Indoor Seed Starting – Part One

Just flipping through one garden seed catalog I found 89 varieties of tomatoes, 21 varieties of cucumbers, 20 varieties of eggplant and 26 varieties of sweet peppers, including three types of lunchbox peppers. Compare that to the different types of vegetable plants that you would find at your big box retail store. Add some variety to your life and try starting your own seeds!

The rule of thumb is to start your warm-season seeds 6-8 weeks before planting time so over the next weeks we are going to explore indoor seed starting in-depth. For beginners, follow along with me as you start your first seeds. For seasoned seed-starting veterans, you may pick up a trick or two. I also encourage you to share your experience through the comments.

Let me begin by writing that there are many effective ways to start seeds indoors. I am going to share with you the way that I like to do it. I have been starting seeds indoors for decades and I have found a way that works best for me. You may find a different way that works best for you and that is terrific. I look forward to learning from you all as well.

To start, I like these re-useable plastic trays. They are easy to store and come in many sizes. I have friends who save their old plastic milk jugs and trim them down for seed starting; that works well for them.

These trays are easy to use for seed starting.

Any plastic trays MUST be disinfected before adding soil media and seed. I use a solution of 9-parts water to 1-part bleach. This step is important to eliminate any pathogens that have been overwintering on remaining soil particles. Starting with clean trays is an important step towards healthy seedlings. Don’t skip it.

These soil particles could hold pathogens. Disinfect those trays!

I like to use the peat moss discs for my planting media. As a bonus, the peat moss contains properties that discourage fungal growth. This helps prevent the disease damping off which is a real problem for seedlings.

The pellets expand with the addition of water.

These pellets are readily available and are easy to store. Add water and the pellets expand. I use warm water to create a favorable environment for the seeds. It is important here to not oversaturate the discs with too much water. Too dry is better for the seeds than too wet. Too wet means that the seeds could rot or disease will become a problem. You want the planting media to be just damp. If you can wring water out of the media, it is too wet. If this happens you can let the discs sit outside the tray for a few hours so that they can dry out a bit. You will get the hang of how much is too much as you practice.

Okay, gather your seed starting equipment, and play around with the pellets. Next week we will talk about planting the seeds.

Happy Gardening!

Is Your Garden a Winter Mess?

With the long-lasting cold winter temperatures and snow (snow!!) this winter how does your food garden look and can it be salvaged? According to Home Garden Vegetable Specialist, Bob Westerfield, we are better off just pulling up spent broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and leafy greens. Leaving them in the garden creates a harbor for disease and insect pests. Brussel sprouts is an exception. If your Brussel sprouts look good, you can leave them and they may still produce.

A mushy winter mess!

Since playing in the garden is limited consider soil testing now and making your Spring garden plan. You will be able to plant new cool-season plants soon enough!

Happy Gardening!

Save the Date(s)

There are many fantastic events planned for 2018 so mark your calendars and save these dates:

Plant Sales – now!
4-H groups and Master Gardener Extension Volunteers across the state are having plant sales. These sales feature high quality plants for reasonable prices. While picking out your plants, find out what classes and workshops are being offered this year. Contact your county Extension office for more details.

Hands-On School Garden Day (Part of Ag Week) – Monday, March 19th
To kick-off Georgia Ag Week, Hands-On School Garden Day will recognize the importance of school gardens. Plan a special workday in your garden or use the day to remind your administrators and community members about the importance of your school garden. What makes your school garden special? We would love to see photos! Post them on the UGA Community and School Garden Facebook Page!

Healthy Soil Festival – May 5th at Truly Living Well Farm
This year’s Healthy Soil Festival will have some special activities for teachers and those who work in school gardens. Stay tuned for more details!

American Community Garden Association Conference in Atlanta – September 14th-16th
This year’s conference is in Atlanta! More details will be coming but definitely put those dates on your calendar.

Great Georgia Pollinator Count – August 2019
In August of 2019 gardeners across the state will be counting pollinators as part of a year long campaign to promote best management practices in getting and keeping pollinators in your garden! You will want to be a part of this! Again, stay tuned for more information as we get closer to 2019.

Do you have an event to add? Let us know!

Happy Gardening!

Deciding on Raised Beds or In-Ground Gardening

Dr. David Berle and Robert Westerfield of UGA have created a series of publications on community/school gardens.  One of the most popular circulars is Raised Beds vs. In-Ground Gardens.  It is an excellent resource when determining whether or not raised beds would work for your garden.

