Flooding in the Community Garden

Many of our community gardens are located in floodplain areas (which is why the community is not using that land for something else!) or near creeks or rivers. Recent weather events may have left parts of your community garden flooded. UGA food safety experts ask us to think about the safety of our produce from the impact of flood waters. Farmers have to think about this on a large level and it is a concern for us. Experts from UGA released important harvest information for farmers ahead of this hurricane. Also, the FDA has guidance for flood affected produce.

If a flooding creek encroached on your garden what did that water bring with it? Possibly contamination from pathogens harmful to humans. What about chemical hazards from another site that washed into your garden? These could be serious. If flooding did occur in your garden, I advise you to speak with your local UGA Extension agent for advice from a food safety perspective.

Thinking of the gardeners and farmers in the path of the storm today.

Thoughts on Plant Disease in the Georgia Garden

Every year seems to bring a new set of challenges for the Georgia gardener. Some years the drought leaves our gardens in the dust and some years it never seems to dry out. Some years we break record heat waves and some years fall comes early. However, plant disease never seems to give us a break. As we try and coax healthy cool-season crops out of warm soil I thought it might be nice to take a look at some disease facts so we can come up with strategies to help ourselves.

Fact #1: Healthy plants can withstand disease better than stressed plants. Knowing what healthy plants look like (is that mottling part of the normal leaf or could it be a virus?), what your plants need in the way of fertility and water, and what conditions those plants need to thrive will go a long way in managing disease. If your plants need full sun, plant in full sun. Shade will stress your plants and open up the possibility for disease. Have your soil tested for fertility and use the results to meet the needs of your plants. Take away: Strive for healthy plants

Rust disease on a bean plant leaf

Fact #2: Most of our disease-causing agents are fungi. We do battle some bacteria and some viral diseases but overwhelmingly fungi are our problem. Most fungi need a wet environment. You probably notice during rainy periods disease symptoms seem to magically appear. Community gardeners tend to plant our plots as full as possible limiting air circulation around the plants. Moisture stays on the leaves creating a perfect environment for pathogens. Take away: Limit overhead watering as much as possible. Make sure your plants have adequate air flow around them.

Fact #3: Often pathogens overwinter in garden debris. Many times fungal survival structures, like spores and mycelia, will last for months(years) in organic matter, leaves, and garden debris creating an environment for a reinfection during the next planting cycle. Take away: Clean your garden plots after every season.

Powder mildew fungal spores under a microscope.

Fact #4: Most fungicides are used as preventatives and not as a cure for disease. Once a plant has been infected it is hard to cure that plant. The pathogen is already present, has done damage and gardeners cannot rely on fungicides to fix the problem. Take away: Plan ahead for disease management.

Fact #5: Some pathogens will infect many types of plants but many pathogens have a narrow plant host range. Rusts (Uromyeces spp.) are common among bean plants and powdery mildew (Oidium spp.) always seems to find all types of squash. Take away: Know what diseases normally affect the plants you have in your garden. Learn to recognize the pathogen signs and symptoms. Use your local Extension office to help identify the diseases that plague you. Your agent can also help you devise a plan of disease management.

Success in Planting Small Seeds

Fall planting often involved handling small seeds. Lettuce, spinach, carrots, radishes and all types of greens are started from small seeds and success with these seeds can be a challenge. Often it is a problem with seed germination. To help you with success we have compiled some tips to help you plant small seeds with confidence.

The seeds of kale and other greens are small and can be a challenge to work with.

Tip #1 Once you have planted your seeds use a tamper to gently tamp the seed bed. A tamper uses the right amount of pressure to ensure good seed-to-soil contact while not compacting the soil. If you think on a small level it is possible for small seeds to get lost in air gaps in the soil. Think like a small seed! Seed-to-soil contact is imperative for good seed germination.

A tamper is a useful tool when planting small seeds.

