Planting Kale in Your Georgia Garden

If you are kickin’ it with kale this fall you will want to grow a large and delicious crop that your students will enjoy eating. Luckily, kale is easy to grow in Georgia during the fall! Growing cool-season crops in Georgia means less disease and pest pressure.

You may be interested to know that the flavor of your kale can change depending on your soil chemistry. According to Tim Cooling, UGA vegetable specialist, many of the bitter compounds we associate with kale are due to the amount and availability of sulfur in your soil. This could be the start of a great school science project!

There are several varieties of kale that are recommended for Georgia gardeners. Vates, Dwarf Siberian, Blue Armor, and Blue Knight are all proven winners in our state. Kale seeds are small and can be hard to handle during planting. For school and community gardens, broadcast seeding is a great option:

After spreading the seeds across your prepared soil:

Sprinkle a small amount of soil on top of the seed bed and tamp down. Tamping ensures good seed-to-soil contact and is an important part of planting small seeds.

Cover the plot with a layer of mulch. This time of year mulch is imperative to keep temperatures and soil moisture even. Avoid heavy mulch like wood nuggets. The small seedling cannot push those nuggets out of the way when they emerge from the soil.

Water well and keep the plot moist as the seeds germinate. With late summer heat you will definitely need to water your seed beds.

Keep an eye out for weeds as they can sneak into your monocrop of kale. Learn what a kale seedling looks like so you can remove everything else that comes up in your plot.

Your crop may need thinning. If so, you can eat the thinnings!

A delicious kale meal starts with healthy kale plants!

Keep an eye out for pests and start planning those kale recipes. Contact your local UGA Extension agent if you have any questions or problems.

Happy Gardening!

Flea Beetles in the Garden

I have seen several outbreaks of flea beetles on eggplant as I visit community gardens around Georgia this summer. Their damage is easy to identify as leaves become skeletonized due to the feeding of adult flea beetles.

If the eggplants are mature, the damage can be tolerated by the plant and you should be able to have a fine eggplant crop. If the infestation is severe or the flea beetles have found young, small plants the beetles can severely damage the plant and cause a reduced yield.

Close up of a flea beetle on an eggplant leaf.

You will notice the small beetles will jump if they are startled, which is how they came to be called flea beetles. Female beetles will lay eggs around the plant. Emerging larvae will head into the soil and could possible feed on plant roots. The mature beetle will emerge to feed on your plant leaves. The insects overwinter as adults in plant debris and litter in the top of the soil. There will be more than one generation per year.

There are chemical controls available and you should contact your local UGA Cooperative Extension office for recommendations. After your eggplants are finished definitely remove all plant debris from the soil bed. I would caution in planting collards or any other leafy green in that same soil this fall. Since you are growing leafy greens for the leaves, you will want to avoid flea beetle damage. Any larvae left in the soil after your remove eggplant debris could emerge to find your greens a tasty meal.

Happy Gardening!

Insect Scouting is an Important Part of Vegetable Growing

Whether you work a large family farm, a home vegetable garden, or a 4’X8’ community garden vegetable plot, routine scouting for insects should be an important part of your vegetable growing plan. Insect pests can be a costly problem on vegetables and the lifecycles of some of our insect pests are so short that missing a week of scouting can lead to damaged crops and increased pest numbers.

Scouting involves carefully and deliberately walking though the garden looking for insects on a routine basis. Inspect the leaves and fruits/vegetables. Look on the undersides of leaves and on the stem. Evidence of boring insects can be seen on the plant stem while insect eggs are often deposited on the leaf undersides. If you are unsure of an insect identification, contact your local UGA Cooperative Extension agent for assistance. Do not automatically reach for an insecticide!

Insect eggs are easily removed. Simply remove the entire leaf and fold the leaf over on itself and smash the eggs. Or, if you want to preserve the leaf, use sticky tape to remove the eggs. Place tape on top of the egg mass and gently pull removing the eggs. Fold the tape on itself and smash the eggs.

Squash bug eggs are easy to remove.

Eggs like these are easy to miss if you don’t routinely scout your garden! Dealing with squash bug eggs is easier than managing the 30+ pest insects that could mature from these eggs. A helpful video goes through the easy steps.

Learning about the insects that are common pests for the food crops you are growing can be very helpful. Leaf-footed bugs (Leptoglossus spp.) are a problem for tomatoes while squash bugs are pests in cucumbers, squash and pumpkins. Aphids (Aphidoidea superfamily) are a common problem especially when plants are full of liquid, after a rain, or when plants are growing quickly. Mexican bean beetles (Epilachna varivestis) can easily destroy a bean crop but these insects have been mistaken for beneficial lady beetles.

Pest Mexican bean beetles can be mistaken for beneficial lady beetles.

It is estimated that only 3% of insects are pests so the insects you find in your garden are not always problematic. Don’t assume every insect you find is a “bad bug!” Take time to learn about beneficial insects such as assassin bugs, parasitic wasps, and lady beetles. These can be tremendous allies in your garden. Often these insects need floral resources and the plants you have added to attract pollinators will also help other beneficial insects.

