Keeping the “Community” in Your Georgia Community Garden

A shaded seating area at Green Meadows Community Garden in Cobb County.
A shaded seating area at Green Meadows Community Garden in Cobb County.

Community Gardens are filled with gardeners.  And, although it is fun to sweat together as you work along side each other, it is also fun to fellowship and socialize.  You already have something important in common with these folks – you love the adventure of growing food.  Gardeners can layout the overall space to encourage some socializing.  Consider adding a simple table and chairs or just some chairs under a shade tree.  An old picnic table also works.  So, after the work is done you all can share some sweet tea and talk shop!

Seating for gardeners at the Carver Garden in Atlanta
Seating for gardeners at the Carver Garden in Atlanta

Some community gardens like to reach out to the non-gardeners in the area.  One garden in Atlanta hosts a First Fruits dinner each spring. They invite people outside the garden who have helped them throughout the year.  The person who donated mulch and the volunteer who assisted the senior gardeners weed get an invitation to a feast.  Most of the food prepared is grown in the garden and it is prepared mostly by older Southern women.  Those ladies can cook!

Healthy Life Garden Shaded Seating Area
Healthy Life Garden Shaded Seating Area

Another idea is to invite public servants, police officers or firefighters, out to the garden for an “open garden”.  You can show off your hard work while making people aware the garden is there.  Your local elected officials may enjoy a garden tour as well.  After all, your garden is an asset to the neighborhood.  You may be able to send these visitors home with some garden fresh vegetables!  Contact your local UGA Extension Agent for possible ideas here.

Watermelon cuttings, guest speakers, even book clubs in the garden are all ways to fellowship.  However  you decide to make sure you have “community” in your garden is a reflection of your unique neighborhood.  Just make sure it is not all work and no play!

Happy Gardening!

Herbs in the Community Garden-A Guest Post by Linda Hlozansky

Basil in a plot with peppers and tomatoes
Basil in a plot with peppers and tomatoes

Some community gardens have a common area that is available for herb planting or individuals may decide to place them in their plots.   Herbs in Southern Gardens  by UGA’s Wayne McLaurin and Sylvia McLaurin is a good place to start when thinking about planting herbs. In the garden remember, if you want good flavor, pinch off the budding flowers.  (Although, many types of herb flowers are great for pollinators).

You have grown herb plants and now you have a little (or big) herb garden. What do I do with all this stuff? An easy way to begin is to taste the herb and think about the flavor. What foods would be enhanced by that flavor? I like to throw a lot of herbs in tossed salads. Experiment with adding chives, parsley, lavender, thyme, oregano, or basil to tossed salads. Don’t put all of them in at first. Try one or two herbs initially to see what you think of the flavor addition. Later you may be loading up the salad bowl with three or more tasty herbs. Another way to start is to experiment with herbs in omelets. Eggs are a neutral flavor serving as a backdrop for the fresh vegetables and herbs you add. You may be able to add less salt as the eggs are flavored by the herbs.

A common hedge of rosemary allows all gardeners to take springs home for cooking.
A common hedge of rosemary allows all gardeners to take springs home for cooking.

Soup time is just around the corner, and soups are my favorite for adding herbs. This summer mature chives had to be removed from my garden to allow summer vegetables more space. Having a lot of chives at once was really not a problem. They were quickly washed, chopped, and frozen in small portions for addition into winter soups. Just like big onions these little onions with intense flavor are very good in soups like Beef and Barley, Chicken and Rice, or my favorite Vegetable. Again experimenting with flavors to find your favorite is fun. A guideline to help you begin is in tomato based soups try: basil, oregano, parsley and/or cilantro. For soups with chicken as the base try: thyme, parsley, sage, and or savory.

Like soups, casseroles can be flavored with herbs to your hearts (or taste buds) content. The guidelines for casseroles are similar to those outlined for soups in the paragraph above. These foods are the comfort foods that shout homemade, so make the flavor yours by adding your favorite herbs.

