Using Peat Pellets for Seed Starting

There are many ways to start seeds for transplants.  Using peat pellets is a popular way and has some advantages.  The peat has a naturally occurring antimicrobial property that helps control fungal diseases.  The peat pellets are also easy to handle which helps with transplanting.

The peat pellets are easy to handle.
The peat pellets are easy to handle.

To get the pellets ready for planting you need to add water.  Warm water is best.  Package directions will tell you how much water to add.  You want the pellets fully expanded, but you do not want them any wetter.  You don’t want water sitting in the bottom of the tray.  Too little water is better than too much.

You can see the pellets hold alot of water.
You can see the pellets expand considerably.

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September is Hunger Action Month

September is Hunger Action Month.  A 2014 Hunger in America study showed that 1 in 7.5 people in metro Atlanta and northern Georgia relies on food pantries and meal service programs.  This includes over 164,000 children and 64,000 seniors.

As gardeners we may be in a unique position to donate fresh food to a local food pantry.  Most food pantries are stocked with canned and dry goods.  Fresh food for their clients could be life changing.

Is your community or school garden donating to a food pantry?  Some gardens have specific areas dedicated to donation.  The entire group is responsible for working those areas and someone is assigned to harvest and deliver the produce.

Some gardens were formed with the purpose of growing food for others.

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Lettuce is Luscious in a Georgia Community or School Garden

Lettuce is a great cool-season crop to grow in Georgia, especially leaf lettuce.  Growing leaf lettuce means you don’t have to wait for the lettuce to make a head.  You can begin harvesting as soon as the leaves are large enough to eat.  With names like Firecracker, Tango, and Drunken Woman the expectations for flavor are high!

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Rabbits can be Rascally Foes in the Georgia Garden

Rabbits in the Georgia GardenThis week we have Wilkes County UGA Extension Agent Frank Watson as a guest blogger.  Extension agents have gotten many calls about rabbit damage in the garden; gardeners are frustrated!  Frank has some information that could be useful.  Frank says….

While rabbits may seem cute and fuzzy, the common rabbit or eastern cottontail can do considerable damage to flowers, vegetables, trees and shrubs any time of the year in places ranging from suburban yards to rural fields and tree plantations.

Controlling rabbits is often necessary to reduce damage, but complete extermination is not necessary, desirable or even possible.

No toxicants or fumigants are registered for use against rabbits. There are, however, chemical repellents available at local garden centers that may discourage rabbit browsing.

Rabbits in the Georgia Garden
A rascally rabbit enjoying a carrot.

Repellents should be applied before rabbit-inflicted damage occurs and after a rain, heavy dew or the occurrence of new plant growth. If rabbits have already started feeding, their attraction to what they have been eating will most likely overcome their fear of the repellent.

Habitat modification and exclusion techniques provide long-term, non-lethal control. Remove dense, heavy vegetative cover, brush piles, weed patches and stone piles in or adjacent to the landscape.

Fencing made from chicken wire, with less than 1-inch mesh, can be placed around herbaceous plants. The fence must be at least 2-feet high and the bottom must be buried at least 3-inches deep. Quarter-inch wire hardware cloth made into 18- to 24-inch cylinders and buried at least 3 inches will protect trunks of young orchard trees or woody landscape plants.

In the winter months, live animal traps can be baited with corncobs, oats, dried apples or rabbit droppings. Traps can be bought at garden centers, hardware stores or from gardening catalogs. Place the traps where rabbits have been feeding or resting and close to suitable cover.

If the trap fails to catch any rabbits within a week, move the trap to a different location.

For more information about managing wildlife in the garden, search for wildlife on  As always, your local UGA Extension office is a great source of information.

Frank hails from cattle country and while farmers use electric fence to keep their cattle in Frank uses electric fence to keep deer out of his garden!

Happy Gardening!


Taking Quality Photos of Your Georgia Garden

We all need to be able to take quality photos of our gardens.  Whether you are promoting your garden to the school administration, bragging on your garden plots to the town council, or applying for grant monies a well taken photo tells the story of your garden.

Today we are excited to have Jeff Martin as a guest blogger.  Jeff has been taking photographs for over 30 years and has considerable experience photographing nature and gardens.  Today he is going to give us some advice for taking quality pictures of our gardens.  Jeff says….

The Best Camera Is the One That’s With You.

