Three Rules of Weeding in Your Georgia Garden

Weeding in Your Georgia Garden

All of Georgia has seen a large amount of rain this summer. Rain is great for our crops and also great for weeds and if you have gotten lazy with the summer heat your plots may have more weeds than crop. You are not alone! This may be a great time to review best management practices for weed control.

Weeds can be a big problem in a community or school garden.  A very big problem.  Knowing how to weed correctly will make this job less of a headache.   An informal poll was taken and we asked experienced gardeners to give their top three rules of weeding and we present them here:

Rule #1:  Get the roots out.

If you just remove the leaves above ground chances are the weeds will come back and you will need to perform the same weeding chore over again.  Many perennial weeds grow from underground roots and tubers.  Those need to be removed as well.

 

Weeding in Your Georgia Garden
Get those roots out!

Rule #2:  Remove the weeds before they make seeds.

If your weeds are allowed to flower and make seeds your work will get much harder.  Weed plants can make an incredible amount of seeds.  For example, common chickweed can produce 800 seeds per plant.  Dandelion flowers can make 40-100 seeds.   Crabgrass can produce 53,000 seeds per plant and pigweed can produce over 200,000 seeds per plant.  Don’t let those weeds flower!

Weeding in Your Georgia Garden
You don’t want this!

Rule #3:  Don’t let weeding get out of hand.

If you don’t routinely remove weeds you could be looking at a plot of weeds that seems overwhelming to tend.  Your vegetable production will suffer as the weeds take up the water, nutrients, and space that should be used for your plants.  And, it will take a lot of initiative to start the long process of taking back that space from the weeds.

Weeding in Your Georgia Garden
Don’t let weeds take over your community or school garden plot.

Knowing what weeds you have could be helpful in coming up with a long-term weed management plan.  Your local UGA Extension agent can help with weed plant identification and help you find strategies to minimize weed issues.

Happy Gardening!

 

Planting Kale in Your Georgia Garden

If you are kickin’ it with kale this fall you will want to grow a large and delicious crop that your students will enjoy eating. Luckily, kale is easy to grow in Georgia during the fall! Growing cool-season crops in Georgia means less disease and pest pressure.

You may be interested to know that the flavor of your kale can change depending on your soil chemistry. According to Tim Cooling, UGA vegetable specialist, many of the bitter compounds we associate with kale are due to the amount and availability of sulfur in your soil. This could be the start of a great school science project!

There are several varieties of kale that are recommended for Georgia gardeners. Vates, Dwarf Siberian, Blue Armor, and Blue Knight are all proven winners in our state. Kale seeds are small and can be hard to handle during planting. For school and community gardens, broadcast seeding is a great option:

After spreading the seeds across your prepared soil:

Sprinkle a small amount of soil on top of the seed bed and tamp down. Tamping ensures good seed-to-soil contact and is an important part of planting small seeds.

Cover the plot with a layer of mulch. This time of year mulch is imperative to keep temperatures and soil moisture even. Avoid heavy mulch like wood nuggets. The small seedling cannot push those nuggets out of the way when they emerge from the soil.

Water well and keep the plot moist as the seeds germinate. With late summer heat you will definitely need to water your seed beds.

Keep an eye out for weeds as they can sneak into your monocrop of kale. Learn what a kale seedling looks like so you can remove everything else that comes up in your plot.

Your crop may need thinning. If so, you can eat the thinnings!

A delicious kale meal starts with healthy kale plants!

Keep an eye out for pests and start planning those kale recipes. Contact your local UGA Extension agent if you have any questions or problems.

Happy Gardening!

Resources for School Gardening in Georgia

In most of our state, school started today. I have been contacted by several teachers who are interested in starting school gardens this year. Many of them have had little experience in the garden and they envision a beautiful space where learning takes place outdoors everyday. For those of you who are just beginning your school garden journey I want to recommend a few resources for you.

First, the publication Steps in Starting a School Garden. This guide will take you step-by-step through starting a successful, sustainable school garden. From gathering an effective garden team to what to plant, this guide will help you get started.

Next, bookmark the school garden resources webpage. This resource contains garden ideas, lesson plans, grant information, and supporting information on why school gardens are important. Visit it often!

Finally, make sure you know your local UGA Cooperative Extension agent. I may be biased but if you don’t know what is going on in your local Extension office you are missing out. Agents lead workshops in horticulture, nutrition, food safety, etc. They also may know what types of school gardening programs are already in your county.

