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!

Fresh Food Translates In Any Language

My daughter, Mady, moved to Lovere, Italy, in September. I asked her to give us an international perspective on fresh food and gardens for this week’s blog post. She writes….

I would like to begin by stating that I am in fact no way professionally qualified to educate you on the knowledge of plant life. I do not know when the best time to plant spinach is or what Botrytis and I’m only about 85% certain where the pistil is on any given flower. However there is one thing I feel very qualified to speak on: EATING GOOD FOOD.

Mady Griffin enjoys fresh, local food in Italy.

About three months ago I packed up my little room in Athens, Georgia and headed across the ocean to settle in a small town in the north of Italy to teach English for a year. I took as much as I could with me such as pictures of my family, books in English, and my classic Southern charm. However, one of the most important things I took was my something my mother gave me: An appreciation for well grown and well cooked food. An appreciation that Italians are crazy about.

I was lucky enough to get settled with a host family who have given me a good education on delicious cold cuts, cheeses, wines, and of course produce. Many products here like to guarantee you that they’ve been locally produced with local ingredients and if they have not they are quick to tell you where they came from. I have had cappuccinos made with milk from within an hour of where I live and we’ve had local cheeses, wines, chestnuts, and even a fresh rabbit from the farm of a family-friend. All of these were made into a variety of different delicious meals, but one particular part I want to write about is one of my new favorite meal traditions. The tradition of after-meal fruit. After grains, meats, salads, and before coffee we indulge in whatever fresh fruits my host mother has found at the store. These happen to be whatever fruit is in season to make sure what we’re eating is fresh and local. Since we’ve transitioned into fall I’ll highlight three of the fruits I’ve gotten to enjoy lately before the frost comes in.

Persimmons (Italiano: i cachi)

My host family has lived in a couple different countries before settling back in Italy and my host mother said one of the things she missed most about home were persimmons. In the town we live in they’re very common and people even harvest from trees right in their backyards. Around the beginning of fall these red/orange fruits begin to become ready for picking. However once the fruit has been has picked that does not mean it’s quite ready. You have to wait until the fruit inside has just started peeling away from the skin which you can feel by gently squeezing the fruit. Then you easily pull the top off, dig out the tough skin just inside the persimmon and dig in!

Clementines (Italiano: le clementine)

Clementines are in abundance during this time and it’s easy to grab a couple here and there not only after dinner, but also for a quick snack or “merenda” between meals. They’re perfect since they don’t need to be washed and can be placed on the table for any time of the day. Like in America many children eat them because they’re so easy to peel and can be bought without seeds.

Kiwi (Italiano: i kiwi)

This one took me a bit by surprise since thinking of kiwi brings up images of tropic New Zealand and not cold northern Italy. However sure enough another family friend brought along a bundle of fresh sweet kiwi for the family to share. Since I had not ever tried a kiwi myself I was taught the proper way to enjoy them. Cut off the top, slowly peel of the skin with a knife and then cut off the bottom. Then you can slice it in half and eat it straight. It’s delicious and sometimes hard to not stop at just one or two.

No matter what the meal is if it’s on an Italian table you know they put in a lot of thought and effort into the quality of their meal from the ground to your plate. I am excited to see what other ways Italians use their gardens to perfect their historical art of cooking. Until next time, arrivederci.

Buon giardinaggio!

Mummy Berry in Community Garden Blueberries

Mummy Berry is a disease that can be controlled easily by home gardeners.

You probably have seen them and not given them much notice, growing among  your blueberry fruits. They look like something just went wrong in fruit development.   These are mummy berries and they are actually part of a fungal pathogen, Monilinia vaccine-corymobosi.  This is a blueberry disease!

Mummy berries are caused by a pathogen

Over the season mummies fall off of the plant and oversummer and overwinter on the ground.  When conditions are just right in the spring, these bodies will germinate and can produce 650,000 disease-causing ascospores.  The ascospores can re-infect your plants creating a disease cycle.

Mummy Berry Disease Cycle from Jade Florence, Oregon State University

Control is not difficult for hobby blueberry growers

This disease affects leaves and affects the fruits when the pathogen is spread to the flower bloom, by wind or by insects.  For commercial growers this can be a serious problem.  For the casual blueberry grower it is much easier.  Simply remove the mummies and throw them away.  Also, check the ground to remove those mummies that have fallen.