I have always liked this quote from Chase Jarvis. It is simple, to the point, and 100% true. Any camera that you have with you, is better than your Nikon sitting on a shelf at home. And what camera so you always have with you? The one that is on your cell phone.
Some will wrongly assume that that cell phone cameras can’t take very good photos. They may feel that their phone is mainly used to take selfies, and photos of their half-eaten dinner. The cell phone camera is a powerful tool, made more potent by the fact that is always ready to capture the moments in time that you want to save.
Taking Quality Photos of Your Georgia Garden
I have always put photos into 2 categories: 1. Photos that show what you saw. 2. Photos that show what you felt. If you are only interested in showing what you saw, just point the camera and and take the photo. This will be good enough in most cases. But if you want to take better photos, photos that are worth a second look, you can do many things to make them more interesting to view.
Taking Quality Photos of Your Georgia Garden
If, for instance, you are trying to photograph a small garden, just changing the height that you are holding the camera can make a huge difference on how your photos look. Most photos are taken from a height of 5-6′. Climb a ladder to take a photo, or place the camera as close to the ground as possible. Either of these changes will give your a photo a look that many other photos lack. Be sure to look for the most interesting plants, and keep your shadow out of the photos.
Taking Quality Photos of Your Georgia Garden
Keep in mind that digital photos are free to take, so always experiment! You might be surprised at how good they come out.
If you have any specific photography questions for Jeff, please leave them in the comments section.  You can follow Jeff on Instagram at jeffmartin2510.
Jeff is not a community or school gardener but his dream community garden plot would include cantaloupe, lima beans, and potatoes.  Sounds good to me!
Happy Gardening!

The Urban Vegetable Garden at Gwinnett Tech

Tony Gobert is so passionate and enthusiastic about Gwinnett Tech’s vegetable garden and the school’s Certificate in Sustainable Urban Agriculture that his face lights up talking about it.  On a recent tour I saw a garden FULL of plants.  It is urban, intensive agriculture at its best.  This garden has a lot to teach community and school gardeners.  Tony was happy to tell me all about it.

Urban Vegetable Garden at Gwinnett TechLocated along Sugarloaf Parkway in Gwinnett County, Georgia, the garden is laid out to work with nature.  The plant rows are laid out to follow the contour of the land.  Before the vegetable garden, the land had a history of large runoff problems after rain storms.  Tony and his team turned this negative into a positive by controlling the flow of the water so that it provided irrigation to the vegetable plants.  “Work with what you have,” Tony says.

Being part of an educational garden, there are experiments everywhere.  Which creates a better plant in the long run, potatoes started in the greenhouse or potatoes started by slips in the ground?  What is the

Urban Vegetable Garden at Gwinnett Tech
Tony Gobert uncovers a very large radish.

best way to use worm castings?  The students can answer these questions because they have tested their hypotheses by planting and growing – not just reading a textbook.  The students are also trying their hands at growing fruit trees in different ways and growing different types of alliums.  There are even banana plants.  Why not?

Urban Vegetable Garden at Gwinnett Tech
Onions being grown to taught seed saving methods.

This is a food production garden.  The produce goes to Gwinnett Tech’s popular culinary program.  The agriculture students learn about what it takes to supply a client as well as other lessons in ag economics. They are taught seed saving techniques and also how to make money during the slower season of the garden.

In many areas there are multi-crop plantings.  For example, a Winesap apple tree is grown using a unique tree trellis.  Underneath are blackberry bushes.  During the cool-season months when there are no leaves on the tree, onions are planted just outside the blackberry bushes.

Urban Vegetable Garden at Gwinnett Tech
Blackberries grown under a Winesap apple tree. Notice onions ready for harvest.

This is true intensive gardening which can translate well in a community garden setting.  Peanuts are planted between rows of corn.  The peanut plants help fix nitrogen for the nitrogen-loving corn.  Blueberry bushes are planted in the middle of the strawberry patch.  Their roots use different soil zones.  Also, crop rotation and successive planting are thoughtfully carried out.

Urban Vegetable Garden at Gwinnett Tech
Peanuts growing in the middle of a corn row.

Tim Daly, a Gwinnett County Extension Agent, is a fan of the garden.  Tim was curious about a squash variety that was advertised to grow very large squash plants.  “Daly’s squash” is part of the garden this year. Tony is feeling hopeful they will get a prize winning squash from that plot!

This garden is just getting started.  The initial planting was done in April 2014.  A pollinator plant strip was added in November 2014.  There are plans for 30 raised beds.  The program that supports this garden is also just getting started.  The certificate program in Sustainable Urban Agriculture was started in 2013.  Students are required to take classes in food production, soils, and pest management.  Three other courses are required to finish the six course program.  Tony is a teacher at heart and he is excited to hear what his first graduates of the program are doing now as well as the plans his current students have.  This is a fantastic addition to the urban gardening movement in Georgia!

I hope you can incorporate some of Tony’s intensive multi-planting systems in your own community or school garden plot.

Happy Gardening!

