The Urban Vegetable Garden at Gwinnett Tech

Tony Gobert is so passionate and enthusiastic about Gwinnett Tech’s vegetable garden and the school’s Certificate in Sustainable Urban Agriculture that his face lights up talking about it.  On a recent tour I saw a garden FULL of plants.  It is urban, intensive agriculture at its best.  This garden has a lot to teach community and school gardeners.  Tony was happy to tell me all about it.

Urban Vegetable Garden at Gwinnett TechLocated along Sugarloaf Parkway in Gwinnett County, Georgia, the garden is laid out to work with nature.  The plant rows are laid out to follow the contour of the land.  Before the vegetable garden, the land had a history of large runoff problems after rain storms.  Tony and his team turned this negative into a positive by controlling the flow of the water so that it provided irrigation to the vegetable plants.  “Work with what you have,” Tony says.

Being part of an educational garden, there are experiments everywhere.  Which creates a better plant in the long run, potatoes started in the greenhouse or potatoes started by slips in the ground?  What is the

Urban Vegetable Garden at Gwinnett Tech
Tony Gobert uncovers a very large radish.

best way to use worm castings?  The students can answer these questions because they have tested their hypotheses by planting and growing – not just reading a textbook.  The students are also trying their hands at growing fruit trees in different ways and growing different types of alliums.  There are even banana plants.  Why not?

Urban Vegetable Garden at Gwinnett Tech
Onions being grown to taught seed saving methods.

This is a food production garden.  The produce goes to Gwinnett Tech’s popular culinary program.  The agriculture students learn about what it takes to supply a client as well as other lessons in ag economics. They are taught seed saving techniques and also how to make money during the slower season of the garden.

In many areas there are multi-crop plantings.  For example, a Winesap apple tree is grown using a unique tree trellis.  Underneath are blackberry bushes.  During the cool-season months when there are no leaves on the tree, onions are planted just outside the blackberry bushes.

Urban Vegetable Garden at Gwinnett Tech
Blackberries grown under a Winesap apple tree. Notice onions ready for harvest.

This is true intensive gardening which can translate well in a community garden setting.  Peanuts are planted between rows of corn.  The peanut plants help fix nitrogen for the nitrogen-loving corn.  Blueberry bushes are planted in the middle of the strawberry patch.  Their roots use different soil zones.  Also, crop rotation and successive planting are thoughtfully carried out.

Urban Vegetable Garden at Gwinnett Tech
Peanuts growing in the middle of a corn row.

Tim Daly, a Gwinnett County Extension Agent, is a fan of the garden.  Tim was curious about a squash variety that was advertised to grow very large squash plants.  “Daly’s squash” is part of the garden this year. Tony is feeling hopeful they will get a prize winning squash from that plot!

This garden is just getting started.  The initial planting was done in April 2014.  A pollinator plant strip was added in November 2014.  There are plans for 30 raised beds.  The program that supports this garden is also just getting started.  The certificate program in Sustainable Urban Agriculture was started in 2013.  Students are required to take classes in food production, soils, and pest management.  Three other courses are required to finish the six course program.  Tony is a teacher at heart and he is excited to hear what his first graduates of the program are doing now as well as the plans his current students have.  This is a fantastic addition to the urban gardening movement in Georgia!

I hope you can incorporate some of Tony’s intensive multi-planting systems in your own community or school garden plot.

Happy Gardening!

Dealing with Mexican Bean Beetles in Your Georgia Garden

July and August are prime Mexican bean beetle times.  They can leave your bean plants looking like lace.  Sadly, this is a common occurrence across Georgia during the summer months.

Mexican bean beetle
Mexican bean beetle damage

As with any pest, it is best to learn a bit about the biology of the Mexican bean beetle so you can better control the damage.

Adult beetles, which look a bit like lady beetles, overwinter in garden debris.  Cleaning out your community or school garden plots could help.  Keeping nearby ditches clean could also help.

The beetles emerge in the warm temperatures of spring and look for young beans, soybeans, and lima beans. The adult female will feed on the underside of leaves and will lay 40 or more yellow eggs also on the underside of leaves.  Pest scouting needs to include looking at the underside of leaves. If you can catch the pest in the egg stage simply remove the leave and dispose of it away from the garden.

Mexican bean beetle
Mexican bean beetle eggs Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University,

Once eggs hatch the larvae begin eating from the underside of the leaves.  They will feed for 2 to 4 weeks and do alot of damage before they pupate on the plant.  There are usually 3 to 4 generations per year.  If you see just a few larvae, crush them by hand.

Mexican bean beetle
Larva on what is left of a bush bean plant in a Georgia community garden plot.

From egg to adult takes about a month.  Here is a professional photograph of a Mexican bean beetle adult and larva:

Mexican bean beetle
Clemson University – USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series,

For preventative control, try planting your bean crop as early as possible.  The Mexican bean beetle likes the very warm temperatures of summer and if you can get a quick maturing bean variety planted early, you may outsmart the pest.

The wasp Pediobius foveolatus is a Mexican bean beetle predator.  However,  it does not overwinter well here and you would need to purchase these insects – not really worth the investment for a small crop of beans.  Adding plants that attract beneficial insects is always a great idea.

Some serious bean gardeners plant a trap crop of beans.  Theses are planted to the side of the main garden.  When the trap crop beans are under attack, the gardeners destroy those bean plants  and the insects.  Then the gardeners can put in their main bean crop hoping they have eliminated the Mexican bean beetles in their area.

Other bean enthusiasts use floating row covers so the flying beetle can’t get to the crop.  For this to work make sure you don’t have garden debris left under the row cover so you aren’t just trapping the Mexican bean beetles in with your beans!

Once the plants have been seriously infected you can think about chemical control.  Contact your local UGA Extension agent if things get that bad in your bean patch.  For more information North Carolina State has an informative flyer about the Mexican bean beetle.

Wishing you a Mexican bean beetle free year!  Happy Gardening!