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!

 

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!

Avoid Heat Stress in the Georgia Community Garden

I have gotten some requests to repost this information about heat stress. It is definitely summer in Georgia so we all need to take care.

Summer heat can be dangerous, especially with the heat and humidity we are experiencing this summer.   We went to a professional to get tips on how to stay safe in a hot, humid Georgia garden.

Heat Stress in the Georgia Community Garden
The Weather Channel knows heat!

Millard Griffin is a Certified Safety Professional with Environmental Resources Management (ERM).  He has vast experience dealing with heat related issues on environmental projects from the Florida Everglades to the Gulf Coast of Louisiana.  He knows heat and humidity.

Heat stress is a real concern for those working in the garden.  Especially for those of us who aren’t out there every day.  Heat stress is defined as any situation where the human body is unable to cool itself by sweating.  This can lead to several conditions including heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke (a medical emergency).

Tips to Prevent Heat Stress

To prevent these conditions Mr. Griffin gives us the following tips:

  • Acclimatize to the heat.  Work a limited amount of time outdoors and gradually increase your amount of time in the heat.
  • Avoid the high heat periods of the day.  Get your work done early in the morning or late in the day.   Avoid the hours between 2 and 6 as the heat loads are typically higher during these hours.
  • Take frequent breaks in a cool area.  Taking breaks in an air conditioned area is preferable but, a shady area will work.
  • Limit exposure to direct sunlight when possible.  Plan your workday to take advantage of shaded areas.
  • Drink plenty of water.  Take a water break at least every hour, drinking cool water.  Also, drink water before working in the garden.  Hydration is key.
  • Avoid caffeinated beverages and alcohol.  These are diuretics and cause your body to lose water.
  • Wear light colored, loose fitting clothing and a hat.  Certainly use sunscreen to protect against UV rays on all exposed skin.
Heat Stress in the Georgia Community Garden
Work in shade whenever possible.

Monitor Yourself

It is preferable to work with another gardener so you can monitor each other.  If you notice extreme sweating, dizziness, nausea, or muscle cramps STOP WORKING.   Head indoors, hydrate and cool down.

Certain people are more susceptible to heat stress – the elderly, children, pregnant women, and people who have just moved here from a cooler climate.  Certain medications can also make someone more prone to heat stress.   Mr. Griffin recommends checking with your doctor if you take medications.

Knowing this information will help keep you safe in the Georgia summer heat and make your gardening experience a more pleasurable one.

Remember georgiaweather.net is a wonderful resource for weather information.

Thanks Mr. Griffin for the tips!  Stay safe and

Happy Gardening!

 

 

The Great Georgia Pollinator Census August 2019

August 23rd and 24th of 2019, citizens of Georgia will be conducting the first ever statewide pollinator census. This includes YOU if you live in Georgia! You will want to be a part of pollinator history!

We have been working towards this project for some time and even though it is still 14 months away, we want to make sure that every Georgia citizen has the date marked on their 2019 calendar. We have already been asked a few questions so I wanted to answer those most frequently asked:

What is the Great Georgia Pollinator Census? The Great Georgia Pollinator Census is a statewide project where all Georgia citizens will be asked to count pollinators on either August 23rd or 24th of 2019. Training and all supporting information will be provided through the website, https://GGaPC.org, closer to the August 2019 date.

How will it work? Each citizen scientist (YOU) will choose a favorite pollinator plant that is blooming in their garden for counting. You will count all the insects that land on that plant during a 15-minute period. After you tally the counts, you will upload your data to the webpage. Very simple. The data will be used for researchers to see a snapshot of which pollinators are at work in Georgia on those dates.

Do I have to be an entomologist to participate? NO, definitely NOT. We will be asking you to place the insects you see into one of eight categories:

Carpenter bees
Bumble bees
Small bees
Honey bees
Wasps
Flies
Butterflies
Other insects

The online training, conducted and posted online in 2019, will teach you how to tell the difference between flies, bees, and wasps. We will give you the tools to understand the basic skills needed to place insects in the categories. It will be very simple and straightforward. Of course, we will be available for any questions.

Can school groups participate? ABSOLUTELY! One of the reasons for the August date is to make sure school groups do participate. We will have lesson plans available for teachers use. We have conducted smaller censuses and school groups have really enjoyed the activities. The teachers can tie the census to their STEM activities.

If you are a teacher and have a lesson plan on pollinators that you want to share we would love to put the plan on our website and to feature you on upcoming social media. Just email me at beckygri@uga.edu to submit a lesson or for more information.

What about families? Can my small family participate? OF COURSE. The census is set up so that individuals can count in their gardens.

Will groups be holding special events around the census? YES, the State Botanical Garden in Athens and the Coastal Botanical Garden in Savannah have already started planning special events. Other gardens will follow. Also, contact your local UGA Extension office to see what they have planned.

Starting in January 2019 we will have supporting social media so that as you get ready for the census you will have fun, and educational, snippets to use in classrooms or in family discussions.

Why are you announcing the census so early? So that everyone can mark those dates on their calendars. And, it gives those who don’t have a pollinator garden time to design and plant one! (https://ugaurganag.com/pollinators)

What can we do now to get ready for the census? Plan and plant a pollinator garden, check the webpage and bookmark it (https://GGaPC.org), and contact me at beckygri@uga.edu if you have any questions.

Be part of Georgia pollinator history. Mark your calendar! Happy Pollinator Week 2018!

