Plant Reproduction Basics

To better understand how we can ensure that the seeds we collect will result in the plants that we want, let’s go back to high school biology and review plant reproduction basics!

The male parts of the flower are called the staman, made up of the anther and filament.  The pollen sits on the anther waiting to be moved to the female part of the same or a different flower.

The female part of the flower are called the carpel made up of the stigma, style and ovary.  Pollen lands on the stigma (this is pollination) moves down the style to find an ovule in the ovary (this is fertilization).

Some pollen is light and is presented on high anthers.  Wind moves this pollen to female flowers and corn is a wonderful example.  Some pollen is very sticky and needs an insect or other agent to move it to female flowers.  This is true of goldenrod.

Describes pollination and fertilization
This visual explains pollination and fertilization.

Is this starting to sound familiar?  This is very basic and plants have evolved many tricks to make their pollen more available for pollination.  Some plants have evolved with specific insect pollinators.  Flowers, you may know, exist to assist the pollinator in finding the pollen.  To a bee’s eyes some petals seem to have landing stripes leading straight to the pollen and nectar. It is a fascinating topic!  The Community Seed Network has information on a few different pollination types.

For our purposes this basic model will work.  Next time we will look at plant types:  hybrid vs. open pollination.

Happy Gardening!

Increase Your School Garden Scope by Saving Seeds

School gardens routinely grow food crops, create pollinator habitat, and even replicate historic gardens. They are an integral part of school curriculum used to teach botany, math, nutrition, history, literature and even geography.  However, the one area lacking in the hundreds of school gardens that I have visited is seed saving. Seed saving can be an important horticultural part of the garden as well as an additional avenue for tying the garden to school curriculum. With a bit of botany background, proper seed saving is not difficult and will be a fun part of your garden!

Bean seed

Until modern times seed collecting was the only way a gardener had seed for the next year. Seed was shared with neighbors and passed down from generation to generation (heirloom seeds). Seeds were taken across oceans and over the American prairie and they are an important part of our agricultural history.  Your students may have heirloom seeds stories to share.  In my area of Southern Appalachia seed saving is part of many family heritages.

Seeds 101

Bean seed

Hybrid plants are not appropriate for seed saving. They are bred to amplify a certain trait such as disease resistance or larger fruit and are produced by cross-breeding two plants with different genetics.  Tomatoes are a great example.  Most of the tomatoes grown in backyards are hybrid tomatoes with names like Better Boy and Early Girl.  Although these varieties produce delicious tomatoes, they are not appropriate for seed saving.

Hybrid plants produce seeds that are genetically unreliable or not true-to-type. These seeds are undesirable for seed saving.

Open-pollinated plants are the type of plants we want for seed collecting.  They are pollinated naturally and will produce seeds that are true-to-type if they are isolated from other varieties. So, it is important for the school gardener to choose only one variety of the seed producing plant.  For example, do not plant Calypso beans in the same area as Hidatsa beans.  They could possibly cross-pollinate resulting in seeds not true-to-type.  A garden of only Calypso beans will produce true Calypso bean seed! Larger gardens follow the recommended isolation distance for seed saving for most beans that is 10-20 feet.

With the smaller space of a school garden, it is best to choose one variety of the seed producing plant type for seed saving.

SEED SAVING AND YOUR SCHOOL CURRICULUM

Lesson ideas are numerous:

  • Pollination – what exactly is pollination and fertilization
  • Pollinators – how is pollen spread
  • History – heirloom seeds
  • Geography – how did crops spread around the world
  • Math – how many seeds produced per plant/fruit/bean pod
  • Genetics – Hybrid plants and gene traits
  • Cultural Studies – choose plants with cultural significance such as Chinese long beans or tomatillos
  • Literature – research how seeds came from Europe and Africa to become part of our agricultural system

Seed Savers has a website full of seed collecting information. Your local land grant Cooperative Extension office can assist you in choosing varieties of plants that will work well for seed saving and will grow well in your area.  Over the next several weeks we will explore seed collecting in more detail so grab your seed catalogs and start planning your spring seed collecting garden.

Garlic Planting Step-by-Step

Late October is prime garlic planting time for the Atlanta area.  The bulbs overwinter in the garden and are harvested in the spring.  If you don’t traditionally plant winter crops, garlic is a great one to start with.

Garlic (Allium sativum) is a member of the onion family.  Its use dates back to 4000 BC in central Asia.  According to Seed Savers Exchange garlic was found in King Tut’s tomb, eaten by Olympic athletes, and used as medicine by Hippocrates.  There are over 600 types of garlic grown all over the world.   Why not give it a try?

There are two basic categories of garlic:  hard-necked and soft-necked.  Georgians have better luck growing soft-necked garlic as the hard-necked ones require the long, cold winters and long, cool springs of more northern climates.  There are three types of soft-necked garlic that grow well in Georgia:  silverskin, artichoke, and elephant garlic (actually a type of leek).  Recommended cultivars include Inchelium Red, California Early, and Chet’s Italian – all artichoke types.  If you want to try the silverskin type consider Mild French.

