Bountiful Blueberries

Blueberries About to Ripen
Blueberries About to Ripen

This is a good blueberry year.  The rain we had in the early spring and the cold winter temperatures helped make the berries plump and delicious.  They are fun to snack on as you work in the garden and fun to take home for later.

Many gardeners are frustrated when the birds get to the berries first.  One recommendation is to put netting over the plants.  This is not a perfect solution as it makes it hard for you to harvest the blueberries.  And, it is extremely sad to deal with a bird caught in netting.  Some gardeners tie aluminum pie pans to the bushes.  The sun reflecting off of the pan and movement of the pans with wind can help deter birds.   Experienced gardeners will advise to just keep the bushes picked.  As soon as the berries are ripe harvest them; don’t leave the blueberries on the bushes ripe for very long.  This seems to be an invitation for birds.

Now that you have an abundance of delicious berries what can you do?

Best defense against the birds - keep the blueberry bushes picked!
Best defense against the birds – keep the blueberry bushes picked!

To store them frozen, freeze them in a single layer on a cookie sheet.  After they have frozen, pack the berries in containers or freezer-type plastic bags and return them to the freezer.  You can take them out of the containers a few at a time.   Wash the berries just before you use them.  This way you can enjoy blueberry muffins and cobblers all winter!  You can also put up some blueberry jam.  Canning supplies are found in some big box stores as well as many local hardware stores.   Preserving Food: Jams and Jellies has great information for the beginning jam maker, including a berry jam recipe.

For summer eating, nothing is as good as a Blueberry Crisp.  This recipe is from a Cobb County Master Gardener Volunteer, Beth St. Jean, and is published in Farm to Table which is a collection of recipes from the Master Gardeners of Cobb County.  It is the perfect use for blueberries!

Blueberry Crisp

  • 3 T all-purpose flour
  • 2 T granulated sugar
  • 6 cups fresh blueberries
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cups quick-cooking oats
  • 1  1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Stir together in a large bowl the flour and sugar.  Gently toss in blueberries and lemon juice.  Spread berry mixture in bottom of ungreased baking dish.  Set aside.  To prepare the topping, combine brown sugar, flour, oats, and cinnamon.  Cut in the butter with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Sprinkle mixture evenly over the berry mixture.  Bake uncovered for 30 minutes or until top is golden brown and edges are bubbly.  After cooling for 45 minutes, may be served with ice cream on top!

If you don’t have blueberries in your community garden yet, we will discuss how to do that in a later post closer to the appropriate planting time.  Meanwhile, know that your local UGA Extension Agent can help you with any blueberry plant questions or problems.

Happy Gardening!

Composting in the Community Garden-Guest Post by Amanda Tedrow

 

Compost Bin at Woodstock Community Garden
Compost Bin at Woodstock Community Garden

Every year, more and more people decide to start a compost pile in their backyard or community garden. By recycling organic materials from the house and yard, composters reduce the amount of material going into the landfill and create a free soil amendment for their yard. Anyone can compost, but the process can be tricky for first-time composters.

Here are a few tips that can improve your composting process and product.

Keep your ratio of carbon to nitrogen as two-thirds carbon and one-third nitrogen. Carbon sources include dead leaves, sticks, branches, shredded paper, dead flowers and sawdust. Nitrogen sources include fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags and grass clippings.

Keep your compost pile moist throughout the pile. The microorganisms (bacteria, fungi and microbes) and macroorganisms (earthworms and insects) need this moisture to survive. Your pile should be as wet as a wrung-out sponge. A pile that is too wet will smell, and a pile that is too dry will decompose slowly.

Chop your ingredients before adding them to the pile. The smaller the inputs, the faster they will break down. Small ingredients are much easier for the micro and macroorganisms to consume!

Turn the pile regularly. The center of the pile is where the magic happens. In the center, the compost reaches the high temperature required for decomposition and killing weed seeds in the pile. Turning the pile ensures that all parts reach the center. Use a pitchfork to turn the pile every one to two weeks.