As we approach the winter several popular herbs won’t make it past the first frost.  Basil is tender and if you want basil in the winter you will need to dry it. One easy way to dry the plants is to cut the stalks, tie them together and hang them upside down in a dry place.  Alternately you can dry the leaves inside individually on wax paper, making sure the wax paper is dry.  More sophisticated gardeners use a food dryer/dehydrator for drying herbs.  Any way you choose you will be happy in December when you have that flavor.

Oregano, rosemary and thyme plants may survive the winter if weather conditions are favorable.  For more information on incorporating herbs in your community garden contact your local UGA Extension Agent.  He/she will be able to give you useful information to help you achieve success.

Linda Hlozansky has been a Cobb County Master Gardener since 2009.  She is a talented gardener and she cooks as well as she gardens.   Her family is very lucky!

Happy gardening!

Dealing with Fire Ants in the Community Garden

Fire Ants are a hazard in any vegetable garden. They can do some damage to food crops, maybe the occasional nibble in a potato or pea pod. The biggest problem is the damage they can do to gardeners! The ant stings are painful and can be a serious medical issue.

Dealing with Fire Ants in the Community Garden
Fire Ants from Stinging and Biting Pest by Elmer Gray

Entomologists agree that fire ants came in to this county through Mobile, Alabama in the early 1900s. Today, the red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta), black imported fire ant (Solenopsis richteri), and their hybrids are what we have to deal with. See the UGA Publication Stinging and Biting Pests for more background information.

Fire ant stings are so painful because the ant’s mandibles allow the insect to grab on to the victim as the ant stings. The stinger can be used more than once and afterwards the insect is not impacted and goes on to live another day.

Ants do prey on some garden pests, like caterpillars. However, they also assist other damaging insects like aphids by keeping natural enemies away.

Controlling fire ants in the community garden can be a challenge. It takes an on-going approach and the use of several methods, real integrated pest management(IPM).

Dealing with Fire Ants in the Community Garden
Photo from UGA’s Department of Entomology

Fire ants like full sunshine, just like your vegetable plants. However, they don’t tend to stay in areas that are disturbed. Garden plots that are frequently worked or compost piles that are frequently turned aren’t the ants first choice of habitat.

Some publications recommend pouring boiling water over the mounds. A supply of boiling water would be hard to come by in a community gardening setting. Also, it could be a real danger to the gardener and the vegetable plants. Digging out the mounds is also sometimes recommended. This could create very angry ants that would be inclined to attack the digger.

Fall is a good time for chemical controls.  Products containing carbaryl (Sevin), pyrethrins, and pyrethrins plus diatomaceous earth are approved for use in vegetable gardens and will kill fire ants. Be aware these products are not selective and will affect other insects as well. READ THE LABEL of any product you use and follow those directions.

Controlling Fire Ants in the Vegetable Garden, a Clemson University publication, discusses bait products approved for use in the home vegetable garden. Products containing spinosad or pyriproxyfen can be effective when used according to label instructions.  Spinosad effects the ant’s nervous system and  is considered fast acting. Pyriproxyfen prevents the development of worker ants. Products containing these ingredients include Conserve and Esteem. Be sure to place bait around the mound and not on top of the mound for the most effective use.

Using baits in the surrounding lawn or grass area can also be helpful. With any chemical product, read the label and make sure it is approved for the use you need. Do NOT use a product in the vegetable garden unless it is labeled for use in the vegetable garden. See the UGA Pest Management Handbook for more information on chemical control. UGA’s Dan Suiter is the leader of the Urban Pest Management Program and they do research on fire ant control.

The bottom line – fire ants are not easy to control. It takes diligence and a combination of approaches. Contact your local UGA Extension Agent for the latest information on dealing with fire ants.

Happy Gardening!

Stone Mountain Community Garden at VFW Park

Master Gardener Averil Bonsall and UGA Extension Agent Gary Pieffer show off a beautiful bed of watermelons.
Master Gardener Averil Bonsall and UGA Extension Agent Gary Pieffer show off a beautiful bed of watermelons.

