We usually think of cover crops as tools that farmers use to build soil between seasons of cash crops. According to Using Cover Crops in the Home Garden using cover crops can be beneficial to any gardener. These plants can build the soil, control soil erosion, and limit the spread of certain diseases and insects.
Cover Crop Benefits
For community gardeners, whether you grow in raised bed plots or in the ground, there are substantial benefits here. First, many community gardeners decide not to plant cool-season vegetables. Their plots become a mess of warm-season crop debris, which can harbor insect pests disease. Or, the plots are left bare almost guaranteeing that weedy plants will take over. Using cover crops during the cool-season months solves those issues.
Cover crops can add a nice look to a community garden plot. Many of these plants also attract pollinators and other beneficial insects.
Cover crops can provide a cheap source of nutrition for your garden plants. After maturity the crops are mowed down (use a weed whacker if you garden in a raised bed), left to dry out and are turned into the soil. They decompose in the soil increasing the organic matter. Much less expensive than purchasing bags of organic matter!
Incorporating Cover Crops in Your Garden
So now that you are sold on the benefits of using cover crops during the cool-season, what do you plant? A combination of a cereal grain and a legume is a good choice. An example is wheat, oat, or rye with clover or winter peas. The cereal grain grows quickly while the slower germinating legume takes hold.
Finding small amounts of seeds for a garden plot may be a challenge. Check local feed and seed stores that may sell cover crops by the scoop. Check your seed catalogs. You may want to go in with others in your community garden for seed purchases.
Although we are in the middle of a hot summer it is time to think about your fall garden. We have put together a list of “tried and true” cultivars of cool-season vegetables. These recommendations come from UGA’s Vegetable Planting Chart. The transplants or seeds should be easy to find at your local feed-and-seed store or easy to order from seed catalogs.
Oftentimes community gardens are located on county Parks and Recreation land or in the middle of land maintained by people other than the community gardeners. School gardens have maintenance crews that maintain the land near the school garden. How this surrounding land is managed can have an affect on your garden. Sadly, herbicide damage to community garden plants when the garden itself does not allow herbicides is common. The article below by UGA’s Donn Cooper explains:
Herbicides applied to lawns and hay fields contain compounds that selectively affect broad-leafed weeds, such as dandelion and thistle, but do not kill the grass. Tomatoes, grapes, peppers and other broad-leafed plants are damaged when the herbicides move from the lawns and fields into the vegetable garden.
These herbicides — 2,4-D and pyridine compounds — cause the most striking damage on sensitive plants by short-circuiting the plants’ hormonal system and ability to regulate growth, said Elizabeth Little, a University of Georgia Plant Pathologist.
Parallel veins and cupping are some of the symptoms in the new growth of plants affected by these herbicides.
Because Georgians love tomatoes — and hate weeds, this is an issue that Extension personnel at the UGA see again and again.
“People often do not understand how the herbicide was able to move into their gardens and will swear up and down that no herbicides were used, but the symptoms are distinctive,” said Little. “Unwanted herbicide can come from different sources.”
Means of exposure
Some of those sources are obvious. For example, herbicide sprays to the lawn can become airborne and harm plants within close proximity. Even with barely a breeze, compounds applied as sprays can drift quite far from the site of application.
But there are more subtle avenues for accidental damage. In hot weather herbicide compounds on lawns can volatize, or become a gas, and eventually affect vegetables around the home.
Gardeners using grass clippings as mulch should be mindful that the clippings could have been treated with herbicide.
Herbicide in manure
While most lawn herbicides will break down within a few months, some of these herbicides, especially those applied to hay fields, will persist in the environment for several years.
Pyridine compounds — such as picloram, clopyralid and aminopyralid — appear to be causing the most damage in home gardens. These herbicides can reach gardens through composted manure from animals fed with treated hay, said Little.
“Horse manure is a very common source of unwanted herbicide because the hay that horses eat is very often sprayed with these persistent herbicides,” said Little, who is an Extension specialist in integrated disease management with the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
Growers need to be mindful about the origins of their compost and mulch. Organic farmers can even lose their certification by accidentally introducing contaminated compost from off-farm sources.
“Many gardeners have stopped using horse manure, which is a shame,” said Little.
