School Garden During the COVID Crisis

School Gardening is a challenge during the best of times but during the COVID-19 crisis it can seem almost impossible.  As school gardens become more active there could be questions on how best to manage the garden while keeping safe.  Georgia’s Farm to School Alliance has developed some resources to provide some guidance.  The Farm to School Alliance is made up of partners from the University of Georgia, the Georgia Department of Agriculture, the Georgia Department of Education, the Georgia Department of Public Health and Georgia Organics.

Gardening Covid Guide WEB

Taste Testing Covid Guide WEB

Happy Arbor Day, Georgia!

ArborDayLogoNationally, Americans recognize Arbor Day in April.  Georgia celebrates Arbor Day on the third Friday of February each year because this is a better time to plant trees.  This year Georgia’s Arbor Day falls on February 19th.  By planting in February,  trees have time for root growth before the heat and drought of our summer months.

Have you considered fruit trees in your community garden?  They add a nice backdrop to your garden, can provide a bit of shade during the very hot summer days, and produce fruit for the gardeners.

Be warned, however, that they can be a lot of work.  There are a few points to think about before you decide if you want to plant fruit trees in your community garden:

1.  You need the right location.  When planning fruit trees for the limited space of a community garden, location is the key.  Fruit trees require at least six hours of sunlight to be healthy and to produce fruit.  Eight to ten hours of sun is optimal.  Also, although the shade a fruit tree provides during  August may be welcome, you do not want to create unwanted shade on vegetable plots.  Dwarf trees may be an answer here.  They are also easier to care for than full sized trees.  Remember what you plant will get bigger and taller!

An apple tree in the Green Meadows Preserve Community Garden.
An apple tree in the Green Meadows Preserve Community Garden.

2. Maintenance.  Realize that fruit trees involve more care than vegetables.  They may need to be properly pruned, thinned and fertilized regularly.  Apples, peaches, and plums will get diseases and insects in Georgia.  Someone will need to volunteer to address this by the use of pesticides, fungicides, and traps.  If your garden does not allow any pesticides, growing traditional fruit trees such as apples, pears, and peaches may not be for you.  Instead, you may want to try other fruit crops such as blueberries and figs.  David Berle and Robert Westerfield’s publication Growing Fruits: Community and School Gardens does a great job of discussing these issues.

3.  You may need more than one.  Many trees need cross-pollination to produce fruit.  You will need at least two different apple trees and depending on the variety you might need two different pear or plum trees.  Most peach trees self-pollinate so one will still produce fruit.

If these points haven’t scared you off, check out these publications:

Home Garden Pears by Gerard Krewer and Paul Bertrand

Home Garden Apples by David Lockwood

Another way to think about trees is their value to pollinators.  There are many “trees for bees” and other pollinators that do well in our Georgia ecosystems.  Did you know that several trees are actually larval host plants for butterflies?  Selecting Trees and Shrubs as Resources for Pollinators is a wonderful resource for Georgia gardeners.

Contact your UGA Extension agent for more information on planting trees.

Happy Arbor Day!

The Great Georgia Pollinator Podcast

The Great Georgia Pollinator Podcast has launched!   University of Georgia’s Becky Griffin is the host and she designed the podcast to correspond to the Great Georgia Pollinator Census.

If you are interested in pollinating insects, habitat, and research, this is the podcast for you.  It can be found on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Anchor.  Each episode is 20-30 minutes so it is easy to listen to at your office desk, during lunch, or on your commute.

The first episode explores the Connect to Protect pollinator certification program with Lauren Muller.  As with other social media platforms, this podcast will concentrate on pollinator habitat during the first part of the year and transition into more insect topics as we approach warmer weather.  Won’t you join us?

Using Seed Catalogs In the Classroom

The seed catalogs keep arriving. In my household that is cause for excitement. I save them until I have time to properly enjoy looking through them. What do you do with your seed catalogs after you have looked through them and placed your orders? If you throw them into the recycling bin you are missing out as these gems are full of useful information.

If you are a school gardener, or a community gardener that works with youth, the seed catalogs can be used throughout the year! To start with you can laminate the beautiful photos to use as plant markers.

You can use the information provided in the catalog for lessons:

Seed spacing guides can be used for students to create a garden bed design.

Days to harvest information can be used for students to determine the planting dates of their garden design so that all the produce is ready at the same time.

Seed package cost can be used to calculate the total cost of the garden design.

All of this information can be used to determine how much produce can be grown per square foot (inch, meter).

Marketing plans can be created to sell resulting produce at a Farmers Market.  How much money can be made given the input costs?

Aspiring artists can design artistic seed packets using the information given.

English classes can pick vegetables and re-write the plant descriptions.

