Using IPM in the Georgia Community Garden

You may have heard about integrated pest management (IPM) and wondered if it is something only farmers use.  Actually IPM has a real place in any type of gardening, including your community garden plot.  According to the UGA Integrated Pest Management website this is the definition of IPM:

It is a science-based decision making process that employs biological, mechanical, cultural, and chemical control methods in such a way as to minimize economic, environmental, and public health risks associated with pests and pest management practices.

Notice it is science-based decision making.  This is important.

In practice, the gardener employs many different strategies to combat an insect pest or disease instead of just reaching for the chemical spray.  For a very basic example a gardener wants to grow tomatoes knowing that Fusarium wilt can be a problem.  (Fusarium wilt is a fungus that lives in the soil and infects plants through their root systems.)  This gardener will employ IPM by:

  • Fusarium wilt on tomatoes. Photo from bugwood by William M. Brown, Jr.
    Fusarium wilt on tomatoes. Photo from bugwood by William M. Brown, Jr.

    making sure his/her soil is healthy

  • growing healthy plants using recommended fertilization and watering practices
  • learning about the Fusarium wilt fungus and its biology
  • choosing tomato cultivars that show resistance to Fusarium wilt – these will have the letter “F” after the cultivar name
  • caring for garden equipment by proper disinfection and not using equipment from another gardener that has not been disinfected
  • being aware of the hot, dry weather that favors Fusarium wilt and looking for wilting especially during these conditions
  • destroying any infected plants
  • practicing crop rotation

With IPM, actions are taken to prevent diseases and pests from becoming a problem.  Rather than simply eliminating the pests that are found right now,  using IPM means the gardener will look at environmental factors that affect the pest and its ability to do damage.  Armed with this information, the gardener can create conditions that are unfavorable for the pest.  Know your enemy!

Your local UGA Extension agent can help you make a positive disease or insect identification so that you can make a plan to deter the problem.

Aphids on tomatoes from bug wood. Photo by Brian Kunkel
Aphids on tomatoes from bug wood. Photo by Brian Kunkel

Learning when and where an insect pest lays her eggs can help you find those eggs and remove them.  Determining what weather conditions favor a disease can help you adjust your planting date to avoid the peak of the disease.  Finding out how a disease is spread can also help you combat it.  Is it soil-borne or are fungal spores spread with wind?  Also, what beneficial insects prey on your insect pest and how can you attract those helpful insects?

Subscribing to this blog and other researched based information sources can help you know what diseases or pests are problematic in your area and what you can do about them.

If you haven’t visited the Upcoming Classes page of this blog, please do so.  There are many classes and workshops coming up.  Many are free and some are offered online.

Happy Gardening!



New Year’s Resolutions in the Georgia Garden

Happy-New-Year-Linux-Fans-413000-2At this time of the year it is customary to reflect on the old and think about making the new better.  In the context of your community garden, what is your New Year’s Resolution?  Would you like to see more community involvement?  How about improving the common areas of the garden?  Or, maybe you want to try and grow something you have never tried before.

Whatever your thoughts, take action to make them happen.  The resources are out there to help you.  Make effort to attend a class given by your local UGA Extension office.  (Periodically visit the Events Page of this blog for ideas). Or, visit your local Extension office to get some ideas on what to plant and how to preserve it.  Comment on this blog to exchange tips with us, and other gardeners.  Visit some other gardens for inspiration.  The possibilities for a plentiful harvest in 2015 are endless!

Happy New Year!

Merry Christmas to Gardeners

Merry Christmas to Gardeners

From the Atlanta Botanical Garden's Christmas Light Show
From the Atlanta Botanical Garden’s Christmas Light Show

T’was the weekend before Christmas, and all through the yard,
Not a gift was being given, not even a card.
The tools were all hung, in the garage with care,
With hopes that St. Nicholas soon would repair.
The shovel with blade all rusty and cracked,
The pitchfork still shiny, but handle it lacked.
When out on my lawn, (it’s brown and abused)
I could see poor old Santa, looking confused.
No list had been left for Santa to see,
No gardening gifts were under the tree.
But wait there’s still time, it’s not Christmas yet,
And gardening gifts are the quickest to get.
You can forget the silk tie, the fluffy new sweater,
Give something to make the garden grow better.