She points out that horse manure is often easy to obtain and has a balanced nutrient composition. Although likely free of 2,4-D and related herbicides, poultry manure can create problems with nitrogen and phosphorous if used in excess.
Ask about pasture treatments
Little suggests that gardeners who buy manure should ask what herbicides were applied to the pasture and to the hay that the animals consume. Anyone who grows hay should be able to provide a list of his or her herbicide treatments.
Hay field herbicides are used so commonly because the farmers can have persistent problems with tough perennial weeds such as thistles and dock.
“With more and more people wanting to grow their own food, I think it is something that we all need to be aware of,” said Little.
Glyphosate has different symptoms
Glyphosate, another herbicide often used around the home, causes different damage on tomatoes. It affects the whole plant, not just new growth, and can be identified in bleached, yellow leaves.
If you have any questions about whether herbicide damage has affected your community or school garden, contact your local UGA Extension agent. He/she has experience with this.
Summer heat can be dangerous, especially with the heat and humidity we are experiencing this summer. We went to a professional to get tips on how to stay safe in a hot, humid Georgia garden.
Millard Griffin is a Certified Safety Professional with Environmental Resources Management (ERM). He has vast experience dealing with heat related issues on environmental projects from the Florida Everglades to the Gulf Coast of Louisiana. He knows heat and humidity.
Heat stress is a real concern for those working in the garden. Especially for those of us who aren’t out there every day. Heat stress is defined as any situation where the human body is unable to cool itself by sweating. This can lead to several conditions including heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke (a medical emergency).
Tips to Prevent Heat Stress
To prevent these conditions Mr. Griffin gives us the following tips:
Acclimatize to the heat. Work a limited amount of time outdoors and gradually increase your amount of time in the heat.
Avoid the high heat periods of the day. Get your work done early in the morning or late in the day. Avoid the hours between 2 and 6 as the heat loads are typically higher during these hours.
Take frequent breaks in a cool area. Takingbreaks in an air conditioned area is preferable but, a shady area will work.
Limit exposure to direct sunlight when possible. Plan your workday to take advantage of shaded areas.
Drink plenty of water. Take a water break at least every hour, drinking cool water. Also, drink water before working in the garden. Hydration is key.
Avoid caffeinated beverages and alcohol. These are diuretics and cause your body to lose water.
Wear light colored, loose fitting clothing and a hat. Certainly use sunscreen to protect against UV rays on all exposed skin.
It is preferable to work with another gardener so you can monitor each other. If you notice extreme sweating, dizziness, nausea, or muscle cramps STOP WORKING. Head indoors, hydrate and cool down.
Certain people are more susceptible to heat stress – the elderly, children, pregnant women, and people who have just moved here from a cooler climate. Certain medications can also make someone more prone to heat stress. Mr. Griffin recommends checking with your doctor if you take medications.
Knowing this information will help keep you safe in the Georgia summer heat and make your gardening experience a more pleasurable one.
The increase in rain this summer seems to have brought on an increase in vegetable diseases. Sharon Dowdy, a news editor for UGA, recently spoke with UGA Extension pathology specialist Elizabeth Little about the problems gardeners are seeing. Sharon writes…
Home gardeners must fight insects and diseases to keep their vegetable plants healthy and productive. Diseases are harder to identify because, unlike bugs, you can’t easily see a pathogen, says University of Georgia Cooperative Extension specialist Elizabeth Little.
“Insects can be seen on plants, but diseases are a little mysterious,” said Little, a plant pathologist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. “You can’t just look at the plant and know what’s going on.”
Georgia’s hot, muggy summers provide the perfect conditions for diseases to thrive in, she said.
The secret to fighting diseases in homegrown vegetables is to stay a few steps ahead of them, according to Little.
“If you wait until after you see the disease, it’s too late,” she said. “It’s all about prevention because diseases can increase very rapidly once they start.”
To fight diseases in the home garden, Little offers home gardeners these prevention tips.
Plant in an open, sunny location with good drainage and plenty of air circulation.
Choose disease-resistant and/or Southern-adapted varieties, if available.
Start with healthy seeds and transplants.
Plant summer crops, such as tomatoes and cucurbits, as early as possible.
Rotate different crops within the garden each year if possible.
Give plants plenty of space for good air movement. Trellis tomatoes and cucumbers.