Tip #2 Mulch, mulch, mulch. Cool-season planting happens when our temperatures are still warm and rainfall is not plentiful. Sun can bake a bare soil affecting soil temperatures and moisture content. The right mulch can even out soil moisture and temperatures while protecting small seedlings. Using bark chunks for mulch is not advisable. Small germinating seeds cannot easy push a bark chunk out of the way. Again, we have to think like a small seed! Pine straw or clean wheat straw (with no wheat seeds!) is preferable.

Pine straw is a common mulch. Use a light coverage for your seed bed.

Tip #3 Know that your seed bed needs to stay moist until germination. Water your seeds in and aim to keep the seed bed moist but not soaking. If you visit your community garden plot only once a week to water and we don’t receive any rainfall, your seeds will dry out. On another note, if you experience an extreme rainfall event, like hard rains from a hurricane, your seeds will probably wash away. Not too much water and not too little water is the goal.

When working with community gardeners across the state I have found those who follow these three tips have a much greater chance of small seed success. Let me know how it goes!

Happy Gardening!

Upcoming Events for Georgia Community & School Gardeners

Fall is a busy time for gardeners and this fall will be especially busy with several exciting conferences scheduled in Georgia.

September 13th – 16th the American Community Gardening Association will have its 39th annual conference in Atlanta. Events will take place all across Atlanta with the hub of presentations at the Georgia International Convention Center in College Park. The theme is “Tending to the Beloved Community.” There are 36 presentations scheduled, tours of Atlanta area gardens, and a gala at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. Registration is open. The conference schedule features several notable speakers including Georgia Department of Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black. I have heard him speak several times and he always delivers an entertaining and inspiring presentation.

September 22nd is the Monarchs Across Georgia Pollinator Symposium at the Monastary of the Holy Spirit in Conyers. This event will have fantastic speakers, nature walks, exhibitors and demonstrations. Many of you all feature pollinator spaces in your gardens and this would be a worthwhile day for you! Registration is open.

October 19th – 20th the Council of Outdoor Learning is holding their Outdoor Learning Symposium. It will be held at the Garden School in Marietta, just off the square. The Council of Outdoor Learning, an initiative of the Environmental Education Alliance of Georgia (EEA), is a coalition of organizations and individuals who share an interest in the design, development, maintenance, use, and longevity of outdoor classrooms. COOL serves teachers, parents, principals, and community volunteers as a resource link, providing up-to-date training and information to those interested in building and using outdoor classrooms. This will be a fantastic event for school gardeners and community gardeners who are interested in finding additional ways to use their space.

All three of these events are worth your consideration. Don’t forget to check with your local UGA Extension office for fall classes on cool-season gardening.

Happy Conferencing!

Three Rules of Weeding in Your Georgia Garden

Weeding in Your Georgia Garden

All of Georgia has seen a large amount of rain this summer. Rain is great for our crops and also great for weeds and if you have gotten lazy with the summer heat your plots may have more weeds than crop. You are not alone! This may be a great time to review best management practices for weed control.

Weeds can be a big problem in a community or school garden.  A very big problem.  Knowing how to weed correctly will make this job less of a headache.   An informal poll was taken and we asked experienced gardeners to give their top three rules of weeding and we present them here:

Rule #1:  Get the roots out.

If you just remove the leaves above ground chances are the weeds will come back and you will need to perform the same weeding chore over again.  Many perennial weeds grow from underground roots and tubers.  Those need to be removed as well.

 

Weeding in Your Georgia Garden
Get those roots out!

Rule #2:  Remove the weeds before they make seeds.

If your weeds are allowed to flower and make seeds your work will get much harder.  Weed plants can make an incredible amount of seeds.  For example, common chickweed can produce 800 seeds per plant.  Dandelion flowers can make 40-100 seeds.   Crabgrass can produce 53,000 seeds per plant and pigweed can produce over 200,000 seeds per plant.  Don’t let those weeds flower!

Weeding in Your Georgia Garden
You don’t want this!

Rule #3:  Don’t let weeding get out of hand.

If you don’t routinely remove weeds you could be looking at a plot of weeds that seems overwhelming to tend.  Your vegetable production will suffer as the weeds take up the water, nutrients, and space that should be used for your plants.  And, it will take a lot of initiative to start the long process of taking back that space from the weeds.

