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!

Indoor Seed Starting-Part Three

Now that your seeds have germinated the fun begins! When most of the seedlings have germinated and look strong, think about removing the top dome. You can do this gradually by placing it askew on the seed tray for a day or two before totally removing the top.

It is important to keep the light just above the seedlings and to move it as the seedlings grow. If the light is too far from the seedling, the seedling will become “leggy” as it grows towards the light.

Keep the light source close to the seedlings.

At this stage the seedlings are very fragile. When you need to add water, add it between the pellets. The flow of water can actually displace the seedling and/or damage the stem. Also watering from the bottom will help your roots grow longer. You want to avoid diseases such as damping off, so let the seedlings dry out before re-watering.

Fungus is your enemy here.

As the seedlings put on a few true leaves, they will outgrow the pellet and will need to be repotted in a larger pot with soil. After repotting you can keep them under the lights until the weather cooperates for transplanting in the garden.

As the seedlings get closer to that point, run your hand across the plants moving the stems slightly. The goal is to toughen the stems a bit so that they will be able to handle wind outdoors.

These seedlings are a bit leggy but they can still be good producers. Hardening-off is an important step.

When the weather is ready for transplanting you will need to harden off the transplants. If you take plants that have been living in a cozy, protected environment and move them into a place with full sun and wind they will suffer. You can avoid this by moving them out slowly. The first few days place them outside in the shade just for the day. Next, put them outside in the shade for the day and night. Then move them into full sun for a few hours. Finally, they are ready to be put in the ground. This type of hardening-off is the ideal way. You may not have all the time for all of these stages, but do the best you can. Your plants will reward you!

Happy Gardening!

Indoor Seed Starting – Part Two

All of this rain has me very excited about getting back to our seed starting project.

I have one note about seed starting media. If you choose to purchase bagged media for starting seeds indoors, do not choose something with fertilizer in the mix. This will be too strong for seedlings. There are plenty of bagged mixes specifically for seed starting so choose one of those.

We are ready to expand our pellets. Notice the seed pellets are fully expanded with no standing water:

Seed pellets are not too wet but moist all the way through.

Next, take a fork and open up the top a bit and fluff the media. I like to take this time to make sure that the moisture is uniform all the way through with no dry spots:

Fluff the planting media with a fork to ensure uniform moisture.

Now you are ready to plant your seeds. If you are mixing seed types in one tray, make sure that they will emerge and grow at about the same rate. I like to use plastic forceps to exactly place the seed where I want them. Some seeds, like lettuce and herbs, are very small and easily lost in the tray. Know how deeply to plant the seeds. Most of the ones you will probably plant just need to be lightly covered with the planting media.

Plastic forceps can be your best friend!

It is worth the effort to do some research on your seed types. For example, cilantro seeds don’t germinate easily when exposed directly to light. Also, there are some seeds that just do better planting directly into the soil, beans and corn are good examples.

At this point it is a great idea to label your seed tray. Sharpie markers on masking tape work well. The tape sticks to the tray but can be removed later. Do not be tempted to label the lid. You will be removing the lid later and you don’t want to forget the original orientation. Finally, put the lid on the tray, making sure it fits tightly.

Do not forget to label your seed trays.

Do not place your seed tray near a window and hope for the best. You will be disappointed. You will not get enough light for healthy seedlings and the temperature fluctuation at the window will be problematic.

Use a light system. The system does not have to be complicated. I have a light fixture with florescent bulbs attached to a structure with moveable chains. This setup was originally housed in a bathroom tub but it is now in my grown daughter’s bedroom. Very simple. You need the chain to move the light so it stays just above the seed tray. To produce robust seedlings you need the light no more than an inch or two above the tray. This will be imperative as the seeds germinate and grow.

If you are germinating seeds in a place that is reasonably warm you do not need a heating mat. Those were designed for outside greenhouses and places like Michigan. By using a heating mat when you don’t need one, you risk drying out your planting media.

So far this is pretty simple, right? If you have any questions or concerns you can comment or email me at beckygri@uga.edu. Send photos! Next week we will discuss seedling care.

