Deciding on Raised Beds or In-Ground Gardening

Dr. David Berle and Robert Westerfield of UGA have created a series of publications on community/school gardens.  One of the most popular circulars is Raised Beds vs. In-Ground Gardens.  It is an excellent resource when determining whether or not raised beds would work for your garden.

The height of these beds is helpful for the senior gardeners at Tobie Grant Manor garden.
The height of these beds is helpful for the senior gardeners at Tobie Grant Manor garden.

Raised beds are defined as elevated boxes that are manageable in size and are filled with enough soil to support plants without using the soil underneath the box.  The height of the boxes can vary.  Tall boxes can be very beneficial to senior gardeners who are more comfortable working while standing instead of knelling down.  When dealing with native soil of questionable quality, raised beds with imported soil are an easy solution.

Some other advantages of raised beds are:

  • Prevention of soil compaction- raised boxes can limit foot traffic on the soil
  • Less weeding and maintenance
  • Reduced conflict – raised beds are very defined and easy to assign to participating gardeners
  • Better drainage
  • Extended garden area – raised beds can be placed on slopes, compacted soil, and even parking lots
The in-ground gardens at Woodstock Community Garden make it easy for a tiller to work the soil.
The in-ground gardens at Woodstock Community Garden make it easy for a tiller to work the soil.

There are advantages to in-ground gardens.  Raised bed materials can be costly for a garden group just starting and in-ground gardening can allow a tractor or tiller to easily help prepare the area.  Other advantages include:

  • Use of existing soil
  • Less permanent – if the landowner deems the garden temporary or for good crop rotation
  • Easier irrigation
  • Less start-up work
  • Clay soils do have benefits that are not found in man-made soils

As you start, or change, your garden carefully consider which arrangement will work for your group.  Consider your current and future needs and decide how much time and resources you all are willing to commit.  Your local UGA Extension office is a great resource for help.

Happy Gardening!

The Magic of the New Year

Recently I attended a presentation given by a scientist who is known for her expertise in plant genetics. Her lab was one of the first to do work in what we now call genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Between the explanations of plant biochemistry and the future of our food system she snuck in a statement that was so profound it is worth sharing. She said, “plants are magic.” Yes, plants are magic.

One of my first memories involves plants. At about six years old, I received a science kit as a gift where seeds germinated in a substrate so that the grower could see the root radical and shoot as the seed sprouted. I was hooked. Plants were magic.

Basil seedlings

I have never lost that feeling of awe when dealing with gardens. Most of you are shaking your heads in agreement as you read this. The way flowers survive our droughts and our own mismanagement. The way a tiny seed pushes through our hard clay soil. How small seeds yield large amounts of food. You know it; plants are magic.

Savannah Trustess Garden

As we go into the new year and we are planning our 2018 gardens may we never lose that magic. I look forward to gardening with you in the next year.

Happy New Year!

Making Use of Seed Catalogs All Year Long

The seed catalogs have started arriving. In my household that is cause for excitement. I save them until I have time to properly enjoy looking through them. What do you do with your seed catalogs after you have looked through them and placed your orders? If you throw them into the recycling bin you are missing out as these gems are full of useful information.

If you are a school gardener, or a community gardener that works with youth, the seed catalogs can be used throughout the year! To start with you can laminate the beautiful photos to use as plant markers.

You can use the information provided in the catalog for lessons:

The seed spacing guide can be used for students to create a garden bed design.

The days to harvest information can be used for students to determine the planting dates of their garden design so that all the produce is ready at the same time.

The cost of the seed packages can be used to calculate the cost of the garden design.

All of this information can be used to calculate how much produce can be grown per square foot (inch, meter).

Students can look through the catalog and pick a vegetable they have never tried before.

Students could look through the catalog, find a favorite vegetable, and re-write the plant description.

Happy browsing!

Collard Greens Recipe from Mary Mac’s Tea Room

Collard Greens Recipe from Mary Mac's Tea Room

It seems many gardeners plan on preparing collard greens for their holiday tables and have asked that I re-run this post from 2014. Enjoy…

Community gardens all over Georgia are filled with beautiful, dark green collard greens. See the August 20th post on growing collard greens.  Once we get a few good frosts they will be ready to harvest.  Being such a Southern vegetable it is wonderful that the very Southern Mary Mac’s Tea Room in Atlanta has shared their famous collard green recipe.  Richard Golden is the Assistant General Manager and he says that the collards are his favorite of all the vegetables the restaurant serves.  Just in time for Thanksgiving this recipe is a real treat worthy of a special occasion.