Kickin’ it with Kale during 2018’s Farm to School Month

If you already have a school garden and are ready for the school year, don’t miss out on Georgia Organic’s Kickin’ it with Kale campaign for October’s Farm to School Month. Go to the website and sign up for resources. The first 300 people/groups to sign up can receive free seeds. I will be honest and say that I am not a big kale fan. Maybe this is the year I change my mind! Next week I will post information on how to plant those small kale seeds to ensure success.

Happy Gardening! And have a GREAT school year in the garden!

Flea Beetles in the Garden

I have seen several outbreaks of flea beetles on eggplant as I visit community gardens around Georgia this summer. Their damage is easy to identify as leaves become skeletonized due to the feeding of adult flea beetles.

If the eggplants are mature, the damage can be tolerated by the plant and you should be able to have a fine eggplant crop. If the infestation is severe or the flea beetles have found young, small plants the beetles can severely damage the plant and cause a reduced yield.

Close up of a flea beetle on an eggplant leaf.

You will notice the small beetles will jump if they are startled, which is how they came to be called flea beetles. Female beetles will lay eggs around the plant. Emerging larvae will head into the soil and could possible feed on plant roots. The mature beetle will emerge to feed on your plant leaves. The insects overwinter as adults in plant debris and litter in the top of the soil. There will be more than one generation per year.

There are chemical controls available and you should contact your local UGA Cooperative Extension office for recommendations. After your eggplants are finished definitely remove all plant debris from the soil bed. I would caution in planting collards or any other leafy green in that same soil this fall. Since you are growing leafy greens for the leaves, you will want to avoid flea beetle damage. Any larvae left in the soil after your remove eggplant debris could emerge to find your greens a tasty meal.

Happy Gardening!

A Country of Gardening Immigrants

Happy 4th of July week!   I hope your celebration will a good one full of fresh Georgia tomatoes, onions, watermelons….

As we think about the birthday of our country and how Americans celebrate there is always some type of food involved.  And, depending on your cultural background it could include extra garlic, long beans, or tomatillos.  The world is our garden and we have always been a country of immigrants.

A County of Gardening Immigrants
Chinese Long Beans

A Garden is Common Ground

Across our country experienced gardeners are welcoming immigrants and refugees from all over to the United States in a garden setting.  A garden is common ground.  There may be language barriers but we can all “talk” seed, soil, and water.

Having the privledge of working with some of these gardens it is exciting as cultures are shared through the growing of food.  Gardeners from Somalia are interested to see what the gardeners from Burma are growing.  Gardeners from Kenya are poking their heads in the Syrian’s garden to see what is coming up there.  Our American melting pot is alive and well in the garden.

People especially seem to enjoy growing foods from their homeland and their childhood.  This is true even within the United States.  Many a displaced Southerner has taken the family collard green seeds when being transferred to “the North”.  Year after year, I grow family bean seeds brought down from the hills of Kentucky to Georgia.  So, it is to be expected that our collective palate would be enriched by foods brought with immigrants from other countries.

A Diverse Dinner Plate

If you are fortunate enough to be invited to a pot-luck dinner at one of these gardens, it is an experience worthy of a 5-star restaurant rating.  And, it will make you truly thankful for our county and all of its diversity.

A County of Gardening Immigrants
North Fulton Extension Garden

A special “Thank You” goes out to a local food partner Global Growers who does such tremendous work with these gardeners in Georgia.  And to gardens like the International Garden of Many Colors in California, the Fresh International Garden in Anchorage, Alaska and the North Fulton Extension Garden in Sandy Springs, Georgia.

Happy Birthday, America!

Avoid Heat Stress in the Georgia Community Garden

I have gotten some requests to repost this information about heat stress. It is definitely summer in Georgia so we all need to take care.

Summer heat can be dangerous, especially with the heat and humidity we are experiencing this summer.   We went to a professional to get tips on how to stay safe in a hot, humid Georgia garden.

Heat Stress in the Georgia Community Garden
The Weather Channel knows heat!

Millard Griffin is a Certified Safety Professional with Environmental Resources Management (ERM).  He has vast experience dealing with heat related issues on environmental projects from the Florida Everglades to the Gulf Coast of Louisiana.  He knows heat and humidity.

Heat stress is a real concern for those working in the garden.  Especially for those of us who aren’t out there every day.  Heat stress is defined as any situation where the human body is unable to cool itself by sweating.  This can lead to several conditions including heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke (a medical emergency).

