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 produce 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!

 

Aphids are Pests in the Georgia School or Community Garden

Aphids are Pests in the Georgia School or Community Garden
Jim Occi, BugPics, Bugwood.org

Do you have aphids in your garden?  If so, are they a problem?  Spring when many plants have succulent, new growth is prime aphid time.

Aphids, also called plant lice, are soft-bodied, pear shaped insects with tail-like appendages known as cornicles.  Most aphids are about 1/10th inch long and can be several colors:  green, black, pink, brown. If you have trouble identifying your pest, contact your local UGA Extension agent.

Aphids use “piercing-sucking” mouthparts to suck the juices out of tender plant parts, secreting a sticky substance known as honeydew.  Ants are attracted to honeydew and will often protect the aphids making it.  Black sooty mold grows well on honeydew and is difficult to remove from

Aphids are Pests in the Georgia School or Community Garden
Sooty mold caused by aphids. Joesph O’Brien, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org

the leaves.  This sooty mold makes photosynthesis almost impossible on the leaves affected.  All this means that aphids can be a problem to the community gardener.

Aphids are a danger to plants in three ways.

They can:

  1. weaken a plant making it susceptible to a secondary infection
  2. cause curling of leaves and damage to terminal buds
  3. carry and spread plant viruses

Right now our gardens are full of leafy, new plant growth and as the temperatures warm up, check the underside of

Aphids are Pests in the Georgia School or Community Garden
Aphids on lettuce

leaves and terminal buds for aphid pests.   Look for those tail-like appendages.  (Some people call them tailpipes!) Also pay attention to ant trails.  They may lead you to the honeydew making aphids.

Since aphids tend to congregate as a group, you can try removing the one or two leaves where you find them.  Sometimes a good spray with the hose is enough to remove the insects.   If not, insecticidal soap is a good choice. Sometimes I can just wipe them off with a wet paper towel.

Beneficial insects are nature’s way of controlling aphids.   So avoid applying any chemical insecticide that could harm those beneficials.  Some of the natural predators include lacewings or lady beetles (lady bugs).  You can actually purchase lady beetles from insect distributors but once you get them you can’t control where they fly.

Wishing you an aphid-free spring!

Happy Gardening!

Metro Atlanta’s Healthy Soil Festival 2019

This Saturday, May 4th is the 5th Annual Soil Festival. Soil Festival is an annual tradition of celebrating soil as a key source for building gardens and healthier communities. This year a brand new Community Compost Learning Lab, the first of its kind in metro Atlanta, will be unveiled.

This free event is for all ages and raises awareness of the benefits of using local compost to improve and maintain high quality soil and to grow healthy food. This year, all attendees are encouraged to bring kitchen scraps to the event to support the production of healthy soil in Atlanta.

Soil Festival 2019 will be held at Truly Living Well’s Collegetown Farm in Atlanta, and includes a host of exciting opportunities for school gardeners, community gardeners, backyard gardeners, urban farmers, educators, beginning gardeners and children!

Never been to a farm? This festival is for you, too!

This year’s Soil Festival will feature educational workshops on gardening and composting; a children’s corner with fun garden-based activities and story time; a variety of urban agriculture vendors to learn tools of the trade from; a petting zoo; and free bags of compost for your garden.

We will also be providing great music and complimentary farm-to-table food and fare. Dig in, meet fellow gardeners, and visit all of the exhibitors who will be sharing resources and tools to help you enjoy the successes of gardening.

Registering for free tickets is encouraged.

See you there!

Earth Day 2019

Earth Day falls on Monday, April 22nd. It is a good day to appreciate our Earth and to evaluate how we are caring for it.

The first Earth Day was in 1970. The April 22nd date was chosen because it was after college spring break but before college exams. The expectation was that college students would be an internal part of that day and they were. Several of those students have grown to be very involved in the environmental movement. In 2020 we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day.

In my household we usually celebrate the day with a huge feast feeling grateful for what we can grow and very thankful for the farmers that grow what I do not. Each year we have a theme. One year it was a native peoples feast featuring bison burgers. One year it was honey-themed and another year I featured strawberries. The point was to take some time to appreciate our Earth and the food we grow.

We can all take stock on how we treat our natural resources. As a vegetable gardener are you following best management practices in your garden? Are you using integrated pest management to handle pests instead of reaching for a pesticide? Are you creating and sustaining healthy soil? How are your composting skills? Can you pull the weed instead of using an herbicide?

