How can you safely work in your school garden during the COVID pandemic? Here are some guidelines from the Georgia Farm to School Alliance to assist you:
It is a great time of year for gardeners. The seed catalogs are starting to arrive in our mailboxes. What a thrill to open the mailbox and see the hint of one of the beautiful catalog covers. These catalogs are mesmerizing. The photos are works of art and the vegetable descriptions are literature.
Garden Catalog Tips
We have asked Robert Westerfield, UGA vegetable specialist, to give us a few tips on navigating our way through these catalogs and all of the vegetable choices.
Tip #1 If you are gardening for high yields or dependable results, use recommended varieties for your area. UGA’s Vegetable Planting Chart has a list of varieties that have proven to do well in Georgia. These are the least risky choices.
Tip #2 When trying a new vegetable variety order only a small quantity to start. Experimenting is one of the great pleasures of the garden. Succeed or fail, it is fun to try. Just don’t over-invest in seeds until you know how they will perform in your garden.
Tip #3 Remember the vegetables you grew up with may not necessarily be the best ones to plant now. There are many improved hybrid varieties that can hold up to our disease and heat issues. A good example is Silver Queen corn. While popular, it is definitely not the best variety to grow in Georgia. There are many new corn hybrids on the market that are much sweeter and maintain their sweetness longer when stored.
Hopefully, these tips will be a helpful guide as you enjoy making your 2019 garden seed selections. One bonus tip especially for school gardeners – the photos in the catalogs can be laminated and used as plant markers or in gardening lessons.
To better understand how we can ensure that the seeds we collect will result in the plants that we want, let’s go back to high school biology and review plant reproduction basics!
The male parts of the flower are called the staman, made up of the anther and filament. The pollen sits on the anther waiting to be moved to the female part of the same or a different flower.
The female part of the flower are called the carpel made up of the stigma, style and ovary. Pollen lands on the stigma (this is pollination) moves down the style to find an ovule in the ovary (this is fertilization).
Some pollen is light and is presented on high anthers. Wind moves this pollen to female flowers and corn is a wonderful example. Some pollen is very sticky and needs an insect or other agent to move it to female flowers. This is true of goldenrod.
Is this starting to sound familiar? This is very basic and plants have evolved many tricks to make their pollen more available for pollination. Some plants have evolved with specific insect pollinators. Flowers, you may know, exist to assist the pollinator in finding the pollen. To a bee’s eyes some petals seem to have landing stripes leading straight to the pollen and nectar. It is a fascinating topic! The Community Seed Network has information on a few different pollination types.
For our purposes this basic model will work. Next time we will look at plant types: hybrid vs. open pollination.
School gardens routinely grow food crops, create pollinator habitat, and even replicate historic gardens. They are an integral part of school curriculum used to teach botany, math, nutrition, history, literature and even geography. However, the one area lacking in the hundreds of school gardens that I have visited is seed saving. Seed saving can be an important horticultural part of the garden as well as an additional avenue for tying the garden to school curriculum. With a bit of botany background, proper seed saving is not difficult and will be a fun part of your garden!
Until modern times seed collecting was the only way a gardener had seed for the next year. Seed was shared with neighbors and passed down from generation to generation (heirloom seeds). Seeds were taken across oceans and over the American prairie and they are an important part of our agricultural history. Your students may have heirloom seeds stories to share. In my area of Southern Appalachia seed saving is part of many family heritages.
Hybrid plants are not appropriate for seed saving. They are bred to amplify a certain trait such as disease resistance or larger fruit and are produced by cross-breeding two plants with different genetics. Tomatoes are a great example. Most of the tomatoes grown in backyards are hybrid tomatoes with names like Better Boy and Early Girl. Although these varieties produce delicious tomatoes, they are not appropriate for seed saving.
Hybrid plants produce seeds that are genetically unreliable or not true-to-type. These seeds are undesirable for seed saving.
Open-pollinated plants are the type of plants we want for seed collecting. They are pollinated naturally and will produce seeds that are true-to-type if they are isolated from other varieties. So, it is important for the school gardener to choose only one variety of the seed producing plant. For example, do not plant Calypso beans in the same area as Hidatsa beans. They could possibly cross-pollinate resulting in seeds not true-to-type. A garden of only Calypso beans will produce true Calypso bean seed! Larger gardens follow the recommended isolation distance for seed saving for most beans that is 10-20 feet.
With the smaller space of a school garden, it is best to choose one variety of the seed producing plant type for seed saving.
SEED SAVING AND YOUR SCHOOL CURRICULUM
Lesson ideas are numerous:
- Pollination – what exactly is pollination and fertilization
- Pollinators – how is pollen spread
- History – heirloom seeds
- Geography – how did crops spread around the world
- Math – how many seeds produced per plant/fruit/bean pod
- Genetics – Hybrid plants and gene traits
- Cultural Studies – choose plants with cultural significance such as Chinese long beans or tomatillos
- Literature – research how seeds came from Europe and Africa to become part of our agricultural system
Seed Savers has a website full of seed collecting information. Your local land grant Cooperative Extension office can assist you in choosing varieties of plants that will work well for seed saving and will grow well in your area. Over the next several weeks we will explore seed collecting in more detail so grab your seed catalogs and start planning your spring seed collecting garden.
October is Farm to School Month and this year in Georgia we are celebrating with Oh My Squash!. Several of you have grown squash with success and several of you have grown it with less success. For future reference we have created this squash problem cheat sheet. As you plan for your next crop of squash, keep these techniques in mind:
Wishing you a bright squash gardening future!