The Stone Mountain Community Garden is a beautiful space located on an old ball field.  It is a partnership between the city of Stone Mountain and UGA Extension Master Gardeners.  When you first visit you will be impressed with the number of plots (50) and how well organized and maintained the raised bed plots are.  One master gardener site coordinator, Averil Bonsall, indicated that they have public demand for more but they are trying to keep it a manageable size.  You will also notice the wildlife!   A bee hive ensures that bees are present and they are busily flying around collecting nectar and pollinating the gardens which are full of vegetables, fruits and flowers.  Birds and pollinators are also attracted by the new meadow garden on the perimeter of the property and the sunflowers.

The garden has demonstration areas where gardeners can learn how to grow herbs and fruits.  A demonstration compost bin system is on the property and is used by the gardeners.  There is a 3,000 square foot pantry garden where everyone pitches in with the chores and the food is donated to the local food pantry in Stone Mountain.

To be part of the garden each grower pays a small annual fee and commits to provide two four-hour time periods of labor in the community areas of the garden.  This can be mowing the grass,working in the pantry garden, or weeding the demonstration areas.  As with all gardens, there is always a lot to be done.

Stone Mountain Community Garden
Stone Mountain Community Garden

The usual tomatoes, beans, and squash, are present as well as some unusual choices.  There is a large asparagus bed and a plot of dwarf okra.  Tomatoes are grown in hay bales here and there is an ornate trellis for growing pole beans.  The growers really do try new things and learn from each other.  For a brief walking tour of the garden visit A Walk Through the Stone Mountain Community Garden at VFW Park.

“The garden is a testament to the cultural richness and diversity of the nearby community.  Everyone works together and learns from each other.  They have put the ‘Community’ back into community gardening.”  – Gary Peiffer, DeKalb UGA Extension Agent

Happy Gardening!

Determining Planting Dates

Sometimes determining planting dates can be tricky.  We know that our fall vegetable garden should be in and growing when it is still hot, and dry, outside.  We also know that many cool season plants don’t grow well in the heat.  What to do?

Weather Station Map
Weather Station Map

The first step is to find out when the average first frost date is for your area.  Luckily in Georgia we have the Georgia Automated Environmental Monitoring Network (AEMN) which has weather stations all over the state.  These weather stations collect weather data year after year, including first frost dates.  This information can help us determine when to plant. Let’s say you live in Dallas, Georgia and you want to plant broccoli, specifically the cultivar Green Goliath.

If you visit the AEMN website,, and type in your zip code, 30132, you will be directed to the Dallas Georgia weather station.  Following the link for first frost date you will find years of data for your use.  Let’s just use the last six years of collected data:

2012    Nov 9

2011    Oct 30

2010    Nov 6

2009    Oct 19

2008    Nov 10

2007    Nov 7

Using this information we can determine when we want to make sure the broccoli has matured and hopefully been eaten and enjoyed.   These dates have a span of 22 days.  The earliest is October 19th and the latest is November 10th.  The October 19th date looks like it may be an outlier.  (A statistician could do better justice to this analysis I am sure!)  So, you may decide that Halloween, October 31st looks like a good date to work with.

According to The Southern Seed Exchange catalog, the information for Green Goliath says 55 days to maturity (DTM).  In this case the DTM is from the transplant stage.  So, if you are starting your seeds to create your own transplants you will need to add about 20 days to that number, 75 days.

Look at October 31st and count back in the calendar 75 days.  This leads us to August 17th as the date to plant your seeds. Experienced, and maybe obsessive, gardeners mark in their calendars key dates such as “100 days until average first frost date” and “75 days until average first frost date.”

If you live in Dallas Georgia today, September 17th, is 44 days until your estimated average first frost date.  If you are feeling lucky with the weather, you might find some Green Goliath transplants at your local plant store.

Happy Gardening!

Honey Bees in the Community Garden-A Guest Post by Jennifer Grimes

The Georgia Tech Urban Bee Project
The Georgia Tech Urban Bee Project

As people become increasingly aware of the importance of pollinators, more community gardens are considering establishing a honey bee hive (or three) of their own. Not only do bee-flower interactions increase garden productivity, bee hives can provide great educational opportunities for the communities that keep them.

