Healthy Life Community Garden

Healthy Life 6“We are NOT building a garden.  We are breaking generational barriers, cultivating and amending the fallow ground of imagination and hope, planting seeds of thought, birthing fruit of propensity for prosperity.  That – that is what we are doing.” This is on a sign that greets you when you visit the Healthy Life Community Gardens in Griffin.  The garden is located on the grounds of the old Fairmont High School, which was started as a Rosenwald school.  Rosenwald schools were primarily built for the education of African-Americans in the early 20th century.  So, there is a lot of history here.  But, the school has been closed down for some time now and the area forgotten until the idea was born to create a garden here.  And, it is a beautiful garden.

There is no cost to get a plot at the garden and the Griffin Area Housing Authority

Patti Beckham waters a few plants.
Patti Beckham waters a few plants.

provides water.  There are 17 official gardeners using assigned raised beds.  And, others who come to just volunteer here.   There is a

Young readers enjoy the garden.
Young readers enjoy the garden.

pollinator garden and a nice seating area.  A unique feature to this garden is the  “Summer in the Garden” reading program where volunteers from the FERST Foundation bring garden-themed books to read and give to young gardeners.  The space has designated Community Areas where anyone can pick and take vegetables.  They have recently added some fruit and pecan trees.

At the heart of the garden is Patti Beckham.  Patti is a program assistant with Spalding County Extension and you can hear the passion in her voice as she talks about the garden, and the people who garden here.  Patti taught at Fairmont  for eight years

when it became a special needs school.  She loves seeing the place reborn.  She conducts a Junior Master Garden program here and also supervises 4-H students who are volunteers.  Patti and Wade Hutcheson, the Spalding County ANR agent, agree that

UGA Extension Agent, Wade Hutcheson, visits with gardeners Jimmy Jones and Ernest Lewis.  Mr. Jones went to the Fairmont school in the late 1960s.
UGA Extension Agent, Wade Hutcheson, visits with gardeners Jimmy Jones and Ernest Lewis. Mr. Jones went to the Fairmont school in the 1950s.

the number one need is more gardeners from the immediate community.  Wade says the garden is here and within walking distance of so many people, he is hoping that more will come out.  For more information about the garden contact Wade at the Spalding County Extension Office at 770-467-4225.

The first rule at the Healthy Life Community Gardens is “I will have fun.”  Isn’t that great?

Happy Gardening!

Collard Greens – A Southern Favorite

Collard Green SeedsCan any Southern garden truly be Southern without collard greens?  If you are from the South your Grandmother probably cooked them up with a bit of smoked meat or bacon.  They are a staple at the Sunday dinner table, tasty and very nutritious. Collard greens are a wonderful fall plant because they can take the heat and the cold.  For questions about any fall garden vegetable contact your local UGA Extension Agent.

August is the time for direct seed sowing.  Make sure your soil is loose and well-drained.  The seeds will germinate at soil temperatures from 45 degrees – 85 degrees, a very wide range.  Seed heavily, putting about 2 inches between seeds, and cover the seeds with about 1/4-1/2 inch of soil. Thin to 12-18 inches between plants.  The thinnings can be steamed and eaten or transplanted.  Since you are planting in the summer, insect pests may be a problem for very young seedlings.

Many gardeners start their seeds inside and transplant hardier seedlings.  For transplants, either raised or purchased, September is the time for planting.  Transplants will adjust quicker if they are planted on a cloudy day or hardened off to the heat by keeping them in the shade for a few days.  Keep the plants 12-18 inches apart.   Collards are heavy feeders so make sure to add some fertilizer or compost when you plant.  Nitrogen keeps those leaves nice and green.  Keep the young plants well watered.   Some gardeners have problems with leaf spots on their greens.  Paul Pugliese’s Leaf Spots on Greens Related to Moisture could be helpful if this happens to you.

With collard greens you don’t have to worry about the first frost damaging the plant.  The greens actually taste sweeter after a frost.

