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!

Composting in the Community Garden-Guest Post by Amanda Tedrow

 

Compost Bin at Woodstock Community Garden
Compost Bin at Woodstock Community Garden

Every year, more and more people decide to start a compost pile in their backyard or community garden. By recycling organic materials from the house and yard, composters reduce the amount of material going into the landfill and create a free soil amendment for their yard. Anyone can compost, but the process can be tricky for first-time composters.

Here are a few tips that can improve your composting process and product.

Keep your ratio of carbon to nitrogen as two-thirds carbon and one-third nitrogen. Carbon sources include dead leaves, sticks, branches, shredded paper, dead flowers and sawdust. Nitrogen sources include fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags and grass clippings.

Keep your compost pile moist throughout the pile. The microorganisms (bacteria, fungi and microbes) and macroorganisms (earthworms and insects) need this moisture to survive. Your pile should be as wet as a wrung-out sponge. A pile that is too wet will smell, and a pile that is too dry will decompose slowly.

Chop your ingredients before adding them to the pile. The smaller the inputs, the faster they will break down. Small ingredients are much easier for the micro and macroorganisms to consume!

Turn the pile regularly. The center of the pile is where the magic happens. In the center, the compost reaches the high temperature required for decomposition and killing weed seeds in the pile. Turning the pile ensures that all parts reach the center. Use a pitchfork to turn the pile every one to two weeks.

Compost bins at the North Fulton Annex Community Garden
Compost Bins at the North Fulton Annex Community Garden

The minimum size for a compost pile should be 4’x4’x4’. The pile needs to be this large to maintain temperatures for decomposition.

Do not put oily items, dairy or meat in your compost pile. These items will attract pests and rodents, and they can create foul odors in the compost pile.

Don’t limit yourself to just the backyard compost pile. Some gardeners use sheet composting, trench composting, com-posthole-ing, tumblers or vermicomposting. Research what method works best for your lifestyle and embrace it!

If you would like to learn more about composting, consider participating in the Georgia Master Composter Program. Participants of this nine-week program learn the chemistry and microbiology of composting, types of and reasons for composting, backyard composting techniques and tools for sharing this knowledge with their community. They also visit a variety of composting facilities.

The next Georgia Master Composter Program will be held in Athens from January through March, 2015. Registration will begin in November.  As always, your local UGA Extension Agent can help you develop a composting plan for your community garden.

Amanda Tedrow is a UGA Extension Agent for Athens-Clarke County and is affectionately known as the “compost queen!”

Happy Gardening!

 

Happy Pollinator Week

In honor of National Pollinator Week we ask the question “how important are pollinators in our community garden?”  VERY!! Technically pollination is the process where pollen is transferred from the male flower parts (stamen-anther and filament) to the female flower parts (pistil-stigma, style, and ovary).   Sometimes the male and female parts are on the same flower and sometimes they are on different flowers on the same plant, like squash and cucumbers.  Pollinators visit flowers to collect pollen and nectar.  The pollination process is a consequence.

 

Honey Bees - Jeff Martin photographer
Honey Bees – Jeff Martin Photographer

Pollinators are an integral part of any garden.  They play a major role in the production of 150 food crops in the United States.  Apples, almonds, melons, strawberries, blueberries, onions, squash, cucumbers, and broccoli are just a few food crops that are dependent on pollinators.  One third of every bite of food we eat is due to pollinators.  So, they are vital to your community garden.  How do you attract and keep pollinators?

Some community gardens have common areas set aside for flowers.  This is a great spot to add plants that attract pollinators.  Plants like black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia spp.), bee balm (Monarda didyma), anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), zinnia (Zinnia elegans), butterfly weed (Asclepias spp.), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), sunflower (Helianthus annuus), dill (Anethum graveolens), and aster (Aster spp.) are all great choices.  These not only attract pollinators but other beneficial insects like lacewings, praying mantids, and parasitic wasps.  Plan your area for a long bloom time.  Bee balm and black-eyed Susan start blooming early in the summer while many asters bloom late into the fall.  Some gardeners may want to include a few of these in their individual garden plot.

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Bumble Bee on Orange Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Perennial shrubs are also great for common areas since they create a more permanent landscape.  Consider fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii)  which starts blooming early in the spring.  Sweet pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia) blooms in midsummer and is usually covered in pollinators.  Winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) provides flowers in the cooler months when the hairy bumble bees may be active. UGA Commercial Horticulturist, Jeffrey Webb, has a great publication, Beyond Butterflies:  Gardening for Native Pollinators, which has a comprehensive list of plant choices.

Use pesticides ONLY when necessary.  If you have to use them, spot spray rather than cover spray.  Apply pesticides that are the least toxic to pollinators.  And, spray when the pollinators are less active.  Your local UGA Extension agent can help you decide which pesticide is most effective with the least damage to the beneficial insects.

With a few additional steps your garden can even become a Certified Pollinator Garden.  The pollinators win since they have a great place to collect nectar and pollen.  Your food crops win because their flowers get pollinated.  You win because your vegetables are more abundant and extra delicious!

