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!

Is Your Garden a Winter Mess?

With the long-lasting cold winter temperatures and snow (snow!!) this winter how does your food garden look and can it be salvaged? According to Home Garden Vegetable Specialist, Bob Westerfield, we are better off just pulling up spent broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and leafy greens. Leaving them in the garden creates a harbor for disease and insect pests. Brussel sprouts is an exception. If your Brussel sprouts look good, you can leave them and they may still produce.

A mushy winter mess!

Since playing in the garden is limited consider soil testing now and making your Spring garden plan. You will be able to plant new cool-season plants soon enough!

Happy Gardening!

Deciding on Raised Beds or In-Ground Gardening

Dr. David Berle and Robert Westerfield of UGA have created a series of publications on community/school gardens.  One of the most popular circulars is Raised Beds vs. In-Ground Gardens.  It is an excellent resource when determining whether or not raised beds would work for your garden.

The height of these beds is helpful for the senior gardeners at Tobie Grant Manor garden.
The height of these beds is helpful for the senior gardeners at Tobie Grant Manor garden.

Raised beds are defined as elevated boxes that are manageable in size and are filled with enough soil to support plants without using the soil underneath the box.  The height of the boxes can vary.  Tall boxes can be very beneficial to senior gardeners who are more comfortable working while standing instead of knelling down.  When dealing with native soil of questionable quality, raised beds with imported soil are an easy solution.

Some other advantages of raised beds are:

  • Prevention of soil compaction- raised boxes can limit foot traffic on the soil
  • Less weeding and maintenance
  • Reduced conflict – raised beds are very defined and easy to assign to participating gardeners
  • Better drainage
  • Extended garden area – raised beds can be placed on slopes, compacted soil, and even parking lots
The in-ground gardens at Woodstock Community Garden make it easy for a tiller to work the soil.
The in-ground gardens at Woodstock Community Garden make it easy for a tiller to work the soil.

There are advantages to in-ground gardens.  Raised bed materials can be costly for a garden group just starting and in-ground gardening can allow a tractor or tiller to easily help prepare the area.  Other advantages include:

  • Use of existing soil
  • Less permanent – if the landowner deems the garden temporary or for good crop rotation
  • Easier irrigation
  • Less start-up work
  • Clay soils do have benefits that are not found in man-made soils

As you start, or change, your garden carefully consider which arrangement will work for your group.  Consider your current and future needs and decide how much time and resources you all are willing to commit.  Your local UGA Extension office is a great resource for help.

Happy Gardening!

Making Use of Seed Catalogs All Year Long

The seed catalogs have started 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.

Happy browsing!

Collard Greens Recipe from Mary Mac’s Tea Room

Collard Greens Recipe from Mary Mac's Tea Room

It seems many gardeners plan on preparing collard greens for their holiday tables and have asked that I re-run this post from 2014. Enjoy…

Community gardens all over Georgia are filled with beautiful, dark green collard greens. See the August 20th post on growing collard greens.  Once we get a few good frosts they will be ready to harvest.  Being such a Southern vegetable it is wonderful that the very Southern Mary Mac’s Tea Room in Atlanta has shared their famous collard green recipe.  Richard Golden is the Assistant General Manager and he says that the collards are his favorite of all the vegetables the restaurant serves.  Just in time for Thanksgiving this recipe is a real treat worthy of a special occasion.

Collard Greens Recipe from Mary Mac's Tea Room

Collard Greens

Collard Greens Recipe from Mary Mac's Tea Room
Very tasty with cornbread!

Serves 6-8

  • 2 1/2 pounds of collard greens, stalks removed and cut into 2 inch strips
  • 2 gallons of water
  • 6 ounces of fatback
  • 1 smoked ham hock
  • 1/3 cup bacon drippings
  • 1/8th cup salt

You should be able to find fatback and ham hocks at your local supermarket. Just ask the butcher if you have trouble finding them.

Collard Greens Recipe from Mary Mac's Tea Room

Wash the cut greens in cold water and 1/8th cup salt.  In a large stock pot, on high heat, boil the water, smoked ham hock, and fat back.  Let boil for an hour.  Add collards and bacon drippings to the pot.  Let come to a roaring boil and then reduce heat to medium.  Let cook for 40-45 minutes.  You may need to add additional water if the water starts to absorb past 1/3 of your original liquid.  Remove from heat and take out the fatback and ham hock.  Serve warm. Goes well with corn bread.

If you are not used to cooking with fatback or ham hocks, they are easily found at most grocery stores.  Just ask your butcher if you have trouble finding them.  Also, plan ahead so you can save your bacon drippings.  Your Grandmother would be proud, your fitness trainer not so much!

Mary Mac’s is such an Atlanta institution it was honored by the Georgia State House of Representatives with Resolution 477 declaring Mary Mac’s to be Atlanta’s Dining Room.  The menu includes fried okra, tomato pie, hoppin’ john, butter peas, and turnip greens.  All of these contain ingredients grown in Georgia!

Mary Mac’s opened in 1945 when Mary McKenzie wanted to use her cooking skills to make money in the aftermath of World War II.  In those days a woman couldn’t just open a restaurant but a “tea room” was acceptable.  The current owner, John Ferrell purchased the restaurant in 1994 and carries on the traditions.  Recently they catered Governor Nathan Deal’s birthday party.  If you decide to visit Midtown for a meal at Mary Mac’s, don’t forget the cobbler.  Trust me!

Happy Eating!

Making Your Own Applesauce for Hanukkah

If you serve potato latkes as part of your Hanukkah tradition why not try to make your own applesauce accompaniment? Many community gardens grow apples but if you don’t grow your own, there are plenty of fresh apples in Georgia to choose from.