By providing pollinator support to your garden, you are greatly increasing the chance that your crop yield will be heavier and of better quality than without bees. To give just one example of this, the Honey Bee Project of the University of Hawaii found that the addition of one hive to a hectare of cucumber plants can result in three times the fruit production as compared to a plot with no hives. Moreover, in terms of fruit development, they found that a minimum of eight to ten bee-flower interactions is necessary to produce a cucumber of adequate quality.

Bees provide crucial agricultural support to gardens, but they also afford us with important learning opportunities in regard to the ecology and interconnected nature of our food systems. The practice of keeping bees permits communities to learn about the living systems that provide food for us. Around one third of our global food production and 90 percent of wild plants are dependent on pollinator services. As bee populations decline due to Colony Collapse Disorder, rampant pesticide use, loss of habitat, pests and diseases, and genetic uniformity caused by selective breeding, the spreading of awareness is increasingly critical in our efforts to reverse the problem. The bees give us an opportunity to increase awareness of how to not only live sustainably within the system, but how to nurture it as well.

Now that we know how the establishment of bee hives in our community gardens can help us as gardeners, we need to ask ourselves how we can help the bees. Beekeeping is a fun, rewarding hobby, but taking upon the responsibility of caring for a colony of bees not a task to be taken lightly. Establishing beehives in your community garden requires either procuring a local beekeeper or becoming a beekeeper yourself in order to maintain the hives. Beekeeping associations often offer beekeeping courses in the early spring. Though these are not required to become a hobby beekeeper in Georgia, they are highly recommended for the benefit of the bees and the keepers.

Honey Bees Coming Home - photo by Jeff Martin
Honey Bees Coming Home – photo by Jeff Martin

In order to ensure a healthy, happy hive, take part in best management and good neighbor practices. It’s critical that your hive has a variety of non-pesticide-laced wildflowers to forage for food when crops are not in bloom. Strategically planting varieties of native wildflowers that bloom when crops are not blooming will provide season-long food supplies to keep your honey bees, as well as our critical native pollinators, healthy and productive. Plus they are pretty!  It is also important that the bees have access to a clean nearby source of water; they need this to help produce food for baby bees as well as to cool their hives during the hot summer months. Keeping these necessities close by will discourage bees from traveling long distances and wasting energy that could be used to make honey, as well as from becoming a nuisance by spending too much time around your neighbor’s pool.

In regard to liability issues, there’s no guarantee a neighbor or visitor won’t bring a nuisance or negligence case against you regardless of the precautions you’ve taken. As Georgia has no laws protecting beekeepers from these legal actions, this topic is open for legal interpretation. However, the liability risk is negligible in comparison to the great ecological benefits that these insects provide. Moreover, honey bees are an extremely docile species of bee and the likelihood of being stung is extremely low, especially when they are not in their hive. Unfortunately, many people mistakenly believe they have been stung by a honey bee when in fact they were stung by a yellow jacket or other aggressive stinging insect. Considering that the act of stinging causes the bee to die, this action is only taken as a last resort when defending their colony. Some beekeepers claim that honey bees are so docile that, when foraging for food in flowers, they can even be pet.  Keith Delaplane, a UGA entomologist has a thorough publication, Honey Bees and Beekeeping.  Helpful information on all types of bees can also be found through the Xerces Society.

If you’re interested in establishing a bee hive in your community garden, you can learn more by visiting local beekeepers, taking some beekeeping classes, or by contacting your local UGA Extension office.

Jennifer Grimes is a City and Regional Planning Graduate Student at Georgia Tech. She is currently an intern with the Georgia Tech Urban Honey Bee Project. Jennifer is also a home brewer and plans on making mead in the near future using local honey – Honey Bee-r!

Happy beekeeping!




Healthy Life Community Garden

Healthy Life 6“We are NOT building a garden.  We are breaking generational barriers, cultivating and amending the fallow ground of imagination and hope, planting seeds of thought, birthing fruit of propensity for prosperity.  That – that is what we are doing.” This is on a sign that greets you when you visit the Healthy Life Community Gardens in Griffin.  The garden is located on the grounds of the old Fairmont High School, which was started as a Rosenwald school.  Rosenwald schools were primarily built for the education of African-Americans in the early 20th century.  So, there is a lot of history here.  But, the school has been closed down for some time now and the area forgotten until the idea was born to create a garden here.  And, it is a beautiful garden.

