A Community Garden Thanksgiving Story

Years ago I was privileged to visit a community garden full of senior citizens that loved to garden. Most of them were women of the old Southern tradition. Their leader, Mrs. Banks, was dedicated to the garden and called me “honey” when I visited. It was a special place. Thank you Fred Conrad for introducing me to it.

The garden had the support of their larger community and that allowed them to grow needed food for their tables. This garden facilitated neighbors visiting with neighbors and sharing meals. Very good stuff.

One year the entire group was growing collard greens to share on Thanksgiving. As all Southern gardeners know, collard greens are only good after a frost. We had an early frost that year so the crop seemed promising. The gardeners woke up on Thanksgiving morning to find that their collards had been ripped from the garden, stomped on and destroyed. There Thanksgiving feast was ruined. What had happened?

The group discovered that a young man, visiting his grandmother for the holiday, had done the damage. The group had a choice. They could notify the police. The young man could be charged with a crime that could follow him as he became an adult. The group decided they would handle it on their own. They had the vandal clean the garden and they put him on garden chore duty for quite a while. Thinking about it facing the police may have been easier than facing an angry Mrs. Banks!

I have thought about that young man. What kind of person is he as an adult? I suspect that his encounter with this group of Southern gardeners had a positive effect on him. By handling the problem themselves they showed him some very tough love. I think he was the better for it.

On this Thanksgiving I am thankful for the ladies of this garden, thankful for gardens like this everywhere, and thankful that community gardens are only partly about the food but more about the community.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tiny Topics – Microclimates in the Georgia Garden

Over the next few weeks we are going to explore “tiny topics” in the garden. These will be garden topics that are more in-depth than a horticultural overview. My goal is to have us all thinking about gardening in a more deliberate way. Our first topic is microclimates. What are they? How can they make a difference in your garden?

Most gardeners are familiar with the USDA plant hardiness zones. These are based on average annual extreme minimum temperatures. For example if your average annual extreme minimum temperature is 10 – 15 degrees F your plant hardiness zone is 8a. These zones are based on past climatological data. Suggested planting dates and many plant recommendations are based on these zone assignments.

But what if your garden is located close to the south side of your home? At this location the temperatures don’t get quite as cold as if the garden was located in the middle of an open field. This is a microclimate. By planting mint right next to the south wall of my home in an area also protected by a porch wall I am taking advantage of a microclimate that allows me to have fresh mint most of the winter.

On the other hand a garden located on a rooftop in Atlanta is brutally hot in the summer. The full sun in an area where building materials create radiant heat and reflected sun light means that cactus are happy there. Another microclimate.

This microclimate in Atlanta means a cactus garden.

What if your garden is in a bit of a valley in your landscape? You may notice fog settles there or dew seems to last longer in the mornings. In this microclimate you need to look out for fungal diseases that occur with cool moisture. Downy mildew may be a problem for you.

I recently visited a community garden in the North Georgia mountains. Even after officially reported night time temperatures of 32 degrees F the gardeners were still harvesting peppers. The group took advantage of a microclimate next to a shed that prolonged the growing season.

Late peppers in North Georgia

Using plastic to artificially warm up the soil in the early spring creates a microclimate that allows seeds to germinate early. I have used this technique in the past to plant squash early in an attempt to outwit squash pests.

I hope these examples have you thinking about the microclimates in your own garden. They may allow you to grow crop varieties that you would never have tried before or you may extend your growing season.

Happy Gardening!

Why Don’t More Georgia Gardeners Plant Cool-Season Vegetables?

I am often amazed at the number of community garden plots that remain empty during the fall, cool-season growing time. Many times the plots are simply abandoned with warm-season crop debris mixed with growing weeds. Why aren’t these spaces full of edible leafy greens?

After speaking with many of these gardeners and garden managers, my anecdotal research reveals that gardeners are simply tired. I have heard it many times. They have spent many summer hours in the garden and they want a break. They associate a garden with tomatoes, squash and cucumbers instead of lettuce, onions, and broccoli. It is a shame because cool-season growing is often superior to summer gardening.

1. Pest and disease pressure is lessened.
2. The hot outdoor working conditions are over.
3. We can grow many types of vegetables in the cool-season garden.

On the other end of the spectrum I have met gardeners who plant a cover crop in the summer, purchasing their tomatoes and cucumbers at the local Farmers Market. They would rather take the summer off and do their planting in the cool-season.

