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 Send photos! Next week we will discuss seedling care.

Happy Seed Starting!

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!

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!

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


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!

Garlic Planting Step-by-Step

October is prime garlic planting time for the Atlanta area.  The bulbs overwinter in the garden and are harvested in the spring.  If you don’t traditionally plant winter crops, garlic is a great one to start with.

Garlic (Allium sativum) is a member of the onion family.  Its use dates back to 4000 BC in central Asia.  According to Seed Savers Exchange garlic was found in King Tut’s tomb, eaten by Olympic athletes, and used as medicine by Hippocrates.  There are over 600 types of garlic grown all over the world.   Why not give it a try?

There are two basic categories of garlic:  hard-necked and soft-necked.  Georgians have better luck growing soft-necked garlic as the hard-necked ones require the long, cold winters and long, cool springs of more northern climates.  There are three types of soft-necked garlic that grow well in Georgia:  silverskin, artichoke, and elephant garlic (actually a type of leek).  Recommended cultivars include Inchelium Red, California Early, and Chet’s Italian – all artichoke types.  If you want to try the silverskin type consider Mild French.

Garlic Production for the Gardener is a useful publication on the types of garlic, planting, and harvesting.  Planting involves just a few simple steps.  Your local UGA Extension Agent will also have information to help you get started.

Garlic D








Step 1:  Start with prepared soil.  Garlic needs rich, loose soil with a pH of about 6.5.  Make sure you add some compost after removing the summer plants; don’t just pull up spent plants and put the garlic in the ground.   If soil test results indicate adding fertilizer, do so.  Garlic is a medium-heavy feeder.  Nitrogen can be incorporated in the soil before planting, either with traditional fertilizers or bone meal.  Side dress in the spring when shoots are 4 to 6 inches tall.  Hold off on nitrogen after April 1st because you want to encourage bulb formation not leaf growth.

Garlic A








Step 2:  Pull the garlic head apart just before you plant.  Use the larger bulbs for best results.  Also, leave the skin on the bulb.

Garlic C








Step 3:  Plant the bulbs about 2 inches deep with the pointed end up.  Space them about 6-8 inches apart.

Garlic Mulch








Step 4:  Be generous with mulch.  A generous amount of  mulch helps keep the soil moisture and soil temperatures even.

Tops may show through the mulch by the end of  October and the bulbs should be well rooted by November.   Since October is one of our driest months of the year, irrigation is important at planting.  Watering may be needed in early spring, but be careful not to over water.  Stop irrigation once the tops begin to dry and fall over.

Garlic should be ready for harvest between mid-May to mid-July.  Look for the tops drying and following over.  When 1/2 of the tops are in this condition it is time to harvest.  Don’t leave the bulbs in the ground too long or they may rot.  Be very careful when harvesting not to damage your crop.

Allow the heads to dry in a warm, dry place.  Keep them out of direct sunlight.  After the garlic has dried store it in a cool, dry, dark place to keep it fresh as long as possible.  Garlic braiding is a unique way of storage.

A community garden plot can yield a year’s worth of garlic so you’ll be able to enjoy those delicious Italian meals all year long.  Garlic bread, calazones, tomato sauce, garlic chicken….

Happy Gardening and Mangiate bene!