Weeding in Your Georgia Garden
Don’t let weeds take over your community or school garden plot.

Knowing what weeds you have could be helpful in coming up with a long-term weed management plan.  Your local UGA Extension agent can help with weed plant identification and help you find strategies to minimize weed issues.

Happy Gardening!

 

Planting Kale in Your Georgia Garden

If you are kickin’ it with kale this fall you will want to grow a large and delicious crop that your students will enjoy eating. Luckily, kale is easy to grow in Georgia during the fall! Growing cool-season crops in Georgia means less disease and pest pressure.

You may be interested to know that the flavor of your kale can change depending on your soil chemistry. According to Tim Cooling, UGA vegetable specialist, many of the bitter compounds we associate with kale are due to the amount and availability of sulfur in your soil. This could be the start of a great school science project!

There are several varieties of kale that are recommended for Georgia gardeners. Vates, Dwarf Siberian, Blue Armor, and Blue Knight are all proven winners in our state. Kale seeds are small and can be hard to handle during planting. For school and community gardens, broadcast seeding is a great option:

After spreading the seeds across your prepared soil:

Sprinkle a small amount of soil on top of the seed bed and tamp down. Tamping ensures good seed-to-soil contact and is an important part of planting small seeds.

Cover the plot with a layer of mulch. This time of year mulch is imperative to keep temperatures and soil moisture even. Avoid heavy mulch like wood nuggets. The small seedling cannot push those nuggets out of the way when they emerge from the soil.

Water well and keep the plot moist as the seeds germinate. With late summer heat you will definitely need to water your seed beds.

Keep an eye out for weeds as they can sneak into your monocrop of kale. Learn what a kale seedling looks like so you can remove everything else that comes up in your plot.

Your crop may need thinning. If so, you can eat the thinnings!

A delicious kale meal starts with healthy kale plants!

Keep an eye out for pests and start planning those kale recipes. Contact your local UGA Extension agent if you have any questions or problems.

Happy Gardening!

Resources for School Gardening in Georgia

In most of our state, school started today. I have been contacted by several teachers who are interested in starting school gardens this year. Many of them have had little experience in the garden and they envision a beautiful space where learning takes place outdoors everyday. For those of you who are just beginning your school garden journey I want to recommend a few resources for you.

First, the publication Steps in Starting a School Garden. This guide will take you step-by-step through starting a successful, sustainable school garden. From gathering an effective garden team to what to plant, this guide will help you get started.

Next, bookmark the school garden resources webpage. This resource contains garden ideas, lesson plans, grant information, and supporting information on why school gardens are important. Visit it often!

Finally, make sure you know your local UGA Cooperative Extension agent. I may be biased but if you don’t know what is going on in your local Extension office you are missing out. Agents lead workshops in horticulture, nutrition, food safety, etc. They also may know what types of school gardening programs are already in your county.

Kickin’ it with Kale during 2018’s Farm to School Month

If you already have a school garden and are ready for the school year, don’t miss out on Georgia Organic’s Kickin’ it with Kale campaign for October’s Farm to School Month. Go to the website and sign up for resources. The first 300 people/groups to sign up can receive free seeds. I will be honest and say that I am not a big kale fan. Maybe this is the year I change my mind! Next week I will post information on how to plant those small kale seeds to ensure success.

Happy Gardening! And have a GREAT school year in the garden!

Planning Your Georgia Fall Vegetable Garden

Although the thermometer is rising above ninety on a daily basis and our Georgia humidity is, well, the typical Georgia humidity, it is time to do some serious thinking about your fall garden.

Did you make notes on your summer garden? Making notes about which varieties performed well for you, what pests plagued you, and your overall satisfaction from your warm-season garden will be useful as you plan for 2019. Also, make note of plant arrangement so you can practice crop rotation next year.

Think Green. Fall is the time for lettuce, spinach, collards, mustard greens and kale. Your seed catalogs will show you that there are so many varieties of lettuce that you couldn’t possibly grow them all. Do try a few new ones. They could make a real difference in the taste of your salads. I really enjoy the lettuce variety Drunken Woman!