The height of these beds is helpful for the senior gardeners at Tobie Grant Manor garden.
The height of these beds is helpful for the senior gardeners at Tobie Grant Manor garden.

Raised beds are defined as elevated boxes that are manageable in size and are filled with enough soil to support plants without using the soil underneath the box.  The height of the boxes can vary.  Tall boxes can be very beneficial to senior gardeners who are more comfortable working while standing instead of knelling down.  When dealing with native soil of questionable quality, raised beds with imported soil are an easy solution.

Some other advantages of raised beds are:

  • Prevention of soil compaction- raised boxes can limit foot traffic on the soil
  • Less weeding and maintenance
  • Reduced conflict – raised beds are very defined and easy to assign to participating gardeners
  • Better drainage
  • Extended garden area – raised beds can be placed on slopes, compacted soil, and even parking lots
The in-ground gardens at Woodstock Community Garden make it easy for a tiller to work the soil.
The in-ground gardens at Woodstock Community Garden make it easy for a tiller to work the soil.

There are advantages to in-ground gardens.  Raised bed materials can be costly for a garden group just starting and in-ground gardening can allow a tractor or tiller to easily help prepare the area.  Other advantages include:

  • Use of existing soil
  • Less permanent – if the landowner deems the garden temporary or for good crop rotation
  • Easier irrigation
  • Less start-up work
  • Clay soils do have benefits that are not found in man-made soils

As you start, or change, your garden carefully consider which arrangement will work for your group.  Consider your current and future needs and decide how much time and resources you all are willing to commit.  Your local UGA Extension office is a great resource for help.

Happy Gardening!

The Magic of the New Year

Recently I attended a presentation given by a scientist who is known for her expertise in plant genetics. Her lab was one of the first to do work in what we now call genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Between the explanations of plant biochemistry and the future of our food system she snuck in a statement that was so profound it is worth sharing. She said, “plants are magic.” Yes, plants are magic.

One of my first memories involves plants. At about six years old, I received a science kit as a gift where seeds germinated in a substrate so that the grower could see the root radical and shoot as the seed sprouted. I was hooked. Plants were magic.

Basil seedlings

I have never lost that feeling of awe when dealing with gardens. Most of you are shaking your heads in agreement as you read this. The way flowers survive our droughts and our own mismanagement. The way a tiny seed pushes through our hard clay soil. How small seeds yield large amounts of food. You know it; plants are magic.

Savannah Trustess Garden

As we go into the new year and we are planning our 2018 gardens may we never lose that magic. I look forward to gardening with you in the next year.

Happy New Year!

Collard Greens Recipe from Mary Mac’s Tea Room

Collard Greens Recipe from Mary Mac's Tea Room

It seems many gardeners plan on preparing collard greens for their holiday tables and have asked that I re-run this post from 2014. Enjoy…

Community gardens all over Georgia are filled with beautiful, dark green collard greens. See the August 20th post on growing collard greens.  Once we get a few good frosts they will be ready to harvest.  Being such a Southern vegetable it is wonderful that the very Southern Mary Mac’s Tea Room in Atlanta has shared their famous collard green recipe.  Richard Golden is the Assistant General Manager and he says that the collards are his favorite of all the vegetables the restaurant serves.  Just in time for Thanksgiving this recipe is a real treat worthy of a special occasion.

Collard Greens Recipe from Mary Mac's Tea Room

Collard Greens

Collard Greens Recipe from Mary Mac's Tea Room
Very tasty with cornbread!

Serves 6-8

  • 2 1/2 pounds of collard greens, stalks removed and cut into 2 inch strips
  • 2 gallons of water
  • 6 ounces of fatback
  • 1 smoked ham hock
  • 1/3 cup bacon drippings
  • 1/8th cup salt

You should be able to find fatback and ham hocks at your local supermarket. Just ask the butcher if you have trouble finding them.

Collard Greens Recipe from Mary Mac's Tea Room

Wash the cut greens in cold water and 1/8th cup salt.  In a large stock pot, on high heat, boil the water, smoked ham hock, and fat back.  Let boil for an hour.  Add collards and bacon drippings to the pot.  Let come to a roaring boil and then reduce heat to medium.  Let cook for 40-45 minutes.  You may need to add additional water if the water starts to absorb past 1/3 of your original liquid.  Remove from heat and take out the fatback and ham hock.  Serve warm. Goes well with corn bread.