Remove mummies from the blueberry plant area

For those of you interested in pathology, Jade Florence has an excellent article, Mummy Berry, in The Plant Health Instructor.  If you are unsure if mummy berry is your problem, contact your local UGA Extension office for assistance.  If you don’t have blueberries in your community garden, they are a great addition and easy to plant.

Happy Gardening!

Fayette County is Famous for this Garden

There is a garden in Fayette County that is considered the model for gardens donating vegetables to local food banks, Plant A Row Garden for the Hungry sponsored by Fayette County Master Gardener Association and Fayette County Master Gardener Extension Volunteers.  In 2016, their garden yield was 22,194 pounds of produce.  That is alot of food! Potatoes, okra, peppers, corn, peas, watermelon, are all grown on the one acre garden plot.

How do they consistently get such a high yield?

I sat down with three of the gardeners, Lester Bray, Vauna Bellury, and Ginger Vawter  to ask that question.  This garden is run by volunteers with many people working several hours a week.  It is a labor of love as they know that what they grow will be on the plates of people who really need the food.  Meeting this need is a driving force for all of the gardeners.

Fayette County is Famous for this Garden
Lester Bray

Their horticultural secret is plasticulture.

The garden uses plasticulture to keep down weed, insect, and disease pressure.  Recently they acquired the machine that punches holes in the plastic.  Until then, all of those planting holes were punched by hand.  They have had so much success with this method that Mr. Bray has written a book on the subject.  He says he wants to get the word out that this is the way to grow food in Georgia.

The information is posted on plasticulturefarming.com.  Mr. Bray allows anyone to download the information free of charge.

The gardeners use the garden to grow food all year long.  Many gardeners enjoy a break in the cool-season but many cool-season crops (broccoli, spinach, onions, peas, lettuce) grow well in Georgia.

Fayette County is Famous for this Garden
Peas!

This garden is known throughout the region.  Others who want to start a Plant a Row visits with Mr. Bray and his crew to get tips.   A peach grower reached out to the group to help him distribute extra peaches.  It has snowballed into an incredible operation.

Fayette County Extension Agent Kim Toal says, “Our volunteers dedicated to this project and to the individuals it serves embodies the true spirit of a volunteer and giving back to our community.   Not only do our volunteers do an outstanding job every year to provide nutritious food to those in need, they willingly share their knowledge at garden workdays and to other organizations interested in starting a similar garden.”

To those of us who garden in the Georgia soil their garden is an inspiration.  For those in Fayette County that have fresh vegetables and fruit on their plates the garden is a true blessing.

Be inspired!

Blueberry Pollination in Your Community or School Garden

With the recent cold damage to the commercial blueberry crop in South Georgia, the blueberries in our community, school, or home gardens are all the more precious this year.   As a result, it seems like gardeners are paying more attention to their blueberry flowers.  I have gotten several emails asking about slits appearing in the sides of blueberry flowers.  This is not unusual and it probably happens every year, gardeners just don’t notice it.

The slits are made by carpenter bees who are “robbing” the flower.  They chew slits in the sides of the flowers and get the nectar without having to go into the flower.  A result of robbing is that the bees don’t leave or pick up any pollen.   Pretty sly bees, right?  Research shows that this action still results in some pollination, it is just not ideal.   Other bees may use these slits as well to retrieve whatever nectar is left.

Blueberry Pollen is Heavy

Blueberry pollen is heavy and sticky.  It does not move around easily and isn’t wind blown.  The blueberry flower shape does not lend itself to adequate self-pollination so pollinators are needed even with the self-pollinating types of blueberry plants.

Blueberry Pollination in Your Community or School Garden
Southeastern Blueberry Bee. Photo by Hannah Barrack of NC State.

Bee Pollination

Several native bee species pollinate blueberries including the Southeastern blueberry bee.  This bee also pollinates several flower types that bloom at the same time.  The male Southeastern blueberry bee has a yellow face.