I would like to challenge you to garden a bit differently in 2019. Try growing something new, grow in a different season, or expand your garden knowledge. Over the next several weeks we are going to explore these topics to have you all prepared to challenge yourself in the coming year.

Happy Gardening!

Fall Festivals and Your Community Garden

October means fall festivals and seasonal events across the state of Georgia. From Blue Ridge to Savannah, from Augusta to Columbus everyone is celebrating fall. What is your community garden doing to celebrate? This time of year is perfect for emphasizing the “community” in your garden. Some suggestions:

Host scarecrows in the garden! This is done with flair at the Atlanta Botanical Garden and the Research and Education Garden in Griffin. Why not your garden? Ask local businesses, civic groups or schools to create a scarecrow to exhibit. This could be a contest where visitors vote and a local celebrity awards the prize. For a twist have the exhibitors create/decorate crow birds which can perch with a spooky flair in the garden. Craft stores sell crow bird props at low prices, easy to decorate.

Season storytelling in the garden for all ages. Enlist some garden members or community leaders to lead a spooky storytelling event in the garden. Reading an Edgar Allen Poe story or poem dressed in period costume would create excitement for sure. If your garden is large enough you could station readers around the plots.

Have a pumpkin decorating contest. Even if your garden does not grow pumpkins you could purchase some from a church pumpkin sale. Or, you could use other vegetables. Have visitors decorate a pumpkin/vegetable and take the opportunity to educate community members about growing vegetables.

Celebrate with an open house. If your community already has a scarecrow exhibit or other events simply add an open house to be part of the larger town effort. An open house does not to be much work on your gardeners and would be an excellent opportunity to let your town know about your beautiful space.

Whatever you decide to do, enjoy the fall season! You’ve earned it!

Flooding in the Community Garden

Many of our community gardens are located in floodplain areas (which is why the community is not using that land for something else!) or near creeks or rivers. Recent weather events may have left parts of your community garden flooded. UGA food safety experts ask us to think about the safety of our produce from the impact of flood waters. Farmers have to think about this on a large level and it is a concern for us. Experts from UGA released important harvest information for farmers ahead of this hurricane. Also, the FDA has guidance for flood affected produce.

If a flooding creek encroached on your garden what did that water bring with it? Possibly contamination from pathogens harmful to humans. What about chemical hazards from another site that washed into your garden? These could be serious. If flooding did occur in your garden, I advise you to speak with your local UGA Extension agent for advice from a food safety perspective.

Thinking of the gardeners and farmers in the path of the storm today.

Thoughts on Plant Disease in the Georgia Garden

Every year seems to bring a new set of challenges for the Georgia gardener. Some years the drought leaves our gardens in the dust and some years it never seems to dry out. Some years we break record heat waves and some years fall comes early. However, plant disease never seems to give us a break. As we try and coax healthy cool-season crops out of warm soil I thought it might be nice to take a look at some disease facts so we can come up with strategies to help ourselves.

Fact #1: Healthy plants can withstand disease better than stressed plants. Knowing what healthy plants look like (is that mottling part of the normal leaf or could it be a virus?), what your plants need in the way of fertility and water, and what conditions those plants need to thrive will go a long way in managing disease. If your plants need full sun, plant in full sun. Shade will stress your plants and open up the possibility for disease. Have your soil tested for fertility and use the results to meet the needs of your plants. Take away: Strive for healthy plants

Rust disease on a bean plant leaf

Fact #2: Most of our disease-causing agents are fungi. We do battle some bacteria and some viral diseases but overwhelmingly fungi are our problem. Most fungi need a wet environment. You probably notice during rainy periods disease symptoms seem to magically appear. Community gardeners tend to plant our plots as full as possible limiting air circulation around the plants. Moisture stays on the leaves creating a perfect environment for pathogens. Take away: Limit overhead watering as much as possible. Make sure your plants have adequate air flow around them.

Fact #3: Often pathogens overwinter in garden debris. Many times fungal survival structures, like spores and mycelia, will last for months(years) in organic matter, leaves, and garden debris creating an environment for a reinfection during the next planting cycle. Take away: Clean your garden plots after every season.

Powder mildew fungal spores under a microscope.