Dealing with Mexican Bean Beetles in Your Georgia Garden

July and August are prime Mexican bean beetle times.  They can leave your bean plants looking like lace.  Sadly, this is a common occurrence across Georgia during the summer months.

Mexican bean beetle
Mexican bean beetle damage

As with any pest, it is best to learn a bit about the biology of the Mexican bean beetle so you can better control the damage.

Adult beetles, which look a bit like lady beetles, overwinter in garden debris.  Cleaning out your community or school garden plots could help.  Keeping nearby ditches clean could also help.

The beetles emerge in the warm temperatures of spring and look for young beans, soybeans, and lima beans. The adult female will feed on the underside of leaves and will lay 40 or more yellow eggs also on the underside of leaves.  Pest scouting needs to include looking at the underside of leaves. If you can catch the pest in the egg stage simply remove the leave and dispose of it away from the garden.

Mexican bean beetle
Mexican bean beetle eggs Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University,

Once eggs hatch the larvae begin eating from the underside of the leaves.  They will feed for 2 to 4 weeks and do alot of damage before they pupate on the plant.  There are usually 3 to 4 generations per year.  If you see just a few larvae, crush them by hand.

Mexican bean beetle
Larva on what is left of a bush bean plant in a Georgia community garden plot.

From egg to adult takes about a month.  Here is a professional photograph of a Mexican bean beetle adult and larva:

Mexican bean beetle
Clemson University – USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series,

For preventative control, try planting your bean crop as early as possible.  The Mexican bean beetle likes the very warm temperatures of summer and if you can get a quick maturing bean variety planted early, you may outsmart the pest.

The wasp Pediobius foveolatus is a Mexican bean beetle predator.  However,  it does not overwinter well here and you would need to purchase these insects – not really worth the investment for a small crop of beans.  Adding plants that attract beneficial insects is always a great idea.

Some serious bean gardeners plant a trap crop of beans.  Theses are planted to the side of the main garden.  When the trap crop beans are under attack, the gardeners destroy those bean plants  and the insects.  Then the gardeners can put in their main bean crop hoping they have eliminated the Mexican bean beetles in their area.

Other bean enthusiasts use floating row covers so the flying beetle can’t get to the crop.  For this to work make sure you don’t have garden debris left under the row cover so you aren’t just trapping the Mexican bean beetles in with your beans!

Once the plants have been seriously infected you can think about chemical control.  Contact your local UGA Extension agent if things get that bad in your bean patch.  For more information North Carolina State has an informative flyer about the Mexican bean beetle.

Wishing you a Mexican bean beetle free year!  Happy Gardening!

A Beautiful and Edible Landscape-A Guest Post by Joshua Fuder

Herbs and shallots among evergreens and annuals.

Many of us have community areas of our gardens.  Those spaces can give us an opportunity to show how people can incorporate food crops in a home landscape.  This week our guest blogger, Joshua Fuder, gives us some ways to do this.  Josh writes:

During a vacation in France last year I had an awakening of sorts in terms of my philosophy on garden design and plant selection. A number of the gardens and public parks that we visited incorporated vegetables like Swiss chard and kale in with annual flower plantings. As an avid gardener and even more avid eater I wondered why I wouldn’t incorporate more vegetables and herbs into more traditional ornamental plantings. I’ve always appreciated the beauty of the edible plants but never considered their value in an ornamental sense.

Gardeners in Georgia might consider incorporating edibles for a number of reasons:

  • Sun Exposure-Ornamental beds are often the best or only location in homeowners yards that
    A Beautiful and Edible Landscape
    Rosemary, sage, and shallots among evergreens and annuals.

    receive sufficient (at least 6 hours) sunlight for vegetables and herbs.

  • Convenience-Ornamental plantings are often close to the areas of the yard that we use most so if your edibles are incorporated you may find using fresh ingredients easier. It is also easier to stay on top of weeds and insect issues if you are visiting the area more frequently.
  • Reduced Grocery Costs – Many edibles, especially herbs can add to your monthly food bills if you buy from grocery stores.
  • Improved Health – Fresh vegetables are a great source of vitamins and minerals when properly prepared and gardening can be great exercise.

The key to creating a visually appealing edible landscape is the artful combination of annuals and perennials. Most edibles are going to substitute for the use of annuals but there are some options for shrubs, vines, and small trees.

A Beautiful and Edible Landscape
Golden purslane under lilies and dahlias mixed with shallots.

Annual Color: Rainbow chard, purple mustard, kale, lettuce can all add dramatic affect with their foliage and mid-rib color variation. Calendula and nasturtium are both edible flowers that can add color to salads and nasturtium leaves can be used in pesto. Basil comes in many varieties and colors, consider the dwarf boxwood variety to create more formal lines. Taller plants like corn, okra, and Jerusalem artichokes can be planted at the back of a garden to create height and screening.