The smaller native bees are shown to be superior pollinators in these plants.  You will also see bumble bees in the blueberry patch.  They vibrate their flight muscles inside the flower aiding in pollen exchange, flower sonication.  Also, honey bees are often brought into blueberries fields to aid in pollination.  To learn more about bees in the blueberry patch visit North Carolina State’s Blueberry Pollinators .

Blueberry Pollination in Your Community or School Garden
Honey bees on the fly! Photo by Joe Thompson.

I enjoy pulling up a chair near my blueberry plants to watch the pollinators at work.  Try it and you will be amazed at the different insects you see.

If you don’t have blueberries in your community or school garden, why not?  They are a fantastic addition to the garden.  Being perennial shrubs they add a nice permanent shape to the space.  School gardeners should look at later season varieties.

Happy Gardening and I wish you all a very large blueberry harvest this year!

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!

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Blueberry Chill Hours. What are they?

BlueberriesBlueberries are a perennial shrub that is relatively easy to grow.   Rabbiteye types are popular statewide and their fruit is delicious!  You may have read in agricultural science articles about “chill hours.”   What are they?  Why do they matter?  To answer those questions we are going to turn to science so, please pardon the charts!

According to UGA scientists Gerard Krewer and D. Scott NeSmith (Blueberry Cultivars of Georgia) blueberries require a certain number of chill hours each winter to produce the optimum fruit harvest.  Chill hours are the number of hours of winter temperatures 45 degrees F and below.  If blueberry plants do not receive the adequate amount of chilling, bloom and leaf development can be late and erratic.  This can result in a lackluster harvest.  To sum it up – blueberries have to have some cold winter weather.

Rabbiteye Cultivar Chilling Requirement
Premier550 hours
Climax400 to 450 hours
Brightwell350 to 400 hours
TifBlue600 to 700 hours
Powderblue550 to 650 hours
Vernon500 to 550 hours

How do we know how many chill hours we have had in our area?  The weather stations of georgiaweather.net have chilling hours calculators.  As of February 22nd:

Weather StationNumber of Chill Hours between Oct 1, 2015 and February 22, 2016
Blue Ridge1357
Atlanta941
Cordelle661
Valdosta369

So what does this all mean?  As noncommercial blueberry growers, it can give us some scientific information about our blueberry harvest and it gives us some insight into plant biology.  It also gives us another reason to watch the weather forecast and welcome cold winter weather.

If you don’t grow blueberries yet, give it a try!  See Home Garden Blueberries for more information.  Also contact your local UGA Extension office.  Many of them have plant sales this time of year and blueberries are often for sale.

Happy Gardening!

The Urban Vegetable Garden at Gwinnett Tech

Tony Gobert is so passionate and enthusiastic about Gwinnett Tech’s vegetable garden and the school’s Certificate in Sustainable Urban Agriculture that his face lights up talking about it.  On a recent tour I saw a garden FULL of plants.  It is urban, intensive agriculture at its best.  This garden has a lot to teach community and school gardeners.  Tony was happy to tell me all about it.

Urban Vegetable Garden at Gwinnett TechLocated along Sugarloaf Parkway in Gwinnett County, Georgia, the garden is laid out to work with nature.  The plant rows are laid out to follow the contour of the land.  Before the vegetable garden, the land had a history of large runoff problems after rain storms.  Tony and his team turned this negative into a positive by controlling the flow of the water so that it provided irrigation to the vegetable plants.  “Work with what you have,” Tony says.

Being part of an educational garden, there are experiments everywhere.  Which creates a better plant in the long run, potatoes started in the greenhouse or potatoes started by slips in the ground?  What is the

Urban Vegetable Garden at Gwinnett Tech
Tony Gobert uncovers a very large radish.

best way to use worm castings?  The students can answer these questions because they have tested their hypotheses by planting and growing – not just reading a textbook.  The students are also trying their hands at growing fruit trees in different ways and growing different types of alliums.  There are even banana plants.  Why not?

Urban Vegetable Garden at Gwinnett Tech
Onions being grown to taught seed saving methods.

This is a food production garden.  The produce goes to Gwinnett Tech’s popular culinary program.  The agriculture students learn about what it takes to supply a client as well as other lessons in ag economics. They are taught seed saving techniques and also how to make money during the slower season of the garden.