Happy Gardening!

Growing Southern Peas

June is the perfect time to get Southern peas, also known as field peas, in the ground.  The soil and air temperatures are very warm and hot summer days stretch out in front of us.   Southern peas include cream, crowder, and black-eyed types.  They thrive during hot weather in full sun.  Your local UGA Extension agent knows what types typically are grown in your area.

North Georgia gardeners are harvesting the end of the cool season lettuces and Southern peas would be a perfect replacement.  Add a bit of compost to the soil and sow seeds about 1 inch deep, 3-6 inches apart.  For those of you who grow in rows space them 20-42 inches apart.  Make sure your soil is well draining.

Southern peas act more like beans than peas.  Some cultivars are vining and will need some support and some are more bush type.  Experience shows that even bush types are easier to manage with a small trellis.  If you keep them picked they will keep producing all through our hot, humid summer!

Knuckle Purple Hulls using sunflowers as support.
Knuckle Purple Hulls using sunflowers as support.

Cream peas are the mildest in flavor.  Cream Crowder, White Acre, and Texas Cream #12 are non-vining cultivars to consider trying.

Black-eyed peas have a bit more flavor.  California #5, Magnolia, and Pink Eye Purple Hull are cultivars that are non-vining and grow well in our area.  Black-eyed peas are the ones seeped in Southern folklore.  If you eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day legend has it that your year will be prosperous.  Worth a try!

Crowder peas are the strongest in flavor.  You will remember them as the peas that are “crowded” in the hull.  Mississippi Silver and Mississippi Purple are non-vining while Knuckle Purple Hull and Colossus are cultivars that will need some type of firm support like fencing or staking.

You can harvest all of these either as green shelling peas or for drying.  A useful publication, although written for commercial production, is Southern Peas by UGA horticulturists Boyhan, Grandberry, and Kelley. This publication has additional information on cultivars and diseases.

Happy Gardening!

 

 

North Fulton Annex Community Garden

Christine Williams and Rolando Orellana of the North Fulton Annex Community Garden.
Christine Williams and Rolando Orellana of the North Fulton Annex Community Garden.

On occasion we will highlight different area community gardens in this blog. This is a great opportunity to see what others are doing and perhaps get some ideas for your own garden. Recently we visited the North Fulton Annex Community Garden on Roswell Road in Sandy Springs.

The space is a project of Fulton County Extension Agent, Rolando Orellana, and the Fulton County Master Gardener volunteers. Rolando gives full credit for the success of the garden to Christine Williams, the garden coordinator. She keeps things well organized and she makes sure the garden has a welcoming feel.

The area is made up of fifty-six 4’ X 8’ raised bed plots. Six of the plots are designated for a school program. The produce from four additional plots is donated to the local food bank or the Fulton Fresh Mobile Farmer’s Market program. There are also side gardens with herbs and flowers.

The garden charges a fee of $25 per year. The fee includes water (either sun-warmed or from the faucet) use of tools, access to compost, and the support of the Master Gardeners. What a deal!

The group works together to make valuable compost which anyone can use.
The group works together to make valuable compost which anyone can use.

One unique feature of the garden is a play area for children complete with a sandbox. Christine says they want the garden to be welcoming for all ages and the sandbox helps keep little hands active. There are also child friendly gardening tools.

Gardeners can come and go from dawn until dusk but scheduled workdays are a social time at the garden. Members bring refreshments and the Master Gardeners provide mini-classes. This is especially useful for beginners.

When asked what they were most proud of with this garden, Rolando and Christine gave the same answer. The gardeners are a diverse group. Generationally, there are grandparents with grandchildren in tow, couples in their twenties, and young parents who are raising the next generation of gardeners. And, the group is diverse in cultural background. This makes for a

These 4' X 8' beds can grow alot of vegetables!
These 4′ X 8′ beds can grow a lot of vegetables!

great sharing experience, learning about other cultures through gardening and food. As Christine said, the diversity of the gardeners is the true nature of urban community gardening.

For more information about the North Fulton Annex Community Garden contact the North Fulton Extension office at 404-613-7670.

Happy Gardening!

Don’t Forget to Mulch

Is it important to mulch around vegetables in a community garden?    After all,  plots aren’t very large, the plantings aren’t permanent,  and it can be a lot of trouble to bring in mulch.  The answer is YES!  It is important to go to the extra trouble and add mulch.  Mulching is simply adding a layer of material over the bare soil around your plants.  For an extensive review of garden mulches see Robert Westerfield’s circular Mulching Vegetables.

Mulching does several wonderful things for our warm-season vegetables.  It helps hold in soil moisture.  Think of those hot, dry, sunny, Georgia summer afternoons.  Bare soil gets baked; mulched soil does not. Mulch also helps even out the soil temperature.  This is helpful for root development.  Mulch can be a barrier to weed growth, reducing need for weeding. Also, mulch is a layer between the plant and the bare soil which can help prevent some rots that occur when vegetables or fruits lay on the ground.