You can harvest greens a number of ways.  You can harvest the entire plant when it is half grown or full grown.  Or, you can begin taking several of the outer, lower leaves after the plants are about a foot tall.  Harvesting the plant a few leaves at a time will prolong your harvest and you will have fresh greens as you want them.

Blue Max, Georgia Southern, Hevi-Crop are all recommended cultivars.  Master Gardeners have also had success with Georgia Green as well.  These should be available almost at any place that sells seeds.  If you are fortunate enough to live near an old fashioned feed and seed store or an older hardware store, you may be able to find seeds there.  Also, there are several mail order companies such as Seed Savers Exchange and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds that specialize in hard to find seeds.

The poet Maya Angelou is quoted as saying “The best comfort food will always be greens, cornbread, and fried chicken.”  We tend to agree, don’t you?

Happy Gardening!

Tomato Recipe from 4th and Swift

It seems no matter how hard we plan at some point during the summer we have more tomatoes than we know what to do with. We have eaten many BLT sandwiches, given the neighbors more than they can use, and canned tomatoes for the winter.  You have donated scads to the local food bank.  What next?  I asked chef and owner of the restaurant 4th and Swift, Jay Swift, how he would handle this problem and he gave me a recipe that is perfect for those tomatoes!

Heirloom Tomato and Melon Gazpacho

1 pound tomatoes, cut into quarters

1 cantaloupe, skin and seeds removed

1 honeydew melon, skin and seeds removed

5 basil leaves

1 TBSP champagne vinegar

3/4 cup olive oil

Salt/pepper to taste

Honeydew Melon, Cantaloupe, Tomatoes, and Basil sauteing in Olive Oil.
Honeydew Melon, Cantaloupe, Tomatoes, and Basil sauteing in Olive Oil.

In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil.  Add the tomato quarters, melons, and basil.  (Note:  with a gas stove make sure you turn off the heat when you add your ingredients.  This prevents flames in the pan.)  Saute the ingredients until they start to bleed out, about 1 minute.  Remove from heat and quickly store in the refrigerator.  Once everything is chilled, buzz in the food processor with vinegar.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Enjoy!

Delicious!
Delicious!

Chef Swift is a gardener in his own right and his restaurant is known for its farm-to-table menu, using all-natural and sustainable farm products.  He was happy to share a photo of his garden with us.  He is proud of his restaurant located in the Old Fourth Ward district of Atlanta near the new Atlanta Beltline project.  And he should be! We thank him for sharing his culinary expertise with us.

Chef Jay Swift's Garden
Chef Jay Swift’s Garden

Happy Eating!

Looking Forward to Fall Vegetables-Guest Post by Amy Whitney

The summer vegetable garden is still producing plenty of great food for most Georgia gardeners, but the first frost date is getting close enough that we all can begin to think about fall crops.

As Extension Horticulturist Robert Westerfield says in the UGA publication Home Gardening, “Fall-grown vegetables are usually of very high quality. If you supply water as needed, use pesticides properly and fertilize according to label recommendations, you will be rewarded with tender vegetables in a season when few people are enjoying such delicacies.”

Young Broccoli Plant (PHOTO/Amy Whitney)
Young Broccoli Plant (PHOTO/Amy Whitney)

While many summer vegetables will grow and produce into the fall, cold-hardy crops that can withstand some freezing weather can extend the harvest well into winter for much of the state. The list of these cold-hardy crops includes broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, spinach, beets, turnips, collards, kale, carrots, and more!  Your local UGA Extension Agent will be able to tell you what fall crops grow well in your area.

When the first frost wilts and blackens the last of our summer crops, the fall crops should already be in place and growing strong.

To get them far enough along that they will reach maturity before a very hard freeze damages the more tender of these crops, they should be planted according to the times listed in UGA’s Vegetable Planting Chart. The dates in the chart are for middle Georgia, so an adjustment of one, two, or more weeks will need to be made in the planting dates for most Georgia counties.

For gardens north of middle Georgia, an earlier planting date is needed to allow time for good growth before their earlier frost. Gardeners farther south can plant later than the recommended dates, since their frost date will be later.