In many areas there are multi-crop plantings.  For example, a Winesap apple tree is grown using a unique tree trellis.  Underneath are blackberry bushes.  During the cool-season months when there are no leaves on the tree, onions are planted just outside the blackberry bushes.

Urban Vegetable Garden at Gwinnett Tech
Blackberries grown under a Winesap apple tree. Notice onions ready for harvest.

This is true intensive gardening which can translate well in a community garden setting.  Peanuts are planted between rows of corn.  The peanut plants help fix nitrogen for the nitrogen-loving corn.  Blueberry bushes are planted in the middle of the strawberry patch.  Their roots use different soil zones.  Also, crop rotation and successive planting are thoughtfully carried out.

Urban Vegetable Garden at Gwinnett Tech
Peanuts growing in the middle of a corn row.

Tim Daly, a Gwinnett County Extension Agent, is a fan of the garden.  Tim was curious about a squash variety that was advertised to grow very large squash plants.  “Daly’s squash” is part of the garden this year. Tony is feeling hopeful they will get a prize winning squash from that plot!

This garden is just getting started.  The initial planting was done in April 2014.  A pollinator plant strip was added in November 2014.  There are plans for 30 raised beds.  The program that supports this garden is also just getting started.  The certificate program in Sustainable Urban Agriculture was started in 2013.  Students are required to take classes in food production, soils, and pest management.  Three other courses are required to finish the six course program.  Tony is a teacher at heart and he is excited to hear what his first graduates of the program are doing now as well as the plans his current students have.  This is a fantastic addition to the urban gardening movement in Georgia!

I hope you can incorporate some of Tony’s intensive multi-planting systems in your own community or school garden plot.

Happy Gardening!

A Beautiful and Edible Landscape-A Guest Post by Joshua Fuder

Herbs and shallots among evergreens and annuals.

Many of us have community areas of our gardens.  Those spaces can give us an opportunity to show how people can incorporate food crops in a home landscape.  This week our guest blogger, Joshua Fuder, gives us some ways to do this.  Josh writes:

During a vacation in France last year I had an awakening of sorts in terms of my philosophy on garden design and plant selection. A number of the gardens and public parks that we visited incorporated vegetables like Swiss chard and kale in with annual flower plantings. As an avid gardener and even more avid eater I wondered why I wouldn’t incorporate more vegetables and herbs into more traditional ornamental plantings. I’ve always appreciated the beauty of the edible plants but never considered their value in an ornamental sense.

Gardeners in Georgia might consider incorporating edibles for a number of reasons:

  • Sun Exposure-Ornamental beds are often the best or only location in homeowners yards that
    A Beautiful and Edible Landscape
    Rosemary, sage, and shallots among evergreens and annuals.

    receive sufficient (at least 6 hours) sunlight for vegetables and herbs.

  • Convenience-Ornamental plantings are often close to the areas of the yard that we use most so if your edibles are incorporated you may find using fresh ingredients easier. It is also easier to stay on top of weeds and insect issues if you are visiting the area more frequently.
  • Reduced Grocery Costs – Many edibles, especially herbs can add to your monthly food bills if you buy from grocery stores.
  • Improved Health – Fresh vegetables are a great source of vitamins and minerals when properly prepared and gardening can be great exercise.

The key to creating a visually appealing edible landscape is the artful combination of annuals and perennials. Most edibles are going to substitute for the use of annuals but there are some options for shrubs, vines, and small trees.

A Beautiful and Edible Landscape
Golden purslane under lilies and dahlias mixed with shallots.

Annual Color: Rainbow chard, purple mustard, kale, lettuce can all add dramatic affect with their foliage and mid-rib color variation. Calendula and nasturtium are both edible flowers that can add color to salads and nasturtium leaves can be used in pesto. Basil comes in many varieties and colors, consider the dwarf boxwood variety to create more formal lines. Taller plants like corn, okra, and Jerusalem artichokes can be planted at the back of a garden to create height and screening.

Groundcover: Thyme, oregano, and savory make great evergreen ground covers. Goldberg Golden Purslane and New Zealand spinach (or tetragonia) have succulent leaves and a sprawling growth habit. Strawberries will also sprawl out and cover an area as well.