Making applesauce is basic and according to the National Center for Food Home Preservation the apples you choose and the spices you add will make it your own special recipe. Select apples that are sweet, juicy, and crisp – very fresh. You can mix tart and sweet apples to get your desired taste.

The book So Easy to Preserve revised by Elizabeth Andress and Judy Harrison in 2014 gives great instructions on making applesauce. Wash, peel and core your apples. Put the apples slices in an 8-10 quart pot and add 1/2 cup water. Heat quickly, stirring occasionally, and cook until the apples are tender. This could be 5 to 20 minutes depending on apple age and variety. Press through a food mill or a sieve if you want a smooth sauce. At this point add any sugar and taste.

To preserve the applesauce, reheat sauce to boiling and pack into hot jars leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and wipe jar rims. Adjust lids and process in a boiling water bath.

For more information on food preservation contact your local UGA Cooperative Extension office.

Happy Hanukkah!

Gardening Gifts for Holiday 2017

For past holiday seasons I have gotten gift ideas from you all and shared them with the group. You all have given us fantastic book and tool ideas. For this year’s Christmas or Hanukkah why not give an experience?

Our state is full of wonderful public gardens and we all know one way to get inspired or to find new plant ideas is to visit different gardens. Giving a garden membership or a day trip is a wonderful experience for the gardener or for someone who just appreciates beautiful plants.

The State Botanical Garden of Georgia in Athens is full of trails for a long walk or run. Behind the main building is a garden display about the history of Georgia in plants. One of the best parts of the garden is the native American garden. Signage explains the native plants and how they were used.

Row crops are planted at the State Botanical Garden

In south Georgia the Coastal Georgia Botanical Garden in Savannah is a gardener’s destination. It is a beautiful garden with wonderfully cultivated specimen plants. You must visit the historic Georgia trustees garden replica. It is amazing to see what the earliest Georgians tried to grow. I am also fond of the garden for all abilities. It is a raised bed area to demonstrate how planting areas can be modified for gardeners of all types.

Norman Winter takes fantastic photos of the Coastal garden.

A hidden garden wonder is the rooftop garden on top of Atlanta City Hall. Located off of the cafeteria it is a great place to eat lunch. This garden takes into account the microclimate of being on a roof in the sunny south. It is a whole different ecosystem.

A rooftop garden in the heart of Atlanta

Other favorite gardens include the Smith-Gilbert Gardens in Kennesaw, famous for their rose collection, and the Reed Creek Nature Park in Columbia County with their beautiful wetlands trail.

Reed Creed Nature Park

Of course, the Atlanta Botanical Garden is a popular gem in the city. The plants are carefully labeled for your reference and workers around the garden are always cheerful about answering questions. The food garden is a great way to see what food types will grow well in the city. They also have a tea plant area and in the past they have grown rice. Food cooking demonstrations are offered using crops grown in the garden.

We could probably create a year’s worth of posts about the beautiful public gardens in our state. If you have favorite please share in the comments section!

Happy Holidays!

November Gardening Chores for Georgia

Some chores to think about for November and December from UGA’s Vegetable Garden Calendar.

Spread manure, rotted sawdust and leaves over the garden and plow them under; you’ll be surprised at the difference this organic matter will make in the fertility, physical structure and water-holding capacity of the soil.

Take a soil sample to allow plenty of time to get the report back. Lime applied now will be of more benefit next year than if it is applied in the spring before planting. Always apply Dolomitic limestone in order to get both calcium and magnesium.

Save those leaves for the compost heap.

Take an “inventory.” Maybe you had too much of some vegetables and not enough of others – or maybe there were some unnecessary “skips” in the supply. Perhaps some insect, disease or nematode problem got the upper hand. Make a note about favorite varieties. Start planning next year’s garden now!

You’re wise to order flower and vegetable seeds in December or January, while the supply is plentiful. Review the results of last year’s garden and order the more successful varieties.

You may have seeds left over from last year. Check their viability by placing some in damp paper towels and observing the germination percentage. If the percentage is low, order new ones.

Before sending your seed order, draw a map of the garden area and decide the direction and length of the rows, how much row spacing is needed for each vegetable, whether or not to plant on raised beds, and other details. That way, you won’t order too many seeds. This same advice applied to the flower garden. Try new cultivars, add more color, change the color scheme, layer the colors by having taller and shorter plants — don’t do it the same way year after year.

Look around for tools you do not have and hint for these for holiday gifts.

Happy Gardening!

Garlic Planting Step-by-Step

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!

Community Gardening in Northern Michigan

While at a conference in Traverse City, Michigan, I had the opportunity to meet with some community gardeners from the Traverse City Community Garden. Gary Harper gave me a tour of this organic garden of 150 members.

The first thing I noticed is the lack of disease in the garden. It is early October and it has been unseasonably warm in Michigan. They still had tomatoes and peppers growing and the tomato leaves were spot free.

Gardeners here start their gardens in May and are usually finished by mid-October. They expect a first frost by early October. Their cool-season vegetables were beautiful. I saw knee-high kale so large that it was hard for me to recognize it and there were parsnips that were spectacular.

Parsnip leaves

The gardeners at Traverse City Community Garden do have some of the same concerns that we do in Georgia. Oftentimes, their members lose interest by the end of the season. They are required to give 12 hours per growing season to the upkeep of the common garden and the garden board has a difficult time enforcing that rule. They also have deer! A nine foot electric fence does not always dissuade them. Their #1 pest problem is stink bugs. These bugs are so bad on squash in Northern Michigan, that the gardeners are not allowed to grow squash in their plots.

An electric fence attempts to keep deer away

It was great to see how others interpret a community garden and I am thankful for the time with these new gardening friends.

Happy Georgia Gardening!