The copper colored ovals in the photo below are aphid mummies. A helpful parasitic wasp laid an egg inside an aphid pest (green insect below). As the egg hatched the resulting larva consumed the aphid insides for nutrition. When the wasp matured it emerged from the aphid leaving the empty shell, aphid mummy, behind. Adult wasps will be looking for some nectar so your pollinator garden will be useful here.

Aphid mummies mean that parasitic wasps are working for you.

Scouting is just one tool of an integrated pest management (IPM) program. Other tools include:

¥ Altering planting time to miss large insect populations
¥ Using trap crops
¥ Starting with healthy soil
¥ Keeping the garden clean of debris
¥ Hand-pulling weeds
¥ Creating habitat for beneficial insects and pollinators
¥ Watering wisely
¥ Using plants that are proven to do well in your area

Happy Gardening!

Tomato Planting 1,2,3

Now that you have chosen your tomato plants it is time to put them in the ground. There is a trick to planting tomatoes that helps them get through a long, dry, hot Georgia summer.

Snip off the lower leaves.
Snip off the lower leaves.

Step 1: Tomatoes need full sun, 8 hours, for setting fruit.  They also need well-drained, porous soil with a pH of about 6.2.  Plan on giving them at least 2 feet X 3 feet of growing space.  You will need to stake the plants or use wire cages to contain the plant growth.  Once you have your site ready, start with a healthy plant with a strong stem.  Notice the stem seems hairy.

Step 2:  Gently remove the lower leaves with snippers or by pinching them off with your fingers. Be careful not to make tears along the stem which would create wounds.  Leave the top two or three leaves.

20140412_112049
The hairs on the now buried stem will become roots creating a strong root system to better handle periods of drought.

Step 3:  Dig the hole deep enough so that you can bury the stem up to the remaining top leaves.  The part that is planted under the soil will develop roots creating a strong, deep root system that will help the plant better handle dry periods.

Press the soil around the plant so that a slight depression is formed for holding water.  These steps should get you one step closer to that BLT!

For more information about growing tomatoes see Robert Westerfield’s publication Georgia Home Grown Tomatoes.  For the best information for your area, contact your local UGA Extension Agent.

Happy Gardening!

 

 

 

Tomato Terminology for the Georgia Garden

Over the next weeks we will be exploring the world of tomatoes. They are the most popular plant in community gardens. But tomatoes can be problematic. Together we will share the good, the bad, and the delicious of tomato growing. Please share your experiences. To begin our tomato journey we are going to look at some tomato terminology.

Tomatoes in Hay BalesDeterminate vs. Indeterminate

When deciding on what type of tomato plants you want to grow, choose if you want determinate or indeterminate varieties.  Determinate plants bear all of their fruit at one time.  The plants tend to be more compact and easier to manage.  You will probably still need to support them with a tomato cage or staking.  Determinate varieties are popular with growers who want to preserve the fruit, make tomato sauces, or salsas as they get all the fruit at once.

Indeterminate varieties bear their fruit throughout the growing season.  The plants tend to sprawl and will definitely need support by staking or caging.  Growers who like to eat fresh tomatoes throughout the summer prefer indeterminate varieties.

Tomato Disease Resistance

Due to successful tomato breeding gardeners now can choose tomatoes that show resistance to the common diseases that plague all tomato growers.  A note of disclaimer here – remember that disease resistance does not mean disease proof.  You can easily determine the disease resistance of a particular variety by the initials after the name:

Big Boy VFN Tomatoes
Big Boy VFN Tomatoes

V – Resistance to the fungus that causes Verticillium wilt.

F, FF, or FFF – Resistance to the fungus that causes Fusarium wilt.  Sadly, some of the fungi developed immunities to the resistance qualities of the initial “F” tomatoes, so breeders developed cultivars that are resistant to the newer fungal races so now you may see “FF” and “FFF”.

N – Resistance to nematodes

T – Resistance to the Tobacco Mosaic Virus

TSWV– Resistance to the Tomato Spotted Wilted Virus

A – Resistance to the fungus that causes Alternaria Stem Canker

St – Resistance to the fungus that causes Grey Leaf Spot, Stemphylium solani.

Big Boy VFN shows resistance to Verticillium wilt, Fusarium wilt, and nematodes.    Tomato plant sellers in your area should stock the tomatoes with the resistance you need.  Look for the resistant cultivars in seed catalogs as well.

Don’t rely on planting disease resistance cultivars as your only line of defense against disease.  Good cultural practices like proper irrigation, mulching, soil building, fertilization and removal of diseased plants are examples of the integrated pest management (IPM) you should be using.

If you think your tomatoes have one of these diseases contact your local UGA Extension office for confirmation.  Georgia Home Grown Tomatoes is an excellent publication for tomato connoisseurs.

Happy Tomato Gardening!