Happy Seed Starting!

Indoor Seed Starting – Part One

Just flipping through one garden seed catalog I found 89 varieties of tomatoes, 21 varieties of cucumbers, 20 varieties of eggplant and 26 varieties of sweet peppers, including three types of lunchbox peppers. Compare that to the different types of vegetable plants that you would find at your big box retail store. Add some variety to your life and try starting your own seeds!

The rule of thumb is to start your warm-season seeds 6-8 weeks before planting time so over the next weeks we are going to explore indoor seed starting in-depth. For beginners, follow along with me as you start your first seeds. For seasoned seed-starting veterans, you may pick up a trick or two. I also encourage you to share your experience through the comments.

Let me begin by writing that there are many effective ways to start seeds indoors. I am going to share with you the way that I like to do it. I have been starting seeds indoors for decades and I have found a way that works best for me. You may find a different way that works best for you and that is terrific. I look forward to learning from you all as well.

To start, I like these re-useable plastic trays. They are easy to store and come in many sizes. I have friends who save their old plastic milk jugs and trim them down for seed starting; that works well for them.

These trays are easy to use for seed starting.

Any plastic trays MUST be disinfected before adding soil media and seed. I use a solution of 9-parts water to 1-part bleach. This step is important to eliminate any pathogens that have been overwintering on remaining soil particles. Starting with clean trays is an important step towards healthy seedlings. Don’t skip it.

These soil particles could hold pathogens. Disinfect those trays!

I like to use the peat moss discs for my planting media. As a bonus, the peat moss contains properties that discourage fungal growth. This helps prevent the disease damping off which is a real problem for seedlings.

The pellets expand with the addition of water.

These pellets are readily available and are easy to store. Add water and the pellets expand. I use warm water to create a favorable environment for the seeds. It is important here to not oversaturate the discs with too much water. Too dry is better for the seeds than too wet. Too wet means that the seeds could rot or disease will become a problem. You want the planting media to be just damp. If you can wring water out of the media, it is too wet. If this happens you can let the discs sit outside the tray for a few hours so that they can dry out a bit. You will get the hang of how much is too much as you practice.

Okay, gather your seed starting equipment, and play around with the pellets. Next week we will talk about planting the seeds.

Happy Gardening!

Is Your Garden a Winter Mess?

With the long-lasting cold winter temperatures and snow (snow!!) this winter how does your food garden look and can it be salvaged? According to Home Garden Vegetable Specialist, Bob Westerfield, we are better off just pulling up spent broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and leafy greens. Leaving them in the garden creates a harbor for disease and insect pests. Brussel sprouts is an exception. If your Brussel sprouts look good, you can leave them and they may still produce.

A mushy winter mess!

Since playing in the garden is limited consider soil testing now and making your Spring garden plan. You will be able to plant new cool-season plants soon enough!

Happy Gardening!

Save the Date(s)

There are many fantastic events planned for 2018 so mark your calendars and save these dates:

Plant Sales – now!
4-H groups and Master Gardener Extension Volunteers across the state are having plant sales. These sales feature high quality plants for reasonable prices. While picking out your plants, find out what classes and workshops are being offered this year. Contact your county Extension office for more details.

Hands-On School Garden Day (Part of Ag Week) – Monday, March 19th
To kick-off Georgia Ag Week, Hands-On School Garden Day will recognize the importance of school gardens. Plan a special workday in your garden or use the day to remind your administrators and community members about the importance of your school garden. What makes your school garden special? We would love to see photos! Post them on the UGA Community and School Garden Facebook Page!

Healthy Soil Festival – May 5th at Truly Living Well Farm
This year’s Healthy Soil Festival will have some special activities for teachers and those who work in school gardens. Stay tuned for more details!

American Community Garden Association Conference in Atlanta – September 14th-16th
This year’s conference is in Atlanta! More details will be coming but definitely put those dates on your calendar.

Great Georgia Pollinator Count – August 2019
In August of 2019 gardeners across the state will be counting pollinators as part of a year long campaign to promote best management practices in getting and keeping pollinators in your garden! You will want to be a part of this! Again, stay tuned for more information as we get closer to 2019.