At planting time, don’t forget to follow the soil preparation guidelines that make the summer garden such a success. Add more composted organic matter to the soil, since some will have been lost to decomposition over the hot summer, and remember to provide good nutrition to your crops through fertilizer additions.

These additions can be based on soil test results (preferred) or based on instructions on a home-garden fertilizer package. Careful soil preparation pays off in higher yields, so these are important steps.  Most important of all, though, is to enjoy the beautiful fall weather and bountiful harvest!

Amy Whitney is a Horticulture Program Assistant with Cobb Extension.  She lives in Kennesaw where she is famous for the creative way she grows food crops in her suburban yard.

Happy Gardening!

The Dreaded Squash Vine Borer

If you have grown squash for very long you have probably run across the dreaded squash vine borer (Melitta curcurbitae).  One day your plants look great and the next day the plants look wilted.  Shortly after they collapse and die.  The base of the plant becomes mushy.  You may even see small holes at the stem base.   Squash vine borers have probably paid your garden a visit.

Squash Vine Borer Photo by Jim Jasinski, Ohio State University Extension, Bugwood.org
Squash Vine Borer Photo by Jim Jasinski, Ohio State University Extension, Bugwood.org

To understand how to control this pest we need to understand a bit about its biology.  In June/July adults emerge from under the soil.  They fly during the daytime and lay a single egg at the base of susceptible plants like squash and pumpkins.  After about a week the egg hatches and the larva bores into the plant stem.  The insect will feed through the center of the stem for several weeks.   Then the larva will exit the stem and burrow back into the soil to pupate until next summer where it emerge as an adult.  There is one generation per year.

Knowing this biology we can use integrated pest management (IPM) to help combat this pest.  Choose plants that the vine borers don’t like.  Gardeners have had success with moschata types of squash like butternut.  Their stems seem to be more resistant to the borer.   Next, especially if you have ever had vine borers, you must rotate your crops.  Don’t plant squash in the same place next year because the pest is in the soil waiting until next summer to emerge.

If you have planted in an area that does not have a history of squash vine borers you can use row covers (simply structurally supported netting) to block the flying adults from laying eggs.  As soon as the squash starts to flower you will need to remove the row covers to give the necessary pollinators access to the flowers.  Some gardeners have had success with trapping.  The adults are attracted to the color yellow.  Some gardeners use yellow bowls with filled with water.  The thought is the yellow bowls will attract the insects and they will drown.  Yellow sticky traps are also available.

Squash Vine Borer Larva Photo by Gerald Holmes, California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo, Bugwood.org .
Squash Vine Borer Larva Photo by Gerald Holmes, California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo, Bugwood.org

Change your squash planting time.  If you can plant very early so that the squash will be mature and fruited before the adults lay eggs, you might outwit the pest.  When the squash plant has finished producing vegetables, remove it from the garden.

What if it is too late and you are already infected with squash borers?  One recommendation is to make a sharp slit in the stem and remove the borer.  Afterwards pile soil around the stem so that the wound is covered with soil.  Insecticides can be used for prevention but once the pest is inside the plant, insecticides aren’t very helpful.

If your crop is a complete failure, your local Farmers Market will probably have some squash and you can try again next year.

Contact your UGA Extension Agent for more information on combating the vine borers.  Also, visit Homegrown Summer and Winter Squash by Florkowska and Westerfield for other tips on growing squash.

Happy Gardening!

Help Fight Hunger-Guest Post by Ellen Bauske

Plant a Row for the Hungry Marker
Plant a Row for the Hungry Marker

Buried in Veggies?  It can happen. I was in college when I planted my first garden and I had a taste for zucchini. I planted 50 seeds and ultimately grew 36 fine zucchini plants.

I stir-fried zucchini, baked zucchini casseroles, made chips, and baked bread. I sold it at the local coop. I gave it to the neighbors and gave more to the neighbors. Eventually, they stopped coming to the door when I knocked. I put in on tables in front of my house with a sign, “Free to a Good Home.” Did you know zucchini makes a fine addition to the compost pile?

