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!

 

 

 

 

 

Green Bean Basics

Green beans are an integral part of any vegetable garden.  Also called snap beans or string beans, they are not hard to grow and require little fertilization.  Whether harvested and prepared the old Southern way, cooked with a piece of bacon, or steamed with a bit of onion, they are a summer dinner staple.  This post contains great information taken from Robert Westerfield’s circular Home Garden Green Beans.

For community gardeners the first step in successfully growing green beans is to know the growing types.  Bush beans are compact and don’t need extra support to grow.  Pole beans run and do require support such as a cage or trellis (think  of growing up a pole).  Be thoughtful of using trellises in a community garden setting.  Anything tall may created unwanted shade.   Half-runner beans are somewhere in between bush and pole beans.  If they are not supported they will spread more than bush beans.  Bush beans are a great option for the limited space of a community garden.

All three types of beans grow best in air temperatures of 65-85 degrees F.  Soil temperatures should be above 55 degrees F for good germination.  One helpful tip is to soak the bean seed in warm water overnight.  This may help speed germination.

Seed should be planted about 1 inch deep.  You can do this without a ruler.  Gently push the beans seed into the soil with your index finger.  When your first knuckle is even with the soil top, that is about 1 inch.   To help prevent disease problems, be careful not to crowd the beans.  You want air movement between the plants so leave about 6 inches between seeds.

After planting, gently pat the dirt ensuring good seed to soil contact.   Keep the seeds moist until the beans emerge.  Mulching will help with that.  After the plants become established water as needed, about twice a week.

Bush Bean Patch
Bush Bean Patch

For best flavor, harvest beans before they become fully developed.  Pick often so the plant will continue to produce.  Your harvest can be stored in a cool, dry place for several days.  Or, you may want to try your hand at canning if you have alot of beans.

Some tried and true cultivars of bush beans are Blue Lake 274, Gina, Roma II, and Bronco.  If you want to be adventurous and try something different consider Mayflower, which is said to have come to America with the Pilgrims.  Or, Pencil Pod Black Snap Bean which produces black beans.   Other cultivars to consider are Stringless Commodore, October Bean, Top Crop, and Contender.   Master Gardener Extension volunteers have had success with these types.

Kentucky Wonder, Rattlesnake, Blue Lake, and McCaslan are good pole bean choices for the Southern garden.  If you are thinking of trying half-runners look at Mountaineer, Volunteer, or Peanut Bean Pink.

Seed catalogs along with feed and seed stores are full of great choices.  Try to choose seed that has been grown successfully in our area.  If you have had success with a certain cultivar, please share that information in the comments section.  For more information on cultivars for your area, contact your local UGA Extension Agent.

Happy Gardening!

Garden Golden Rules

Posted rules at Tobie Grant Manor Community Garden
Posted rules at Tobie Grant Manor Community Garden

Working with other gardeners can be a rewarding experience.  Trading plants, tackling common problems, and sharing a harvest are all benefits to working as a group.  This process works best when the group develops a common set of rules and follows garden etiquette. A great publication to start with is Ellen Bauske and Robert Westerfield’s How to Start a Community Garden: Getting People Involved.

General rules common to every garden would include –  when will the garden be open?  Will there be a fee to have a plot? How is water handled?

Since each community is unique some rules will also be unique.  Things to consider when developing your own Garden Golden Rules are:

  • What if someone leaves his/her plot unattended for a period of time and it becomes overgrown and weedy?
  • Will the garden be organic or will pesticides be allowed?
  • What if someone plants a tall crop that shades other plots?
  • Will individual fencing be allowed?
  • Who is responsible for the upkeep (weeding) of the common areas and paths?
  • Will dogs be allowed?
  • What about children?

It is a good idea to develop your rules ahead of any real gardening and to put these rules on paper.  Many gardens have new members sign a copy of the rules which helps eliminate many problems and misunderstandings.  To learn more about community gardens in your area contact your local UGA Extension Agent.

Happy Gardening!