Becky Griffin

Soil Temperatures in Your Georgia Garden

Soil Temperatures in Your Georgia Garden

With the recent warm temperatures it is easy to be seduced into planting your summer crops now.   It is tempting to plant our vegetable transplants and seeds; we can’t wait for that first juicy tomato are a crunch pepper!  Be aware that soil temperatures are very important for success with your early summer plantings.

Soil Temperatures in Your Georgia Garden
Pepper Seedlings

Soil temperatures need to be 60-65 degrees F and rising at the 4 inch soil depth before you plant your summer crops.

If you install a transplant too early the roots won’t grow and the plant will just be sitting in the soil.  If we have a large amount of rain, which seems to be the norm this year, your new plant will just be sitting in wet soil.  This could mean early disease issues.

This morning the Ballground weather station, near my home, indicated a 4-inch soil temperature of 54.6 degrees F. In Griffin the 4-inch soil temperature was 56.8 degrees F while Valdosta reported 63.5 degrees F.

If the soil temperatures are not warm enough for seed germination, early seed plantings could rot.

The roots need to be actively growing to absorb water and nutrients.

If we plant and fertilizer summer vegetables too early we will be wasting fertilizer.  The plant roots simply can’t absorb it.  This fertilizer could get washed away, wasting your time and money. Also, this leached fertilizer could be problematic for our watersheds.

Determine your soil temperatures.

To determine your soil temperature at the 4 inch depth visit www.georgiaweather.net.  Click on the station nearest your garden.  Or, you can see a summary of soil temperatures across the state.

Soil Temperatures in Your Georgia Garden
Newly planted tomatoes. Waiting until the soil temperatures are warm enough is one step to success for your summer garden.

Remember the rule of thumb is play it safe and wait!

Happy Gardening!

What You Need to Know About Aeroponic Tower Systems

Schools with limited outdoor space and teachers who are uncomfortable with traditional agriculture are turning to aeroponic tower systems to grow food for the classroom. Cobb County Cooperative Extension office has installed one of the systems in their office and have had a few harvests of leafy greens and herbs. I recently talked with Daniel Price, a Cobb Extension program assistant, about the system.

How the Tower System Works
Aeroponics are a subset of the older hydroponics. They both are soilless systems that rely on a nutrient water blend. As a college student, a long time ago, I worked in a hydroponics lab. The nutrients flowed continually around the plant roots in an open system. We were continually concerned about bacteria and viruses infecting the nutrient system. Things have changed with the updated aeroponics.

Rockwool seed germination cells.

In aeroponic tower systems seeds are germinated in a special media called rockwool. Once the seedlings grow a few true leaves they are moved to the tower system. Cobb County’s tower example has 20 plant spaces with an outer ring for plant support.

The inside of the tower system. Look at those roots!

The nutrient water blend is housed in a 20-gallon drum at the bottom of the tower. The blend is rained on the plant roots for 15 minutes per hour. The system is enclosed which helps limit contamination of the nutrient blend. Plant lights surround the tower and are on a timer. Basically once the system is set-up everything is automatic until you are ready to harvest. Daniel says that it takes 2-3 weeks from lettuce seedlings to a full harvest.

The tower garden does not take up much space.

Issues to Consider
*This tower system cost approximately $1,000. This included the hardware, seedling starter kit, pH tester, pH buffer, and a start pack of nutrients.

*Leaks are sometimes a problem if the tower is not on very even ground.

*The pH needs to be routinely monitored but if it falls out of the recommended range, it is not too difficult to adjust.

*Algae growth is common around the rockwell plug and most experts do not think it is a problem. It just looks concerning.

*This system does not totally eliminate pest and disease issues.

Cobb Extension personnel are happy with the system. They have enjoyed the harvests and have not had any serious issues. Although they have only grown leafy greens and herbs at this point, the plan is to expand the plant selections. Daniel uses the tower as a teaching tool and has held several classes about aeroponics. Cobb Extension encourages anyone who wants to see the system at work to visit their office.

Thanks, Daniel, for showing me around the aeroponics system!

Happy Gardening!

March 19th Hands-on School Garden Day

Georgia Ag Awareness Week is March 19th through March 23rd. Monday, the 19th, is Hands-on School Gardening Day, a day to showcase Georgia school gardens. How will you celebrate? Use social media, the local paper, or even email proclamations to let your administration and community know about your school garden. Plan a special garden workday. Or, give tours of the garden. Definitely plan something special.

I first worked with a school garden in the mid-1990s. At that time the garden was a beautiful space that the teachers used for outdoor reading time or inspiration for writing assignments. The garden itself wasn’t used for instruction. Times have changed. School gardens are now used to teach geography, math, history, literature and science.

Atlanta Academy elevates their garden due to lack of available land.

Food plots are used to teach basic agriculture and nutrition through harvest taste tests. Younger students explore sensory gardens. Older students use produce from their school gardens to learn marketing and business skills as they model farmers market sales. These garden spaces have become a major part of our school curriculum.

Due West Elementary School in Cobb County uses the garden to teach math!

Research papers prove the benefits of learning in an outdoor environment. Georgia’s Department of Education recognizes this with the agriculture focus for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) certification. The verdict is in – school gardens are good for our students.

On March 19th as you celebrate Hands-on School Garden day, take a moment to recognize the hard work that you put into the program. Share your photos with us on our UGA Community and School Garden Facebook page. We want to celebrate with you!

Happy Ag Week 2018!