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.
Bees have such a great reputation. They are the face of pollinator conservation and we know how valuable they are in our food system. But what about wasps? Where is the love? Wasps are also fascinating pollinators. Did you know that wasps are the main pollinators of figs?
Your garden is full of beneficial wasps. They dine on the pollen and nectar provided in pollinator gardens and are valuable pollinators. They also assist in controlling grubs, caterpillars, and crickets. Wasps provide important garden services!
Sadly, wasps seem to have a bad reputation. They are seen as aggressive stingers. This is not necessarily true. Most wasps are nonaggressive and will only sting when they are grabbed or threatened. These insects are beautiful and fun to watch.
One example of a wasp you may see in your garden this summer is the four toothed mason wasp. This wasp visits all types of flowers. They are cavity nesters, laying eggs in small cavities already created by another wasp or bee. They also use holes in twigs or hollow flower stems. If you have a native bee home in your garden you probably have a mason wasp or two using those homes.
The female wasp hunts for soft-bodied caterpillars to carry back to the nest. She will lay an egg and leave a stunned caterpillar next to that egg. As the egg hatches, the emerging wasp larvae will consume the caterpillar. This is a great service to your garden as you battle caterpillars that eat your food crops.
However, mason wasps do not differentiate between pest caterpillars and the caterpillars of beloved butterflies. Gardeners do have a bit of control here. Plant milkweed, parsley and other butterfly larval plants away from plants that wasps frequently visit such as mountain mint. Otherwise, think of your garden as a whole ecospace and thank the wasps for their help in controlling the pests!
Another valuable wasp is the Scoliid wasp (Scolia dubia). This wasp lives in the soil. The adults can be seen on several flowering plants eating pollen and nectar. The females lay their eggs in the ground. At egg-laying time she will fly just above the ground looking for grubs. When one unlucky grub is spotted, the wasp paralyzes it by stinging. This grub is left with her eggs for the emerging larva to consume. Grub control is another valuable service the wasps provide.
As wasps begin to appear in your garden take some time to appreciate their beauty and the services they provide. Consider becoming more involved with pollinators by participating in the Great Georgia Pollinator Census in August (https://GGaPC.org).
From UGA’s Entomology Department:
A flurry of recent press coverage has created a surge of interest in the Asian giant hornet, Vespa mandarinia. The coverage is not traced to any recent event. The insect was found last September 2019 in Vancouver Island (Canada) and again in December 2019 in Washington state. But to date, this invasive insect is not present in the state of Georgia, nor indeed, east of the Mississippi.
The Asian giant hornet is a “true” hornet and the world’s largest, ranging in size from 1.5 to slightly over 2 inches long (38-50mm). The stinger is nearly ¼-inch long and stings are extremely painful. Each year in Japan, 30-50 people die from being stung by these hornets. The venom is not the most lethal among bees and wasps, but due to the insect’s large size, the dose is larger than any other stinging insect Americans typically encounter. Human sting deaths are biased toward individuals who are prone to anaphylactic reactions or to individuals who receive large numbers of stings. One or a few stings from an Asian giant hornet should not be life-threatening to an average individual.
The Asian giant hornet is not necessarily aggressive towards humans, livestock or pets but will sting if provoked. However, this giant killer can inflict a devastating blow to honey bee colonies, with several hornets capable of annihilating 30,000 bees within hours. There are three phases to an Asian giant hornet attacking a honey bee colony. The first is the hunting phase where individual hornets will capture bees at the entrance of the colony, cut off their heads, and form a “meat ball” from the thorax. They then return to their nest to feed their young this protein-rich meal.
The second phase is the slaughter phase. Hornets will mark a particular colony with a pheromone to recruit their sisters to the site. Then numerous hornets will descend upon the colony, killing all of the workers by ripping their heads off, dumping their bodies onto the ground below, and returning to their nest with their prey.
Once the bee hive is dead, hornets enter the occupation phase. Hornets take over the hive, collect pupae and larvae, and return to their own nest to feed their carnivorous young. The hornets now guard the hive entrance as if it were their own nest. The aftermath of an attack will be piles of decapitated or ripped apart bees in front of a colony. The visible key to an Asian giant hornet attack is “decapitated” or “ripped apart” bees, and not just a pile of intact dead bees, which could be the result of pesticides, starvation, or something else.
This is the hornet that incites the famous bee defensive response of “cooking” hornets to death. Asian honey bees grab an invading hornet, pile around it and raise their thoracic temperatures to the critical temperature that is lethal to wasps but tolerable to bees. Unfortunately, American honey bees, of European not Asiatic descent, do not have this behavior.
The Asian giant hornet’s life cycle is typical of that for other social wasps and yellowjackets. A solitary female emerges from winter hibernation and founds a subterranean nest, at first performing all nest duties including foraging and incubating the young. The colony steadily grows until workers eventually take over all foraging duties. New queens and males emerge in late summer and mate. Eventually the males and workers die, leaving only the newly-mated queens who overwinter in isolation.