Tips to Prevent Heat Stress

To prevent these conditions Mr. Griffin gives us the following tips:

  • Acclimatize to the heat.  Work a limited amount of time outdoors and gradually increase your amount of time in the heat.
  • Avoid the high heat periods of the day.  Get your work done early in the morning or late in the day.   Avoid the hours between 2 and 6 as the heat loads are typically higher during these hours.
  • Take frequent breaks in a cool area.  Taking breaks in an air conditioned area is preferable but, a shady area will work.
  • Limit exposure to direct sunlight when possible.  Plan your workday to take advantage of shaded areas.
  • Drink plenty of water.  Take a water break at least every hour, drinking cool water.  Also, drink water before working in the garden.  Hydration is key.
  • Avoid caffeinated beverages and alcohol.  These are diuretics and cause your body to lose water.
  • Wear light colored, loose fitting clothing and a hat.  Certainly use sunscreen to protect against UV rays on all exposed skin.
Heat Stress in the Georgia Community Garden
Work in shade whenever possible.

Monitor Yourself

It is preferable to work with another gardener so you can monitor each other.  If you notice extreme sweating, dizziness, nausea, or muscle cramps STOP WORKING.   Head indoors, hydrate and cool down.

Certain people are more susceptible to heat stress – the elderly, children, pregnant women, and people who have just moved here from a cooler climate.  Certain medications can also make someone more prone to heat stress.   Mr. Griffin recommends checking with your doctor if you take medications.

Knowing this information will help keep you safe in the Georgia summer heat and make your gardening experience a more pleasurable one.

Remember georgiaweather.net is a wonderful resource for weather information.

Thanks Mr. Griffin for the tips!  Stay safe and

Happy Gardening!

 

 

Tomato Hornworms and Parasitic Wasps

Tomato hornworms (Manduca quinquemaculata) are a serious problem for tomato growers. These caterpillars have a large appetite and can quickly defoliate a tomato plant. If you find hornworms in your tomatoes, simply pick them off and drop them in soapy water. However, if you find a hornworm with white oblong obtrusions, leave it!

The white obtrusions are actually the cocoons of a parasitic wasp. A female wasp has laid her eggs under the skin of that hornworm. As the eggs hatch the larvae actually feed on the hornworm insides. The larvae eat their way out of the caterpillar and spin the cocoons you see. Eventually adult wasps will emerge from the cocoons and the weakened hornworm will die.

Photo credit: Texas A&M

The hope is that the emerging wasps will find other tomato hornworms to parasitize and you will have managed that pest. There are some generalist parasitic wasps that will provide that service for you. There is a braconid wasp, Cotesia congregates, that specifically looks for tomato hornworms. This small wasp has clear wings and as an adult they are nectar feeders. To persuade the wasps to stay in your garden you will need to have flowers. The small braconid wasps are attracted to small flowers like yarrow and small asters.

Instead of reaching for an insecticide for tomato hornworms encourage the ecosystem to assist you in managing that pest!

Happy Gardening!

Tomato Terminology for the Georgia Garden

Over the next weeks we will be exploring the world of tomatoes. They are the most popular plant in community gardens. But tomatoes can be problematic. Together we will share the good, the bad, and the delicious of tomato growing. Please share your experiences. To begin our tomato journey we are going to look at some tomato terminology.

Tomatoes in Hay BalesDeterminate vs. Indeterminate

When deciding on what type of tomato plants you want to grow, choose if you want determinate or indeterminate varieties.  Determinate plants bear all of their fruit at one time.  The plants tend to be more compact and easier to manage.  You will probably still need to support them with a tomato cage or staking.  Determinate varieties are popular with growers who want to preserve the fruit, make tomato sauces, or salsas as they get all the fruit at once.

Indeterminate varieties bear their fruit throughout the growing season.  The plants tend to sprawl and will definitely need support by staking or caging.  Growers who like to eat fresh tomatoes throughout the summer prefer indeterminate varieties.

Tomato Disease Resistance

Due to successful tomato breeding gardeners now can choose tomatoes that show resistance to the common diseases that plague all tomato growers.  A note of disclaimer here – remember that disease resistance does not mean disease proof.  You can easily determine the disease resistance of a particular variety by the initials after the name:

Big Boy VFN Tomatoes
Big Boy VFN Tomatoes

V – Resistance to the fungus that causes Verticillium wilt.

F, FF, or FFF – Resistance to the fungus that causes Fusarium wilt.  Sadly, some of the fungi developed immunities to the resistance qualities of the initial “F” tomatoes, so breeders developed cultivars that are resistant to the newer fungal races so now you may see “FF” and “FFF”.

N – Resistance to nematodes

T – Resistance to the Tobacco Mosaic Virus

TSWV– Resistance to the Tomato Spotted Wilted Virus

A – Resistance to the fungus that causes Alternaria Stem Canker

St – Resistance to the fungus that causes Grey Leaf Spot, Stemphylium solani.