Compost bins at the North Fulton Annex Community Garden
Compost Bins at the North Fulton Annex Community Garden

The minimum size for a compost pile should be 4’x4’x4’. The pile needs to be this large to maintain temperatures for decomposition.

Do not put oily items, dairy or meat in your compost pile. These items will attract pests and rodents, and they can create foul odors in the compost pile.

Don’t limit yourself to just the backyard compost pile. Some gardeners use sheet composting, trench composting, com-posthole-ing, tumblers or vermicomposting. Research what method works best for your lifestyle and embrace it!

If you would like to learn more about composting, consider participating in the Georgia Master Composter Program. Participants of this nine-week program learn the chemistry and microbiology of composting, types of and reasons for composting, backyard composting techniques and tools for sharing this knowledge with their community. They also visit a variety of composting facilities.

The next Georgia Master Composter Program will be held in Athens from January through March, 2015. Registration will begin in November.  As always, your local UGA Extension Agent can help you develop a composting plan for your community garden.

Amanda Tedrow is a UGA Extension Agent for Athens-Clarke County and is affectionately known as the “compost queen!”

Happy Gardening!

 

Happy Pollinator Week

In honor of National Pollinator Week we ask the question “how important are pollinators in our community garden?”  VERY!! Technically pollination is the process where pollen is transferred from the male flower parts (stamen-anther and filament) to the female flower parts (pistil-stigma, style, and ovary).   Sometimes the male and female parts are on the same flower and sometimes they are on different flowers on the same plant, like squash and cucumbers.  Pollinators visit flowers to collect pollen and nectar.  The pollination process is a consequence.

 

Honey Bees - Jeff Martin photographer
Honey Bees – Jeff Martin Photographer

Pollinators are an integral part of any garden.  They play a major role in the production of 150 food crops in the United States.  Apples, almonds, melons, strawberries, blueberries, onions, squash, cucumbers, and broccoli are just a few food crops that are dependent on pollinators.  One third of every bite of food we eat is due to pollinators.  So, they are vital to your community garden.  How do you attract and keep pollinators?

Some community gardens have common areas set aside for flowers.  This is a great spot to add plants that attract pollinators.  Plants like black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia spp.), bee balm (Monarda didyma), anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), zinnia (Zinnia elegans), butterfly weed (Asclepias spp.), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), sunflower (Helianthus annuus), dill (Anethum graveolens), and aster (Aster spp.) are all great choices.  These not only attract pollinators but other beneficial insects like lacewings, praying mantids, and parasitic wasps.  Plan your area for a long bloom time.  Bee balm and black-eyed Susan start blooming early in the summer while many asters bloom late into the fall.  Some gardeners may want to include a few of these in their individual garden plot.

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Bumble Bee on Orange Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Perennial shrubs are also great for common areas since they create a more permanent landscape.  Consider fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii)  which starts blooming early in the spring.  Sweet pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia) blooms in midsummer and is usually covered in pollinators.  Winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) provides flowers in the cooler months when the hairy bumble bees may be active. UGA Commercial Horticulturist, Jeffrey Webb, has a great publication, Beyond Butterflies:  Gardening for Native Pollinators, which has a comprehensive list of plant choices.

Use pesticides ONLY when necessary.  If you have to use them, spot spray rather than cover spray.  Apply pesticides that are the least toxic to pollinators.  And, spray when the pollinators are less active.  Your local UGA Extension agent can help you decide which pesticide is most effective with the least damage to the beneficial insects.

With a few additional steps your garden can even become a Certified Pollinator Garden.  The pollinators win since they have a great place to collect nectar and pollen.  Your food crops win because their flowers get pollinated.  You win because your vegetables are more abundant and extra delicious!

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!

 

 

North Fulton Annex Community Garden

Christine Williams and Rolando Orellana of the North Fulton Annex Community Garden.
Christine Williams and Rolando Orellana of the North Fulton Annex Community Garden.