There is no cost to get a plot at the garden and the Griffin Area Housing Authority

Patti Beckham waters a few plants.
Patti Beckham waters a few plants.

provides water.  There are 17 official gardeners using assigned raised beds.  And, others who come to just volunteer here.   There is a

Young readers enjoy the garden.
Young readers enjoy the garden.

pollinator garden and a nice seating area.  A unique feature to this garden is the  “Summer in the Garden” reading program where volunteers from the FERST Foundation bring garden-themed books to read and give to young gardeners.  The space has designated Community Areas where anyone can pick and take vegetables.  They have recently added some fruit and pecan trees.

At the heart of the garden is Patti Beckham.  Patti is a program assistant with Spalding County Extension and you can hear the passion in her voice as she talks about the garden, and the people who garden here.  Patti taught at Fairmont  for eight years

when it became a special needs school.  She loves seeing the place reborn.  She conducts a Junior Master Garden program here and also supervises 4-H students who are volunteers.  Patti and Wade Hutcheson, the Spalding County ANR agent, agree that

UGA Extension Agent, Wade Hutcheson, visits with gardeners Jimmy Jones and Ernest Lewis.  Mr. Jones went to the Fairmont school in the late 1960s.
UGA Extension Agent, Wade Hutcheson, visits with gardeners Jimmy Jones and Ernest Lewis. Mr. Jones went to the Fairmont school in the 1950s.

the number one need is more gardeners from the immediate community.  Wade says the garden is here and within walking distance of so many people, he is hoping that more will come out.  For more information about the garden contact Wade at the Spalding County Extension Office at 770-467-4225.

The first rule at the Healthy Life Community Gardens is “I will have fun.”  Isn’t that great?

Happy Gardening!

Collard Greens – A Southern Favorite

Collard Green SeedsCan any Southern garden truly be Southern without collard greens?  If you are from the South your Grandmother probably cooked them up with a bit of smoked meat or bacon.  They are a staple at the Sunday dinner table, tasty and very nutritious. Collard greens are a wonderful fall plant because they can take the heat and the cold.  For questions about any fall garden vegetable contact your local UGA Extension Agent.

August is the time for direct seed sowing.  Make sure your soil is loose and well-drained.  The seeds will germinate at soil temperatures from 45 degrees – 85 degrees, a very wide range.  Seed heavily, putting about 2 inches between seeds, and cover the seeds with about 1/4-1/2 inch of soil. Thin to 12-18 inches between plants.  The thinnings can be steamed and eaten or transplanted.  Since you are planting in the summer, insect pests may be a problem for very young seedlings.

Many gardeners start their seeds inside and transplant hardier seedlings.  For transplants, either raised or purchased, September is the time for planting.  Transplants will adjust quicker if they are planted on a cloudy day or hardened off to the heat by keeping them in the shade for a few days.  Keep the plants 12-18 inches apart.   Collards are heavy feeders so make sure to add some fertilizer or compost when you plant.  Nitrogen keeps those leaves nice and green.  Keep the young plants well watered.   Some gardeners have problems with leaf spots on their greens.  Paul Pugliese’s Leaf Spots on Greens Related to Moisture could be helpful if this happens to you.

With collard greens you don’t have to worry about the first frost damaging the plant.  The greens actually taste sweeter after a frost.

You can harvest greens a number of ways.  You can harvest the entire plant when it is half grown or full grown.  Or, you can begin taking several of the outer, lower leaves after the plants are about a foot tall.  Harvesting the plant a few leaves at a time will prolong your harvest and you will have fresh greens as you want them.

Blue Max, Georgia Southern, Hevi-Crop are all recommended cultivars.  Master Gardeners have also had success with Georgia Green as well.  These should be available almost at any place that sells seeds.  If you are fortunate enough to live near an old fashioned feed and seed store or an older hardware store, you may be able to find seeds there.  Also, there are several mail order companies such as Seed Savers Exchange and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds that specialize in hard to find seeds.

