordinator are at work, there is a full schedule of events on tap for the garden this spring.

The garden, named after Oscar and Ethel Allen, who were prominent faculty, was dedicated in 1989, the 100th anniversary of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.

Current visitors will find two new serene landscape design projects underway, both winners of a student team contest. April 27 is already booked solid for an “open-mike” night featuring horticulture-related events. Therapy dogs will host a meet-and-pet event, “Dogs on Call,” May 4; and there’s a Slow Food UW Cafe on May 6.

Mid-summer should see completion of a unique online plant database, Futa said.

“It’s a world-class garden,” he noted, “with a wonderful group of volunteers. The community is craving and ready for these new programs.”

In February, an intern-planned event, “Luminous,” featured six luminary exhibits, bonfires and hot chocolate. It drew 3,000 visitors, when no more than 300 were expected.

“The bones of this garden are extremely strong,” Futa said. “We’re gearing up to an update of our master plan, re-evaluating everything.”

The garden is open daily from dawn to dusk. Parking is free at the Observatory Drive ramp and Tripp Circle after 4:30 p.m. Monday–Friday, and all day Saturday and Sunday.

Story Reprinted from Wisconsin State Journal – George Hesselberg

Sowing Seeds . . . Growing Communities

Just as some seeds yield tomatoes, carrots and lettuce, others grow community and partnership.

In a greenhouse in the northern Wisconsin town of Park Falls, all of those seeds are taking root with the help of CALS horticulture graduate student Michael Geiger, horticulture professor Sara Patterson and a team of dedicated local leaders.


Mike Geiger (left) at a hydroponic salad table workshop at the greenhouse. All photos courtesy of Mike Geiger. All photos courtesy of Mike Geiger.

“The greenhouse has opened doors to making healthier food choices, to education about gardening in local schools—and it’s given the university a presence in Park Falls,” says Geiger, who grew up in Arbor Vitae, some 50 miles away.

Geiger’s involvement with the project – called the Flambeau River Community Growing Center – started as an idea in 2012. That’s when his friend Tracey Snyder, a nurse practitioner developing a wellness program at the nearby Flambeau River Papers mill in Park Falls, approached him seeking guidance on the greenhouse project.

“I was very interested in what she was saying and thought it was something that would be fun to work on,” says Geiger, who then was a senior horticulture student at UW-Madison.

Snyder’s group was seeking funding for a greenhouse project, and Geiger teamed with Patterson to identify possible revenue sources. They developed a proposal for the Ira and Ineva Reilly Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment at UW–Madison.

Their proposal was funded in the summer of 2013, and by the fall construction had begun on a 25-by-50-foot vail-style greenhouse, built by community volunteers on a vacant lot donated by Flambeau River Papers just north of the mill.

The greenhouse, built to withstand the heavier snows of northern Wisconsin, features in-floor radiant heating and custom greenhouse growing tables made of locally purchased white cedar and built by volunteers. Plans call for the facility to eventually be heated with waste steam from the mill.

An open house at the greenhouse.

An open house at the greenhouse.

The Flambeau River Community Growing Center has gained popularity with community members and school groups interested in learning about plants and gardening. “It’s a greenhouse, but it’s also a classroom,” says Geiger.

Learners include children from the Chequamegon School District, who start seeds in the greenhouse and nurture seedlings until they can be transplanted to their own outdoor school gardens. Area 4–H groups grow plants and tend them in raised beds just outside the greenhouse. Master Gardener classes are held at the facility, and community workshops have included such topics as square-foot and container gardening as well as hydroponics. Kids have been delighted with sessions on soil testing and painting their own flowerpots.

“It’s clearly a benefit to build a connection between UW–Madison and the community, for the community itself—people from ages 3 to 90—and for the local schools,” Patterson says.

Community leaders and institutions have joined to fuel the center’s success. Its chief executive officer, Tony Thier, recently retired from Flambeau River Papers, says UW–Extension has provided valuable educational and technical support, and volunteer opportunities draw professionals from various companies in the area. Park Falls attorney Janet Marvin helped the center gain nonprofit status last fall.

