paul and barb taylorAs a farmer’s wife, I worked full time off the farm. My job was challenging and time consuming as many farmers wives probably can attest to. Part of my job was spent driving to and from appointments which led me through country sides and neighborhoods with beautiful gardens and landscaping. I’d like to think that my appreciation for these, and maybe even the fact that I noticed them at all, was part of my heritage! My grandmother was a farm wife and a gardener so maybe this was the genetic part of my passion to know more about “all things green.”

One year at an annual review for my full time, off-farm job, my boss asked me what my goals were for the year. I am absolutely sure by the look on his face that the answer he got was not what he expected.

“I want to learn to play the piano and I want to be a Master Gardner.”

Ok, I had to renege on that and get serious! He did get some more appropriate goals out of me, but gardening was what I really wanted to do.

I finally became a Master Gardener when I retired. I love it! I will never know all those Latin names for everything, but meeting and gardening with likeminded lovers of the soil and blooms is wonderful thing.

summer-flower-garden-with-rocksBeing a farm wife, I had visions of what my farmer husband would do to help me with his “big bucket” and all those tractors. Sadly, he is more concerned about planting our fields and making a living for us before the next rain, so I got that out of my mind pretty quickly! But it is ok, I work around all those glorious ideas of large rocks and he likes gardening enough to help me when he can. I sometimes leave photos or drawings around the house exclaiming my next idea so he understands what he’ll be working on as soon as the crops allow.

Being a Master Gardener is a lot like farming. Planning, buying your seeds, preparing your soil, caring for your mature plants, and enjoying or eating your harvest … and then you start over again. I find that my love for the garden and my husband’s love for his fields helps us understand each other just a little better!

If you are interested in becoming a Master Gardener you can get the details here. Your Extension Office will be happy to help you with any questions you have.

Being a Master Gardener is knowledge that will grow into a need for more, as you create, experiment, and learn about the love of our beautiful Midwest summers and “all things green.”

Barb Taylor
Farm Wife and Master Gardener


Last week, we held a spring preparation photo contest on Instagram using the hashtag #ilcplantprep.  There were a lot of great entries, and after tallying up the votes this was the winning photo:


Congratulations to Mary Beth Burtle!   She entered the contest in honor of her 87 year old Grandfather, Robert J. Burtle. He is pictured on his newly restored Oliver tractor. This was the first NEW tractor he and his father purchased together when he started farming.

We love seeing all your photos and now we are bringing the contest to Facebook!  Email your spring prep photos to ilcorn@ilcorn.org or post to Facebook and tag us @IL Corn AND use the hashtag #ilcplantprep by this Friday, April 11 and you could win a great prize just like Mary Beth!


Many schools across the nation are adopting the new trend of growing a school garden. But why? What can a garden teach a student?


gardenA garden requires care, patience, responsibility, and guidance. All of these values are excellent to encourage in young children but difficult. Encouraging responsibility in an eight year old can seem as difficult as instilling patience in a frustrated teacher. But by nurturing a plant alongside your student, the child will experience the honor in caring for something and the daily responsibility of keeping their plant alive and healthy.

In addition to learning these skills, the class will appreciate teamwork in collectively growing a garden. Each student will eventually be able to see and touch the rewards of their hard work. Students can begin to grasp the idea that anything worth achieving is worth working hard for. Some will say this is a lost virtue in today’s world with everything being instantaneous and at the touch of your fingertips. Through laboring over a garden, children will learn that ambition can be the difference between success and failure.

On top of all of these life skills, which is an integral part of a complete education, you may also tie almost any academic topic into gardening. A garden can be easily incorporated into any science, economics, math, and history class. Your class could attempt to grow potatoes to learn about the potato famine or be responsible for calculating the average daily growth rate to apply math concepts. These hands on activities can help adhere your lessons to kinestetic and visual learners.

Looking Forward:

The seperation between children and their food is increasing as well as their knowledge of how to produce food. As our society advances in new technologies, life generally gets easier. So why should kids learn about food production if they can simply go to the grocery store and depend on a safe and healthy food supply? Let me show you some statistics:

farm stats

By introducing children to an industry that will welcome them as future employees, you are opening a door to their future. By planting this seed at a young age, they may choose to develop their roots in agriculture. By teaching students to grow plants, you are teaching them to grow as well.


The benefits of a school garden are priceless. Although a school garden does come with a price, there are numerous ways you can cut the cost without limiting your students’ opportunities. Fundraising for a school garden is an excellent option. There are also grants available to schools that want to initiate a school garden such as this one: (insert link- http://grants.kidsgardening.org/)

Make the best of your abilities as a teacher by providing your students with a creative learning atmosphere, new opportunities, and values that will develop them into succesful adults.

grace fosterGrace Foster
Western Illinois University student







April showers do bring May flowers – I always find that most of those timeless sayings are true.  But you know what else April showers can bring?  Nutrient loss for the farmers who are trying to grow a productive crop on their fields in the summer.