Collard Greens Recipe from Mary Mac's Tea Room

Collard Greens

Collard Greens Recipe from Mary Mac's Tea Room
Very tasty with cornbread!

Serves 6-8

  • 2 1/2 pounds of collard greens, stalks removed and cut into 2 inch strips
  • 2 gallons of water
  • 6 ounces of fatback
  • 1 smoked ham hock
  • 1/3 cup bacon drippings
  • 1/8th cup salt

You should be able to find fatback and ham hocks at your local supermarket. Just ask the butcher if you have trouble finding them.

Collard Greens Recipe from Mary Mac's Tea Room

Wash the cut greens in cold water and 1/8th cup salt.  In a large stock pot, on high heat, boil the water, smoked ham hock, and fat back.  Let boil for an hour.  Add collards and bacon drippings to the pot.  Let come to a roaring boil and then reduce heat to medium.  Let cook for 40-45 minutes.  You may need to add additional water if the water starts to absorb past 1/3 of your original liquid.  Remove from heat and take out the fatback and ham hock.  Serve warm. Goes well with corn bread.

If you are not used to cooking with fatback or ham hocks, they are easily found at most grocery stores.  Just ask your butcher if you have trouble finding them.  Also, plan ahead so you can save your bacon drippings.  Your Grandmother would be proud, your fitness trainer not so much!

Mary Mac’s is such an Atlanta institution it was honored by the Georgia State House of Representatives with Resolution 477 declaring Mary Mac’s to be Atlanta’s Dining Room.  The menu includes fried okra, tomato pie, hoppin’ john, butter peas, and turnip greens.  All of these contain ingredients grown in Georgia!

Mary Mac’s opened in 1945 when Mary McKenzie wanted to use her cooking skills to make money in the aftermath of World War II.  In those days a woman couldn’t just open a restaurant but a “tea room” was acceptable.  The current owner, John Ferrell purchased the restaurant in 1994 and carries on the traditions.  Recently they catered Governor Nathan Deal’s birthday party.  If you decide to visit Midtown for a meal at Mary Mac’s, don’t forget the cobbler.  Trust me!

Happy Eating!

Making Your Own Applesauce for Hanukkah

If you serve potato latkes as part of your Hanukkah tradition why not try to make your own applesauce accompaniment? Many community gardens grow apples but if you don’t grow your own, there are plenty of fresh apples in Georgia to choose from.

Making applesauce is basic and according to the National Center for Food Home Preservation the apples you choose and the spices you add will make it your own special recipe. Select apples that are sweet, juicy, and crisp – very fresh. You can mix tart and sweet apples to get your desired taste.

The book So Easy to Preserve revised by Elizabeth Andress and Judy Harrison in 2014 gives great instructions on making applesauce. Wash, peel and core your apples. Put the apples slices in an 8-10 quart pot and add 1/2 cup water. Heat quickly, stirring occasionally, and cook until the apples are tender. This could be 5 to 20 minutes depending on apple age and variety. Press through a food mill or a sieve if you want a smooth sauce. At this point add any sugar and taste.

To preserve the applesauce, reheat sauce to boiling and pack into hot jars leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and wipe jar rims. Adjust lids and process in a boiling water bath.

For more information on food preservation contact your local UGA Cooperative Extension office.

Happy Hanukkah!

Fresh Food Translates In Any Language

My daughter, Mady, moved to Lovere, Italy, in September. I asked her to give us an international perspective on fresh food and gardens for this week’s blog post. She writes….

I would like to begin by stating that I am in fact no way professionally qualified to educate you on the knowledge of plant life. I do not know when the best time to plant spinach is or what Botrytis and I’m only about 85% certain where the pistil is on any given flower. However there is one thing I feel very qualified to speak on: EATING GOOD FOOD.

Mady Griffin enjoys fresh, local food in Italy.

About three months ago I packed up my little room in Athens, Georgia and headed across the ocean to settle in a small town in the north of Italy to teach English for a year. I took as much as I could with me such as pictures of my family, books in English, and my classic Southern charm. However, one of the most important things I took was my something my mother gave me: An appreciation for well grown and well cooked food. An appreciation that Italians are crazy about.