Fortunately, you can do much better with your extra produce today. The Plant a Row (PAR) Program was started by Jeff Lowenfels, a garden columnist in Anchorage Alaska. He asked his readers to plant an extra row of vegetables for Bean’s Café, an Anchorage soup kitchen. The program was very successful. In 1995 Jeff introduced the program to the Garden Writers Association and eventually, they created a foundation to administer and expand the program. The program has helped collect over 20 million pounds of produce to date.

Freshly Washed Produce Ready for Donation.
Freshly Washed Produce Ready for Donation.

Some community gardens have dedicated spaces or rows specifically for food donation. They are cared for by the entire group or even visiting groups of young gardeners or FFA (Future Farmers of America) students.

If you are near the Atlanta metro area, you can easily donate your extra veggies to those in need. The Atlanta Community Food Bank’s Community Gardens web site has a very handy-dandy locator that will help you find a PAR drop-off site. Ample Harvest also lists many food pantries. Ask around. It isn’t hard to find a place.   MUST Ministries in Cobb or Cherokee county would love to have your extra produce.

You will want to contact the food pantry before you show up with your harvest. They may have a preferred delivery date and time. Harvest your crops in the early morning on delivery day to take advantage of the cool air. Dry off any dew.

Now this next part is really important. Inspect each item for bruising, insect damage and ripeness. If you would not serve it to your family, do not give it to the pantry. If it is the sort of veggie or fruit you would put in a stew, don’t give it to the pantry.

A Plot Dedicated to Feeding the Hungry at the Cherokee County Senior Center Garden.
A Plot Dedicated to Feeding the Hungry at the Cherokee County Senior Center Garden.

If the pantry gives you packaging instructions, follow them. If not, put the produce in a supermarket bag and take it to the pantry at the requested time and date.

Bring what you have. If you have a bushel of zucchini and 10 tomatoes, bring them both to the pantry. Your food will be aggregated with the donations of others. Handle the food just as you would for your family. You are protected by the Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act. This Act encourages food donation while provided the donor with protection form criminal and civil liability provide you do not exhibit negligence.

Just as you have always suspected, you can make the world a better place by gardening.

Dr. Ellen Bauske is a Public Service Associate with the Georgia Center for Urban Agriculture who still enjoys zucchini.  She is active in the local food movement.

Happy Gardening!

 

Growing Popcorn

Corn Tasseling
Corn Tasseling

Sweet corn can be a challenge to grow in the community garden, especially for the one to two ears you get for each corn stalk. It can shade your other crops, or your neighbor’s.   Some community gardens have rules that prohibit growing corn for that reason. Popcorn can be another story.  The cultivars can be shorter than sweet corn and even though the yield is about the same, you can make popcorn last a long time.

Tom Thumb popcorn grows to be about 3 feet tall and is a popular cultivar all over the country.  Pennsylvania Butter Flavor, Dakota Black, and Cherokee Long Ear are cultivars Master Gardeners have had great success growing in Georgia.  Know that all corn types, including popcorn, are heavy feeders so make sure you have good fertility in the soil.  If you can plant the corn where a legume has been growing – fantastic!  The legume will have added nitrogen to the soil for you!  You will want to add some compost  or nitrogen when the corn is about 6 inches high and again when it is about knee high.

Sow twice as many seeds as you think you will need and thin to about 8-12 inches apart.  Keep weeds at bay and when the corn is about knee high add soil over the exposed roots for good support.  If you decide to try growing popcorn this late in the season, determine how many days until maturity (usually this information is on the seed package) and make sure it will have time to mature before frost.

The trick to successfully growing popcorn is to know it is wind pollinated.  The pollen of the male flowers (the tassels) need to

Cherokee Long Ear Small Popcorn
Cherokee Long Ear Small Popcorn

reach the female flowers (the silks).  Especially when you are growing limited amounts you want to think “blocks” instead of “rows”.  Planting in squares will drastically improve pollination as the wind-blown pollen grains will have a better chance at landing on another corn stalk.  So for a 4′ X 8′ plot you could have four stalks across and at least four stalks down the plot for a total of at least 16 stalks.  With this plot size, know popcorn would take up at least half of your plot area.  This would probably be a minimum for good pollination.  You could always help the wind out by gently shaking the stalks yourself!