Of couse, students can look through the catalog and pick a vegetable they have never tried before and make a plan to grow it.

Happy browsing!

Seed Catalogs Are Arriving!

It is a great time of year for gardeners.  The seed catalogs are arriving and our gardeners are as beautiful as our imagination, and the photos from the catalogs.  These catalogs are mesmerizing.   The photos are works of art and the vegetable descriptions are literature.  Many of them contain information on vegetable history,  how to plant, and how to use the produce.  Flowers are described by height, scent, color and attractiveness to pollinators.  And, oh so many new varieties to try!

Garden Catalog Tips

Robert Westerfield,  UGA vegetable specialist, gives us some tips on navigating our way through these catalogs and all of the vegetable choices.

The Seed Catalogs are Here!

Tip #1  If you are gardening for high yields or dependable results, use recommended varieties for your area.  UGA’s Vegetable Planting Chart has a list of varieties that have proven to do well in Georgia.  These are the least risky choices.

Tip #2 When trying a new vegetable variety order only a small quantity to start.  Experimenting is one of the great pleasures of the garden.  Succeed or fail, it is fun to try.  Just don’t over-invest in seeds until you know how they will perform in your garden.

Tip #3 Remember the vegetables you grew up with may not necessarily be the best ones to plant now.   There are many improved hybrid varieties that can hold up to our disease and heat issues.  A good example is Silver Queen corn.  While popular, it is definitely not the best variety to grow in Georgia.  There are many new corn hybrids on the market that are much sweeter and maintain their sweetness longer when stored.

Hopefully, these tips will be a helpful guide as you enjoy making your 2021 garden seed selections.  One bonus tip especially for school gardeners – the photos in the catalogs can be laminated and used as plant markers or in gardening lessons.

Happy Reading

Garlic Planting Step-by-Step

Late October is prime garlic planting time for the Atlanta area.  The bulbs overwinter in the garden and are harvested in the spring.  If you don’t traditionally plant winter crops, garlic is a great one to start with.

Garlic (Allium sativum) is a member of the onion family.  Its use dates back to 4000 BC in central Asia.  According to Seed Savers Exchange garlic was found in King Tut’s tomb, eaten by Olympic athletes, and used as medicine by Hippocrates.  There are over 600 types of garlic grown all over the world.   Why not give it a try?

There are two basic categories of garlic:  hard-necked and soft-necked.  Georgians have better luck growing soft-necked garlic as the hard-necked ones require the long, cold winters and long, cool springs of more northern climates.  There are three types of soft-necked garlic that grow well in Georgia:  silverskin, artichoke, and elephant garlic (actually a type of leek).  Recommended cultivars include Inchelium Red, California Early, and Chet’s Italian – all artichoke types.  If you want to try the silverskin type consider Mild French.

Garlic Production for the Gardener is a useful publication on the types of garlic, planting, and harvesting.  Planting involves just a few simple steps.  Your local UGA Extension Agent will also have information to help you get started.

Garlic D

Step 1:  Start with prepared soil.  Garlic needs rich, loose soil with a pH of about 6.5.  Make sure you add some compost after removing the summer plants; don’t just pull up spent plants and put the garlic in the ground.   If soil test results indicate adding fertilizer, do so.  Garlic is a medium-heavy feeder.  Nitrogen can be incorporated in the soil before planting, either with traditional fertilizers or bone meal.  Side dress in the spring when shoots are 4 to 6 inches tall.  Hold off on nitrogen after April 1st because you want to encourage bulb formation not leaf growth.

Garlic A

Step 2:  Pull the garlic head apart just before you plant.  Use the larger bulbs for best results.  Also, leave the skin on the bulb.

Garlic C

Step 3:  Plant the bulbs about 2 inches deep with the pointed end up.  Space them about 6-8 inches apart.

Garlic Mulch

Step 4:  Be generous with mulch.  A generous amount of  mulch helps keep the soil moisture and soil temperatures even.

Tops may show through the mulch by the end of  October and the bulbs should be well rooted by November.   Since October is one of our driest months of the year, irrigation is important at planting.  Watering may be needed in early spring, but be careful not to over water.  Stop irrigation once the tops begin to dry and fall over.

Garlic should be ready for harvest between mid-May to mid-July.  Look for the tops drying and following over.  When 1/2 of the tops are in this condition it is time to harvest.  Don’t leave the bulbs in the ground too long or they may rot.  Be very careful when harvesting not to damage your crop.

Allow the heads to dry in a warm, dry place.  Keep them out of direct sunlight.  After the garlic has dried store it in a cool, dry, dark place to keep it fresh as long as possible.  Garlic braiding is a unique way of storage.