Fact #4: Most fungicides are used as preventatives and not as a cure for disease. Once a plant has been infected it is hard to cure that plant. The pathogen is already present, has done damage and gardeners cannot rely on fungicides to fix the problem. Take away: Plan ahead for disease management.

Fact #5: Some pathogens will infect many types of plants but many pathogens have a narrow plant host range. Rusts (Uromyeces spp.) are common among bean plants and powdery mildew (Oidium spp.) always seems to find all types of squash. Take away: Know what diseases normally affect the plants you have in your garden. Learn to recognize the pathogen signs and symptoms. Use your local Extension office to help identify the diseases that plague you. Your agent can also help you devise a plan of disease management.

Upcoming Events for Georgia Community & School Gardeners

Fall is a busy time for gardeners and this fall will be especially busy with several exciting conferences scheduled in Georgia.

September 13th – 16th the American Community Gardening Association will have its 39th annual conference in Atlanta. Events will take place all across Atlanta with the hub of presentations at the Georgia International Convention Center in College Park. The theme is “Tending to the Beloved Community.” There are 36 presentations scheduled, tours of Atlanta area gardens, and a gala at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. Registration is open. The conference schedule features several notable speakers including Georgia Department of Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black. I have heard him speak several times and he always delivers an entertaining and inspiring presentation.

September 22nd is the Monarchs Across Georgia Pollinator Symposium at the Monastary of the Holy Spirit in Conyers. This event will have fantastic speakers, nature walks, exhibitors and demonstrations. Many of you all feature pollinator spaces in your gardens and this would be a worthwhile day for you! Registration is open.

October 19th – 20th the Council of Outdoor Learning is holding their Outdoor Learning Symposium. It will be held at the Garden School in Marietta, just off the square. The Council of Outdoor Learning, an initiative of the Environmental Education Alliance of Georgia (EEA), is a coalition of organizations and individuals who share an interest in the design, development, maintenance, use, and longevity of outdoor classrooms. COOL serves teachers, parents, principals, and community volunteers as a resource link, providing up-to-date training and information to those interested in building and using outdoor classrooms. This will be a fantastic event for school gardeners and community gardeners who are interested in finding additional ways to use their space.

All three of these events are worth your consideration. Don’t forget to check with your local UGA Extension office for fall classes on cool-season gardening.

Happy Conferencing!

Three Rules of Weeding in Your Georgia Garden

Weeding in Your Georgia Garden

All of Georgia has seen a large amount of rain this summer. Rain is great for our crops and also great for weeds and if you have gotten lazy with the summer heat your plots may have more weeds than crop. You are not alone! This may be a great time to review best management practices for weed control.

Weeds can be a big problem in a community or school garden.  A very big problem.  Knowing how to weed correctly will make this job less of a headache.   An informal poll was taken and we asked experienced gardeners to give their top three rules of weeding and we present them here:

Rule #1:  Get the roots out.

If you just remove the leaves above ground chances are the weeds will come back and you will need to perform the same weeding chore over again.  Many perennial weeds grow from underground roots and tubers.  Those need to be removed as well.

 

Weeding in Your Georgia Garden
Get those roots out!

Rule #2:  Remove the weeds before they make seeds.

If your weeds are allowed to flower and make seeds your work will get much harder.  Weed plants can make an incredible amount of seeds.  For example, common chickweed can produce 800 seeds per plant.  Dandelion flowers can make 40-100 seeds.   Crabgrass can produce 53,000 seeds per plant and pigweed can produce over 200,000 seeds per plant.  Don’t let those weeds flower!

Weeding in Your Georgia Garden
You don’t want this!

Rule #3:  Don’t let weeding get out of hand.

If you don’t routinely remove weeds you could be looking at a plot of weeds that seems overwhelming to tend.  Your vegetable production will suffer as the weeds take up the water, nutrients, and space that should be used for your plants.  And, it will take a lot of initiative to start the long process of taking back that space from the weeds.

Weeding in Your Georgia Garden
Don’t let weeds take over your community or school garden plot.

Knowing what weeds you have could be helpful in coming up with a long-term weed management plan.  Your local UGA Extension agent can help with weed plant identification and help you find strategies to minimize weed issues.

Happy Gardening!

 

A Country of Gardening Immigrants

Happy 4th of July week!   I hope your celebration will a good one full of fresh Georgia tomatoes, onions, watermelons….