I was lucky enough to get settled with a host family who have given me a good education on delicious cold cuts, cheeses, wines, and of course produce. Many products here like to guarantee you that they’ve been locally produced with local ingredients and if they have not they are quick to tell you where they came from. I have had cappuccinos made with milk from within an hour of where I live and we’ve had local cheeses, wines, chestnuts, and even a fresh rabbit from the farm of a family-friend. All of these were made into a variety of different delicious meals, but one particular part I want to write about is one of my new favorite meal traditions. The tradition of after-meal fruit. After grains, meats, salads, and before coffee we indulge in whatever fresh fruits my host mother has found at the store. These happen to be whatever fruit is in season to make sure what we’re eating is fresh and local. Since we’ve transitioned into fall I’ll highlight three of the fruits I’ve gotten to enjoy lately before the frost comes in.

Persimmons (Italiano: i cachi)

My host family has lived in a couple different countries before settling back in Italy and my host mother said one of the things she missed most about home were persimmons. In the town we live in they’re very common and people even harvest from trees right in their backyards. Around the beginning of fall these red/orange fruits begin to become ready for picking. However once the fruit has been has picked that does not mean it’s quite ready. You have to wait until the fruit inside has just started peeling away from the skin which you can feel by gently squeezing the fruit. Then you easily pull the top off, dig out the tough skin just inside the persimmon and dig in!

Clementines (Italiano: le clementine)

Clementines are in abundance during this time and it’s easy to grab a couple here and there not only after dinner, but also for a quick snack or “merenda” between meals. They’re perfect since they don’t need to be washed and can be placed on the table for any time of the day. Like in America many children eat them because they’re so easy to peel and can be bought without seeds.

Kiwi (Italiano: i kiwi)

This one took me a bit by surprise since thinking of kiwi brings up images of tropic New Zealand and not cold northern Italy. However sure enough another family friend brought along a bundle of fresh sweet kiwi for the family to share. Since I had not ever tried a kiwi myself I was taught the proper way to enjoy them. Cut off the top, slowly peel of the skin with a knife and then cut off the bottom. Then you can slice it in half and eat it straight. It’s delicious and sometimes hard to not stop at just one or two.

No matter what the meal is if it’s on an Italian table you know they put in a lot of thought and effort into the quality of their meal from the ground to your plate. I am excited to see what other ways Italians use their gardens to perfect their historical art of cooking. Until next time, arrivederci.

Buon giardinaggio!

Gardening Gifts for Holiday 2017

For past holiday seasons I have gotten gift ideas from you all and shared them with the group. You all have given us fantastic book and tool ideas. For this year’s Christmas or Hanukkah why not give an experience?

Our state is full of wonderful public gardens and we all know one way to get inspired or to find new plant ideas is to visit different gardens. Giving a garden membership or a day trip is a wonderful experience for the gardener or for someone who just appreciates beautiful plants.

The State Botanical Garden of Georgia in Athens is full of trails for a long walk or run. Behind the main building is a garden display about the history of Georgia in plants. One of the best parts of the garden is the native American garden. Signage explains the native plants and how they were used.

Row crops are planted at the State Botanical Garden

In south Georgia the Coastal Georgia Botanical Garden in Savannah is a gardener’s destination. It is a beautiful garden with wonderfully cultivated specimen plants. You must visit the historic Georgia trustees garden replica. It is amazing to see what the earliest Georgians tried to grow. I am also fond of the garden for all abilities. It is a raised bed area to demonstrate how planting areas can be modified for gardeners of all types.

Norman Winter takes fantastic photos of the Coastal garden.

A hidden garden wonder is the rooftop garden on top of Atlanta City Hall. Located off of the cafeteria it is a great place to eat lunch. This garden takes into account the microclimate of being on a roof in the sunny south. It is a whole different ecosystem.

A rooftop garden in the heart of Atlanta

Other favorite gardens include the Smith-Gilbert Gardens in Kennesaw, famous for their rose collection, and the Reed Creek Nature Park in Columbia County with their beautiful wetlands trail.

Reed Creed Nature Park

Of course, the Atlanta Botanical Garden is a popular gem in the city. The plants are carefully labeled for your reference and workers around the garden are always cheerful about answering questions. The food garden is a great way to see what food types will grow well in the city. They also have a tea plant area and in the past they have grown rice. Food cooking demonstrations are offered using crops grown in the garden.