Do you have an event to add? Let us know!

Happy Gardening!

Fresh Food Translates In Any Language

My daughter, Mady, moved to Lovere, Italy, in September. I asked her to give us an international perspective on fresh food and gardens for this week’s blog post. She writes….

I would like to begin by stating that I am in fact no way professionally qualified to educate you on the knowledge of plant life. I do not know when the best time to plant spinach is or what Botrytis and I’m only about 85% certain where the pistil is on any given flower. However there is one thing I feel very qualified to speak on: EATING GOOD FOOD.

Mady Griffin enjoys fresh, local food in Italy.

About three months ago I packed up my little room in Athens, Georgia and headed across the ocean to settle in a small town in the north of Italy to teach English for a year. I took as much as I could with me such as pictures of my family, books in English, and my classic Southern charm. However, one of the most important things I took was my something my mother gave me: An appreciation for well grown and well cooked food. An appreciation that Italians are crazy about.

I was lucky enough to get settled with a host family who have given me a good education on delicious cold cuts, cheeses, wines, and of course produce. Many products here like to guarantee you that they’ve been locally produced with local ingredients and if they have not they are quick to tell you where they came from. I have had cappuccinos made with milk from within an hour of where I live and we’ve had local cheeses, wines, chestnuts, and even a fresh rabbit from the farm of a family-friend. All of these were made into a variety of different delicious meals, but one particular part I want to write about is one of my new favorite meal traditions. The tradition of after-meal fruit. After grains, meats, salads, and before coffee we indulge in whatever fresh fruits my host mother has found at the store. These happen to be whatever fruit is in season to make sure what we’re eating is fresh and local. Since we’ve transitioned into fall I’ll highlight three of the fruits I’ve gotten to enjoy lately before the frost comes in.

Persimmons (Italiano: i cachi)

My host family has lived in a couple different countries before settling back in Italy and my host mother said one of the things she missed most about home were persimmons. In the town we live in they’re very common and people even harvest from trees right in their backyards. Around the beginning of fall these red/orange fruits begin to become ready for picking. However once the fruit has been has picked that does not mean it’s quite ready. You have to wait until the fruit inside has just started peeling away from the skin which you can feel by gently squeezing the fruit. Then you easily pull the top off, dig out the tough skin just inside the persimmon and dig in!

Clementines (Italiano: le clementine)

Clementines are in abundance during this time and it’s easy to grab a couple here and there not only after dinner, but also for a quick snack or “merenda” between meals. They’re perfect since they don’t need to be washed and can be placed on the table for any time of the day. Like in America many children eat them because they’re so easy to peel and can be bought without seeds.

Kiwi (Italiano: i kiwi)

This one took me a bit by surprise since thinking of kiwi brings up images of tropic New Zealand and not cold northern Italy. However sure enough another family friend brought along a bundle of fresh sweet kiwi for the family to share. Since I had not ever tried a kiwi myself I was taught the proper way to enjoy them. Cut off the top, slowly peel of the skin with a knife and then cut off the bottom. Then you can slice it in half and eat it straight. It’s delicious and sometimes hard to not stop at just one or two.

No matter what the meal is if it’s on an Italian table you know they put in a lot of thought and effort into the quality of their meal from the ground to your plate. I am excited to see what other ways Italians use their gardens to perfect their historical art of cooking. Until next time, arrivederci.

Buon giardinaggio!

Thankful for the Harvest

The Harvest Moon by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

It is the Harvest Moon! On gilded vanes
And roofs of villages, on woodland crests
And their aerial neighborhoods of nests
Deserted, on the curtained window-panes
Of rooms where children sleep, on country lanes
And harvest-fields, its mystic splendor rests!
Gone are the birds that were our summer guests,
With the last sheaves return the laboring wains!
All things are symbols: the external shows
Of Nature have their image in the mind,
As flowers and fruits and falling of the leaves;
The song-birds leave us at the summer’s close,
Only the empty nests are left behind,
And pipings of the quail among the sheaves.

Wishing you all a wonderful Thanksgiving!