 

Soil Temperatures in Your Georgia Garden

Soil Temperatures in Your Georgia Garden

With the recent warm temperatures it is easy to be seduced into planting your summer crops now.   It is tempting to plant our vegetable transplants and seeds; we can’t wait for that first juicy tomato are a crunch pepper!  Be aware that soil temperatures are very important for success with your early summer plantings.

Soil Temperatures in Your Georgia Garden
Pepper Seedlings

Soil temperatures need to be 60-65 degrees F and rising at the 4 inch soil depth before you plant your summer crops.

If you install a transplant too early the roots won’t grow and the plant will just be sitting in the soil.  If we have a large amount of rain, which seems to be the norm this year, your new plant will just be sitting in wet soil.  This could mean early disease issues.

This morning the Ballground weather station, near my home, indicated a 4-inch soil temperature of 54.6 degrees F. In Griffin the 4-inch soil temperature was 56.8 degrees F while Valdosta reported 63.5 degrees F.

If the soil temperatures are not warm enough for seed germination, early seed plantings could rot.

The roots need to be actively growing to absorb water and nutrients.

If we plant and fertilizer summer vegetables too early we will be wasting fertilizer.  The plant roots simply can’t absorb it.  This fertilizer could get washed away, wasting your time and money. Also, this leached fertilizer could be problematic for our watersheds.

Determine your soil temperatures.

To determine your soil temperature at the 4 inch depth visit www.georgiaweather.net.  Click on the station nearest your garden.  Or, you can see a summary of soil temperatures across the state.

Soil Temperatures in Your Georgia Garden
Newly planted tomatoes. Waiting until the soil temperatures are warm enough is one step to success for your summer garden.

Remember the rule of thumb is play it safe and wait!

Happy Gardening!

Indoor Seed Starting – Part One

Just flipping through one garden seed catalog I found 89 varieties of tomatoes, 21 varieties of cucumbers, 20 varieties of eggplant and 26 varieties of sweet peppers, including three types of lunchbox peppers. Compare that to the different types of vegetable plants that you would find at your big box retail store. Add some variety to your life and try starting your own seeds!

The rule of thumb is to start your warm-season seeds 6-8 weeks before planting time so over the next weeks we are going to explore indoor seed starting in-depth. For beginners, follow along with me as you start your first seeds. For seasoned seed-starting veterans, you may pick up a trick or two. I also encourage you to share your experience through the comments.

Let me begin by writing that there are many effective ways to start seeds indoors. I am going to share with you the way that I like to do it. I have been starting seeds indoors for decades and I have found a way that works best for me. You may find a different way that works best for you and that is terrific. I look forward to learning from you all as well.

To start, I like these re-useable plastic trays. They are easy to store and come in many sizes. I have friends who save their old plastic milk jugs and trim them down for seed starting; that works well for them.

These trays are easy to use for seed starting.

Any plastic trays MUST be disinfected before adding soil media and seed. I use a solution of 9-parts water to 1-part bleach. This step is important to eliminate any pathogens that have been overwintering on remaining soil particles. Starting with clean trays is an important step towards healthy seedlings. Don’t skip it.

These soil particles could hold pathogens. Disinfect those trays!

I like to use the peat moss discs for my planting media. As a bonus, the peat moss contains properties that discourage fungal growth. This helps prevent the disease damping off which is a real problem for seedlings.

The pellets expand with the addition of water.

These pellets are readily available and are easy to store. Add water and the pellets expand. I use warm water to create a favorable environment for the seeds. It is important here to not oversaturate the discs with too much water. Too dry is better for the seeds than too wet. Too wet means that the seeds could rot or disease will become a problem. You want the planting media to be just damp. If you can wring water out of the media, it is too wet. If this happens you can let the discs sit outside the tray for a few hours so that they can dry out a bit. You will get the hang of how much is too much as you practice.

Okay, gather your seed starting equipment, and play around with the pellets. Next week we will talk about planting the seeds.

Happy Gardening!

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!

The Magic of the New Year

Recently I attended a presentation given by a scientist who is known for her expertise in plant genetics. Her lab was one of the first to do work in what we now call genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Between the explanations of plant biochemistry and the future of our food system she snuck in a statement that was so profound it is worth sharing. She said, “plants are magic.” Yes, plants are magic.

One of my first memories involves plants. At about six years old, I received a science kit as a gift where seeds germinated in a substrate so that the grower could see the root radical and shoot as the seed sprouted. I was hooked. Plants were magic.

Basil seedlings

I have never lost that feeling of awe when dealing with gardens. Most of you are shaking your heads in agreement as you read this. The way flowers survive our droughts and our own mismanagement. The way a tiny seed pushes through our hard clay soil. How small seeds yield large amounts of food. You know it; plants are magic.

Savannah Trustess Garden

As we go into the new year and we are planning our 2018 gardens may we never lose that magic. I look forward to gardening with you in the next year.

Happy New Year!

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!