This time of year I always create a goal towards improvement. What about you?

Happy Earth Day!

Indoor Seed Starting – Part Two

All of this rain has me very excited about getting back to our seed starting project.

I have one note about seed starting media. If you choose to purchase bagged media for starting seeds indoors, do not choose something with fertilizer in the mix. This will be too strong for seedlings. There are plenty of bagged mixes specifically for seed starting so choose one of those.

We are ready to expand our pellets. Notice the seed pellets are fully expanded with no standing water:

Seed pellets are not too wet but moist all the way through.

Next, take a fork and open up the top a bit and fluff the media. I like to take this time to make sure that the moisture is uniform all the way through with no dry spots:

Fluff the planting media with a fork to ensure uniform moisture.

Now you are ready to plant your seeds. If you are mixing seed types in one tray, make sure that they will emerge and grow at about the same rate. I like to use plastic forceps to exactly place the seed where I want them. Some seeds, like lettuce and herbs, are very small and easily lost in the tray. Know how deeply to plant the seeds. Most of the ones you will probably plant just need to be lightly covered with the planting media.

Plastic forceps can be your best friend!

It is worth the effort to do some research on your seed types. For example, cilantro seeds don’t germinate easily when exposed directly to light. Also, there are some seeds that just do better planting directly into the soil, beans and corn are good examples.

At this point it is a great idea to label your seed tray. Sharpie markers on masking tape work well. The tape sticks to the tray but can be removed later. Do not be tempted to label the lid. You will be removing the lid later and you don’t want to forget the original orientation. Finally, put the lid on the tray, making sure it fits tightly.

Do not forget to label your seed trays.

Do not place your seed tray near a window and hope for the best. You will be disappointed. You will not get enough light for healthy seedlings and the temperature fluctuation at the window will be problematic.

Use a light system. The system does not have to be complicated. I have a light fixture with florescent bulbs attached to a structure with moveable chains. This setup was originally housed in a bathroom tub but it is now in my grown daughter’s bedroom. Very simple. You need the chain to move the light so it stays just above the seed tray. To produce robust seedlings you need the light no more than an inch or two above the tray. This will be imperative as the seeds germinate and grow.

If you are germinating seeds in a place that is reasonably warm you do not need a heating mat. Those were designed for outside greenhouses and places like Michigan. By using a heating mat when you don’t need one, you risk drying out your planting media.

So far this is pretty simple, right? If you have any questions or concerns you can comment or email me at beckygri@uga.edu. Send photos! Next week we will discuss seedling care.

Happy Seed Starting!

Indoor Seed Starting – Part One

Over the next few weeks we are going to talk about seed starting. I did three in-depth posts last year and I am going to rerun them this year by request. Spring is coming….

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!

Trying Something New in the Georgia Community Garden – Corn

Today we continue our series on a good replacement for tomatoes in our summer community garden plots. Today’s crop to consider is corn.

Usually corn is avoided in the community garden. The tall stalks shade other plants, there is not much yield in the amount you can grow in a small space, and corn takes a large amount of water. That being said, I sometimes find community gardeners who really want to grow their own corn. They remember eating corn fresh from a grandparent’s farm or working the corn patch with their parents. Often these gardeners are now city dwellers and the corn means a great deal to them.

Corn tassels waiting on wind to spread the pollen

Instead of totally abandoning the idea of growing corn, why not think about trying some of the short growing varieties? Several of the seed companies offer shorter varieties. Burpee advertises a corn for growing in a patio container called On-Deck Hybrid. The description of this type states that it grows 4 – 5 feet high. Compare that to Silver Queen which stretches 8 feet tall.

Park Seed offers a shorter variety called Early Sunglow Hybrid. Stalks from this corn are expected to top at 4 feet. Another thought is popcorn. Seed Savers offers Tom Thumb popcorn which grows only 3-4 feet tall. I have grown popcorn many times. It is fun to grow and fun to pop with children or grandchildren.

I will caution you that more than a few stalks need to be grown to get any kind of yield. Many stalks yield 1-2 corn ears per plant. If you are serious about trying corn in the community garden consider allocating at least half of your 4’X 8′ garden bed for the crop. Also, remember that the crop is wind pollinated. It does not hurt to shake those corn tassels yourself to make sure the pollen moves around.

Happy Gardening!

