Making Fresh Strawberry Jam – A Guest Post by Cindee Sweda

Making Fresh Strawberry Jam - A Guest Post by Cindee Sweda
Making Fresh Strawberry Jam - A Guest Post by Cindee Sweda
Start with fresh, ripe fruit.

Several of you have asked me to re-run this post about making strawberry jam.  The strawberries are plentiful around Georgia this year and I made jam myself this weekend.  Actually, Cindee says what I make is really spreadable fruit because I don’t use pectin.  Cindee is the expert.   Enjoy your strawberry crop and have fun making jam!

Read moreMaking Fresh Strawberry Jam – A Guest Post by Cindee Sweda

Give Growing Cucumbers a Try

Fresh slicing cucumbers are a favorite summer crop.   Extension Horticulturist, Robert Westerfield, has written a helpful circular called “Growing Cucumbers in the Home Garden” that will get you started.

Slicing cucumbers may have long vines.  With proper planning, and a few tips, you can have manage cucumber vines in the community garden.  There are a few cultivars that are bush-type cultivars, meaning they won’t take as much space.  Salad Bush Hybrid is advertised to take up about 1/3rd the area of a traditional vining cucumber.  Bush Crop and Fanfare are also commonly grown bush cucumbers.  Realize that they will still have some vines.

Cucumber vines can be managed.
Cucumber vines can be managed.

If you want to try the vining cultivars you can stake or trellis them.  Wire-grid growing panels are perfect for cucumbers.  Or, recycle a portion of fencing. Trellising cucumbers has the added advantage of getting the fruit off of the ground which helps prevent fruit rots.  This also allows for increased air flow around the plant leaves which may cut down on disease problems.  Be conscientious of your fellow gardeners by not creating unwanted shade for your neighbor with your trellis.

Depending on how large your cucumber fruit matures, it may need support on the trellis.  Old panty hose or onion bags are perfect for this.  As the fruit becomes big, gently cup the cucumber in the hose or onion bag and tie it to the trellis.  Be careful not to bruise the fruit or tear it from the vine.  Burpless hybrid, Straight Eight, Sweet Success, Sweet Slice, Diva, and Marketmore 76 are good vining cultivars for Georgia.

Community gardeners list past poor fruit quality as a reason not to grow cucumbers.  If you know a bit about the biology of the cucumber plant you might have better success.  Cucumbers have two kinds of flowers.  They have male (staminate) and female (pistillate) flowers.  Staminate flowers do not bear fruit. Bees move pollen from staminate (male)  flowers to the

No summer salad is complete without a crisp, fresh cucumber!
No summer salad is complete without a crisp, fresh cucumber!

pistillate flowers for pollination and subsequent fruit production.  This means if you, or your fellow gardeners, are using broad-spectrum insecticides you may be reducing the quality and quantity of your cucumbers by killing possible pollinators.  It is possible to hand pollinate cucumbers if you see few bees.

You may have heard of gynoecious cucumbers. These produce mostly female flowers.  They often have a heavier yield because of the increased number of female flowers. I’ve seen posts around the web suggesting that the few male flowers be removed.  Don’t do that!   It takes male and female cucumber flowers to make fruit!  General Lee and Calypso are two gynoecious types worth a try.

Be bold and try cucumber planting.  Your salads will be the better for it!  For more information on growing cucumbers with success contact your local UGA Extension Agent.

Happy Gardening!

 

Aphids are Pests in the Georgia School or Community Garden

Aphids are Pests in the Georgia School or Community Garden
Jim Occi, BugPics, Bugwood.org

Do you have aphids in your garden?  If so, are they a problem?  Spring when many plants have succulent, new growth is prime aphid time.

Aphids, also called plant lice, are soft-bodied, pear shaped insects with tail-like appendages known as cornicles.  Most aphids are about 1/10th inch long and can be several colors:  green, black, pink, brown. If you have trouble identifying your pest, contact your local UGA Extension agent.

Aphids use “piercing-sucking” mouthparts to suck the juices out of tender plant parts, secreting a sticky substance known as honeydew.  Ants are attracted to honeydew and will often protect the aphids making it.  Black sooty mold grows well on honeydew and is difficult to remove from

Aphids are Pests in the Georgia School or Community Garden
Sooty mold caused by aphids. Joesph O’Brien, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org

the leaves.  This sooty mold makes photosynthesis almost impossible on the leaves affected.  All this means that aphids can be a problem to the community gardener.

Aphids are a danger to plants in three ways.

They can:

  1. weaken a plant making it susceptible to a secondary infection
  2. cause curling of leaves and damage to terminal buds
  3. carry and spread plant viruses

Right now our gardens are full of leafy, new plant growth and as the temperatures warm up, check the underside of

Aphids are Pests in the Georgia School or Community Garden
Aphids on lettuce

leaves and terminal buds for aphid pests.   Look for those tail-like appendages.  (Some people call them tailpipes!) Also pay attention to ant trails.  They may lead you to the honeydew making aphids.

Since aphids tend to congregate as a group, you can try removing the one or two leaves where you find them.  Sometimes a good spray with the hose is enough to remove the insects.   If not, insecticidal soap is a good choice. Sometimes I can just wipe them off with a wet paper towel.