Thier says the center provides needed education for area residents. “It’s been very beneficial,” he says. “When I got involved, it really became a passion. I wanted to learn more about gardening and increase my skill. We try to involve the whole community.”

Geiger says the project has helped him in his academic career as he learned about project planning, gave presentations about the center at two national academic conferences and writes scholarly articles about his work there.

“I’ve been able to see this process through from an idea to reality,” says Geiger. “It’s been really rewarding.”

Original Posting: Dennis Chaptman,  04.14.2016  All photos courtesy of Mike Geiger.

Sustainable Landscapes Collaborative

A collaborative effort on the UW-Madison campus focussing on Sustainable Landscapes in the Built Environment (SLBE), is bringing together expertise from across  campus to examine questions and opportunities in sustainable landscape design, implementation, maintenance, and impact.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison is uniquely positioned to contribute to the rapidly developing area of sustainable landscapes through collaborations across a broad range of disciplines, programs, schools, and colleges. A group of faculty and staff from the Nelson Institute, Graduate School, and College of Agricultural and Life Sciences have identified an emerging interest in the theme of sustainable landscapes across many disciplines at UW-Madison. Scholarship, design, and practical programming in many aspects of sustainable landscapes is already in progress,including projects that connect public health, sustainable cities, urban planning, landscape and garden design, water and nutrient management, and many other disciplines.

For additional information and resources from a recently held workshop, link to SLBE.

Luminous exhibition lights up Allen Centennial Garden

This past weekend’s Luminous: Luminaries in the Garden exhibition at Allen Centennial Garden was a huge success, says garden director Ben Futa. The special event attracted a stream of 1,300 visitors on Friday evening, and drew a similarly large crowd on Saturday night, with attendees queuing in lines to enter the garden and see the luminaria and lantern installations created by the garden’s interns.

Below are some beautiful shots from opening night taken by Jeff Miller, photographer for UW-Madison University Communications.

If you missed Luminous, don’t worry! Futa says it’ll be back next year.

Reposted from ecals newsletter 02.22.2016

WPVGA Researcher of the Year

Horticulture professor Jiwan Palta is the recipient of the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association Researcher of the Year Award for 2016.

According to the WPVGA announcement, Palta was nominated for serving “the Wisconsin potato industry for many years with his valuable research focusing on the impact of Jiwan-Palta-20151calcium and nitrogen nutrition on potato tuber quality and yield under heat and drought stress. Working in the areas of molecular biology, crop physiology, and postharvest quality, Palta has been involved in collaborative potato breeding and variety development activities to enhance farm sustainability. His research program recently led an effort to understand the mechanism of action of a natural lipid that acts as a bioregulator to help improve the shelf life of fruits, flowers and vegetables.”

Palta received the award during a banquet at the 2016 UW-Extension & WPVGA Grower Education Conference and Industry Show in Stevens Point in early February.

Commenting on the award, horticulture department chair Irwin Goldman noted Palta’s long track record of successful research and outreach in potato. “Jiwan has developed an in-depth understanding of calcium fertility and nutrition in potato and translated his findings into recommendations that are followed on many acres around Wisconsin and throughout the world. This award signifies the value of his contributions to Wisconsin’s potato and vegetable growers, one of our most important constituents in the state,” says Goldman.

Reposted from ecals newsletter 02.22.2016

Jim Nienhuis receives service award

Horticulture professor Jim Nienhuis is the recipient of the Chancellor’s Award for NienhuisAward3International Service from the Instituto Tecnológico de Costa Rica (ITCR). Nienhuis received the award during a ceremony at ITCR on Feb. 11.

Horticulture chair Irwin Goldman believes this is the first time the award has been granted to an individual outside of ITCR, and the award is a testament to Nienhuis’ work developing ties between Wisconsin and Costa Rica over the years.