From the Atlanta Botanical Garden's Christmas Light Show
From the Atlanta Botanical Garden’s Christmas Light Show

If she wants a gift shiny, then don’t be a fool,
It’s not a dumb diamond, but a sparkling new tool.
If fragrance is listed you can forget French perfume,
t’s a pile of manure that’ll make gardeners swoon.
Give night crawlers, not nightgowns, a hose that sprays water.
(Anything for the kitchen is not worth the bother.)
Give a great gift that can dig in the dirt,
It’s better than any designer-brand shirt.
Now look quick at Santa, this guy’s not so dumb,
Under his glove, he hides a green thumb.
His knees are so dirty, his back how it aches,

From the Atlanta Botanical Garden's Christmas Light Show
From the Atlanta Botanical Garden’s Christmas Light Show

His boots stomp on slugs, (he gives them no breaks).
The guy works only winter, you can surely see why,
For the rest of the year it’s as easy as pie.
He has elves plant through spring, pull weeds in the summer,
In fall they all harvest, but winter’s a bummer
And so Christmas gives Santa a part-time employment,
‘Till spring when the blooms are his real enjoyment.
So ask the big guy for garden gifts this year,
Seeds, plants and tools, Santa holds them all dear.
You see, malls may be crowded, vendors hawking their wares,
But visit a nursery, stress-free shopping is there.
Now Santa’s flown off, to the nursery he goes,
And his voice fills the night with loud Hoe! Hoe! Hoe!

I am not sure who to credit for this witty bit of poetry but I hope you enjoyed it!   We look forward to exchanging more useful gardening information with you during 2015.

Merry Christmas!

Victorian Neighborhood Association Community Garden

Victorian Garden SignThe Victorian Neighborhood Association Community Garden is a beautiful space framed by a decorative wooden fence and entrance arch.  It is lined up with the surrounding homes on an historic Savannah street.  There are a dozen or so raised bed plots.  A plot of flowers to attract pollinators is at the entrance.  In October there is eggplant, tomatoes, okra, carrots and herbs.  Carol Moon, of the City of Savannah, indicated that the plots are worked by a diverse group.  Some are maintained by families, other plots are worked by individuals, and  one plot is maintained by someone from a local church who uses her plot to teach the joy of growing food to young, future gardeners.

This garden is one of seven managed through a partnership with the City of Savannah through the 2012 Community Garden Initiative.  Savannah was having trouble with vacant city lots.  The lots were

Healthy Eggplants!
Healthy Eggplants!

an eyesore for the residents and a maintenance challenge for the city.  What a perfect situation for community gardens.  The neighborhood approaches the city if they want to turn a city-owned vacant lot into a garden.  The application is extensive.  The city needs to know the residents are serious about wanting the garden and have a clear plan for running the space.  Garden leadership is especially important from the beginning.   There are currently seven such gardens Victorian Garden Carrotsand three more in the works. Ms. Moon oversees the community gardening project.  She says that each garden is very different; reflective of their  individual neighborhood personalities.  The City of Savannah is justifiable proud of this program. They are a state leader in this area.  For more information on this project visit their website.

Once a quarter the city hosts a get together for the garden leaders.  They

Neighborhood President Maurice Norman cuts the ribbon when the garden was new.  Also pictured is Savannah mayor Edna B. Jackson.
Neighborhood President Maurice Norman cuts the ribbon when the garden was new. Also pictured is Savannah mayor Edna B. Jackson.

can socialize and share ideas.  The city can share any change in guidelines.  Local businesses support the gardens by donations.   Some of the gardens have fund raisers.  What an incredible use of run-down, vacant lots!  Chatham County Extension Agent, David Linville, is a great resource for community gardeners.

Happy Gardening!


Great Gardening Books for Georgia Community Gardeners

BooksWhen the weather is bleak and you can’t play in the garden, it is the perfect time for a good book.   Just in time for holiday gift giving (or receiving) we have put together a reading list full of recommendations from serious Georgia vegetable gardeners.

Fred Conrad,  Community Gardens Manager with the Atlanta Community Food Bank, likes Your Farm in the City by Seattle Tilth and Lisa Taylor as a general reference.  It is a well-organized book covering the basics of growing food in urban environments and even raising farm animals.  For people that are cheap (Fred’s word!) Fred recommends The Resourceful Gardener’s Guide by Christine Bucks and Fern Marshall Bradley.  It is full of homemade gadgets and hints for gardeners.

Groundbreaking Food Gardens and The Year Round Vegetable Gardener by Niki Jabbour are two favorites of Ramoa Hemmings, Senior Horticulturist at the Atlanta Botanical Garden.  Groundbreaking Food Gardens is a collection of seventy-three interesting food gardens.  It is a great book for inspiration.  In The Year Round Vegetable Gardener the author gives readers tips and techniques for growing food all four seasons.  Ramoa also recommends Starter Vegetable Gardens by Books 2Barbara Pleasant.