Limit the frequency of overhead irrigation to keep foliage dry.
Use drip irrigation if possible.
To help keep plants healthy, improve soil conditions with organic matter.
Adjust pH and soil fertility based on a soil test.
Remove old crop debris at the end of the season.
Following these practices will help home gardeners avoid most disease problems. If persistent problems occur, contact your local UGA Extension office for a correct diagnosis of the problem and a recommendation on how to treat it.
It is Pollinator Week 2017! Since last year the rusty patched bumble bee has been put on the Endangered Species List and honey bee keepers in the United States reported hive losses of 33% over 2016-17. How can the average Georgia gardener help our pollinators? These steps are easy and will make a real difference to our pollinating insects:
Read Georgia’s Pollinator Protection Plan
University of Georgia entomologists collaborated with stakeholders across the state to develop Protecting Georgia’s Pollinators. There is a role for every Georgia citizen whether you are a farmer, a landscaper, or a homeowner.
Plant Flowering Plants
Adding flowering plants to your food garden attracts pollinators and as a bonus can also attract other beneficial insects. To attract butterflies, adding plants that sustain the caterpillar stage of the butterfly is important. The University of Georgia has done research on pollinator plants and has suggestions for plants that do well in our climate.
Plan for a Succession of Bloom
Strive to have plants flowering as much of the year as possible. Even during the winter months if temperatures rise above 50 F, bumble bees and honey bees are flying and looking for nectar and pollen.
Create a Water Source
Adding pebbles or stones to your birdbath makes a wonderful water source for small insects with delicate legs. By cleaning the birdbath once a week you will avoid any mosquito problems. If you don’t have a birdbath the drainage pans used to catch the water running out of potted plants can be used.
Wisely Use Any Pesticide
Examine your use of any pesticide. Is the pesticide really necessary? Your UGA Extension agent can assist you with any pest situation and guide you in deciding if a pesticide is the best answer. Make sure you thoroughly read and follow any pesticide label. The label is the law.
Have Your Garden Certified as a Georgia Pollinator Space
North Georgia has seen rain over the last week. Rain is great for our crops and also great for weeds. This is a great time to review best management practices for weed control.
Weeds can be a big problem in a community or school garden. A very big problem. Knowing how to weed correctly will make this job less of a headache. An informal poll was taken and we asked experienced gardeners to give their top three rules of weeding and we present them here:
Rule #1: Get the roots out.
If you just remove the leaves above ground chances are the weeds will come back and you will need to perform the same weeding chore over again. Many perennial weeds grow from underground roots and tubers. Those need to be removed as well.
Rule #2: Remove the weeds before they make seeds.
If your weeds are allowed to flower and make seeds your work will get much harder. Weed plants can make an incredible amount of seeds. For example, common chickweed can produce 800 seeds per plant. Dandelion flowers can make 40-100 seeds. Crabgrass can produce 53,000 seeds per plant and pigweed can produce over 200,000 seeds per plant. Don’t let those weeds flower!
Rule #3: Don’t let weeding get out of hand.
If you don’t routinely remove weeds you could be looking at a plot of weeds that seems overwhelming to tend. Your vegetable production will suffer as the weeds take up the water, nutrients, and space that should be used for your plants. And, it will take a lot of initiative to start the long process of taking back that space from the weeds.
Knowing what weeds you have could be helpful in coming up with a long-term weed management plan. Your local UGA Extension agent can help with weed plant identification and help you find strategies to minimize weed issues.
Insect scouting is an important part of integrated pest management, whether you are a large scale farmer or just “farm” a 4′ X 8′ raised bed. Here are some hints to help you scout successfully so that you can manage garden insect pests:
Hint #1 Look under plant leaves
Damaging insects often stay on the underside of leaves or in leaf crevices and plant whorls. Check those areas carefully.
Hint #2 Look for insect eggs
Insect eggs are small and by spotting and removing them you limit future damage. Squash bug eggs are a good example.
Hint #3 Confirm insect identification
The majority of insects are not harmful to your plants. Many are actually beneficial and can help you manage pests. If you are unsure of an insect identification contact your local UGA Cooperative Extension office for confirmation. Oftentimes you can send your agent a photo and that is all he/she needs to assist you.