A suggested mulching depth is 3 to 4 inches.  Too little mulch will provide limited weed control while too much will prevent air from reaching plant roots.  Keep in mind some mulches, like pine straw, tend to settle.  Compost mulches can be tilled back in the soil after the growing season.

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Pine straw is a common mulch.

 

The best way to accomplish mulching in a community garden setting is to determine what materials are available and inexpensive.  Wood bark, compost, leaves, pine straw, and hay straw are all possible choices.

A bail of pine or hay straw will usually fit in a car trunk.  Wood bark and some composts come packaged in large bags which aren’t hard to transport.  Maybe the group of gardeners wants to have a larger amount of mulch delivered and split the cost. Oftentimes, municipalities will take old Christmas trees and recycle them as mulch as a service to the community.  These are usually free of charge.  Your county UGA Extension Agent will be able to answers any questions you have about mulch.

However you decide to get your mulch, you will be very glad you did come harvest time.

Happy Gardening!

 

 

 

 

 

Green Bean Basics

Green beans are an integral part of any vegetable garden.  Also called snap beans or string beans, they are not hard to grow and require little fertilization.  Whether harvested and prepared the old Southern way, cooked with a piece of bacon, or steamed with a bit of onion, they are a summer dinner staple.  This post contains great information taken from Robert Westerfield’s circular Home Garden Green Beans.

For community gardeners the first step in successfully growing green beans is to know the growing types.  Bush beans are compact and don’t need extra support to grow.  Pole beans run and do require support such as a cage or trellis (think  of growing up a pole).  Be thoughtful of using trellises in a community garden setting.  Anything tall may created unwanted shade.   Half-runner beans are somewhere in between bush and pole beans.  If they are not supported they will spread more than bush beans.  Bush beans are a great option for the limited space of a community garden.

All three types of beans grow best in air temperatures of 65-85 degrees F.  Soil temperatures should be above 55 degrees F for good germination.  One helpful tip is to soak the bean seed in warm water overnight.  This may help speed germination.

Seed should be planted about 1 inch deep.  You can do this without a ruler.  Gently push the beans seed into the soil with your index finger.  When your first knuckle is even with the soil top, that is about 1 inch.   To help prevent disease problems, be careful not to crowd the beans.  You want air movement between the plants so leave about 6 inches between seeds.

After planting, gently pat the dirt ensuring good seed to soil contact.   Keep the seeds moist until the beans emerge.  Mulching will help with that.  After the plants become established water as needed, about twice a week.

Bush Bean Patch
Bush Bean Patch

For best flavor, harvest beans before they become fully developed.  Pick often so the plant will continue to produce.  Your harvest can be stored in a cool, dry place for several days.  Or, you may want to try your hand at canning if you have alot of beans.

Some tried and true cultivars of bush beans are Blue Lake 274, Gina, Roma II, and Bronco.  If you want to be adventurous and try something different consider Mayflower, which is said to have come to America with the Pilgrims.  Or, Pencil Pod Black Snap Bean which produces black beans.   Other cultivars to consider are Stringless Commodore, October Bean, Top Crop, and Contender.   Master Gardener Extension volunteers have had success with these types.

Kentucky Wonder, Rattlesnake, Blue Lake, and McCaslan are good pole bean choices for the Southern garden.  If you are thinking of trying half-runners look at Mountaineer, Volunteer, or Peanut Bean Pink.

Seed catalogs along with feed and seed stores are full of great choices.  Try to choose seed that has been grown successfully in our area.  If you have had success with a certain cultivar, please share that information in the comments section.  For more information on cultivars for your area, contact your local UGA Extension Agent.

Happy Gardening!

Garden Golden Rules

Posted rules at Tobie Grant Manor Community Garden
Posted rules at Tobie Grant Manor Community Garden

Working with other gardeners can be a rewarding experience.  Trading plants, tackling common problems, and sharing a harvest are all benefits to working as a group.  This process works best when the group develops a common set of rules and follows garden etiquette. A great publication to start with is Ellen Bauske and Robert Westerfield’s How to Start a Community Garden: Getting People Involved.

General rules common to every garden would include –  when will the garden be open?  Will there be a fee to have a plot? How is water handled?

Since each community is unique some rules will also be unique.  Things to consider when developing your own Garden Golden Rules are:

  • What if someone leaves his/her plot unattended for a period of time and it becomes overgrown and weedy?
  • Will the garden be organic or will pesticides be allowed?
  • What if someone plants a tall crop that shades other plots?
  • Will individual fencing be allowed?
  • Who is responsible for the upkeep (weeding) of the common areas and paths?
  • Will dogs be allowed?
  • What about children?

It is a good idea to develop your rules ahead of any real gardening and to put these rules on paper.  Many gardens have new members sign a copy of the rules which helps eliminate many problems and misunderstandings.  To learn more about community gardens in your area contact your local UGA Extension Agent.

Happy Gardening!