Strawberries in the Georgia Community or School Garden? You bet!

Strawberries can be a welcome addition to the Georgia community or school garden.  And, spring is the time to plant!

StrawberriesTraditionally in north Georgia strawberries are grown in a matted row system where initial plants are set two feet apart at spring planting.  That summer the runners are allowed to fill in the rest of the bed.  This set up is perfect for raised beds or bed plots.

Treat your strawberry bed as a perennial bed.  You will need an area that is in full sun and contains well drained soil.  Avoid planting where you have been growing peppers, tomatoes, or potatoes.  These plants are susceptible to verticillium wilt and so are strawberries. The UGA publication Home Garden Strawberries is a great resource.

Varieties of Strawberries

Varieties recommended for early fruiting for north and middle Georgia are Earliglow, Sweet Charlie, and Delmarva. For south Georgia look for Chandler, Camarosa, and Sweet Charlie.  Early season varieties are best for school gardens as you should get fruit before school lets out for the summer.  

For mid-season fruiting look for Allstar.  Purchase plants that appear to be disease-free from a reputable supplier.  This can be a local store or a mail order supplier.   You will probably have more varieties to choose from if you use a mail order supplier.

The placement of the plant crown is very important. Picture from Home Grown Strawberries by UGA.

Care of Strawberries

The most important part of planting strawberries is the placement of the crown.  The top of the crown needs to be above the soil line.  Otherwise, you will probably have rot.  Set the plants two feet from the bed edge and from each other.  Remember, runners will fill in.  Remove flowers the first year to encourage more blossoms, and fruit, next year.

Weeds are the number one problem with strawberry plants.  Mulch between plants and use hand pulling or hoeing to remove stubborn weeds.  Strawberries need 1 to 1 1/2 inches of water a week.

Birds and rodents love strawberries as much as we do.  Raised beds deter rodents.  Some gardeners use netting.  A problem with netting is birds and small animals getting caught in the net.   Some gardeners report success with loosely hanging aluminum pie pans around the beds to deter birds.  The best practice is to pick the fruit as soon as it is ripe, before other hungry eaters find it.

During the second spring, after you have picked all of your berries, get ready for next year.  By this point runners have filled in and if you don’t thin the bed you will have too many plants for that area.  You need to get rid of about two-thirds of the plants in order to have healthy plants for next year.  Pot up the extras and have a fund raising plant sale!

As always your local UGA Extension agent is a great resource for you.

Happy Gardening!

 

 

 

Happy Arbor Day, Georgia!

ArborDayLogoNationally, Americans recognize Arbor Day in April.  Georgia celebrates Arbor Day on the third Friday of February each year because this is a better time to plant trees.  By planting in February,  trees have time for root growth before the heat and drought of our summer months.

Have you considered fruit trees in your community garden?  They add a nice backdrop to your garden, can provide a bit of shade during the very hot summer days, and produce fruit for the gardeners.

Be warned, however, that they can be a lot of work.  There are a few points to think about before you decide if you want to plant fruit trees in your community garden:

1.  You need the right location.  When planning fruit trees for the limited space of a community garden, location is the key.  Fruit trees require at least six hours of sunlight to be healthy and to produce fruit.  Eight to ten hours of sun is optimal.  Also, although the shade a fruit tree provides during  August may be welcome, you do not want to create unwanted shade on vegetable plots.  Dwarf trees may be an answer here.  They are also easier to care for than full sized trees.  Remember what you plant will get bigger and taller!

An apple tree in the Green Meadows Preserve Community Garden.
An apple tree in the Green Meadows Preserve Community Garden.

2. Maintenance.  Realize that fruit trees involve more care than vegetables.  They may need to be properly pruned, thinned and fertilized regularly.  Apples, peaches, and plums will get diseases and insects in Georgia.  Someone will need to volunteer to address this by the use of pesticides, fungicides, and traps.  If your garden does not allow any pesticides, growing traditional fruit trees such as apples, pears, and peaches may not be for you.  Instead, you may want to try other fruit crops such as blueberries and figs.  David Berle and Robert Westerfield’s publication Growing Fruits: Community and School Gardens does a great job of discussing these issues.

3.  You may need more than one.  Many trees need cross-pollination to produce fruit.  You will need at least two different apple trees and depending on the variety you might need two different pear or plum trees.  Most peach trees self-pollinate so one will still produce fruit.

If these points haven’t scared you off check out these publications:

Home Garden Pears by Gerard Krewer and Paul Bertrand

Plums for Georgia Home Gardens by Kathryn C. Taylor

Home Garden Apples by David Lockwood

Contact your UGA Extension agent for more information.  He/she can direct you to cultivars that would be appropriate for your level of commitment and your climate.

Happy Arbor Day!