Hint #4 Scout at night
Some insects do their damage at night. Grabbing a flashlight and scouting after dark could yield some interesting results.
Josh Fudor, UGA ANR Agent in Cherokee County, developed this simple raised bed design that is perfect for community or school gardens. This is the plan that we use in our teacher training workshops and the teachers appreciate the simplicity.
Gardening in raised beds is an easy way to get started growing great vegetables. The benefit of raised bed gardening includes: ease of management, prevention of soil compaction, better drainage, longer growing season, and ease of soil improvement.
Raised beds can be constructed out of just about any material and there are a number of kits available that are quick and easy to assemble. With a few tools and minimal time commitment the ambitious gardener can construct their own and save money.
8’ 2”x10” Boards (cost will vary depending on choice, i.e. cedar, pine, treated) We will use treated pine for this example
1⁄4” x 4” Galvanized Lag Screws
1⁄4” zinc plated washer
Cubic yard or 27 cubic feet of soil/compost mixture
* Prices may vary depending on location and if delivery is required
Total: $ 93.40
Saw-hand or electric powered
1⁄4” socket driver bit
3/16” drill bit for pre-drilling
Safety Glasses and gloves
Choose the straightest boards with little to no knot holes. This will make things much easier and make for a longer lasting finished product.
Cut one of the 8’ 2×10” boards in half. 8’ boards should 96” long but be sure to measure first just to be safe.
Make a notched cut out of the ends of all the boards. These notches provide added stability to the bed without the use of additional reinforcement. A 10” board is actually 9 1⁄4” wide so the mid-point of the board is 4 5/8” a cut 1 1/2” deep is needed to ensure the boards are flush at the corners.
The graphic below shows what the cuts should look like on all 4 of the boards when done, note that the notches are cut out on opposite sides of the board, this should be done on all boards.
Once all 4 boards have been notched on opposite sides of the board, lay them out to form the box. If cuts were made to proper measurements the boards should fit together smoothly. Pre-drill 2 holes in each end of all the boards approximately 3/4” from the end of the board. See Figure 2 below:
Afer holes have been pre-drilled place one washer on 4” lag screw and drive them through the pre-drilled holes. 16 lag screws will be inserted with 4 on each corner.
Position bed in a location that receives at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight on a North-South axis.
To celebrate International Compost Awareness Week I asked Michelle Gambon, a Cobb County Master Gardener who volunteers at Marietta City Schools, for a great compost story. Anyone who knows Michelle knows she is passionate about composting and inspires those around here. She sent us this:
When asked to reflect on the value of compost six grader Jaylin Cabrera, Marietta City Schools wrote:
What is composting? By: Jaylin Cabrera, 6th Grade, age 11
Composting is nature’s process of recycling decomposed organic materials into a rich soil known as compost. Composting transforms garden and other vegetable waste into a dark, rich productive soil amendment that gardens call “Black Gold.” Composting is nature’s way of recycling . Composting is also a natural biological process. Composting comes in many different ways for example worm composting.
What is compost? Compost is an organic matter , such as raw food scraps from fruits like apples or bananas,fallen leaves ,and coffee grounds ,that has been decomposed and recycled to use as fertilizer for growing new plants . Why is composting important ? Composting is beneficial in many ways it is used as an organic fertilizer for soil and greatly contributes to a cleaner environment by composting your raw food scraps you are reducing the amount of trash that is put into a landfill and recycling pollutants in the air.
During each lunch period an average from 13 to 18 pounds of vegetative waste is saved from the landfill. Under the guidance of a Cobb County Master Gardener volunteer, our Middle Grades Earth Ambassadors compost over three lunches twice a week totaling 540 pounds per week 2655 pounds per school year. That is a lot of “BlackGold.”
We are proud of biodiversity full of good bugs and beneficial organisms. We are always sure to keep all levels of brown and green waste true to science therefore keeping temperatures uninhabitable for anything dangerous. We are smart about the food chain and are sure to never have any animal byproducts in our compost, keeping it’s kept strictly vegetative. Because our students are so knowledgeable there is never any worry of inviting critters with eyes, (beside a bird or two who want a snack.) Teachers in Science Math, Social Studies and ELA offer many outdoor classroom experiences benefited through our diverse ecosystem.
Thank you, Michelle and Jaylin, for the great things you are doing!