Liz Stultz, a serious gardener, cook, and food preservationist likes Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew.  This book has been around for awhile and explores growing food in small, organized spaces.  Liz uses the spacing guides for her raised bed garden and says her copy is stained with dirt and water marks from being using IN the garden.

Suzanne Girdner, Atlanta Local Food Initiative (ALFI) director says that her book recommendation would be The Complete Garden Kitchen by Ellen Ecker Ogden. She bought this book three years ago and it travels between the garden and kitchen regularly. Ogden’s approach to designing and building a kitchen garden is not only inspiring but doable. It delivers simple, concisely written instruction, is beautifully illustrated and has many delicious recipes to celebrate the fruits of your labor!

For community gardens wanting to expand their fruit plants, ALFI is having their 6th Annual Fruit Tree Sale on Saturday, January 24, 2015 from 11am-2pm at Georgia Organics, 200-A Ottley Dr., Atlanta, GA 30324. Presale is open now through Jan. 9th.

Liz Porter of Buckeye Creek Farm likes Walter Reeves’ Guide to Georgia Vegetable Growing.  Liz likes the easy to understand language of Walter’s books and she likes anything he writes.

Amy Whitney,  who works in horticulture at Cobb Extension, recommends Carol Deppe’s The Resilient Gardener.  This book emphasizes the use of new scientific information in gardening practices.  Amy also likes Culinary and Salad Herbs by Eleanor Sinclair Rhode.  This is an older book first published in 1940 given to Amy by a great uncle.  Books definitely can have sentimental value, can’t they?

So, what are you reading?  What are some of your favorite vegetable gardening books?  Leave a comment and share your literary finds with other gardeners.

Happy Reading!


Healthy Georgia Soil 101

Soil From a Community Garden in Woodstock.
Soil From a Community Garden in Woodstock.

Healthy plants start with healthy soil.  Period. No exceptions. You will be more happy with yields and vegetable quality if you start with good soil.  You will deal with frustration and possibly more disease and pest problems if you ignore your soil.

Soil is NOT just dirt.  It is alive and complex.  It is a relationship of soil minerals, organic matter, organisms, water, air, and plants.  The mineral component is made up of a mixture of sand, silt, and clay.  Organic matter is important as it contributes to moisture and nutrient retention.  Soil is a habitat for fungi, bacteria, actinomycetes, algae, protozoa, nematode, and earthworms and small mammals.  All this is important to the health of your plants.

Sometimes cities and municipalities donate land for community gardens that may have been undesirable for other uses.  Do you know what the land was used for before your garden was started?  A site that was previously used for manufacturing could have lingering by-products in the soil that could be a problem.

Many times community gardeners use raised beds and import soil and compost.  Know where that soil or compost comes from.  One community garden got a large amount of horse manure donated.  That manure contained herbicide residue that affected the tomatoes the gardeners tried to grow.   Also, soil that has been sterilized is void of desirable microorganisms.  Consider adding a compost pile to your garden (see June 25th post – Composting in the Community Garden).

Soil Sample Bag
Soil Sample Bag

If you have not been happy with the quality of your plants, the first step is to get your soil tested.  You can get information on soil testing from your local UGA Extension Office.  Instructions can be found in the publication Soil Testing.  In general, take a few sub-samples of your soil at a six inch depth.  Mix these sub-samples for an overall sample.  When you submit this to your Extension office it goes to the University of Georgia soil testing laboratory and within a couple of weeks you will get a test result page with information on your soil fertility and pH.  You will also get recommendations on how to improve your soil based on what you are growing.  There is a small fee (approximately $6-8)  involved but it is the best investment you will make!  Also, depending on the size and layout of your garden, not everyone in your garden needs to soil test.

Just think of all the things at work in your soil.  You will never call it “dirt” again!

Happy Gardening!

Making the Most of Your Georgia Grown Broccoli

broccoliOn this eve of Thanksgiving, are you thankful for planting broccoli in your community garden plot?  Are you planning broccoli casserole, broccoli cheese soup,  or buttered broccoli for your Thanksgiving table?  Did you know that broccoli is easily preserved in the freezer?

UGA’s book So Easy to Preserve gives clear cut instructions for freezing broccoli so that it stays tasty for later cooking.   Start with firm young, tender stalks with compact heads.  Remove all leaves and woody portions.  Separate the broccoli heads into conveniently sized sections.

Mix 4 teaspoons of salt into one gallon of water.  Soak the broccoli heads in the salt water for 30 minutes.  This tip helps remove insects.  You may be surprised at what is left behind in the brine.