If you are not used to cooking with fatback or ham hocks, they are easily found at most grocery stores.  Just ask your butcher if you have trouble finding them.  Also, plan ahead so you can save your bacon drippings.  Your Grandmother would be proud, your fitness trainer not so much!

Mary Mac’s is such an Atlanta institution it was honored by the Georgia State House of Representatives with Resolution 477 declaring Mary Mac’s to be Atlanta’s Dining Room.  The menu includes fried okra, tomato pie, hoppin’ john, butter peas, and turnip greens.  All of these contain ingredients grown in Georgia!

Mary Mac’s opened in 1945 when Mary McKenzie wanted to use her cooking skills to make money in the aftermath of World War II.  In those days a woman couldn’t just open a restaurant but a “tea room” was acceptable.  The current owner, John Ferrell purchased the restaurant in 1994 and carries on the traditions.  Recently they catered Governor Nathan Deal’s birthday party.  If you decide to visit Midtown for a meal at Mary Mac’s, don’t forget the cobbler.  Trust me!

Happy Eating!

Gardening Gifts for Holiday 2017

For past holiday seasons I have gotten gift ideas from you all and shared them with the group. You all have given us fantastic book and tool ideas. For this year’s Christmas or Hanukkah why not give an experience?

Our state is full of wonderful public gardens and we all know one way to get inspired or to find new plant ideas is to visit different gardens. Giving a garden membership or a day trip is a wonderful experience for the gardener or for someone who just appreciates beautiful plants.

The State Botanical Garden of Georgia in Athens is full of trails for a long walk or run. Behind the main building is a garden display about the history of Georgia in plants. One of the best parts of the garden is the native American garden. Signage explains the native plants and how they were used.

Row crops are planted at the State Botanical Garden

In south Georgia the Coastal Georgia Botanical Garden in Savannah is a gardener’s destination. It is a beautiful garden with wonderfully cultivated specimen plants. You must visit the historic Georgia trustees garden replica. It is amazing to see what the earliest Georgians tried to grow. I am also fond of the garden for all abilities. It is a raised bed area to demonstrate how planting areas can be modified for gardeners of all types.

Norman Winter takes fantastic photos of the Coastal garden.

A hidden garden wonder is the rooftop garden on top of Atlanta City Hall. Located off of the cafeteria it is a great place to eat lunch. This garden takes into account the microclimate of being on a roof in the sunny south. It is a whole different ecosystem.

A rooftop garden in the heart of Atlanta

Other favorite gardens include the Smith-Gilbert Gardens in Kennesaw, famous for their rose collection, and the Reed Creek Nature Park in Columbia County with their beautiful wetlands trail.

Reed Creed Nature Park

Of course, the Atlanta Botanical Garden is a popular gem in the city. The plants are carefully labeled for your reference and workers around the garden are always cheerful about answering questions. The food garden is a great way to see what food types will grow well in the city. They also have a tea plant area and in the past they have grown rice. Food cooking demonstrations are offered using crops grown in the garden.

We could probably create a year’s worth of posts about the beautiful public gardens in our state. If you have favorite please share in the comments section!

Happy Holidays!

Thankful for the Harvest

The Harvest Moon by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

It is the Harvest Moon! On gilded vanes
And roofs of villages, on woodland crests
And their aerial neighborhoods of nests
Deserted, on the curtained window-panes
Of rooms where children sleep, on country lanes
And harvest-fields, its mystic splendor rests!
Gone are the birds that were our summer guests,
With the last sheaves return the laboring wains!
All things are symbols: the external shows
Of Nature have their image in the mind,
As flowers and fruits and falling of the leaves;
The song-birds leave us at the summer’s close,
Only the empty nests are left behind,
And pipings of the quail among the sheaves.

Wishing you all a wonderful Thanksgiving!

November Gardening Chores for Georgia

Some chores to think about for November and December from UGA’s Vegetable Garden Calendar.

Spread manure, rotted sawdust and leaves over the garden and plow them under; you’ll be surprised at the difference this organic matter will make in the fertility, physical structure and water-holding capacity of the soil.

Take a soil sample to allow plenty of time to get the report back. Lime applied now will be of more benefit next year than if it is applied in the spring before planting. Always apply Dolomitic limestone in order to get both calcium and magnesium.

Save those leaves for the compost heap.