Big Boy VFN shows resistance to Verticillium wilt, Fusarium wilt, and nematodes.    Tomato plant sellers in your area should stock the tomatoes with the resistance you need.  Look for the resistant cultivars in seed catalogs as well.

Don’t rely on planting disease resistance cultivars as your only line of defense against disease.  Good cultural practices like proper irrigation, mulching, soil building, fertilization and removal of diseased plants are examples of the integrated pest management (IPM) you should be using.

If you think your tomatoes have one of these diseases contact your local UGA Extension office for confirmation.  Georgia Home Grown Tomatoes is an excellent publication for tomato connoisseurs.

Happy Tomato Gardening!

 

This is My Heirloom Seed Story. What’s Yours?

My family hails from deep in the Appalachian Mountains. My mother’s ancestors came with Daniel Boone’s family through the Cumberland Gap and into what is now Breathitt County, Kentucky. My father’s family settled in Pike County, Kentucky, where he grew up at the back of church house holler. I am a McCoy from Hatfield and McCoy fame and like most people from Appalachia I have an heirloom bean seed story.

Beans in these mountains have been grown and handed down for centuries. Most Appalachian beans are cornstalk beans, meaning traditionally they were grown along with tall, open-pollinated corn. The tall corn stalks supported the long, bean vines. As time went on and hybrid corn stalks became shorter, people grew the beans on poles for support and they became “pole beans.”

As commercial beans became popular, large growers bred their beans for a tough outer shell or pod. The tougher shell meant that the beans could better stand mechanical harvest and handling. Appalachian beans are prized for their softer shell and full bean kernels. They have names like Lazy Wife Greasy Bean and Turkey Craw Bean. Eaten fresh or dried for winter dishes, they are family legacies. There are festivals honoring the Appalachian bean all across the mountains where seed swaps take center stage.

My bean seed was given to me by my Aunt Tillie. She received them from her mother who got them from her mother, and so on. My Jonah Beans are more of a bush bean than a cornstalk bean. In my north Georgia home, I can get three plantings of Jonah Beans each season. I generally grow enough for my family to enjoy and to put up a few canned jars. Of course I save seed year to year.

Jonah Beans in the May Garden

Beans are harvested, strings are removed (usually while sitting on the front porch) and prepared fresh. They are best cooked with a strip or two of bacon and a side of skillet cornbread. Happily, bush beans are a great addition to a community garden plot. They can also be used in school gardens with timely planting.

I am honored to be a keeper of this seed, of this mountain tradition. Planting, harvesting and preparing them is more than just growing beans. It is a way to connect with my heritage and to share that heritage with the next generation. If you are interested in Appalachian heirlooms Bill Best’s book Saving Seeds, Preserving Taste is a fantastic resource full of stories.

That is my heirloom seed story, what’s yours?

Soil Temperatures in Your Georgia Garden

Soil Temperatures in Your Georgia Garden

With the recent warm temperatures it is easy to be seduced into planting your summer crops now.   It is tempting to plant our vegetable transplants and seeds; we can’t wait for that first juicy tomato are a crunch pepper!  Be aware that soil temperatures are very important for success with your early summer plantings.

Soil Temperatures in Your Georgia Garden
Pepper Seedlings

Soil temperatures need to be 60-65 degrees F and rising at the 4 inch soil depth before you plant your summer crops.

If you install a transplant too early the roots won’t grow and the plant will just be sitting in the soil.  If we have a large amount of rain, which seems to be the norm this year, your new plant will just be sitting in wet soil.  This could mean early disease issues.

This morning the Ballground weather station, near my home, indicated a 4-inch soil temperature of 54.6 degrees F. In Griffin the 4-inch soil temperature was 56.8 degrees F while Valdosta reported 63.5 degrees F.

If the soil temperatures are not warm enough for seed germination, early seed plantings could rot.

The roots need to be actively growing to absorb water and nutrients.

If we plant and fertilizer summer vegetables too early we will be wasting fertilizer.  The plant roots simply can’t absorb it.  This fertilizer could get washed away, wasting your time and money. Also, this leached fertilizer could be problematic for our watersheds.

Determine your soil temperatures.

To determine your soil temperature at the 4 inch depth visit www.georgiaweather.net.  Click on the station nearest your garden.  Or, you can see a summary of soil temperatures across the state.

Soil Temperatures in Your Georgia Garden
Newly planted tomatoes. Waiting until the soil temperatures are warm enough is one step to success for your summer garden.

Remember the rule of thumb is play it safe and wait!

Happy Gardening!