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 links to school gardener teacher training events and information on the Pollinator Spaces Project and the 2017 Georgia Pollinator Census.
Visit often, you will learn something each time!
We usually think of cover crops as tools that farmers use to build soil between seasons of cash crops. According to Using Cover Crops in the Home Garden using cover crops can be beneficial to any gardener. These plants can build the soil, control soil erosion, and limit the spread of certain diseases and insects.
Cover Crop Benefits
For community gardeners, whether you grow in raised bed plots or in the ground, there are substantial benefits here. First, many community gardeners decide not to plant cool-season vegetables. Their plots become a mess of warm-season crop debris, which can harbor insect pests disease. Or, the plots are left bare almost guaranteeing that weedy plants will take over. Using cover crops during the cool-season months solves those issues.
Cover crops can add a nice look to a community garden plot. Many of these plants also attract pollinators and other beneficial insects.
Cover crops can provide a cheap source of nutrition for your garden plants. After maturity the crops are mowed down (use a weed whacker if you garden in a raised bed), left to dry out and are turned into the soil. They decompose in the soil increasing the organic matter. Much less expensive than purchasing bags of organic matter!
Incorporating Cover Crops in Your Garden
So now that you are sold on the benefits of using cover crops during the cool-season, what do you plant? A combination of a cereal grain and a legume is a good choice. An example is wheat, oat, or rye with clover or winter peas. The cereal grain grows quickly while the slower germinating legume takes hold.
Finding small amounts of seeds for a garden plot may be a challenge. Check local feed and seed stores that may sell cover crops by the scoop. Check your seed catalogs. You may want to go in with others in your community garden for seed purchases.
For more details on the use of cover crops see Using Cover Crops in the Home Garden. Or, contact your local UGA Extension office.
Carrots have a reputation of being hard to grow in the clay soils of North Georgia. But, with a little knowledge and a few tricks you can have success with carrots. Since they are a cool-season crop now is the time to plant.
Since the interesting part of carrots grow underground you need to start with well drained, loose soil.
This is key. No rocks or sticks. You want that carrot to have no resistance as it grows. If you are growing in raised beds you are probably ahead of the game here. Carrots like a soil pH of 5.5 – 6.5.
Carrot seeds are very tiny. Once you have your soil rock-free, smooth it out for planting. There are two schools of thought in how to plant carrot seeds. One way is to plant in traditional rows. Another thought is if you have a defined area, like in a community garden raised bed plot, to broadcast the seeds. Either way just lay the seeds on the soil bed and then sprinkle about 1/4 inch of soil on top. Consider mixing in a few radish seeds at planting. They come up quickly and can help mark your rows, if you are a row planter. And, they will help prevent the soil from crusting.
To ensure good seed-to-soil contact with such small seeds it is a good idea to lightly tamp the soil down. A tamper is useful here to put just enough pressure for that contact without compacting the soil. Water in. Be patient as carrots take several weeks to germinate.
Mulch is important here. The temperatures are still warm and you want to try and keep the soil moisture even.
Once the carrots come up thinning is essential.
If the carrots become too crowded underground, they can become stunted. Thinning is a pain, especially if you broadcast planted. But, don’t skip this step. Instead of pulling up the thinnings, just use a snipper to cut the seedlings off at the root. This will minimize disturbance of the remaining plants. The goal is about 2 inches between carrots.
Pay attention to the days until harvest number on the seed packets. As the soil cools the carrots actually get sweeter. Some gardeners leave the carrots in the ground over the winter with good results. When harvesting be very gentle so you don’t damage your crop.
When choosing a cultivar remember that all carrots don’t have to be orange. Chantenay Red Core has a reddish color while Purple Haze is obviously purple. Danvers 126, Scarlet Nantes, and Nantes are all recommended orange cultivars. Look for them at feed and seed stores, old hardware stores, and even big box retailers. If you want to try something new there are several seed
companies like Burpee and Johnny’s Selected Seeds that have interesting choices in their catalogs. If you have any questions about growing carrots contact your local UGA Extension Agent. He/She will have great advice.
In anticipation of October’s Farm to School month Georgia Organics has launched the Make Room for Legumes campaign. Schools can register and receive free seeds as well as resources for the classroom including lesson plans. This is a fantastic program for all schools.
If you are excited to make room for legumes, it is not too late to grow beans this season in your school or community garden. If you are planting in August, choose bush bean varieties. These will mature in 50-60 days. Consider Bronco, Roma, Blue Lake which are all harvested and used fresh.
Dried beans are also a possibility although they require a longer maturity time. Dragon Tongue and Tiger Eyes are used fresh or dried. The pretty black and white Calypso beans or the historic red Hidatsa beans are traditionally dried. Consider planting several varieties.
One concern planting this late are Mexican bean beetles. Keep a look out for these pests, checking regularly for eggs. Removing the eggs is the best way to handle these pests in a small garden. Scout regularly!
Although we are in the middle of a hot summer it is time to think about your fall garden. We have put together a list of “tried and true” cultivars of cool-season vegetables. These recommendations come from UGA’s Vegetable Planting Chart. The transplants or seeds should be easy to find at your local feed-and-seed store or easy to order from seed catalogs.