Take an “inventory.” Maybe you had too much of some vegetables and not enough of others – or maybe there were some unnecessary “skips” in the supply. Perhaps some insect, disease or nematode problem got the upper hand. Make a note about favorite varieties. Start planning next year’s garden now!

You’re wise to order flower and vegetable seeds in December or January, while the supply is plentiful. Review the results of last year’s garden and order the more successful varieties.

You may have seeds left over from last year. Check their viability by placing some in damp paper towels and observing the germination percentage. If the percentage is low, order new ones.

Before sending your seed order, draw a map of the garden area and decide the direction and length of the rows, how much row spacing is needed for each vegetable, whether or not to plant on raised beds, and other details. That way, you won’t order too many seeds. This same advice applied to the flower garden. Try new cultivars, add more color, change the color scheme, layer the colors by having taller and shorter plants — don’t do it the same way year after year.

Look around for tools you do not have and hint for these for holiday gifts.

Happy Gardening!

Using Your Garden Legumes

For those of you who have been growing legumes and want a great way to use them let me introduce Terry Carter. Terry is a Family and Consumer Science program assistant for Cobb County Extension who does an amazing job sharing the wonders of Southern food.

Terry is always cooking up a healthy meal.

Terry learned her love of food from her grandmother, Annie Carter, and she has been sharing her love ever since. When asked to share her favorite recipe for beans she gave us a delicious one.

Terry’s Hearty Bean Soup

Ingredients

1 Pound of dried Beans/Peas
8 cups water (use chicken, beef, or vegetable broth for added flavor)
1 medium onion, diced (or one large whole onion for flavor that is removed after cooking)
2 bay leaves ( remove them after cooking)
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoon chili powder
2 tablespoon cumin
1 can diced tomatoes (15 oz.) or 2 cups fresh peeled tomatoes (optional)
1 lb. smoked sausage, ham hocks, diced ham or beef stew meat (optional)
Our favorite is to use a leftover hambone with some meat on it or turkey parts. If you are vegan omit the animal and add more seasonings at the end of cooking. This is totally optional. If you use the whole onion and like the flavor you can add one more onion if you like. It will just add more flavor.
Salt and pepper to taste ( this is important, do add some salt or it will still have a bland taste)

Cooking Directions

No Soak Method
In a colander or sieve, rinse beans thoroughly. Sort and inspect for any unwanted debris and discard.
Drain and pour beans in a slow cooker with 8 cups of stock/water, onions, bay leaves, garlic, chili powder, cumin, tomatoes and smoked sausage, hocks, ham or beef stew meat.
Set slow cooker on high and cook for 5 hours (or low for 7-8), or until beans are tender, but not falling apart.
Please keep in mind that every time the lid is opened, your cooking time will be longer.
Add salt and pepper to taste at the end of cooking.
This time may vary depending on the variety of beans you have.

Cooking Tips

Serve with a freshly baked slice of corn bread! You can also serve over rice.
For even more flavor, substitute beef, chicken or vegetable stock instead of water.
You can also add in chicken leg quarters, smoked sausage or beef roast for a one pot meal.

Remember that this is a NO SOAK recipe, but if you have already soaked the beans, that’s not a problem, just use 1 less cup of water/stock.

If you prefer a more “brothy” soup, add an extra cup of liquid when preparing or near the end. Remember this is a soup so you may need that extra liquid to make it soupy. If you prefer a creamier soup, simply mash some of the soft bean or you can use an immersion blender stick to make them creamy. You can turn them all creamy if you like. Basically, this recipe is very versatile and you really can’t mess it up unless you don’t get your beans cooked enough. Taste the beans and make sure that they are soft with no resistance with a creamy texture.

This recipe is easily adapted to fit a variety of beans that we can grow here in The South. You can select just one variety or mix several varieties together to create a version of the popular 15 bean soup. See the 15 bean variety generally used in the 15 bean soup. Use what you harvest or have left over to create a unique soup. Any mix of these beans that make up 16 ounces or 2 cups is sufficient.

15 bean varieties to consider for soup
dried black beans
dried red beans
dried kidney beans
dried navy beans
dried great northern beans
dried baby lima beans
dried field peas
dried pinto beans
dried green split peas
dried yellow split peas
dried black eyed peas
dried red lentils
dried green lentils
dried brown lentils
dried cranberry beans

Thanks, Terry for the recipe! Happy Cooking!