“Jim has singlehandedly built our tropical horticulture program, developing both a classroom experience and a study abroad trip for our students over a period of fifteen years. The program builds on many connections Jim has developed in Costa Rica and Nicaragua over the years, and gives students a very personal look at tropical agriculture. One of the close partners for the course is the Instituto Tecnológico, and this relationship has been incredibly beneficial for our students and for Costa Rican students who have traveled to Wisconsin,” says Goldman.

Reposted from ecals newsletter 02.22.16

Irwin Goldman and Beets – a Retrospective

Source: – Chris Barncard

For all the moments while writing about research at UW–Madison in which I’ve been moved by a scientist’s passion for their work, the one that resurfaces most in my (admittedly shallow) memory comes from a Wednesday night in 2010.

Irwin Goldman

Irwin Goldman

My wife and I came to campus for a talk by Irwin Goldman, a plant geneticist and horticulture professor, in the weeklyWednesday Nite @ The Lab series. The title — “The Beet Goes On: Health, Nutrition, and Social Justice from an Under-appreciated Root Vegetable” — was not flashy. I mean, it was about beets. I don’t even know why we were interested enough to show up, other than we did grow beets in our garden. And we didn’t have any kids yet.

“This is a subject that is very dear to my heart,” said Goldman as an opener. “So it’s an honor to talk about it.”

Remember: “It” = beets. He’s talking about beets.

“And here, thanks to WN@TL’s extensive, indispensable video library, is Goldman’s first presentation slide:”

Screen Shot 2016-02-17 at 12.08.52 PM

That’s heavy stuff. It’s bolted to the Statue of Liberty. It might seem over the top for a beet lecture.

But let me tell you something, with apologies to Emma Lazarus: Here at our lake-lapped, sunset gates stands a mighty grower with a torch whose flame is the imprisoned lightning, and his name is Irwin Goldman.

He is a poet of root vegetables. He is the only person in the public sector in the United States working on table beet genetics. He knows everything about anything horticultural that has happened at UW–Madison, and he is unfailingly pleasant about sharing.

Here are things I know now because I spent an hour with Irwin Goldman in 2010:

  • Sucrose was first identified from beets.
  • Napoleon was spurring innovation through X Prize-style contests way back in the 19th century.
  • Wisconsin produces more table beets than any other state.
  • As many as 14 percent of us cannot absorb betacyanin, the red pigment in beets, so it gets excreted in our urine. And that looks scary.
  • The earthy flavor of beets owes a lot to the presence of geosmins, compounds produced by dying bacteria. Geosmins also contribute to that great smell that follows a good rain.

I might not know any of that — or anything about the modest Prof. Irwin Goldman — without Wednesday Night @ The Lab (WN@TL), which celebrates roughly 10 years of weekly presentations tonight when Carol McCartney of the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey delivers “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants in the Digital Age: A Look at Charles Van Hise’s Field Notebooks.”

Fittingly, Van Hise is the guy who first articulated the Wisconsin Idea, and WN@TL is a window on the people still giving that idea life more than a century on from Van Hise.


Tom Zinnen

“Wednesday Nite @ the Lab helps keep the public connected to their public, land-grant research university,” Tom Zinnen, coordinator of the WN@TL series, told the Wisconsin Alumni Association, a WN@TL sponsor along with the UW Biotech Center, UW-Extension and Wisconsin Public Television. “This series has provided an opportunity for the public to stay connected to groundbreaking research activities, and we look forward to showcasing even more innovation over the next 10 years.”

Since the night (pardon me, the Nite) I learned more than I ever bargained about beets, WN@TL presenters have taught me about vaccines, cancer treatment, bird flu, frac sand mining, animal research ethics, plant diseases, polar vortices and a new branch of our family tree. Among other things.

I’ve watched it in person. I’ve watched it in overflow rooms. I’ve watched it from a roaming crowd touring lab buildings. I’ve watched it on TV at 3 a.m. with a fussy infant in my arms. And I recommend it to you.

You can soak in the science on 50 Wednesday nights every year in person at 7 p.m. in Room 1111 of the Biotechnology Center, 425 Henry Mall, watch live online, pick through the archives, or catch it on Wisconsin Public Television.