Shrubs and Perennials: Blueberries have become a major cash crop in Georgia but are beautiful plants that have spring flowers, summer fruit and fall color. Pomegranate, figs and jujubes are all great plants that grow well in our area. American Hazelnut is deciduous shrub/small tree that grows well in our area. Rosemary is a great addition with its evergreen, needle-like foliage. Garden sage is also evergreen and has a wonderful softness to its leaves like a ‘dusty miller’ or lambs ear.

Edible Vines and Climbers: Structures like arbors and trellises are a great way to add interest in your

A Beautiful and Edible Landscape
Jerusalem artichokes in back – herbs and shallots in front

garden and there are some great substitutions for the climbing rose or clematis you may have in mind. Muscadines are extremely hardy and have few problems compared to many of the bunch grapes. If you want an annual plant that is easier to control you can consider Malabar spinach which has delicious greens and beautiful red stems. There are all types of beans that will grow rapidly and cover a structure. The Chinese Red Noodle bean will produce one to three foot long burgundy beans that will amaze.

Trees: Apples are well suited for northern Georgia and can maximize a small space with a few espaliered trees. The serviceberry (juneberry) is a great alternative to a crapemyrtle and the birds will love it. Mulberries are delicious and very easy to grow, just make sure they are planted in an area where you won’t mind a mess. ‘Montmorency’ and ‘Balaton’ are varieties of Pie or ‘sour’ cherries that are great small trees that perform well in our area as well.

Joshua Fuder is a UGA Extension agent in Cherokee County, Georgia.  Joshua has grown many different types of fruits and vegetables.  He grew vanilla, coffee, pineapple, and black pepper while serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Vanuatu (an island nation in the South Pacific).

Happy Gardening!

 

Strawberries in the Georgia Community or School Garden? You bet!

Strawberries can be a welcome addition to the Georgia community or school garden.  And, spring is the time to plant!

StrawberriesTraditionally in north Georgia strawberries are grown in a matted row system where initial plants are set two feet apart at spring planting.  That summer the runners are allowed to fill in the rest of the bed.  This set up is perfect for raised beds or bed plots.

Treat your strawberry bed as a perennial bed.  You will need an area that is in full sun and contains well drained soil.  Avoid planting where you have been growing peppers, tomatoes, or potatoes.  These plants are susceptible to verticillium wilt and so are strawberries. The UGA publication Home Garden Strawberries is a great resource.

Varieties of Strawberries

Varieties recommended for early fruiting for north and middle Georgia are Earliglow, Sweet Charlie, and Delmarva. For south Georgia look for Chandler, Camarosa, and Sweet Charlie.  Early season varieties are best for school gardens as you should get fruit before school lets out for the summer.  

For mid-season fruiting look for Allstar.  Purchase plants that appear to be disease-free from a reputable supplier.  This can be a local store or a mail order supplier.   You will probably have more varieties to choose from if you use a mail order supplier.

The placement of the plant crown is very important. Picture from Home Grown Strawberries by UGA.

Care of Strawberries

The most important part of planting strawberries is the placement of the crown.  The top of the crown needs to be above the soil line.  Otherwise, you will probably have rot.  Set the plants two feet from the bed edge and from each other.  Remember, runners will fill in.  Remove flowers the first year to encourage more blossoms, and fruit, next year.

Weeds are the number one problem with strawberry plants.  Mulch between plants and use hand pulling or hoeing to remove stubborn weeds.  Strawberries need 1 to 1 1/2 inches of water a week.

Birds and rodents love strawberries as much as we do.  Raised beds deter rodents.  Some gardeners use netting.  A problem with netting is birds and small animals getting caught in the net.   Some gardeners report success with loosely hanging aluminum pie pans around the beds to deter birds.  The best practice is to pick the fruit as soon as it is ripe, before other hungry eaters find it.

During the second spring, after you have picked all of your berries, get ready for next year.  By this point runners have filled in and if you don’t thin the bed you will have too many plants for that area.  You need to get rid of about two-thirds of the plants in order to have healthy plants for next year.  Pot up the extras and have a fund raising plant sale!

As always your local UGA Extension agent is a great resource for you.

Happy Gardening!