At this time there have been no confirmed cases of this hornet’s presence in Georgia or anywhere outside of Washington state. Other wasps and hornets already residents in our state that may be confused with the Asian giant hornet are:
- Cicada killers, Sphecius speciosus, size range 0.6 – 2 inches long (15 – 50mm)
- European hornets, Vespa crabro, size range 1-1.4 inches (25-35mm)
- Southern yellowjackets, Vespula squamosa, size range 0.5inches (12mm)
- Baldfaced hornets, Dolichovespula maculata, size range 0.75 inches (19mm)
The Asian giant hornet and cicada killer may be similar in size but very different in coloration. The Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health have put together an “Asian Giant Hornet and its SE US Lookalikes” photographic fact sheet (link below) which is extremely helpful for distinguishing between the different species in our state.
At this time, we need to be vigilant but not over-reactive since, again, there is no evidence that the Asian giant hornet has journeyed East. However, sightings and/or disturbances to honey bee colonies should be reported. If you think you have seen an Asian giant hornet, found evidence of an attack (decapitated or ripped apart bees) or have a specimen, please contact your County Extension Agent immediately. They will be able to collect your information and any specimens for identification. You can call 1-800-ASK-UGA1 to find an agent near you. For photos and more in-depth information about the Asian giant hornet, please check out the followin
Georgia Department of Agriculture
Washington State Department of Agriculture website https://wastatedeptag.blogspot.com/2019/12/pest-alert-asian-giant-hornet.html
April 22 marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. The first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970 in schools and communities around the United States as a way to call attention to environmental issues. According to the Earth Day Network, the occasion is now celebrated in over 190 counties.
With most of our country sheltering-in-place, we have an opportunity to really embrace Earth Day at home with our families. Hopefully, you have taken time over the last days to really slow down and appreciate nature around you. Let’s celebrate that with a special Earth Day! Plant a garden or create nature poetry. It can be a great day while safely staying within recommended shelter-in-place guidelines. Following are some other ideas to get you and your family in an Earth Day spirit.
Hold a family nature photo contest. Give the members of your family 24 hours to take nature photos from places nearby using their cell phones. Give simple prizes for the most creative photos. You can use an online photo service to create a book of the photos as a memento.
Explore your pollinator garden. Practice identifying and counting insects to get ready for the Great Georgia Pollinator Census on August 21 and 22. The project website at https://ggapc.org/ contains all you need to learn more about the pollinators in your garden.
Learn to identify the birds in your yard. For added fun learn their calls. Cornell’s bird lab has free resources on bird identification. Feeding birds is a wonderful family hobby. Get tips on now from UGA Extension Circular 976 at extension.uga.edu/publications.
Discover more about the trees in your yard. Can you identify them? The Arbor Day Foundation has a great website for tree identification. What role does each tree play in the wildlife ecosystem? Create some leaf rubbings to decorate your home. For more information, see UGA Extension Bulletin 987 on native trees and shrubs at extension.uga.edu/publications.
Organize your recyclables. If you don’t already recycle, spend some time creating an area in your home to place and organize your recyclables. Research where to take your recyclables locally. Does your trash pickup service also take recyclables? For more tips, see UGA Extension Bulletin 1050-2 on recycling at extension.uga.edu/publications.
Plan an Earth Day dinner. This is a tradition with my family each year — we choose a theme and plan dinner and activities around it. For example, plan a pollinator dinner choosing foods that need a pollinator. Strawberry shortcake is a great dessert for this theme! Other themes are foods grown underneath the earth’s crust like potatoes, radishes, sweet potatoes and onions. Or perhaps a spring greens dinner with different lettuces and salad toppings. Cooking together is a wonderful activity for stress relief. Decorate your table for the occasion and plan some relevant dinner conversation topics.
Whatever you decide to do, stay safe and enjoy the day!
For more information on Earth Day visit https://www.earthday.org/.
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.
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.
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.
To better understand how we can ensure that the seeds we collect will result in the plants that we want, let’s go back to high school biology and review plant reproduction basics!
The male parts of the flower are called the staman, made up of the anther and filament. The pollen sits on the anther waiting to be moved to the female part of the same or a different flower.
The female part of the flower are called the carpel made up of the stigma, style and ovary. Pollen lands on the stigma (this is pollination) moves down the style to find an ovule in the ovary (this is fertilization).
Some pollen is light and is presented on high anthers. Wind moves this pollen to female flowers and corn is a wonderful example. Some pollen is very sticky and needs an insect or other agent to move it to female flowers. This is true of goldenrod.