 

 

Planting Blueberries in the Georgia Garden

Blueberries About to Ripen
Blueberries About to Ripen

Blueberries are a tasty addition to any community garden.  The fruit is high in antioxidants,  and the plants are easy to manage.  Fall is a great time to get them in the garden.

Since blueberry bushes are perennials shrubs, it is advantageous to plant them in a community part of the garden.  Along a fence that gets plenty of sun is a possible spot.  This way no one is taking up permanent plot space with the bushes and everyone can enjoy the fruit. D. S. NeSmith, a research horticulturist from UGA, has a great publication on Home Garden Blueberries.

For community gardeners the best type of blueberries to plant is the rabbiteye type.  The most important thing to know about growing rabbiteye blueberries is that you need to plant more than one variety for cross-pollination. If you choose your varieties from slightly different ripening times, you will have a longer harvest.  For early season rabbiteyes look for Alapaha, Climax, Premier, Vernon, or Titan.  For mid-season types try  Brightwell, Powerblue, or Tifblue.  Ochlockonee, Baldwin, and Centurion are all late season varieties.  Titan was released in 2011 and it is the largest fruited rabbiteye variety available to date.   Vernon also has large fruit.

Blueberries along a community garden fence.
Blueberries along a community garden fence.

Choose a planting site that gets at least a half-day of sun.  Anything less and the plants may grow but you won’t get a large amount of fruit.  Blueberries like our typical acidic soil and need a soil pH of 4.5 to 5.2.    The standard spacing for rabbiteyes is 5 – 6 feet between plants as they can get large.   Before planting till the soil deeply, 8 to 12 inches, and make sure your site doesn’t tend to stay wet.  The best time to plant is in the fall through the very early spring. This gives time for the roots to develop before the heat of the summer.  Mulch will be needed and it is important to keep weeds and grass away from the plants.  Your local UGA Extension Agent can answer any questions you have about blueberry planting.

If you are interested in incorporating blueberry bushes into your community garden do some planning before you plant.

Is the entire community interested in blueberries?  What is the best site?  Who will care for them?  How you will divide the fruit?  Remember that deciding these things early prevents problems later on.

Happy Gardening!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bountiful Blueberries

Blueberries About to Ripen
Blueberries About to Ripen

This is a good blueberry year.  The rain we had in the early spring and the cold winter temperatures helped make the berries plump and delicious.  They are fun to snack on as you work in the garden and fun to take home for later.

Many gardeners are frustrated when the birds get to the berries first.  One recommendation is to put netting over the plants.  This is not a perfect solution as it makes it hard for you to harvest the blueberries.  And, it is extremely sad to deal with a bird caught in netting.  Some gardeners tie aluminum pie pans to the bushes.  The sun reflecting off of the pan and movement of the pans with wind can help deter birds.   Experienced gardeners will advise to just keep the bushes picked.  As soon as the berries are ripe harvest them; don’t leave the blueberries on the bushes ripe for very long.  This seems to be an invitation for birds.

Now that you have an abundance of delicious berries what can you do?

Best defense against the birds - keep the blueberry bushes picked!
Best defense against the birds – keep the blueberry bushes picked!

To store them frozen, freeze them in a single layer on a cookie sheet.  After they have frozen, pack the berries in containers or freezer-type plastic bags and return them to the freezer.  You can take them out of the containers a few at a time.   Wash the berries just before you use them.  This way you can enjoy blueberry muffins and cobblers all winter!  You can also put up some blueberry jam.  Canning supplies are found in some big box stores as well as many local hardware stores.   Preserving Food: Jams and Jellies has great information for the beginning jam maker, including a berry jam recipe.

For summer eating, nothing is as good as a Blueberry Crisp.  This recipe is from a Cobb County Master Gardener Volunteer, Beth St. Jean, and is published in Farm to Table which is a collection of recipes from the Master Gardeners of Cobb County.  It is the perfect use for blueberries!

Blueberry Crisp

  • 3 T all-purpose flour
  • 2 T granulated sugar
  • 6 cups fresh blueberries
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cups quick-cooking oats
  • 1  1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Stir together in a large bowl the flour and sugar.  Gently toss in blueberries and lemon juice.  Spread berry mixture in bottom of ungreased baking dish.  Set aside.  To prepare the topping, combine brown sugar, flour, oats, and cinnamon.  Cut in the butter with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Sprinkle mixture evenly over the berry mixture.  Bake uncovered for 30 minutes or until top is golden brown and edges are bubbly.  After cooling for 45 minutes, may be served with ice cream on top!

If you don’t have blueberries in your community garden yet, we will discuss how to do that in a later post closer to the appropriate planting time.  Meanwhile, know that your local UGA Extension Agent can help you with any blueberry plant questions or problems.

Happy Gardening!