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!