Is this starting to sound familiar? This is very basic and plants have evolved many tricks to make their pollen more available for pollination. Some plants have evolved with specific insect pollinators. Flowers, you may know, exist to assist the pollinator in finding the pollen. To a bee’s eyes some petals seem to have landing stripes leading straight to the pollen and nectar. It is a fascinating topic! The Community Seed Network has information on a few different pollination types.
For our purposes this basic model will work. Next time we will look at plant types: hybrid vs. open pollination.
School gardens routinely grow food crops, create pollinator habitat, and even replicate historic gardens. They are an integral part of school curriculum used to teach botany, math, nutrition, history, literature and even geography. However, the one area lacking in the hundreds of school gardens that I have visited is seed saving. Seed saving can be an important horticultural part of the garden as well as an additional avenue for tying the garden to school curriculum. With a bit of botany background, proper seed saving is not difficult and will be a fun part of your garden!
Until modern times seed collecting was the only way a gardener had seed for the next year. Seed was shared with neighbors and passed down from generation to generation (heirloom seeds). Seeds were taken across oceans and over the American prairie and they are an important part of our agricultural history. Your students may have heirloom seeds stories to share. In my area of Southern Appalachia seed saving is part of many family heritages.
Hybrid plants are not appropriate for seed saving. They are bred to amplify a certain trait such as disease resistance or larger fruit and are produced by cross-breeding two plants with different genetics. Tomatoes are a great example. Most of the tomatoes grown in backyards are hybrid tomatoes with names like Better Boy and Early Girl. Although these varieties produce delicious tomatoes, they are not appropriate for seed saving.
Hybrid plants produce seeds that are genetically unreliable or not true-to-type. These seeds are undesirable for seed saving.
Open-pollinated plants are the type of plants we want for seed collecting. They are pollinated naturally and will produce seeds that are true-to-type if they are isolated from other varieties. So, it is important for the school gardener to choose only one variety of the seed producing plant. For example, do not plant Calypso beans in the same area as Hidatsa beans. They could possibly cross-pollinate resulting in seeds not true-to-type. A garden of only Calypso beans will produce true Calypso bean seed! Larger gardens follow the recommended isolation distance for seed saving for most beans that is 10-20 feet.
With the smaller space of a school garden, it is best to choose one variety of the seed producing plant type for seed saving.
SEED SAVING AND YOUR SCHOOL CURRICULUM
Lesson ideas are numerous:
- Pollination – what exactly is pollination and fertilization
- Pollinators – how is pollen spread
- History – heirloom seeds
- Geography – how did crops spread around the world
- Math – how many seeds produced per plant/fruit/bean pod
- Genetics – Hybrid plants and gene traits
- Cultural Studies – choose plants with cultural significance such as Chinese long beans or tomatillos
- Literature – research how seeds came from Europe and Africa to become part of our agricultural system
Seed Savers has a website full of seed collecting information. Your local land grant Cooperative Extension office can assist you in choosing varieties of plants that will work well for seed saving and will grow well in your area. Over the next several weeks we will explore seed collecting in more detail so grab your seed catalogs and start planning your spring seed collecting garden.
Late 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.
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.
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.
Step 3: Plant the bulbs about 2 inches deep with the pointed end up. Space them about 6-8 inches apart.
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!
It is the time of the year when Georgians look to the sky to watch for signs of Monarch migration. These butterflies are on their way to the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico to overwinter on the oyamel fir trees of the area. The fir trees provide the perfect climate with a combination of optimal temperature and humidity to ensure the butterflies survive the winter. It is amazing to realize that this super-generation of migrating butterflies endure the hazards of the trip to go to a place that they have never been before.
Fall Monarch Migration Routes Source: USGS National Atlas
Reports around Georgia are that Monarch populations are high. A poll taken of insect enthusiasts showed that 83% have seen Monarchs heading south this year. Thirty percent of the respondents indicated that they are seeing a higher number of Monarchs than last year. This is terrific news as Monarch population numbers have been inconsistent over the last several seasons.
To increase the chances of seeing this phenomenon and to assist the butterflies create a fall migration garden. Monarchs will descend from their high migration path looking for food resources. Research shows that migrating butterflies respond to tall flowers that are easily accessible. Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum), goldenrod (Solidago spp.) and Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) are all proven Monarch attractors in the fall. Several of our fall-blooming native aster plants (Aster spp.) are perfect for these butterflies as well. The butterflies do not need milkweed (Ascelpias spp.), their larval host plant, at this time of the year. But be sure to include milkweed in your summer butterfly garden.
To follow the Monarch migration and to report your butterfly populations visit Journey North (https://journeynorth.org/monarchs). This organization has tabulated the reports of citizen scientists for many years and is a great resource for school groups. Monarch Watch (https://www.monarchwatch.org) provides online information for learning about these insects and their habitat needs. Contact your local UGA Cooperative Extension agent for more information about butterfly gardening and habitat building. If you miss seeing the fall migration spend time getting your garden ready for the Monarch return in the spring!
Happy Butterfly Watching!