A community garden plot can yield a year’s worth of garlic so you’ll be able to enjoy those delicious Italian meals all year long.  Garlic bread, calazones, tomato sauce, garlic chicken….

Happy Gardening and Mangiate bene!

Garden Wasps – Where is the Love?

Bees have such a great reputation.  They are the face of pollinator conservation and we know how valuable they are in our food system.  But what about wasps?  Where is the love?  Wasps are also fascinating pollinators.  Did you know that wasps are the main pollinators of figs?

Your garden is full of beneficial wasps.  They dine on the pollen and nectar provided in pollinator gardens and are valuable pollinators.   They also assist in controlling grubs, caterpillars, and crickets.   Wasps provide important garden services!

Sadly, wasps seem to have a bad reputation.  They are seen as aggressive stingers.  This is not necessarily true.  Most wasps are nonaggressive and will only sting when they are grabbed or threatened.  These insects are beautiful and fun to watch.

Four toothed mason wasp

One example of a wasp you may see in your garden this summer is the four toothed mason wasp.  This wasp visits all types of flowers.  They are cavity nesters, laying eggs in small cavities already created by another wasp or bee.  They also use holes in twigs or hollow flower stems.  If you have a native bee home in your garden you probably have a mason wasp or two using those homes.

The female wasp hunts for soft-bodied caterpillars to carry back to the nest.  She will lay an egg and leave a stunned caterpillar next to that egg.  As the egg hatches, the emerging wasp larvae will consume the caterpillar.  This is a great service to your garden as you battle caterpillars that eat your food crops.

However, mason wasps do not differentiate between pest caterpillars and the caterpillars of beloved butterflies.  Gardeners do have a bit of control here.  Plant milkweed, parsley and other butterfly larval plants away from plants that wasps frequently visit such as mountain mint.  Otherwise, think of your garden as a whole ecospace and thank the wasps for their help in controlling the pests!

Scoliid Wasp

Another valuable wasp is the Scoliid wasp (Scolia dubia).  This wasp lives in the soil.  The adults can be seen on several flowering plants eating pollen and nectar.  The females lay their eggs in the ground.  At egg-laying time she will fly just above the ground looking for grubs.  When one unlucky grub is spotted, the wasp paralyzes it by stinging.   This grub is left with her eggs for the emerging larva to consume.  Grub control is another valuable service the wasps provide.

As wasps begin to appear in your garden take some time to appreciate their beauty and the services they provide.  Consider becoming more involved with pollinators by participating in the Great Georgia Pollinator Census in August (https://GGaPC.org).

 

 

Facts about the Asian Giant Hornet

From UGA’s Entomology Department:

A flurry of recent press coverage has created a surge of interest in the Asian giant hornet, Vespa mandarinia. The coverage is not traced to any recent event. The insect was found last September 2019 in Vancouver Island (Canada) and again in December 2019 in Washington state. But to date, this invasive insect is not present in the state of Georgia, nor indeed, east of the Mississippi.

The Asian giant hornet is a “true” hornet and the world’s largest, ranging in size from 1.5 to slightly over 2 inches long (38-50mm). The stinger is nearly ¼-inch long and stings are extremely painful. Each year in Japan, 30-50 people die from being stung by these hornets. The venom is not the most lethal among bees and wasps, but due to the insect’s large size, the dose is larger than any other stinging insect Americans typically encounter. Human sting deaths are biased toward individuals who are prone to anaphylactic reactions or to individuals who receive large numbers of stings. One or a few stings from an Asian giant hornet should not be life-threatening to an average individual.

The Asian giant hornet is not necessarily aggressive towards humans, livestock or pets but will sting if provoked. However, this giant killer can inflict a devastating blow to honey bee colonies, with several hornets capable of annihilating 30,000 bees within hours. There are three phases to an Asian giant hornet attacking a honey bee colony. The first is the hunting phase where individual hornets will capture bees at the entrance of the colony, cut off their heads, and form a “meat ball” from the thorax. They then return to their nest to feed their young this protein-rich meal.

The second phase is the slaughter phase. Hornets will mark a particular colony with a pheromone to recruit their sisters to the site. Then numerous hornets will descend upon the colony, killing all of the workers by ripping their heads off, dumping their bodies onto the ground below, and returning to their nest with their prey.

Once the bee hive is dead, hornets enter the occupation phase. Hornets take over the hive, collect pupae and larvae, and return to their own nest to feed their carnivorous young. The hornets now guard the hive entrance as if it were their own nest. The aftermath of an attack will be piles of decapitated or ripped apart bees in front of a colony. The visible key to an Asian giant hornet attack is “decapitated” or “ripped apart” bees, and not just a pile of intact dead bees, which could be the result of pesticides, starvation, or something else.