Bush beans can be a part of your early fall garden. A planting of bush beans towards the end of summer may produce a nice crop for you if we don’t get an early frost. Take note of the days until harvest count and look for something in the lower numbers. Look for varieties that are resistant to rusts and keep a close eye on them for pests like Mexican bean beetles.

Don’t forget root crops. Short day onions and garlic are a MUST for any cool-season garden. Plant these root crops as sets and let them go until the spring. It is easy to grow all the garlic you will need for the year by careful planning. Make sure to mulch the crop.

Finally, if you don’t plan to grow a cool-season crop consider growing a cover crop. Cover crops can hold down weeds while enriching your soil. At the very least please be courteous to your fellow community gardeners and clean out your plot, removing plant debris that could harbor pests and weeds that could produce seeds that you will deal with later.

Cooler weather is on the way! Happy Gardening!

Flea Beetles in the Garden

I have seen several outbreaks of flea beetles on eggplant as I visit community gardens around Georgia this summer. Their damage is easy to identify as leaves become skeletonized due to the feeding of adult flea beetles.

If the eggplants are mature, the damage can be tolerated by the plant and you should be able to have a fine eggplant crop. If the infestation is severe or the flea beetles have found young, small plants the beetles can severely damage the plant and cause a reduced yield.

Close up of a flea beetle on an eggplant leaf.

You will notice the small beetles will jump if they are startled, which is how they came to be called flea beetles. Female beetles will lay eggs around the plant. Emerging larvae will head into the soil and could possible feed on plant roots. The mature beetle will emerge to feed on your plant leaves. The insects overwinter as adults in plant debris and litter in the top of the soil. There will be more than one generation per year.

There are chemical controls available and you should contact your local UGA Cooperative Extension office for recommendations. After your eggplants are finished definitely remove all plant debris from the soil bed. I would caution in planting collards or any other leafy green in that same soil this fall. Since you are growing leafy greens for the leaves, you will want to avoid flea beetle damage. Any larvae left in the soil after your remove eggplant debris could emerge to find your greens a tasty meal.

Happy Gardening!

A Country of Gardening Immigrants

Happy 4th of July week!   I hope your celebration will a good one full of fresh Georgia tomatoes, onions, watermelons….

As we think about the birthday of our country and how Americans celebrate there is always some type of food involved.  And, depending on your cultural background it could include extra garlic, long beans, or tomatillos.  The world is our garden and we have always been a country of immigrants.

A County of Gardening Immigrants
Chinese Long Beans

A Garden is Common Ground

Across our country experienced gardeners are welcoming immigrants and refugees from all over to the United States in a garden setting.  A garden is common ground.  There may be language barriers but we can all “talk” seed, soil, and water.

Having the privledge of working with some of these gardens it is exciting as cultures are shared through the growing of food.  Gardeners from Somalia are interested to see what the gardeners from Burma are growing.  Gardeners from Kenya are poking their heads in the Syrian’s garden to see what is coming up there.  Our American melting pot is alive and well in the garden.

People especially seem to enjoy growing foods from their homeland and their childhood.  This is true even within the United States.  Many a displaced Southerner has taken the family collard green seeds when being transferred to “the North”.  Year after year, I grow family bean seeds brought down from the hills of Kentucky to Georgia.  So, it is to be expected that our collective palate would be enriched by foods brought with immigrants from other countries.

A Diverse Dinner Plate

If you are fortunate enough to be invited to a pot-luck dinner at one of these gardens, it is an experience worthy of a 5-star restaurant rating.  And, it will make you truly thankful for our county and all of its diversity.

A County of Gardening Immigrants
North Fulton Extension Garden

A special “Thank You” goes out to a local food partner Global Growers who does such tremendous work with these gardeners in Georgia.  And to gardens like the International Garden of Many Colors in California, the Fresh International Garden in Anchorage, Alaska and the North Fulton Extension Garden in Sandy Springs, Georgia.

Happy Birthday, America!