This is a very big and very complicated problem, but to put it simply, bare fields with no plants in them can be a problem.  All the spring rains rushing through a bare field can pick up nutrients as they make their way to local ditches and springs.  Exposed soil also means more erosion – as those raindrops hit bare soil, they always grab a few particles to take with them.

Farmers can notice top soil loss and nutrient loss when they have bare fields.  Neither of those is good for the future of their crop or the water supply around them.

The solution for some farmers is to plant cover crops.  Cover crops – a variety of plants that can grow in the soil in the fall and very early spring – can take up the nutrients and store them so that they are less susceptible to run-off.  In essence, for a farmer using cover crops, the nutrients are in plant form instead of just free in the ground.

The plants also protect against soil erosion and improve overall soil health.  They can improve organic matter, improve biodiversity, and break up tough soils with roots that dig deep.

Let’s think about it in city terms:

Many of us apply fertilizer to our lawns in the spring and fall.  On average (and this calculation requires increasing the size of a lawn to an acre for the purpose of comparison) a homeowner would apply 130 pounds of nitrogen per acre.  This amount could actually increase depending on the type of grass you have seeded in your yard.

Farmers are, on average, applying 160 pounds per acre, because corn uses more nitrogen than grass.  Everything considered, our application rates are very similar.

Farmers applying nitrogen in the fall into bare soil would be similar to a homeowner applying nitrogen in the dead of winter.  The grass isn’t growing, so it isn’t pulling up any nitrogen and the expensive fertilizer you just applied is more or less lost cash.  The fertilizer would be carried off with rains or snows through the winter.

If farmers apply nitrogen in the fall AND plant a cover crop, the cover crop uses the nitrogen and saves it for the corn to use in the following in the spring.   This is more similar to a homeowner putting down fertilizer for the lawn in the fall when the grass is still growing.

The overall goal for farmers is to apply fertilizers nearest to the time when the corn will be growing and will actually need the nutrients.  But because of weather and infrastructure, it can be too risky to apply all the fertilizer the crop will need in the spring.  In this case, cover crops can be a good management option, helping to minimize nutrient loss during those heavy April showers.

Caroline Wade
Council on Best Management


prepareAre you on Instagram? If so, follow us at ilcorn and take part in our latest photo contest!  We want to see how you are preparing for spring, anything from purchasing seed packets for your garden to maintenance preformed on your tractor.  Submit your photos by tagging us AND using the hashtag #ILCPLANTPREP, entries will be accepted until the end of the day!

Here are a few of the entries so far:

seed tractor work



Let’s have a little fun on this April Fool’s Day by celebrating farmers and the crazy things they say!

I have to tell you, the IL Corn staff had some difficulty coming up with this list because these crazy phrases and things that we say seem so normal to us that we aren’t sure what’s “farmer speak” and what is common to other occupations or regions of the world.

How did we do?


11-19-12 combineJerry-Job/Jimmy-Rig/Jimmy-Job – To repair something that’s broken incorrectly, but in a way that still works.  Ex: The combine quit, but I jimmy-rigged it and was able to finish the field.

Lollygag – Wasting time.  Ex: Quit lollygagging around and come help me!

Kitty Corner/Catty Corner/Catawampus – The corner opposite where you are standing, i.e. the corner across from you through the intersection at a four way stop.  Ex: Elmer is plowing the field kitty corner from the house.

The Back 40 – Directions to any field or section of woods that’s far away.  Ex: I saw a 40 deer in the back 40.

spring field tractorHoggin’ – Fishing for catfish with your hands.  A common pasttime in the country.  Ex: Wanna go hoggin’ with me this weekend?

Finer Than A Frog Hair (Split Four Ways) – A great answer for “How are you?” that indicates that you are doing well.  Ex: Hi Bob, how are you?  I’m finer than a frog hair.

Rode Hard and Put Away Wet – Used to describe someone who looks haggard.  Originated from horses who were not properly groomed before being returned to their stable after a hard days work.  Ex: What did you do last night?  You look rode hard and put away wet!

A Lick and a Promise – to do something haphazardly or without a plan.  Ex: She gave her resume a lick and a promise and sent it off.

By Hook or By Crook – to do something without caring about the consequences, even when it seems that the odds are stacked against you.  Ex: I’m going to finish mopping this floor by hook or by crook.