If you are a Minnesota Gardener, you owe it to yourself to visit the University of Minnesota’s Extension website. They have almost everything you need to know about growing anything in Minnesota. For example, did you know you can grow kiwi in Minnesota? It’s true! They look different from the ones you buy in stores, but they supposedly taste similar.
I grew up in Northern Michigan, the UP. We had a nice family garden at our home for many years. Our dirt was good enough that we rarely used fertilizer. Our harvests were modest, but delicious. Unless my mom did planning behind the scenes, I think we always just put plants in the ground and crossed our fingers.
We lived in Utah for a number of years, and had a garden out there twice. Both times we just planted and watered (and watered and watered and watered…it’s dry out there) and hoped for the best.
This year, while planning the biggest garden we’ve ever had, I decided I wanted to make sure I was doing things correctly so we wouldn’t have wasted a lot of time and money on a garden that wasn’t going to grow. Gardening, like most hobbies, is a bottomless pit of information and cost. You can descend as deep as you want forever learning and buying more and more specialized tools plants and dirt. The UMN Extension site has been my favorite go-to resource for the following reasons:
It’s Minnesota Specific
Minnesota has a short growing season and spans three USDA hardiness zones. When visiting other gardening sites I was always left wondering “Ok, but will that grow in Minnesota?” and “Ok, but will that plant die over the winter in Minnesota?”. The UMN Extension site lists specific cultivars of grapes, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries which are likely to do well in Minnesota.
It is Concise and Beginner Friendly
You navigate to the fruit or vegetable you want to learn about and there on just a handful of pages you have everything you need to know to get started. In 2000 words they cover strawberry cultivars, PH levels, soil type, disease, June-bearing vs. Everbearing vs. Day-Neutral, how to plant the plants, and end of year maintenance. This is information that would otherwise take visits to a dozen websites to gather, and even then you would be left wondering if all your sources were accurate.
That it lists everything on one page is beginner friendly. I knew that I wanted blueberries but I didn’t know much about blueberry plants. The UMN Extension site informed me of the importance of PH levels for blueberries, something I would never have thought of!
It is Run by Experts
Gardening forums and individual blogs are great gardening resource, but it can be hard to tell an expert from an enthusiastic opinionated novice. Take this forum thread, for example on gardenweb.com. In discussing what to do about non-acidic soil for blueberries, the suggestions include using sawdust, sulphur, pine needles, shredded pine bark, pine straw, chalk, vinegar, coffee grounds and spent tea, planting at the base edge of rotting stumps, coco-peat and urine. Who’s right and who’s crazy? It’s hard to tell online.
The UMN has a 100 year history of doing quality agricultural research. While I do turn to gardening blogs and forums frequently I give higher credence to information I find onthe UMN Extension’s website.
Downsides to the UMN Extension Site
There are a few downsides to the UMN Extension site. Since the site isn’t commercial they may recommend products or plants which are not readily available to buy. If they recommend a specific cultivar or fertilizer it’s up to you to track it down.
Another missing feature is some sort of interaction. Being able to comment on a page or submit questions or having a forum of some sort would be a boon I think.
Lastly, the garden section and the agricultural sections of the extension site are separate even though both have good information that could be applicable.
The UMN Extension site has been a great resource for me as a first-time Minnesota gardener. If you’re gardening in Minnesota you owe it to yourself to visit the UMN Extension website, so get on it!