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.
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!
October is Farm to School Month and this year in Georgia we are celebrating with Oh My Squash!. Several of you have grown squash with success and several of you have grown it with less success. For future reference we have created this squash problem cheat sheet. As you plan for your next crop of squash, keep these techniques in mind:
Wishing you a bright squash gardening future!
October is Farm to School Month and this year Georgia is celebrating with Oh My Squash! You can visit the project webpage for more information on how to participate. Many of you may be growing a late crop of squash for this campaign so I thought it was worth reposting Bob Westerfield’s article on growing squash. He is a UGA horticulturalist and our go-to guy for vegetable production. Bob writes:
To most Southern gardeners, fried yellow squash or grilled zucchini are staples on the table during the summer. Serving up home grown winter squash in the fall is worthy of bragging rights.
While normally easy to grow, the endless choice of varieties and numerous garden pests have made growing squash a little more challenging. Squash come in an endless assortment of shapes, sizes and colors. Choosing the right variety can seem daunting. The squash vine borer, a persistent pest, has caused some gardeners to give up on growing squash.
October is Farm to School Month and schools and early care centers across Georgia are celebrating all things squash! Oh My Squash! is a state-wide celebration to get kids eating, growing and participating in squash-themed activities. UGA Cooperative Extension is a partner in the project and we are excited about the month! To participate in Oh My Squash at your school, early care center, or in your community, visit the webpage.
Participants will receive free electronic resources to help you plan and implement your activities. Resources include standards-based lesson plans, quick activities, recipes, videos, school garden planting and harvesting information, and more!
The first 300 people to sign-up will be mailed a free packet of squash seeds, washable squash tattoos, and a Georgia Planting and Harvest Calendar for school gardens. Share your Oh My Squash pictures and activities on social media with #ohmysquash.
Each week during October, anyone who uses this hashtag will be entered to win a gift card and at the end of the month, we will have a grand prize winner of a two day education pass to the Georgia Organics Conference on Feb. 7-8, 2020 in Athens (a $425 value)!
As you plan your Oh My Squash! activities use your local UGA Cooperative Extension office. They can assist with ideas on preparing squash taste tests for the classroom and advice on growing and harvesting the squash in your school garden.
Happy Gardening and Eating!