As we think about the birthday of our country and how Americans celebrate there is always some type of food involved.  And, depending on your cultural background it could include extra garlic, long beans, or tomatillos.  The world is our garden and we have always been a country of immigrants.

A County of Gardening Immigrants
Chinese Long Beans

A Garden is Common Ground

Across our country experienced gardeners are welcoming immigrants and refugees from all over to the United States in a garden setting.  A garden is common ground.  There may be language barriers but we can all “talk” seed, soil, and water.

Having the privledge of working with some of these gardens it is exciting as cultures are shared through the growing of food.  Gardeners from Somalia are interested to see what the gardeners from Burma are growing.  Gardeners from Kenya are poking their heads in the Syrian’s garden to see what is coming up there.  Our American melting pot is alive and well in the garden.

People especially seem to enjoy growing foods from their homeland and their childhood.  This is true even within the United States.  Many a displaced Southerner has taken the family collard green seeds when being transferred to “the North”.  Year after year, I grow family bean seeds brought down from the hills of Kentucky to Georgia.  So, it is to be expected that our collective palate would be enriched by foods brought with immigrants from other countries.

A Diverse Dinner Plate

If you are fortunate enough to be invited to a pot-luck dinner at one of these gardens, it is an experience worthy of a 5-star restaurant rating.  And, it will make you truly thankful for our county and all of its diversity.

A County of Gardening Immigrants
North Fulton Extension Garden

A special “Thank You” goes out to a local food partner Global Growers who does such tremendous work with these gardeners in Georgia.  And to gardens like the International Garden of Many Colors in California, the Fresh International Garden in Anchorage, Alaska and the North Fulton Extension Garden in Sandy Springs, Georgia.

Happy Birthday, America!

Avoid Heat Stress in the Georgia Community Garden

I have gotten some requests to repost this information about heat stress. It is definitely summer in Georgia so we all need to take care.

Summer heat can be dangerous, especially with the heat and humidity we are experiencing this summer.   We went to a professional to get tips on how to stay safe in a hot, humid Georgia garden.

Heat Stress in the Georgia Community Garden
The Weather Channel knows heat!

Millard Griffin is a Certified Safety Professional with Environmental Resources Management (ERM).  He has vast experience dealing with heat related issues on environmental projects from the Florida Everglades to the Gulf Coast of Louisiana.  He knows heat and humidity.

Heat stress is a real concern for those working in the garden.  Especially for those of us who aren’t out there every day.  Heat stress is defined as any situation where the human body is unable to cool itself by sweating.  This can lead to several conditions including heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke (a medical emergency).

Tips to Prevent Heat Stress

To prevent these conditions Mr. Griffin gives us the following tips:

  • Acclimatize to the heat.  Work a limited amount of time outdoors and gradually increase your amount of time in the heat.
  • Avoid the high heat periods of the day.  Get your work done early in the morning or late in the day.   Avoid the hours between 2 and 6 as the heat loads are typically higher during these hours.
  • Take frequent breaks in a cool area.  Taking breaks in an air conditioned area is preferable but, a shady area will work.
  • Limit exposure to direct sunlight when possible.  Plan your workday to take advantage of shaded areas.
  • Drink plenty of water.  Take a water break at least every hour, drinking cool water.  Also, drink water before working in the garden.  Hydration is key.
  • Avoid caffeinated beverages and alcohol.  These are diuretics and cause your body to lose water.
  • Wear light colored, loose fitting clothing and a hat.  Certainly use sunscreen to protect against UV rays on all exposed skin.
Heat Stress in the Georgia Community Garden
Work in shade whenever possible.

Monitor Yourself

It is preferable to work with another gardener so you can monitor each other.  If you notice extreme sweating, dizziness, nausea, or muscle cramps STOP WORKING.   Head indoors, hydrate and cool down.

Certain people are more susceptible to heat stress – the elderly, children, pregnant women, and people who have just moved here from a cooler climate.  Certain medications can also make someone more prone to heat stress.   Mr. Griffin recommends checking with your doctor if you take medications.

Knowing this information will help keep you safe in the Georgia summer heat and make your gardening experience a more pleasurable one.

Remember georgiaweather.net is a wonderful resource for weather information.

Thanks Mr. Griffin for the tips!  Stay safe and

Happy Gardening!