The poet Maya Angelou is quoted as saying “The best comfort food will always be greens, cornbread, and fried chicken.”  We tend to agree, don’t you?

Happy Gardening!

Tomato Recipe from 4th and Swift

It seems no matter how hard we plan at some point during the summer we have more tomatoes than we know what to do with. We have eaten many BLT sandwiches, given the neighbors more than they can use, and canned tomatoes for the winter.  You have donated scads to the local food bank.  What next?  I asked chef and owner of the restaurant 4th and Swift, Jay Swift, how he would handle this problem and he gave me a recipe that is perfect for those tomatoes!

Heirloom Tomato and Melon Gazpacho

1 pound tomatoes, cut into quarters

1 cantaloupe, skin and seeds removed

1 honeydew melon, skin and seeds removed

5 basil leaves

1 TBSP champagne vinegar

3/4 cup olive oil

Salt/pepper to taste

Honeydew Melon, Cantaloupe, Tomatoes, and Basil sauteing in Olive Oil.
Honeydew Melon, Cantaloupe, Tomatoes, and Basil sauteing in Olive Oil.

In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil.  Add the tomato quarters, melons, and basil.  (Note:  with a gas stove make sure you turn off the heat when you add your ingredients.  This prevents flames in the pan.)  Saute the ingredients until they start to bleed out, about 1 minute.  Remove from heat and quickly store in the refrigerator.  Once everything is chilled, buzz in the food processor with vinegar.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Enjoy!


Chef Swift is a gardener in his own right and his restaurant is known for its farm-to-table menu, using all-natural and sustainable farm products.  He was happy to share a photo of his garden with us.  He is proud of his restaurant located in the Old Fourth Ward district of Atlanta near the new Atlanta Beltline project.  And he should be! We thank him for sharing his culinary expertise with us.

Chef Jay Swift's Garden
Chef Jay Swift’s Garden

Happy Eating!

Looking Forward to Fall Vegetables-Guest Post by Amy Whitney

The summer vegetable garden is still producing plenty of great food for most Georgia gardeners, but the first frost date is getting close enough that we all can begin to think about fall crops.

As Extension Horticulturist Robert Westerfield says in the UGA publication Home Gardening, “Fall-grown vegetables are usually of very high quality. If you supply water as needed, use pesticides properly and fertilize according to label recommendations, you will be rewarded with tender vegetables in a season when few people are enjoying such delicacies.”

Young Broccoli Plant (PHOTO/Amy Whitney)
Young Broccoli Plant (PHOTO/Amy Whitney)

While many summer vegetables will grow and produce into the fall, cold-hardy crops that can withstand some freezing weather can extend the harvest well into winter for much of the state. The list of these cold-hardy crops includes broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, spinach, beets, turnips, collards, kale, carrots, and more!  Your local UGA Extension Agent will be able to tell you what fall crops grow well in your area.

When the first frost wilts and blackens the last of our summer crops, the fall crops should already be in place and growing strong.

To get them far enough along that they will reach maturity before a very hard freeze damages the more tender of these crops, they should be planted according to the times listed in UGA’s Vegetable Planting Chart. The dates in the chart are for middle Georgia, so an adjustment of one, two, or more weeks will need to be made in the planting dates for most Georgia counties.

For gardens north of middle Georgia, an earlier planting date is needed to allow time for good growth before their earlier frost. Gardeners farther south can plant later than the recommended dates, since their frost date will be later.

At planting time, don’t forget to follow the soil preparation guidelines that make the summer garden such a success. Add more composted organic matter to the soil, since some will have been lost to decomposition over the hot summer, and remember to provide good nutrition to your crops through fertilizer additions.

These additions can be based on soil test results (preferred) or based on instructions on a home-garden fertilizer package. Careful soil preparation pays off in higher yields, so these are important steps.  Most important of all, though, is to enjoy the beautiful fall weather and bountiful harvest!

Amy Whitney is a Horticulture Program Assistant with Cobb Extension.  She lives in Kennesaw where she is famous for the creative way she grows food crops in her suburban yard.

Happy Gardening!