Groundcover: Thyme, oregano, and savory make great evergreen ground covers. Goldberg Golden Purslane and New Zealand spinach (or tetragonia) have succulent leaves and a sprawling growth habit. Strawberries will also sprawl out and cover an area as well.

Shrubs and Perennials: Blueberries have become a major cash crop in Georgia but are beautiful plants that have spring flowers, summer fruit and fall color. Pomegranate, figs and jujubes are all great plants that grow well in our area. American Hazelnut is deciduous shrub/small tree that grows well in our area. Rosemary is a great addition with its evergreen, needle-like foliage. Garden sage is also evergreen and has a wonderful softness to its leaves like a ‘dusty miller’ or lambs ear.

Edible Vines and Climbers: Structures like arbors and trellises are a great way to add interest in your

A Beautiful and Edible Landscape
Jerusalem artichokes in back – herbs and shallots in front

garden and there are some great substitutions for the climbing rose or clematis you may have in mind. Muscadines are extremely hardy and have few problems compared to many of the bunch grapes. If you want an annual plant that is easier to control you can consider Malabar spinach which has delicious greens and beautiful red stems. There are all types of beans that will grow rapidly and cover a structure. The Chinese Red Noodle bean will produce one to three foot long burgundy beans that will amaze.

Trees: Apples are well suited for northern Georgia and can maximize a small space with a few espaliered trees. The serviceberry (juneberry) is a great alternative to a crapemyrtle and the birds will love it. Mulberries are delicious and very easy to grow, just make sure they are planted in an area where you won’t mind a mess. ‘Montmorency’ and ‘Balaton’ are varieties of Pie or ‘sour’ cherries that are great small trees that perform well in our area as well.

Joshua Fuder is a UGA Extension agent in Cherokee County, Georgia.  Joshua has grown many different types of fruits and vegetables.  He grew vanilla, coffee, pineapple, and black pepper while serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Vanuatu (an island nation in the South Pacific).

Happy Gardening!


Pollinator Week 2015

Pollinator Week 2015Welcome to Pollinator Week 2015!

This is a great opportunity for your gardeners to reflect on the role of pollinators and their role in your food production.

If you are getting flowers from your cucumbers or squash plants but no fruit – you NEED pollinators.  Even plants like tomatoes and beans that are self-pollinating can benefit from pollinators.

If the homeowners around your garden use pesticides, your garden can suffer.  If your garden is part of a park do you know the pesticide program of the grounds maintenance crew?

This pollinator week I challenge you to plan something for the pollinators.  Need ideas?

  • Educate property owners around your garden about pesticides
  • Add plants in your garden to attract pollinators, especially plants that bloom in late summer
  • Educate yourself about the different types of bees, honey bees and native bees, and their habitat needs
  • Investigate becoming a Certified Pollinator Garden or a Monarch Waystation
  • Plan a story time for children using books about pollinators
  • Host a local beekeeper at your garden to learn about honey bees in your area
  • Contact your local UGA Extension office to see if they have any special events planned around Pollinator Week
  • Become familiar with the Georgia State Pollinator Protection Plan


Pollinator Week 2015
A clump of pollinator plants in the Cherokee County Senior Center Garden

Happy Gardening!

Harvesting Garlic from Your Georgia Garden

Harvesting Garlic

If you planted your garlic in the fall it is probably about harvest time for you.  Here are 5 easy steps for aHarvesting Garlic from Your Georgia Garden successful harvest:

Harvesting Garlic from Your Georgia Garden
Carefully dig out the garlic bulbs!

Step #1 Harvest at the right time.  Look for the garlic tops to start turning yellow.  When they start to fall over it is time to harvest.  Don’t wait until the tops are totally dry.

Step #2  Discontinue watering a week or so before harvesting to give the garlic bulbs a chance to dry out.

Step #3 Don’t pull the bulbs out by the tops (leaves) but gently dig them out using a garden fork.  Be very careful not to puncture the bulbs.

Harvesting Garlic from Your Georgia Garden
After the garlic has dried cut off the roots and leaves.

Step #4 Brush off the soil and let them air dry in a shady, dry spot for a couple of

weeks.  Many gardeners use the leaves  to hang the garlic up to dry.  Stay away from humidity.  Hard to do in a Georgia summer, I know.

Step #5  Once the bulbs are dry remove the leaves and trim off any roots.  Brush off any dirt, keeping the wrappers in tact.

Bonus Step  Start planning those delicious garlic dinner dishes!

For more information on growing, harvesting, and storing garlic see UGA’s Garlic Production for the Gardener.  Your UGA Extension agent also has answers to all of your vegetable gardening questions.

Happy Harvesting!