Once soaking is complete, split the heads lengthwise so that flowerets are no more than1 1/2 inches across.  Water blanch 3 minutes in boiling water or steam blanch for 5 minutes.  Blanching is just exposing the vegetable to  boiling water or steam for a very specific period of time.  Blanching brightens the vegetable color, helps retain vitamins,  and makes the vegetable easier to Broccoli plantsfreeze.   Make sure you follow the blanch time exactly.  Overblanching can actually cook the broccoli and result in a loss of flavor, color, and nutrients.

Cool the broccoli in an ice water bath.  Drain and package leaving no headspace, meaning no space between the broccoli and the container closure.  Seal and freeze.  Enjoy your harvest in the months ahead!

Your UGA Extension office is staffed with a family and consumer science agent.  He/she has great information on preserving all the vegetables in your garden!  Take advantage of this great resource.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Cherokee County’s Senior Center Community Garden

Master Gardener Marcia Winchester with UGA Extension Agent Louise Estabrook.
Master Gardener Marcia Winchester with UGA Extension Agent Louise Estabrook.

The property around the Cherokee County Senior Center is home to two beautiful spaces:  the Cherokee County Master Gardener’s Teaching Garden and their Community Garden.  The teaching garden has been benefiting seniors since 1996 and the community garden was started in 2010.  Being part of the senior center there is a requirement that at least 10% of the plots need to be used by gardeners over 62 years old.  This is not a problem and Marcia Winchester, co-chair of the garden, says that they routinely have more than 10%.  The garden is a great place for seniors, and all gardeners, to socialize.

The space is made up of 29 raised bed plots that rent for $20 a year.  Water is provided until the weather gets cold when frozen pipes are a possibility.  Approximately half of the gardeners do cool-season planting. Warm-season tomatoes are the most popular crop grown.  The garden is managed by Master Gardeners Marcia Winchester and Gerald Phillips with direction from UGA Extension Agent, Louise Estabrook, and help from Nathan Brandon of the Senior Center.

One of the really unique part of this garden is the learning aspect.  In one corner there is a experiment on growing tomatoes

Creative ways to combat rabbits!
Creative ways to combat rabbits!

in straw bales.  Nearby is a group of potato towers.  So far this year they have harvested 8 pounds of potatoes!  This garden has a problem with rabbits.  Creative ways to handle the rabbits are displayed throughout the garden.  Placing open crates over plants, growing runner beans on trellises instead of bush beans, and using pine cones as mulch are a few things the gardeners are trying.  These growers are always attempting new things and learning.

Several years ago one gardener got what she thought was rich, beneficial horse manure for her plots.  Her vegetables came up misshapen and unhealthy.  It turns out the manure was from horses who had been eating grass treated with pesticides.  The lesson Marcia wants to share – make sure you know exactly where your compost comes from!


The garden contributes produce to a local food bank, Papa’s Pantry.  There are dedicated plots for this and often gardeners share additional food from their own spaces.  Another lesson the gardeners shared was related to growing eggplants for donation.  They were growing a small variety of eggplant.  After donating several pounds of these, the gardeners decided they should go back to the traditional larger eggplants that are a more convenient size to cook with.

Master Gardeners are at the property the first and third Thursdays of each month from 10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.  You can see classes that they offer by visiting their webpage at Cherokee County Extension – Cherokee County Master Gardeners.

This is a wonderful garden and the gardeners know they are part of something special.  Louise Estabrook says that each community garden is different and the gardeners can fit their space to meet their needs.  The seniors at this garden are definitely blessed!  For more information about this garden contact Louise at 770-721-7803 or

Planting Blueberries in the Georgia Garden

Blueberries About to Ripen
Blueberries About to Ripen

Blueberries are a tasty addition to any community garden.  The fruit is high in antioxidants,  and the plants are easy to manage.  Fall is a great time to get them in the garden.

Since blueberry bushes are perennials shrubs, it is advantageous to plant them in a community part of the garden.  Along a fence that gets plenty of sun is a possible spot.  This way no one is taking up permanent plot space with the bushes and everyone can enjoy the fruit. D. S. NeSmith, a research horticulturist from UGA, has a great publication on Home Garden Blueberries.

For community gardeners the best type of blueberries to plant is the rabbiteye type.  The most important thing to know about growing rabbiteye blueberries is that you need to plant more than one variety for cross-pollination. If you choose your varieties from slightly different ripening times, you will have a longer harvest.  For early season rabbiteyes look for Alapaha, Climax, Premier, Vernon, or Titan.  For mid-season types try  Brightwell, Powerblue, or Tifblue.  Ochlockonee, Baldwin, and Centurion are all late season varieties.  Titan was released in 2011 and it is the largest fruited rabbiteye variety available to date.   Vernon also has large fruit.