This is the hornet that incites the famous bee defensive response of “cooking” hornets to death. Asian honey bees grab an invading hornet, pile around it and raise their thoracic temperatures to the critical temperature that is lethal to wasps but tolerable to bees. Unfortunately, American honey bees, of European not Asiatic descent, do not have this behavior.

The Asian giant hornet’s life cycle is typical of that for other social wasps and yellowjackets. A solitary female emerges from winter hibernation and founds a subterranean nest, at first performing all nest duties including foraging and incubating the young. The colony steadily grows until workers eventually take over all foraging duties. New queens and males emerge in late summer and mate. Eventually the males and workers die, leaving only the newly-mated queens who overwinter in isolation.

At this time there have been no confirmed cases of this hornet’s presence in Georgia or anywhere outside of Washington state. Other wasps and hornets already residents in our state that may be confused with the Asian giant hornet are:

  • Cicada killers, Sphecius speciosus, size range 0.6 – 2 inches long (15 – 50mm)
  • European hornets, Vespa crabro, size range 1-1.4 inches (25-35mm)
  • Southern yellowjackets, Vespula squamosa, size range 0.5inches (12mm)
  • Baldfaced hornets, Dolichovespula maculata, size range 0.75 inches (19mm)

The Asian giant hornet and cicada killer may be similar in size but very different in coloration. The Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health have put together an “Asian Giant Hornet and its SE US Lookalikes” photographic fact sheet (link below) which is extremely helpful for distinguishing between the different species in our state.

At this time, we need to be vigilant but not over-reactive since, again, there is no evidence that the Asian giant hornet has journeyed East. However, sightings and/or disturbances to honey bee colonies should be reported. If you think you have seen an Asian giant hornet, found evidence of an attack (decapitated or ripped apart bees) or have a specimen, please contact your County Extension Agent immediately. They will be able to collect your information and any specimens for identification. You can call 1-800-ASK-UGA1 to find an agent near you. For photos and more in-depth information about the Asian giant hornet, please check out the followin

Georgia Department of Agriculture
http://www.agr.georgia.gov/invasive-pests.aspx

Washington State Department of Agriculture website  https://wastatedeptag.blogspot.com/2019/12/pest-alert-asian-giant-hornet.html

Celebrating Earth Day 2020

April 22 marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. The first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970 in schools and communities around the United States as a way to call attention to environmental issues. According to the Earth Day Network, the occasion is now celebrated in over 190 counties.

With most of our country sheltering-in-place, we have an opportunity to really embrace Earth Day at home with our families. Hopefully, you have taken time over the last days to really slow down and appreciate nature around you. Let’s celebrate that with a special Earth Day! Plant a garden or create nature poetry. It can be a great day while safely staying within recommended shelter-in-place guidelines.   Following are some other ideas to get you and your family in an Earth Day spirit.

Hold a family nature photo contest. Give the members of your family 24 hours to take nature photos from places nearby using their cell phones. Give simple prizes for the most creative photos.  You can use an online photo service to create a book of the photos as a memento.

Explore your pollinator garden. Practice identifying and counting insects to get ready for the Great Georgia Pollinator Census on August 21 and 22. The project website at https://ggapc.org/ contains all you need to learn more about the pollinators in your garden.

Learn to identify the birds in your yard. For added fun learn their calls. Cornell’s bird lab has free resources on bird identification. Feeding birds is a wonderful family hobby. Get tips on now from UGA Extension Circular 976 at extension.uga.edu/publications.

Discover more about the trees in your yard. Can you identify them? The Arbor Day Foundation has a great website for tree identification. What role does each tree play in the wildlife ecosystem? Create some leaf rubbings to decorate your home. For more information, see UGA Extension Bulletin 987 on native trees and shrubs at extension.uga.edu/publications.

Organize your recyclables. If you don’t already recycle, spend some time creating an area in your home to place and organize your recyclables.  Research where to take your recyclables locally.  Does your trash pickup service also take recyclables? For more tips, see UGA Extension Bulletin 1050-2 on recycling at extension.uga.edu/publications.

Plan an Earth Day dinner. This is a tradition with my family each year — we choose a theme and plan dinner and activities around it. For example, plan a pollinator dinner choosing foods that need a pollinator. Strawberry shortcake is a great dessert for this theme! Other themes are foods grown underneath the earth’s crust like potatoes, radishes, sweet potatoes and onions. Or perhaps a spring greens dinner with different lettuces and salad toppings. Cooking together is a wonderful activity for stress relief. Decorate your table for the occasion and plan some relevant dinner conversation topics.

Whatever you decide to do, stay safe and enjoy the day!

For more information on Earth Day visit https://www.earthday.org/.