Garlic Production for the Gardener is a useful publication on the types of garlic, planting, and harvesting.  Planting involves just a few simple steps.  Your local UGA Extension Agent will also have information to help you get started.

Garlic D

Step 1:  Start with prepared soil.  Garlic needs rich, loose soil with a pH of about 6.5.  Make sure you add some compost after removing the summer plants; don’t just pull up spent plants and put the garlic in the ground.   If soil test results indicate adding fertilizer, do so.  Garlic is a medium-heavy feeder.  Nitrogen can be incorporated in the soil before planting, either with traditional fertilizers or bone meal.  Side dress in the spring when shoots are 4 to 6 inches tall.  Hold off on nitrogen after April 1st because you want to encourage bulb formation not leaf growth.

Garlic A

Step 2:  Pull the garlic head apart just before you plant.  Use the larger bulbs for best results.  Also, leave the skin on the bulb.

Garlic C

Step 3:  Plant the bulbs about 2 inches deep with the pointed end up.  Space them about 6-8 inches apart.

Garlic Mulch

Step 4:  Be generous with mulch.  A generous amount of  mulch helps keep the soil moisture and soil temperatures even.

Tops may show through the mulch by the end of  October and the bulbs should be well rooted by November.   Since October is one of our driest months of the year, irrigation is important at planting.  Watering may be needed in early spring, but be careful not to over water.  Stop irrigation once the tops begin to dry and fall over.

Garlic should be ready for harvest between mid-May to mid-July.  Look for the tops drying and following over.  When 1/2 of the tops are in this condition it is time to harvest.  Don’t leave the bulbs in the ground too long or they may rot.  Be very careful when harvesting not to damage your crop.

Allow the heads to dry in a warm, dry place.  Keep them out of direct sunlight.  After the garlic has dried store it in a cool, dry, dark place to keep it fresh as long as possible.  Garlic braiding is a unique way of storage.

A community garden plot can yield a year’s worth of garlic so you’ll be able to enjoy those delicious Italian meals all year long.  Garlic bread, calazones, tomato sauce, garlic chicken….

Happy Gardening and Mangiate bene!

Monarchs Migrate Through Georgia

It is the time of the year when Georgians look to the sky to watch for signs of Monarch migration. These butterflies are on their way to the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico to overwinter on the oyamel fir trees of the area. The fir trees provide the perfect climate with a combination of optimal temperature and humidity to ensure the butterflies survive the winter. It is amazing to realize that this super-generation of migrating butterflies endure the hazards of the trip to go to a place that they have never been before.

Fall Monarch Migration Routes  Source:  USGS National Atlas

Reports around Georgia are that Monarch populations are high. A poll taken of insect enthusiasts showed that 83% have seen Monarchs heading south this year. Thirty percent of the respondents indicated that they are seeing a higher number of Monarchs than last year. This is terrific news as Monarch population numbers have been inconsistent over the last several seasons.

To increase the chances of seeing this phenomenon and to assist the butterflies create a fall migration garden. Monarchs will descend from their high migration path looking for food resources. Research shows that migrating butterflies respond to tall flowers that are easily accessible. Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum), goldenrod (Solidago spp.) and Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) are all proven Monarch attractors in the fall. Several of our fall-blooming native aster plants (Aster spp.) are perfect for these butterflies as well. The butterflies do not need milkweed (Ascelpias spp.), their larval host plant, at this time of the year. But be sure to include milkweed in your summer butterfly garden.

To follow the Monarch migration and to report your butterfly populations visit Journey North (https://journeynorth.org/monarchs). This organization has tabulated the reports of citizen scientists for many years and is a great resource for school groups. Monarch Watch (https://www.monarchwatch.org) provides online information for learning about these insects and their habitat needs. Contact your local UGA Cooperative Extension agent for more information about butterfly gardening and habitat building. If you miss seeing the fall migration spend time getting your garden ready for the Monarch return in the spring!

Happy Butterfly Watching!

Serve Squash Year-Round – A Guest Post from Bob Westerfield

October is Farm to School Month and this year Georgia is celebrating with Oh My Squash! You can visit the project webpage for more information on how to participate. Many of you may be growing a late crop of squash for this campaign so I thought it was worth reposting Bob Westerfield’s article on growing squash. He is a UGA horticulturalist and our go-to guy for vegetable production.   Bob writes:

To most Southern gardeners, fried yellow squash or grilled zucchini are staples on the table during the summer. Serving up home grown winter squash in the fall is worthy of bragging rights.

While normally easy to grow, the endless choice of varieties and numerous garden pests have made growing squash a little more challenging. Squash come in an endless assortment of shapes, sizes and colors. Choosing the right variety can seem daunting. The squash vine borer, a persistent pest, has caused some gardeners to give up on growing squash.

Read moreServe Squash Year-Round – A Guest Post from Bob Westerfield

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 2020. 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!

A Look at Victory Gardens for July the 4th

Around the July 4th holiday it is fun to think about our collective American history.  Gardens have always been a part of that. The Victory Garden movement during World War II is fascinating.

A Look at Victory Gardens

A shortage of farm labor developed during World War II that made it difficult to get crops harvested.  Add to that the gasoline and rubber shortages which made it difficult to get the crops to the market.  In response the US government started promoting Victory Gardens, encouraging people in more urban environments to grow food crops.