Blueberries along a community garden fence.
Blueberries along a community garden fence.

Choose a planting site that gets at least a half-day of sun.  Anything less and the plants may grow but you won’t get a large amount of fruit.  Blueberries like our typical acidic soil and need a soil pH of 4.5 to 5.2.    The standard spacing for rabbiteyes is 5 – 6 feet between plants as they can get large.   Before planting till the soil deeply, 8 to 12 inches, and make sure your site doesn’t tend to stay wet.  The best time to plant is in the fall through the very early spring. This gives time for the roots to develop before the heat of the summer.  Mulch will be needed and it is important to keep weeds and grass away from the plants.  Your local UGA Extension Agent can answer any questions you have about blueberry planting.

If you are interested in incorporating blueberry bushes into your community garden do some planning before you plant.

Is the entire community interested in blueberries?  What is the best site?  Who will care for them?  How you will divide the fruit?  Remember that deciding these things early prevents problems later on.

Happy Gardening!








Growing Halloween Pumpkins in Georgia

Growing Halloween Pumpkins in Georgia

Growing Halloween Pumpkins in GeorgiaThis week is Halloween and no doubt you have seen the beautiful pumpkins for sale at your local stores or even church yards.  As a gardener you may want to grow your own pumpkins for next Halloween.  Be aware that it is a challenge to grow pumpkins in the Atlanta area that mature at the end of October. The disease and insect pressure is high.  It will take some planning and diligence on your part.   Most of the pumpkins that are sold in stores and church yards are imported from the dry western states.  If that information hasn’t “spooked you” or “rattled your bones” then plan for growing your own Halloween pumpkin for 2015.

Growing Pumpkins

Commercial Production and Management of Pumpkins and Gourds will give you some background and let you see what the commercial growers are up against.  This publication also has a great list of pumpkin cultivars for Georgia.

Botanically, pumpkins are related to squash plants.  And, they come in many sizes and colors from mini orange pumpkins to small white pumpkins to the giant, fair-winning pumpkins.  When deciding what cultivar to grow, think about what size you want.  The mini and small pumpkins, under about 5 pounds, make great decorations.  Cultivars used for making pumpkin pies are usually 5-10 pounds.  The typical jack-o-lantern size is about 10-25 pounds.  In Georgia, we just don’t have great luck growing the super large pumpkins that win national prizes for size.  The disease and insect pressure is just too great.

Growing Halloween Pumpkins in Georgia

Growing Halloween Pumpkins in Georgia
Notice the mesh sling on this trellised pumpkin. This helps prevent the fruit from pulling away from the vine.

Pumpkin plants need rich soil with a pH of 6.5-6.8.  Add compost to your bed before planting seeds.  Don’t just take out your early spring crop and plant your pumpkin seeds.  Direct sow your seeds about 1 inch deep.  MULCH! Pumpkin seeds need to be in the ground between the middle of May and the end of July, depending on your cultivar choice, in order to be ready to harvest for Halloween.  (See the “Determining Planting Dates” post from September 17th.)  Some plants have more vines than others but you probably want to plan for space.  Some growers use a trellis system for the mini or smaller pumpkins.

Pumpkin Problem Control

Pumpkins are plagued with disease and insect pressure in Georgia; trellising may help here.  Vine borers can attack pumpkin plants (see July 30th post on vine borer control).  Also, powdery mildew is a real problem for Georgia.  Powdery mildew is a fungus that  appears as a dusty white coating of the tops of leaves.  This fungus thrives in warm, humid conditions – what we typically have when Halloween pumpkins are growing.  There are cultivars such as Magic Lantern that show some powdery mildew resistance.  And, there are some fungicides available to help as well.   Be diligent in scouting your pumpkin patch to spot, and handle, diseases and insects early.  Use your local UGA Extension agent as a resource.  He/she can help identify any disease or insect problems.

To have a few really showy pumpkins on your vines, thin some of the very early forming fruits.  The plant will put its energy towards those few pumpkins.  Once the pumpkins have formed you may want to roll them occasionally to prevent soft spots where the fruit touches the ground.  Be careful not to snap the pumpkin off the vine as you roll.  Many growers put extra mulch, even newspaper under the pumpkins to prevent the fruit from direct contact with the ground.

Growing Halloween Pumpkins in Georgia

Armed with this knowledge you will be ready to tackle pumpkin growing next spring.  May your Halloween be filled with treats and no tricks!

Happy Halloween!