The wind pollination can be an issue if another community gardener is also growing another type of corn, especially if either one of you is planning on saving seed. You could get cross- pollination.  You may want to separate your planting dates by a couple of weeks so that the corn doesn’t tassel at the same time.  Or maybe you all can grow the same type of popcorn.Your local Extension Agent has all types of information on growing all types of corn.

Let the popcorn ears remain on the stalks until the husks are dry.  The downside here is this takes time that could be used to start another crop.  Bring it inside to finish drying for several weeks.  You can remove the corn kernels from the ears by hand, by twisting the kernels off or by rubbing two cobs together.  Experience teaches that it is fairly easy to remove them by flicking them off with your thumb.  This winter when there is a nice fire in the fireplace and a good book in hand, you will appreciate the time and effort it took to grow your own popcorn!

Happy Gardening!

 

Growing Southern Peas

June is the perfect time to get Southern peas, also known as field peas, in the ground.  The soil and air temperatures are very warm and hot summer days stretch out in front of us.   Southern peas include cream, crowder, and black-eyed types.  They thrive during hot weather in full sun.  Your local UGA Extension agent knows what types typically are grown in your area.

North Georgia gardeners are harvesting the end of the cool season lettuces and Southern peas would be a perfect replacement.  Add a bit of compost to the soil and sow seeds about 1 inch deep, 3-6 inches apart.  For those of you who grow in rows space them 20-42 inches apart.  Make sure your soil is well draining.

Southern peas act more like beans than peas.  Some cultivars are vining and will need some support and some are more bush type.  Experience shows that even bush types are easier to manage with a small trellis.  If you keep them picked they will keep producing all through our hot, humid summer!

Knuckle Purple Hulls using sunflowers as support.
Knuckle Purple Hulls using sunflowers as support.

Cream peas are the mildest in flavor.  Cream Crowder, White Acre, and Texas Cream #12 are non-vining cultivars to consider trying.

Black-eyed peas have a bit more flavor.  California #5, Magnolia, and Pink Eye Purple Hull are cultivars that are non-vining and grow well in our area.  Black-eyed peas are the ones seeped in Southern folklore.  If you eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day legend has it that your year will be prosperous.  Worth a try!

Crowder peas are the strongest in flavor.  You will remember them as the peas that are “crowded” in the hull.  Mississippi Silver and Mississippi Purple are non-vining while Knuckle Purple Hull and Colossus are cultivars that will need some type of firm support like fencing or staking.

You can harvest all of these either as green shelling peas or for drying.  A useful publication, although written for commercial production, is Southern Peas by UGA horticulturists Boyhan, Grandberry, and Kelley. This publication has additional information on cultivars and diseases.

Happy Gardening!

 

 

Give Growing Cucumbers a Try

Fresh slicing cucumbers are a favorite summer crop.   Extension Horticulturist, Robert Westerfield, has written a helpful circular called Growing Cucumbers in the Home Garden that will get you started.

Slicing cucumbers may have long vines.  With proper planning, and a few tips, you can have manage cucumber vines in the community garden.  There are a few cultivars that are bush-type cultivars, meaning they won’t take as much space.  Salad Bush Hybrid is advertised to take up about 1/3rd the area of a traditional vining cucumber.  Bush Crop and Fanfare are also commonly grown bush cucumbers.  Realize that they will still have some vines.

Cucumber vines can be managed.
Cucumber vines can be managed.

If you want to try the vining cultivars you can stake or trellis them.  Wire-grid growing panels are perfect for cucumbers.  Or, recycle a portion of fencing. Trellising cucumbers has the added advantage of getting the fruit off of the ground which helps prevent fruit rots.  This also allows for increased air flow around the plant leaves which may cut down on disease problems.  Be conscientious of your fellow gardeners by not creating unwanted shade for your neighbor with your trellis.