Oftentimes community gardens are located on county Parks and Recreation land or in the middle of land maintained by people other than the community gardeners. School gardens have maintenance crews that maintain the land near the school garden. How this surrounding land is managed can have an affect on your garden. Sadly, herbicide damage to community garden plants when the garden itself does not allow herbicides is common. The article below by UGA’s Donn Cooper explains:
Herbicides applied to lawns and hay fields contain compounds that selectively affect broad-leafed weeds, such as dandelion and thistle, but do not kill the grass. Tomatoes, grapes, peppers and other broad-leafed plants are damaged when the herbicides move from the lawns and fields into the vegetable garden.
These herbicides — 2,4-D and pyridine compounds — cause the most striking damage on sensitive plants by short-circuiting the plants’ hormonal system and ability to regulate growth, said Elizabeth Little, a University of Georgia Plant Pathologist.
Parallel veins and cupping are some of the symptoms in the new growth of plants affected by these herbicides.
Because Georgians love tomatoes — and hate weeds, this is an issue that Extension personnel at the UGA see again and again.
“People often do not understand how the herbicide was able to move into their gardens and will swear up and down that no herbicides were used, but the symptoms are distinctive,” said Little. “Unwanted herbicide can come from different sources.”
Means of exposure
Some of those sources are obvious. For example, herbicide sprays to the lawn can become airborne and harm plants within close proximity. Even with barely a breeze, compounds applied as sprays can drift quite far from the site of application.
But there are more subtle avenues for accidental damage. In hot weather herbicide compounds on lawns can volatize, or become a gas, and eventually affect vegetables around the home.
Gardeners using grass clippings as mulch should be mindful that the clippings could have been treated with herbicide.
Herbicide in manure
While most lawn herbicides will break down within a few months, some of these herbicides, especially those applied to hay fields, will persist in the environment for several years.
Pyridine compounds — such as picloram, clopyralid and aminopyralid — appear to be causing the most damage in home gardens. These herbicides can reach gardens through composted manure from animals fed with treated hay, said Little.
“Horse manure is a very common source of unwanted herbicide because the hay that horses eat is very often sprayed with these persistent herbicides,” said Little, who is an Extension specialist in integrated disease management with the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
Growers need to be mindful about the origins of their compost and mulch. Organic farmers can even lose their certification by accidentally introducing contaminated compost from off-farm sources.
“Many gardeners have stopped using horse manure, which is a shame,” said Little.
She points out that horse manure is often easy to obtain and has a balanced nutrient composition. Although likely free of 2,4-D and related herbicides, poultry manure can create problems with nitrogen and phosphorous if used in excess.
Ask about pasture treatments
Little suggests that gardeners who buy manure should ask what herbicides were applied to the pasture and to the hay that the animals consume. Anyone who grows hay should be able to provide a list of his or her herbicide treatments.
Hay field herbicides are used so commonly because the farmers can have persistent problems with tough perennial weeds such as thistles and dock.
“With more and more people wanting to grow their own food, I think it is something that we all need to be aware of,” said Little.
Glyphosate has different symptoms
Glyphosate, another herbicide often used around the home, causes different damage on tomatoes. It affects the whole plant, not just new growth, and can be identified in bleached, yellow leaves.
If you have any questions about whether herbicide damage has affected your community or school garden, contact your local UGA Extension agent. He/she has experience with this.
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.
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.
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
The increase in rain this summer seems to have brought on an increase in vegetable diseases. Sharon Dowdy, a news editor for UGA, recently spoke with UGA Extension pathology specialist Elizabeth Little about the problems gardeners are seeing. Sharon writes…
Home gardeners must fight insects and diseases to keep their vegetable plants healthy and productive. Diseases are harder to identify because, unlike bugs, you can’t easily see a pathogen, says University of Georgia Cooperative Extension specialist Elizabeth Little.
“Insects can be seen on plants, but diseases are a little mysterious,” said Little, a plant pathologist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. “You can’t just look at the plant and know what’s going on.”
Georgia’s hot, muggy summers provide the perfect conditions for diseases to thrive in, she said.
The secret to fighting diseases in homegrown vegetables is to stay a few steps ahead of them, according to Little.
“If you wait until after you see the disease, it’s too late,” she said. “It’s all about prevention because diseases can increase very rapidly once they start.”
To fight diseases in the home garden, Little offers home gardeners these prevention tips.
- Plant in an open, sunny location with good drainage and plenty of air circulation.
- Choose disease-resistant and/or Southern-adapted varieties, if available.
- Start with healthy seeds and transplants.
- Plant summer crops, such as tomatoes and cucurbits, as early as possible.
- Rotate different crops within the garden each year if possible.
- Give plants plenty of space for good air movement. Trellis tomatoes and cucumbers.
- Limit the frequency of overhead irrigation to keep foliage dry.
- Use drip irrigation if possible.
- To help keep plants healthy, improve soil conditions with organic matter.
- Adjust pH and soil fertility based on a soil test.
- Remove old crop debris at the end of the season.
Following these practices will help home gardeners avoid most disease problems. If persistent problems occur, contact your local UGA Extension office for a correct diagnosis of the problem and a recommendation on how to treat it.
Thank you Sharon, for sharing this great advice!
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