Beneficial insects are nature’s way of controlling aphids.   So avoid applying any chemical insecticide that could harm those beneficials.  Some of the natural predators include lacewings or lady beetles (lady bugs).  You can actually purchase lady beetles from insect distributors but once you get them you can’t control where they fly.

Wishing you an aphid-free spring!

Happy Gardening!

Metro Atlanta’s Healthy Soil Festival 2019

This Saturday, May 4th is the 5th Annual Soil Festival. Soil Festival is an annual tradition of celebrating soil as a key source for building gardens and healthier communities. This year a brand new Community Compost Learning Lab, the first of its kind in metro Atlanta, will be unveiled.

This free event is for all ages and raises awareness of the benefits of using local compost to improve and maintain high quality soil and to grow healthy food. This year, all attendees are encouraged to bring kitchen scraps to the event to support the production of healthy soil in Atlanta.

Soil Festival 2019 will be held at Truly Living Well’s Collegetown Farm in Atlanta, and includes a host of exciting opportunities for school gardeners, community gardeners, backyard gardeners, urban farmers, educators, beginning gardeners and children!

Never been to a farm? This festival is for you, too!

This year’s Soil Festival will feature educational workshops on gardening and composting; a children’s corner with fun garden-based activities and story time; a variety of urban agriculture vendors to learn tools of the trade from; a petting zoo; and free bags of compost for your garden.

We will also be providing great music and complimentary farm-to-table food and fare. Dig in, meet fellow gardeners, and visit all of the exhibitors who will be sharing resources and tools to help you enjoy the successes of gardening.

Registering for free tickets is encouraged.

See you there!

The Importance of Leadership in the Community Garden

The last couple of weeks I have visited several community gardens. Most of them are flourishing and it exciting to see! Two of the gardens are on the brink of collapse. Why? Lack of leadership.

People are the most important part of a community garden. Leadership, most often in the form of a garden board, is necessary to:

Manage plot assignments
Organize common area work days
Promote the garden
Secure needed funding
Act as a liaison with the outside community
Ensure harmony among gardeners
Help teach those who are new to gardening
Plan fun garden events!

This is essential to the sustainability of the garden.

It is always sad to see failing gardens especially when it could have been prevented. At their best community gardens are a safe gathering spot for fellowship, learning, and growing good food. The publication How to Start a Community Garden: Getting People Involved is an excellent resource even for established gardens. Also, the American Community Garden Association has some tips for garden leaders.

Keep your garden organization in order so you can enjoy the harvest!
Happy Gardening!

Our Georgia Weather Stations

If you don’t routinely use https://www.georgiaweather.net you are missing out. This website contains information from approximately 100 weather stations placed all across our state.

After you select your area from a drop-down menu a wealth of information pops up including rainfall amounts, soil moisture, and soil temperatures.

Right now in mid-April we are all concerned about soil temperatures. No matter what the air temperatures are reading, soil temperatures are what matter for seed germination and root growth. The weather station data shows soil temperatures at 2 -inch, 4-inch, and 6-inch soil depth. Today the 4-inch soil temperature for my location in Blairsville is 54.1 F degrees. This is way too cool for any warm-season crops.

I can also look at past data to see what the last frost dates have been for my area. The last few years have seen some swings from April 30th last year to early April the three years prior.

This information can help me make calculated and informed decisions about planting times. I highly encourage all of you to make use of this free tool.

Georgia Agriculture Awareness (and Appreciation) Week

As the 2019 Georgia Agriculture Awareness week draws to a close I hope everyone took some time to enjoy some Georgia Grown food. I know my family did! Tuesday night we enjoyed Caprese Chicken made with Georgia chicken and tomatoes, topped with homegrown basil. I enjoyed seeing photos of how you all celebrated School Garden Day on Monday.

This year especially I have been reflecting on how very appreciative I am of Georgia agriculture. Every night I am blessed to be able to have a nutritious, delicious meal thanks to those who grew it. Some of the food we grow ourselves, in that wonderful Georgia soil, and some we purchase from other growers.

This past year our farmers have dealt with incredible difficulties from hurricane Michael and recently flooding. Many people don’t realize that the overwhelming majority of our farms are family operations. Georgia agriculture has been hit hard. It has been a sobering few months.

This week I have resolved to even eat more locally and make sure that I am supporting Georgia agriculture as much as I possibly can. Thank you, Georgia growers, and this week especially our hats are off to you! #GaAgWeek2019

Indoor Seed Starting-Part Three

Now that your seeds have germinated the fun begins! When most of the seedlings have germinated and look strong, think about removing the top dome. You can do this gradually by placing it askew on the seed tray for a day or two before totally removing the top.

It is important to keep the light just above the seedlings and to move it as the seedlings grow. If the light is too far from the seedling, the seedling will become “leggy” as it grows towards the light.

Keep the light source close to the seedlings.

At this stage the seedlings are very fragile. When you need to add water, add it between the pellets. The flow of water can actually displace the seedling and/or damage the stem. Also watering from the bottom will help your roots grow longer. You want to avoid diseases such as damping off, so let the seedlings dry out before re-watering.

