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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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:
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:
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.
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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Send photos! Next week we will discuss seedling care.
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.
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.
The #1 crop grown in community gardens is tomatoes. I don’t remember visiting a community garden where I didn’t see tomatoes in the summer. I understand! There is not much better than a tomato from the vine warmed from the sun. BUT, growing tomatoes in the same space year after year creates disease and pest problems.
Over the next few weeks we will be exploring some food crops not typically grown in the community gardens. I am hoping that we can provide some options for that tomato garden space.
To get you ready to embrace new plant options, take a minute to view this video on tomato diseases!
Winter is a season of waiting for gardeners. But winter is the perfect time to work on our soil. When is the last time you had a soil test? This week Dr. Jason Lessl gives us a refresher on why and how to soil test. Dr. Lessl writes….
One of the most fundamental, but often overlooked aspects to any successful vegetable garden, flower bed, landscape, or lawn is good, fertile soil. Getting your soil tested by a laboratory is the best and most accurate way to assess your nutrient and pH levels which are vital components of maintaining your soil. The University of Georgia Soil, Plant, and Water lab offers such services (www.aesl.ces.uga.edu).
When you send a soil sample to a lab, you will receive a detailed report of soil nutrients levels along with crop-based recommendations on how to fix any potential deficiencies. The steps required to submit a soil sample are simple and can be achieved through a few items commonly found household items. You can start by contacting your local county extension office to acquire soil bags and get information on how to submit your samples. Locate your county office here: http://extension.uga.edu/about/county/index.cfm or call 1-800-ASK-UGA1.
When to soil test?
Soils can be tested any time during the year, although it is typically best to take samples in the Fall/Winter. This is the time of year when most plants are dormant and the soil is most accessible. If pH adjustments are necessary, it is also the best time to apply amendments as it can take several months for them to take effect. Lime (to raise pH) and sulfur (to lower pH) reacts slowly and, if possible, should be mixed with the soil at least two to three months before planting.
How often do I test my soil?
For intensely cultivated soils (i.e. vegetable gardens), an annual soil test is recommended. Otherwise, for lawns and ornamental areas, after medium to high fertility levels are established along with the appropriate pH, sampling should be done every two to three years.
Steps in Soil Sampling
Recommendations about when and how to apply nutrients are only as good as the soil sample submitted for analysis. To obtain a representative soil sample, the following steps are useful:
Map out the entire property. This will help in record keeping and ensure that the soil sample is representative of the entire area. Divide areas such that each soil sample represents one general plant type. For example, separate vegetable gardens, blueberry bushes, ornamentals, fruit trees, lawn, etc. If you have specific problem spots, sample those areas separately.
Use clean sampling tools and containers to avoid contaminating the soil sample. Collect samples with any digging tool you have available (hand trowel, shovel, soil probe, etc.).
Slightly damp soil is the easiest to work with if you can wait for those conditions. Clear the ground surface of grass, thatch, or mulch. Push your tool to a depth of 6 inches (4 inches for lawn areas) into the soil. Push the handle forward in the soil to make an opening then cut a thin slice of soil from the side of the opening that is of uniform thickness, extending from the top of the ground to the depth of the cut. Repeat this process in a zigzag pattern across your defined area, collecting 8-12 samples to mix together. For trees, take soil samples from 6-8 spots around and below the leaf canopy. Take about a pint (~2 cups) of the mixed soil (after removing large rocks, mulch, sticks, and roots) and fill the UGA soil sample bag. Be sure to label the sample clearly on the bag. If the samples are wet, spread the soil out over clean paper and let them air dry. Otherwise, take your samples to your local extension office for submission. Once the lab has received your soil, it will take 2-3 business days to get your report.
Dr. Lessl is a program coordinator for UGA’s Soil, Plant, and Water Lab. He understands the importance of the garden ecosystem as he is a fellow bee lover!
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:
The seed spacing guide can be used for students to create a garden bed design.
The 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.
The cost of the seed packages can be used to calculate the cost of the garden design.
All of this information can be used to calculate how much produce can be grown per square foot (inch, meter).
Students can look through the catalog and pick a vegetable they have never tried before.
Students could look through the catalog, find a favorite vegetable, and re-write the plant description.
It is a great time of year for gardeners. The seed catalogs are starting to arrive in our mailboxes. What a thrill to open the mailbox and see the hint of one of the beautiful catalog covers. These catalogs are mesmerizing. The photos are works of art and the vegetable descriptions are literature.
Garden Catalog Tips
We have asked Robert Westerfield, UGA vegetable specialist, to give us a few tips on navigating our way through these catalogs and all of the vegetable choices.
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 2019 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.
To finish our series on “tiny topics” I want us to think about mulch. Most gardeners already know that mulching our plant is a MUST. It helps even out soil temperature and moisture and it holds down weeds. But we can improve how mulch works for us if we take a minute to look at it critically.
Choose your mulch type wisely. The first rule of thumb is that you want mulch to be inexpensive and easily available. However, you also want mulch that is free from weed seeds. I have purchased hay as mulch that ends up contributing more weed seed than it prevented.
If you are using the mulch in a seed bed you want the elements of the mulch not to be a hindrance to seed emergence. If a small seed is pushing against a wood mulch nugget that is a problem. Lightweight mulch is best.
Often communities will give free mulch made from old Christmas trees. Be cautious of receiving this type of mulch. It is often full of large tree chucks which will be problematic for small seeds and can damage plant stems.
Consider changing your mulch. Especially if you are growing food crops, consider changing your mulch each season. Disease-casuisng organisms and pest insects can often overwinter in mulch and plant debris. Replace old mulch with new disease-free mulch. Another piece of the integrated pest management puzzle!
I hope with this series you have had a change to realize how even small garden elements can have a big impact on your garden’s health. I have appreciated the feedback and emails about this series!
Today we continue our series on tiny topics and we are exploring plant spacing. We all want to get as many plants as possible in our garden space. That is understandable, especially when you garden in a small 4′ X 8′ community garden plot. More plants equals more vegetables, right?
Reasons plant crowding is problematic:
#1 Seedlings planted close together do not have room to grow and develop. Tall plants can actually lean on small plants. This can cause damage to the smaller ones. I have seen tomatoes planted too close to bush beans. Inevitably the tomatoes arch over to the beans breaking stems, leaves, and blossoms off of the beans.
#2 The plants in your plot are competing for resources, especially soil nutrients like nitrogen. If individual plants are suffering because of lack of nutrients this could mean a less healthy plant and less food production.
#3 Plant crowding creates a microclimate where plant leaves do not have enough air circulation to dry out. As we all know wet leaves lead to (say it with me) disease!
The takeaway is to think about what each individual plant needs as it goes into your garden. Happy Gardening!