Depending on how large your cucumber fruit matures, it may need support on the trellis.  Old panty hose or onion bags are perfect for this.  As the fruit becomes big, gently cup the cucumber in the hose or onion bag and tie it to the trellis.  Be careful not to bruise the fruit or tear it from the vine.  Burpless hybrid, Straight Eight, Sweet Success, Sweet Slice, Diva, and Marketmore 76 are good vining cultivars for Georgia.

Community gardeners list past poor fruit quality as a reason not to grow cucumbers.  If you know a bit about the biology of the cucumber plant you might have better success.  Cucumbers have two kinds of flowers.  They have male (staminate) and female (pistillate) flowers.  Staminate flowers do not bear fruit. Bees move pollen from staminate (male)  flowers to the

No summer salad is complete without a crisp, fresh cucumber!
No summer salad is complete without a crisp, fresh cucumber!

pistillate flowers for pollination and subsequent fruit production.  This means if you, or your fellow gardeners, are using broad-spectrum insecticides you may be reducing the quality and quantity of your cucumbers by killing possible pollinators.  It is possible to hand pollinate cucumbers if you see few bees.

You may have heard of gynoecious cucumbers. These bare mostly female flowers.  They often have a heavier yield because of the increased number of female flowers. I’ve seen posts around the web suggesting that the few male flowers be removed.  Don’t do that!   It takes male and female cucumber flowers to make fruit!  General Lee and Calypso are two gynoecious types worth a try.

Be bold and try cucumber planting.  Your salads will be the better for it!  For more information on growing cucumbers with success contact your local UGA Extension Agent.

Happy Gardening!

 

Green Bean Basics

Green beans are an integral part of any vegetable garden.  Also called snap beans or string beans, they are not hard to grow and require little fertilization.  Whether harvested and prepared the old Southern way, cooked with a piece of bacon, or steamed with a bit of onion, they are a summer dinner staple.  This post contains great information taken from Robert Westerfield’s circular Home Garden Green Beans.

For community gardeners the first step in successfully growing green beans is to know the growing types.  Bush beans are compact and don’t need extra support to grow.  Pole beans run and do require support such as a cage or trellis (think  of growing up a pole).  Be thoughtful of using trellises in a community garden setting.  Anything tall may created unwanted shade.   Half-runner beans are somewhere in between bush and pole beans.  If they are not supported they will spread more than bush beans.  Bush beans are a great option for the limited space of a community garden.

All three types of beans grow best in air temperatures of 65-85 degrees F.  Soil temperatures should be above 55 degrees F for good germination.  One helpful tip is to soak the bean seed in warm water overnight.  This may help speed germination.

Seed should be planted about 1 inch deep.  You can do this without a ruler.  Gently push the beans seed into the soil with your index finger.  When your first knuckle is even with the soil top, that is about 1 inch.   To help prevent disease problems, be careful not to crowd the beans.  You want air movement between the plants so leave about 6 inches between seeds.

After planting, gently pat the dirt ensuring good seed to soil contact.   Keep the seeds moist until the beans emerge.  Mulching will help with that.  After the plants become established water as needed, about twice a week.

Bush Bean Patch
Bush Bean Patch

For best flavor, harvest beans before they become fully developed.  Pick often so the plant will continue to produce.  Your harvest can be stored in a cool, dry place for several days.  Or, you may want to try your hand at canning if you have alot of beans.

Some tried and true cultivars of bush beans are Blue Lake 274, Gina, Roma II, and Bronco.  If you want to be adventurous and try something different consider Mayflower, which is said to have come to America with the Pilgrims.  Or, Pencil Pod Black Snap Bean which produces black beans.   Other cultivars to consider are Stringless Commodore, October Bean, Top Crop, and Contender.   Master Gardener Extension volunteers have had success with these types.

Kentucky Wonder, Rattlesnake, Blue Lake, and McCaslan are good pole bean choices for the Southern garden.  If you are thinking of trying half-runners look at Mountaineer, Volunteer, or Peanut Bean Pink.

Seed catalogs along with feed and seed stores are full of great choices.  Try to choose seed that has been grown successfully in our area.  If you have had success with a certain cultivar, please share that information in the comments section.  For more information on cultivars for your area, contact your local UGA Extension Agent.

Happy Gardening!