On 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 freeze. 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.
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
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.
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 email@example.com.
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.
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.
This 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.
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.
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.
Armed with this knowledge you will be ready to tackle pumpkin growing next spring. May your Halloween be filled with treats and no tricks!
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!
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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).
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.
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.
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
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?
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, www.georgiaweather.net, 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.
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.
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!