October is Farm to School Month and this year Georgia is celebrating with Oh My Squash! You can visit the project webpage for more information on how to participate. Many of you may be growing a late crop of squash for this campaign so I thought it was worth reposting Bob Westerfield’s article on growing squash. He is a UGA horticulturalist and our go-to guy for vegetable production. Bob writes:
To most Southern gardeners, fried yellow squash or grilled zucchini are staples on the table during the summer. Serving up home grown winter squash in the fall is worthy of bragging rights.
While normally easy to grow, the endless choice of varieties and numerous garden pests have made growing squash a little more challenging. Squash come in an endless assortment of shapes, sizes and colors. Choosing the right variety can seem daunting. The squash vine borer, a persistent pest, has caused some gardeners to give up on growing squash.
October is Farm to School Month and schools and early care centers across Georgia are celebrating all things squash! Oh My Squash! is a state-wide celebration to get kids eating, growing and participating in squash-themed activities. UGA Cooperative Extension is a partner in the project and we are excited about the month! To participate in Oh My Squash at your school, early care center, or in your community, visit the webpage.
Participants will receive free electronic resources to help you plan and implement your activities. Resources include standards-based lesson plans, quick activities, recipes, videos, school garden planting and harvesting information, and more!
The first 300 people to sign-up will be mailed a free packet of squash seeds, washable squash tattoos, and a Georgia Planting and Harvest Calendar for school gardens. Share your Oh My Squash pictures and activities on social media with #ohmysquash.
Each week during October, anyone who uses this hashtag will be entered to win a gift card and at the end of the month, we will have a grand prize winner of a two day education pass to the Georgia Organics Conference on Feb. 7-8, 2020 in Athens (a $425 value)!
As you plan your Oh My Squash! activities use your local UGA Cooperative Extension office. They can assist with ideas on preparing squash taste tests for the classroom and advice on growing and harvesting the squash in your school garden.
Happy Gardening and Eating!
School is back in session over most of the state and with that school gardens are being used in curriculum. Hopefully teachers came back to a neat and weed-free space. In the perfect world, teachers would come back to crops planted and paths cleared. If neither of those is your school, you definitely have some work to do this year in building your school garden committee!
Over the coming weeks we will be exploring how to tie your school garden into your classroom curriculum. I look forward to hearing from you all on ideas that you have as well.
This week I want to make sure that all educators are aware of the Great Georgia Pollinator Census. This is happening Friday, August 23rd and Saturday, August 24th. This program is perfect for school gardeners. I have been working with teachers across the state to help them craft events for their students. All that is needed is pollinator garden or an area with several pollinator plants blooming during the census.
For fifteen minutes, participants count insects that land on a favorite pollinator plant and place the insects into categories:
The Insect Counting & Identification Guide is found on the website and is the key to success with the project. The observation sheet can be printed and carried to the garden and actual counts will be uploaded to the website. You do not need a strong entomology background to be successful with this project.
Two years of pilot projects helped us refine the project and make it ideal for upper elementary through high school students. It fits in perfectly with STEAM curriculums. The website also has a special page for educators with ideas on how to use the census with your students. We also have a Facebook group, Georgia Pollinator Census, where educators have been sharing ideas.
Although the thermometer is rising above ninety on a daily basis and our Georgia humidity is, well, the typical Georgia humidity, it is time to do some serious thinking about your fall garden.
Did you make notes on your summer garden? Making notes about which varieties performed well for you, what pests plagued you, and your overall satisfaction from your warm-season garden will be useful as you plan for 2020. Also, make note of plant arrangement so you can practice crop rotation next year.
Think Green. Fall is the time for lettuce, spinach, collards, mustard greens and kale. Your seed catalogs will show you that there are so many varieties of lettuce that you couldn’t possibly grow them all. Do try a few new ones. They could make a real difference in the taste of your salads. I really enjoy the lettuce variety Drunken Woman!
Bush beans can be a part of your early fall garden. A planting of bush beans towards the end of summer may produce a nice crop for you if we don’t get an early frost. Take note of the days until harvest count and look for something in the lower numbers. Look for varieties that are resistant to rusts and keep a close eye on them for pests like Mexican bean beetles.
Don’t forget root crops. Short day onions and garlic are a MUST for any cool-season garden. Plant these root crops as sets and let them go until the spring. It is easy to grow all the garlic you will need for the year by careful planning. Make sure to mulch the crop.
Finally, if you don’t plan to grow a cool-season crop consider growing a cover crop. Cover crops can hold down weeds while enriching your soil. At the very least please be courteous to your fellow community gardeners and clean out your plot, removing plant debris that could harbor pests and weeds that could produce seeds that you will deal with later.
Cooler weather is on the way! Happy Gardening!
On Thursday, June 27th, a bipartisan group of Congressional leaders introduced the Farm to School Act of 2019 (H.R. 3562, S. 2026). The bill, which is co-sponsored by Georgia’s own David Perdue, will expand funding and opportunities for farmers and educational institutions through the USDA Farm to School Grant Program.
The Farm to School Act would:
Increase annual funding to $15 million and increasing the grant award maximum to $250,000.
Advance equity by prioritizing grants that engage diverse farmers and serve high-need schools.
Fully include early care and education sites, summer food service sites & after school programs.
Increase access among tribal schools to traditional foods, especially from tribal producers.
The Farm to School Grant program has turned away approximately 80% of qualified applicants due to lack of funds so this new bill comes at a good time. The farm to school movement is truly a grassroots effort. Georgia’s Farm to School Network is made up of several collaborative partners working on school nutrition, farmer opportunity, and school gardens.
This bill goes hand-in-hand with the Georgia Agricultural Education Act (Georgia State Senate Bill 330) which was signed by Governor Nathan Deal in 2018.
It is exciting to see these forward steps in agricultural education.