Organic approach to improving carrots

Organic carrots are coming into their own. About 14 percent of U.S.-produced carrots are now classified as organic, making carrots one of the highest ranked crops in terms of the total percentage produced organically. With production and demand increasing in recent years, organic-carrot growers need help deciding which varieties to grow. Some varieties perform well as a conventional crop, but not so well under organic conditions. While conventional growers also can fumigate to control nematodes, bacterial diseases and fungal pathogens, organic growers don’t have that option.

That’s why the work of Agricultural Research Service (ARS) plant geneticist Philipp W. Simon and his colleagues is so important. Simon, who is the research leader of ARS’s Vegetable Crops Research Laboratoryin Madison, Wisconsin, is leading the five-year Carrot Improvement for Organic Agriculture (CIOA) project that is ultimately aimed at providing information and helping breeders develop carrots that are tastier, more nutritious and better equipped to combat weeds, diseases and pathogens. It is funded with a National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative grant.

The researchers are growing 36 carrot varieties in organic and conventional fields at four locations and comparing them for flavor, productivity, appearance, color, disease resistance and other key traits. Partners include researchers from Purdue University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of California-Riverside, Washington State University and the Organic Seed Alliance. The field trials are in Madison, Wisconsin, Pasco, Washington, West Lafayette, Indiana, and Bakersfield, California.

Carrots grow relatively slowly, and that means that faster-growing weeds are a major problem. Some large-scale organic producers in California estimate that they spend thousands of dollars per acre to weed carrot fields. A priority highlighted by the research is the need for carrots that can produce their large, above-ground leafy “tops” quickly to outcompete weeds for sunlight and moisture.

Organic growers also are more interested than conventional growers in producing carrots with novel shapes and colors—purple, red and yellow—that will attract organic consumers, according to Simon. When it comes to nutrition and health, orange carrots are always a good choice because they are high in vitamin A, an essential nutrient. But changing up your carrot color scheme once in a while might not be a bad idea, he says. Purple carrots have powerful antioxidants. Yellow ones are a good source of lutein, which could reduce the risk of macular degeneration, an all too common eye problem. Red carrots are high in lycopene, a nutrient associated with reducing the risk of certain cancers.

The researchers are still evaluating the 16 named carrot varieties and 20 scientific lines selected for the project. That includes assessing them for flavor, a major issue for consumers. When the market for baby carrots started to take off years ago (baby carrots account for about half of all the fresh carrots consumed in the United States), consumers came to expect carrots to taste good, and growers were quick to adapt, according to Simon. “That message has come through clearly. Flavor is a priority because if people don’t want to eat carrots, they’re not going to buy them.”

Dennis O’Brien, Agricultural Research Service

reposted from

Faculty Awards

Jim Nienhuis has been selected to receive an award for excellence in collaboration from the Institute of Technology in Costa Rica.  The award will be presented February 11, 2016, in Costa Rica.

Jiwan Paulta has been chosen to receive the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association’s award for “Researcher of the Year”.  The award will be presented at the WPVGA-UWEX Grower Education Conference next week.

Introducing Allen Centennial Garden (s)

Allen Centennial Gardens is now officially known as the Allen Centennial Garden (singular) – and it’s just as sweet. A request to change the name was recently approved by the Chancellor’s office.

Garden director Ben Futa kindly shared with eCALS some of the reasoning behind the shift:

The change came about as a result of our strategic planning process and our desire to make the Garden a stronger component of the campus community and student experience. While we’re made up of many special gardens (plural), we are one organization, one entity, one identity – the Garden (singular).

The Garden is the sum of many excellent parts and implies a cohesive vision and that we speak with one voice. It also helps us to brand our physical place. “Are you heading to the Garden? Have you been to the Garden lately?”

Another point to mention: We’ve generated a new marketing catchphrase through this process: “Uniquely UW-Simply Beautiful.” We want to emphasize the Garden as a critical part of the UW-student experience. We’re something you can’t get from an online class. We’re a reason to choose the UW-Madison campus experience.

Originally published in January 11, 2016