Tomatoes Aren’t the Only Choice for Community Gardens

The #1 crop grown in community gardens is tomatoes. I don’t remember visiting a community garden where I didn’t see tomatoes in the summer. I understand! There is not much better than a tomato from the vine warmed from the sun. BUT, growing tomatoes in the same space year after year creates disease and pest problems.

Over the next few weeks we will be exploring some food crops not typically grown in the community gardens. I am hoping that we can provide some options for that tomato garden space.

To get you ready to embrace new plant options, take a minute to view this video on tomato diseases!

Happy Gardening!

Dr. Jason Lessl Talks Soil Testing

Winter is a season of waiting for gardeners. But winter is the perfect time to work on our soil. When is the last time you had a soil test? This week Dr. Jason Lessl gives us a refresher on why and how to soil test. Dr. Lessl writes….

One of the most fundamental, but often overlooked aspects to any successful vegetable garden, flower bed, landscape, or lawn is good, fertile soil. Getting your soil tested by a laboratory is the best and most accurate way to assess your nutrient and pH levels which are vital components of maintaining your soil.  The University of Georgia Soil, Plant, and Water lab offers such services (www.aesl.ces.uga.edu). 

When you send a soil sample to a lab, you will receive a detailed report of soil nutrients levels along with crop-based recommendations on how to fix any potential deficiencies. The steps required to submit a soil sample are simple and can be achieved through a few items commonly found household items. You can start by contacting your local county extension office to acquire soil bags and get information on how to submit your samples.  Locate your county office here: http://extension.uga.edu/about/county/index.cfm or call 1-800-ASK-UGA1.

Soil Testing for Georgians - a guest post by Jason Lessl
Soil testing is available at your local UGA Extension office.

When to soil test?

Soils can be tested any time during the year, although it is typically best to take samples in the Fall/Winter.  This is the time of year when most plants are dormant and the soil is most accessible.  If pH adjustments are necessary, it is also the best time to apply amendments as it can take several months for them to take effect.  Lime (to raise pH) and sulfur (to lower pH) reacts slowly and, if possible, should be mixed with the soil at least two to three months before planting.

Soil Testing for Georgians - a guest post by Jason Lessl
Soil from a community garden in Woodstock.

How often do I test my soil?

For intensely cultivated soils (i.e. vegetable gardens), an annual soil test is recommended.  Otherwise, for lawns and ornamental areas, after medium to high fertility levels are established along with the appropriate pH, sampling should be done every two to three years.

Steps in Soil Sampling

Recommendations about when and how to apply nutrients are only as good as the soil sample submitted for analysis. To obtain a representative soil sample, the following steps are useful:

Map out the entire property. This will help in record keeping and ensure that the soil sample is representative of the entire area. Divide areas such that each soil sample represents one general plant type.  For example, separate vegetable gardens, blueberry bushes, ornamentals, fruit trees, lawn, etc.  If you have specific problem spots, sample those areas separately.

Use clean sampling tools and containers to avoid contaminating the soil sample. Collect samples with any digging tool you have available (hand trowel, shovel, soil probe, etc.).

Slightly damp soil is the easiest to work with if you can wait for those conditions.  Clear the ground surface of grass, thatch, or mulch. Push your tool to a depth of 6 inches (4 inches for lawn areas) into the soil.  Push the handle forward in the soil to make an opening then cut a thin slice of soil from the side of the opening that is of uniform thickness, extending from the top of the ground to the depth of the cut.  Repeat this process in a zigzag pattern across your defined area, collecting 8-12 samples to mix together.  For trees, take soil samples from 6-8 spots around and below the leaf canopy. Take about a pint (~2 cups) of the mixed soil (after removing large rocks, mulch, sticks, and roots) and fill the UGA soil sample bag.  Be sure to label the sample clearly on the bag.  If the samples are wet, spread the soil out over clean paper and let them air dry.  Otherwise, take your samples to your local extension office for submission.  Once the lab has received your soil, it will take 2-3 business days to get your report.

Dr. Lessl is a program coordinator for UGA’s Soil, Plant, and Water Lab.  He understands the importance of the garden ecosystem as he is a fellow bee lover!

Spring is coming! Will your soil be ready?

The Seed Catalogs are Here!

The Seed Catalogs Are Here

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.

The seed catalogs are here

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.

The Seed Catalogs are Here!

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.

Happy Reading!