Fungus is your enemy here.

As the seedlings put on a few true leaves, they will outgrow the pellet and will need to be repotted in a larger pot with soil. After repotting you can keep them under the lights until the weather cooperates for transplanting in the garden.

As the seedlings get closer to that point, run your hand across the plants moving the stems slightly. The goal is to toughen the stems a bit so that they will be able to handle wind outdoors.

These seedlings are a bit leggy but they can still be good producers. Hardening-off is an important step.

When the weather is ready for transplanting you will need to harden off the transplants. If you take plants that have been living in a cozy, protected environment and move them into a place with full sun and wind they will suffer. You can avoid this by moving them out slowly. The first few days place them outside in the shade just for the day. Next, put them outside in the shade for the day and night. Then move them into full sun for a few hours. Finally, they are ready to be put in the ground. This type of hardening-off is the ideal way. You may not have all the time for all of these stages, but do the best you can. Your plants will reward you!

Happy Gardening!

Indoor Seed Starting – Part Two

All of this rain has me very excited about getting back to our seed starting project.

I have one note about seed starting media. If you choose to purchase bagged media for starting seeds indoors, do not choose something with fertilizer in the mix. This will be too strong for seedlings. There are plenty of bagged mixes specifically for seed starting so choose one of those.

We are ready to expand our pellets. Notice the seed pellets are fully expanded with no standing water:

Seed pellets are not too wet but moist all the way through.

Next, take a fork and open up the top a bit and fluff the media. I like to take this time to make sure that the moisture is uniform all the way through with no dry spots:

Fluff the planting media with a fork to ensure uniform moisture.

Now you are ready to plant your seeds. If you are mixing seed types in one tray, make sure that they will emerge and grow at about the same rate. I like to use plastic forceps to exactly place the seed where I want them. Some seeds, like lettuce and herbs, are very small and easily lost in the tray. Know how deeply to plant the seeds. Most of the ones you will probably plant just need to be lightly covered with the planting media.

Plastic forceps can be your best friend!

It is worth the effort to do some research on your seed types. For example, cilantro seeds don’t germinate easily when exposed directly to light. Also, there are some seeds that just do better planting directly into the soil, beans and corn are good examples.

At this point it is a great idea to label your seed tray. Sharpie markers on masking tape work well. The tape sticks to the tray but can be removed later. Do not be tempted to label the lid. You will be removing the lid later and you don’t want to forget the original orientation. Finally, put the lid on the tray, making sure it fits tightly.

Do not forget to label your seed trays.

Do not place your seed tray near a window and hope for the best. You will be disappointed. You will not get enough light for healthy seedlings and the temperature fluctuation at the window will be problematic.

Use a light system. The system does not have to be complicated. I have a light fixture with florescent bulbs attached to a structure with moveable chains. This setup was originally housed in a bathroom tub but it is now in my grown daughter’s bedroom. Very simple. You need the chain to move the light so it stays just above the seed tray. To produce robust seedlings you need the light no more than an inch or two above the tray. This will be imperative as the seeds germinate and grow.

If you are germinating seeds in a place that is reasonably warm you do not need a heating mat. Those were designed for outside greenhouses and places like Michigan. By using a heating mat when you don’t need one, you risk drying out your planting media.

So far this is pretty simple, right? If you have any questions or concerns you can comment or email me at beckygri@uga.edu. Send photos! Next week we will discuss seedling care.

Happy Seed Starting!

Trying Something New in the Georgia Community Garden – Corn

Today we continue our series on a good replacement for tomatoes in our summer community garden plots. Today’s crop to consider is corn.

Usually corn is avoided in the community garden. The tall stalks shade other plants, there is not much yield in the amount you can grow in a small space, and corn takes a large amount of water. That being said, I sometimes find community gardeners who really want to grow their own corn. They remember eating corn fresh from a grandparent’s farm or working the corn patch with their parents. Often these gardeners are now city dwellers and the corn means a great deal to them.

Corn tassels waiting on wind to spread the pollen

Instead of totally abandoning the idea of growing corn, why not think about trying some of the short growing varieties? Several of the seed companies offer shorter varieties. Burpee advertises a corn for growing in a patio container called On-Deck Hybrid. The description of this type states that it grows 4 – 5 feet high. Compare that to Silver Queen which stretches 8 feet tall.

Park Seed offers a shorter variety called Early Sunglow Hybrid. Stalks from this corn are expected to top at 4 feet. Another thought is popcorn. Seed Savers offers Tom Thumb popcorn which grows only 3-4 feet tall. I have grown popcorn many times. It is fun to grow and fun to pop with children or grandchildren.

I will caution you that more than a few stalks need to be grown to get any kind of yield. Many stalks yield 1-2 corn ears per plant. If you are serious about trying corn in the community garden consider allocating at least half of your 4’X 8′ garden bed for the crop. Also, remember that the crop is wind pollinated. It does not hurt to shake those corn tassels yourself to make sure the pollen moves around.

Happy Gardening!