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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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
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.
Do you have aphids in your garden? If so, are they a problem? Spring when many plants have succulent, new growth is prime aphid time.
Aphids, also called plant lice, are soft-bodied, pear shaped insects with tail-like appendages known as cornicles. Most aphids are about 1/10th inch long and can be several colors: green, black, pink, brown. If you have trouble identifying your pest, contact your local UGA Extension agent.
Aphids use “piercing-sucking” mouthparts to suck the juices out of tender plant parts, secreting a sticky substance known as honeydew. Ants are attracted to honeydew and will often protect the aphids making it. Black sooty mold grows well on honeydew and is difficult to remove from
the leaves. This sooty mold makes photosynthesis almost impossible on the leaves affected. All this means that aphids can be a problem to the community gardener.
Aphids are a danger to plants in three ways.
weaken a plant making it susceptible to a secondary infection
cause curling of leaves and damage to terminal buds
carry and spread plant viruses
Right now our gardens are full of leafy, new plant growth and as the temperatures warm up, check the underside of
leaves and terminal buds for aphid pests. Look for those tail-like appendages. (Some people call them tailpipes!) Also pay attention to ant trails. They may lead you to the honeydew making aphids.
Since aphids tend to congregate as a group, you can try removing the one or two leaves where you find them. Sometimes a good spray with the hose is enough to remove the insects. If not, insecticidal soap is a good choice. Sometimes I can just wipe them off with a wet paper towel.
Beneficial insects are nature’s way of controlling aphids. So avoid applying any chemical insecticide that could harm those beneficials. Some of the natural predators include lacewings or lady beetles (lady bugs). You can actually purchase lady beetles from insect distributors but once you get them you can’t control where they fly.
This Saturday, May 4th is the 5th Annual Soil Festival. Soil Festival is an annual tradition of celebrating soil as a key source for building gardens and healthier communities. This year a brand new Community Compost Learning Lab, the first of its kind in metro Atlanta, will be unveiled.
This free event is for all ages and raises awareness of the benefits of using local compost to improve and maintain high quality soil and to grow healthy food. This year, all attendees are encouraged to bring kitchen scraps to the event to support the production of healthy soil in Atlanta.
Soil Festival 2019 will be held at Truly Living Well’s Collegetown Farm in Atlanta, and includes a host of exciting opportunities for school gardeners, community gardeners, backyard gardeners, urban farmers, educators, beginning gardeners and children!
Never been to a farm? This festival is for you, too!
This year’s Soil Festival will feature educational workshops on gardening and composting; a children’s corner with fun garden-based activities and story time; a variety of urban agriculture vendors to learn tools of the trade from; a petting zoo; and free bags of compost for your garden.
We will also be providing great music and complimentary farm-to-table food and fare. Dig in, meet fellow gardeners, and visit all of the exhibitors who will be sharing resources and tools to help you enjoy the successes of gardening.
Earth Day falls on Monday, April 22nd. It is a good day to appreciate our Earth and to evaluate how we are caring for it.
The first Earth Day was in 1970. The April 22nd date was chosen because it was after college spring break but before college exams. The expectation was that college students would be an internal part of that day and they were. Several of those students have grown to be very involved in the environmental movement. In 2020 we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day.
In my household we usually celebrate the day with a huge feast feeling grateful for what we can grow and very thankful for the farmers that grow what I do not. Each year we have a theme. One year it was a native peoples feast featuring bison burgers. One year it was honey-themed and another year I featured strawberries. The point was to take some time to appreciate our Earth and the food we grow.
We can all take stock on how we treat our natural resources. As a vegetable gardener are you following best management practices in your garden? Are you using integrated pest management to handle pests instead of reaching for a pesticide? Are you creating and sustaining healthy soil? How are your composting skills? Can you pull the weed instead of using an herbicide?
This time of year I always create a goal towards improvement. What about you?
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:
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:
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.
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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Send photos! Next week we will discuss seedling care.
Over the next few weeks we are going to talk about seed starting. I did three in-depth posts last year and I am going to rerun them this year by request. Spring is coming….
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.
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.
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.
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.
Today we continue our series on a good replacement for tomatoes in our summer community garden plots. Today’s crop to consider is corn.
Usually corn is avoided in the community garden. The tall stalks shade other plants, there is not much yield in the amount you can grow in a small space, and corn takes a large amount of water. That being said, I sometimes find community gardeners who really want to grow their own corn. They remember eating corn fresh from a grandparent’s farm or working the corn patch with their parents. Often these gardeners are now city dwellers and the corn means a great deal to them.
Instead of totally abandoning the idea of growing corn, why not think about trying some of the short growing varieties? Several of the seed companies offer shorter varieties. Burpee advertises a corn for growing in a patio container called On-Deck Hybrid. The description of this type states that it grows 4 – 5 feet high. Compare that to Silver Queen which stretches 8 feet tall.
Park Seed offers a shorter variety called Early Sunglow Hybrid. Stalks from this corn are expected to top at 4 feet. Another thought is popcorn. Seed Savers offers Tom Thumb popcorn which grows only 3-4 feet tall. I have grown popcorn many times. It is fun to grow and fun to pop with children or grandchildren.
I will caution you that more than a few stalks need to be grown to get any kind of yield. Many stalks yield 1-2 corn ears per plant. If you are serious about trying corn in the community garden consider allocating at least half of your 4’X 8′ garden bed for the crop. Also, remember that the crop is wind pollinated. It does not hurt to shake those corn tassels yourself to make sure the pollen moves around.