On occasion we will highlight different area community gardens in this blog. This is a great opportunity to see what others are doing and perhaps get some ideas for your own garden. Recently we visited the North Fulton Annex Community Garden on Roswell Road in Sandy Springs.

The space is a project of Fulton County Extension Agent, Rolando Orellana, and the Fulton County Master Gardener volunteers. Rolando gives full credit for the success of the garden to Christine Williams, the garden coordinator. She keeps things well organized and she makes sure the garden has a welcoming feel.

The area is made up of fifty-six 4’ X 8’ raised bed plots. Six of the plots are designated for a school program. The produce from four additional plots is donated to the local food bank or the Fulton Fresh Mobile Farmer’s Market program. There are also side gardens with herbs and flowers.

The garden charges a fee of $25 per year. The fee includes water (either sun-warmed or from the faucet) use of tools, access to compost, and the support of the Master Gardeners. What a deal!

The group works together to make valuable compost which anyone can use.
The group works together to make valuable compost which anyone can use.

One unique feature of the garden is a play area for children complete with a sandbox. Christine says they want the garden to be welcoming for all ages and the sandbox helps keep little hands active. There are also child friendly gardening tools.

Gardeners can come and go from dawn until dusk but scheduled workdays are a social time at the garden. Members bring refreshments and the Master Gardeners provide mini-classes. This is especially useful for beginners.

When asked what they were most proud of with this garden, Rolando and Christine gave the same answer. The gardeners are a diverse group. Generationally, there are grandparents with grandchildren in tow, couples in their twenties, and young parents who are raising the next generation of gardeners. And, the group is diverse in cultural background. This makes for a

These 4' X 8' beds can grow alot of vegetables!
These 4′ X 8′ beds can grow a lot of vegetables!

great sharing experience, learning about other cultures through gardening and food. As Christine said, the diversity of the gardeners is the true nature of urban community gardening.

For more information about the North Fulton Annex Community Garden contact the North Fulton Extension office at 404-613-7670.

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!

 

Don’t Forget to Mulch

Is it important to mulch around vegetables in a community garden?    After all,  plots aren’t very large, the plantings aren’t permanent,  and it can be a lot of trouble to bring in mulch.  The answer is YES!  It is important to go to the extra trouble and add mulch.  Mulching is simply adding a layer of material over the bare soil around your plants.  For an extensive review of garden mulches see Robert Westerfield’s circular Mulching Vegetables.

Mulching does several wonderful things for our warm-season vegetables.  It helps hold in soil moisture.  Think of those hot, dry, sunny, Georgia summer afternoons.  Bare soil gets baked; mulched soil does not. Mulch also helps even out the soil temperature.  This is helpful for root development.  Mulch can be a barrier to weed growth, reducing need for weeding. Also, mulch is a layer between the plant and the bare soil which can help prevent some rots that occur when vegetables or fruits lay on the ground.

A suggested mulching depth is 3 to 4 inches.  Too little mulch will provide limited weed control while too much will prevent air from reaching plant roots.  Keep in mind some mulches, like pine straw, tend to settle.  Compost mulches can be tilled back in the soil after the growing season.

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Pine straw is a common mulch.

 

The best way to accomplish mulching in a community garden setting is to determine what materials are available and inexpensive.  Wood bark, compost, leaves, pine straw, and hay straw are all possible choices.

A bail of pine or hay straw will usually fit in a car trunk.  Wood bark and some composts come packaged in large bags which aren’t hard to transport.  Maybe the group of gardeners wants to have a larger amount of mulch delivered and split the cost. Oftentimes, municipalities will take old Christmas trees and recycle them as mulch as a service to the community.  These are usually free of charge.  Your county UGA Extension Agent will be able to answers any questions you have about mulch.

However you decide to get your mulch, you will be very glad you did come harvest time.

Happy Gardening!