Helping Community and School Gardeners Succeed!
This gardening blog is put together by Becky Griffin, Extension Community and School Garden Coordinator. It is designed to help community and school gardeners succeed by connecting them to UGA Extension and other research-based resources. Here you will also find information about programs designed to improve pollinator health in the garden.
Several of you have asked me to re-run this post about making strawberry jam. The strawberries are plentiful around Georgia this year and I made jam myself this weekend. Actually, Cindee says what I make is really spreadable fruit because I don’t use pectin. Cindee is the expert. Enjoy your strawberry crop and have fun making jam!
Applications are now open for the 2019 Golden Radish Award, Georgia’s premier farm to school award. Presented by Georgia’s Departments of Education, Agriculture, Early Care and Public Health, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, and Georgia Organics, the Golden Radish Award is given to school districts and Local Educational Agencies (LEAs) who are doing extraordinary work in farm to school. Awards will be given at the Mercedes Benz Stadium on Sep. 17, 2019.
Is your district planning to apply? Ask your school nutrition director, curriculum coordinator, and superintendent if they are planning to apply for the Golden Radish and share this information with them:
• Applications are due on June 28, 2019.
• Platinum, Gold, Silver, Bronze, and Honorary Radishes will be awarded to recognize school districts/LEAs with varying levels of farm to school programs. In addition, the Outstanding Award will recognize the district/LEA with an outstanding farm to school program in 2018-19.
• The online award application is user friendly, has save and return capability, and allows for multiple collaborators.
• Educators and staff in Golden Radish Award districts are eligible for reduced price farm to school professional development and training opportunities throughout 2019-20.
• Application details, award criteria, and examples of programs and activities that meet the criteria requirements are available at https://georgiaorganics.org/for-schools/goldenradish.
• Learn more about the 84 school districts across Georgia that were awarded Golden Radish Awards last year: https://georgiaorganics.org/84-georgia-school-districts-win-golden-radish-awards-for-farm-to-school-accomplishments/
• Questions? Contact Kimberly Della Donna at email@example.com or 404-481-5014.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
- weaken a plant making it susceptible to a secondary infection
- cause curling of leaves and damage to terminal buds
- 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
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!
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!
The last couple of weeks I have visited several community gardens. Most of them are flourishing and it exciting to see! Two of the gardens are on the brink of collapse. Why? Lack of leadership.
People are the most important part of a community garden. Leadership, most often in the form of a garden board, is necessary to:
Manage plot assignments
Organize common area work days
Promote the garden
Secure needed funding
Act as a liaison with the outside community
Ensure harmony among gardeners
Help teach those who are new to gardening
Plan fun garden events!
This is essential to the sustainability of the garden.
It is always sad to see failing gardens especially when it could have been prevented. At their best community gardens are a safe gathering spot for fellowship, learning, and growing good food. The publication How to Start a Community Garden: Getting People Involved is an excellent resource even for established gardens. Also, the American Community Garden Association has some tips for garden leaders.
Keep your garden organization in order so you can enjoy the harvest!
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!
If you don’t routinely use https://www.georgiaweather.net you are missing out. This website contains information from approximately 100 weather stations placed all across our state.
After you select your area from a drop-down menu a wealth of information pops up including rainfall amounts, soil moisture, and soil temperatures.
Right now in mid-April we are all concerned about soil temperatures. No matter what the air temperatures are reading, soil temperatures are what matter for seed germination and root growth. The weather station data shows soil temperatures at 2 -inch, 4-inch, and 6-inch soil depth. Today the 4-inch soil temperature for my location in Blairsville is 54.1 F degrees. This is way too cool for any warm-season crops.
I can also look at past data to see what the last frost dates have been for my area. The last few years have seen some swings from April 30th last year to early April the three years prior.
This information can help me make calculated and informed decisions about planting times. I highly encourage all of you to make use of this free tool.