It is estimated that 20 million Americans did their gardening duty and produced 9-10 million tons of food.  This equated to roughly half the vegetables grown in the US at that time.  This initiative also freed up canned goods for the troops.

Schools even got involved creating school Victory Gardens.

A Look at Victory Gardens
A school Victory Garden in New York. Photo from the Library of Congress.

Businesses jumped on board this promotion.  One popular Coca-Cola advertisement stated, “There is a Victory Garden in almost every back yard this summer, growing food and vitamins for the family.  The owners are so proud of their vegetables as of their specimen roses or dahlias.  Friends in work clothes come over to admire and compare crops.  They eat tomatoes right off the vine and crunch carrots fresh from the earth.”  The advertisement goes on to say that serving Coca-Cola is the correct hospitality in a Victory Garden.

The US government encouraged Victory Gardens during World War I as well but the movement wasn’t as massive.  This Department of Agriculture and Commerce promotion from that time is almost comical.  Who is this woman suppose to be?  Notice the expression on her face and her very toned arms. Who gardens in sandals?   She is going to have alot of thinning to do if all those seeds germinate.

 

A Look at Victory Gardens

I would like to have a copy of the books advertised at the bottom of the poster:  Write to the National War Garden Commission ~Washington, D.C. for free books on gardening, canning, and drying.

After World War II the interest in home vegetable gardening waned.  It seems people were interested in peacetime activities and conveniences, including purchasing vegetables at the market.

Vegetable gardening is a large part of our American heritage.  From colonial kitchens to victory/war gardens to community gardens to a garden at the White House.  It is great to be a part of it.

Happy  4th of July!

Making Fresh Strawberry Jam – A Guest Post by Cindee Sweda

Making Fresh Strawberry Jam - A Guest Post by Cindee Sweda
Making Fresh Strawberry Jam - A Guest Post by Cindee Sweda
Start with fresh, ripe fruit.

Several of you have asked me to re-run this post about making strawberry jam.  The strawberries are plentiful around Georgia this year and I made jam myself this weekend.  Actually, Cindee says what I make is really spreadable fruit because I don’t use pectin.  Cindee is the expert.   Enjoy your strawberry crop and have fun making jam!

Read moreMaking Fresh Strawberry Jam – A Guest Post by Cindee Sweda

Give Growing Cucumbers a Try

Fresh slicing cucumbers are a favorite summer crop.   Extension Horticulturist, Robert Westerfield, has written a helpful circular called “Growing Cucumbers in the Home Garden” that will get you started.

Slicing cucumbers may have long vines.  With proper planning, and a few tips, you can have manage cucumber vines in the community garden.  There are a few cultivars that are bush-type cultivars, meaning they won’t take as much space.  Salad Bush Hybrid is advertised to take up about 1/3rd the area of a traditional vining cucumber.  Bush Crop and Fanfare are also commonly grown bush cucumbers.  Realize that they will still have some vines.

Cucumber vines can be managed.
Cucumber vines can be managed.

If you want to try the vining cultivars you can stake or trellis them.  Wire-grid growing panels are perfect for cucumbers.  Or, recycle a portion of fencing. Trellising cucumbers has the added advantage of getting the fruit off of the ground which helps prevent fruit rots.  This also allows for increased air flow around the plant leaves which may cut down on disease problems.  Be conscientious of your fellow gardeners by not creating unwanted shade for your neighbor with your trellis.

Depending on how large your cucumber fruit matures, it may need support on the trellis.  Old panty hose or onion bags are perfect for this.  As the fruit becomes big, gently cup the cucumber in the hose or onion bag and tie it to the trellis.  Be careful not to bruise the fruit or tear it from the vine.  Burpless hybrid, Straight Eight, Sweet Success, Sweet Slice, Diva, and Marketmore 76 are good vining cultivars for Georgia.

Community gardeners list past poor fruit quality as a reason not to grow cucumbers.  If you know a bit about the biology of the cucumber plant you might have better success.  Cucumbers have two kinds of flowers.  They have male (staminate) and female (pistillate) flowers.  Staminate flowers do not bear fruit. Bees move pollen from staminate (male)  flowers to the

No summer salad is complete without a crisp, fresh cucumber!
No summer salad is complete without a crisp, fresh cucumber!

pistillate flowers for pollination and subsequent fruit production.  This means if you, or your fellow gardeners, are using broad-spectrum insecticides you may be reducing the quality and quantity of your cucumbers by killing possible pollinators.  It is possible to hand pollinate cucumbers if you see few bees.

You may have heard of gynoecious cucumbers. These produce mostly female flowers.  They often have a heavier yield because of the increased number of female flowers. I’ve seen posts around the web suggesting that the few male flowers be removed.  Don’t do that!   It takes male and female cucumber flowers to make fruit!  General Lee and Calypso are two gynoecious types worth a try.

Be bold and try cucumber planting.  Your salads will be the better for it!  For more information on growing cucumbers with success contact your local UGA Extension Agent.

Happy Gardening!