We could probably create a year’s worth of posts about the beautiful public gardens in our state. If you have favorite please share in the comments section!

Happy Holidays!

Thankful for the Harvest

The Harvest Moon by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

It is the Harvest Moon! On gilded vanes
And roofs of villages, on woodland crests
And their aerial neighborhoods of nests
Deserted, on the curtained window-panes
Of rooms where children sleep, on country lanes
And harvest-fields, its mystic splendor rests!
Gone are the birds that were our summer guests,
With the last sheaves return the laboring wains!
All things are symbols: the external shows
Of Nature have their image in the mind,
As flowers and fruits and falling of the leaves;
The song-birds leave us at the summer’s close,
Only the empty nests are left behind,
And pipings of the quail among the sheaves.

Wishing you all a wonderful Thanksgiving!

November Gardening Chores for Georgia

Some chores to think about for November and December from UGA’s Vegetable Garden Calendar.

Spread manure, rotted sawdust and leaves over the garden and plow them under; you’ll be surprised at the difference this organic matter will make in the fertility, physical structure and water-holding capacity of the soil.

Take a soil sample to allow plenty of time to get the report back. Lime applied now will be of more benefit next year than if it is applied in the spring before planting. Always apply Dolomitic limestone in order to get both calcium and magnesium.

Save those leaves for the compost heap.

Take an “inventory.” Maybe you had too much of some vegetables and not enough of others – or maybe there were some unnecessary “skips” in the supply. Perhaps some insect, disease or nematode problem got the upper hand. Make a note about favorite varieties. Start planning next year’s garden now!

You’re wise to order flower and vegetable seeds in December or January, while the supply is plentiful. Review the results of last year’s garden and order the more successful varieties.

You may have seeds left over from last year. Check their viability by placing some in damp paper towels and observing the germination percentage. If the percentage is low, order new ones.

Before sending your seed order, draw a map of the garden area and decide the direction and length of the rows, how much row spacing is needed for each vegetable, whether or not to plant on raised beds, and other details. That way, you won’t order too many seeds. This same advice applied to the flower garden. Try new cultivars, add more color, change the color scheme, layer the colors by having taller and shorter plants — don’t do it the same way year after year.

Look around for tools you do not have and hint for these for holiday gifts.

Happy Gardening!

Using Your Garden Legumes

For those of you who have been growing legumes and want a great way to use them let me introduce Terry Carter. Terry is a Family and Consumer Science program assistant for Cobb County Extension who does an amazing job sharing the wonders of Southern food.

Terry is always cooking up a healthy meal.

Terry learned her love of food from her grandmother, Annie Carter, and she has been sharing her love ever since. When asked to share her favorite recipe for beans she gave us a delicious one.

Terry’s Hearty Bean Soup

Ingredients

1 Pound of dried Beans/Peas
8 cups water (use chicken, beef, or vegetable broth for added flavor)
1 medium onion, diced (or one large whole onion for flavor that is removed after cooking)
2 bay leaves ( remove them after cooking)
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoon chili powder
2 tablespoon cumin
1 can diced tomatoes (15 oz.) or 2 cups fresh peeled tomatoes (optional)
1 lb. smoked sausage, ham hocks, diced ham or beef stew meat (optional)
Our favorite is to use a leftover hambone with some meat on it or turkey parts. If you are vegan omit the animal and add more seasonings at the end of cooking. This is totally optional. If you use the whole onion and like the flavor you can add one more onion if you like. It will just add more flavor.
Salt and pepper to taste ( this is important, do add some salt or it will still have a bland taste)

Cooking Directions

No Soak Method
In a colander or sieve, rinse beans thoroughly. Sort and inspect for any unwanted debris and discard.
Drain and pour beans in a slow cooker with 8 cups of stock/water, onions, bay leaves, garlic, chili powder, cumin, tomatoes and smoked sausage, hocks, ham or beef stew meat.
Set slow cooker on high and cook for 5 hours (or low for 7-8), or until beans are tender, but not falling apart.
Please keep in mind that every time the lid is opened, your cooking time will be longer.
Add salt and pepper to taste at the end of cooking.
This time may vary depending on the variety of beans you have.

Cooking Tips

Serve with a freshly baked slice of corn bread! You can also serve over rice.
For even more flavor, substitute beef, chicken or vegetable stock instead of water.
You can also add in chicken leg quarters, smoked sausage or beef roast for a one pot meal.

Remember that this is a NO SOAK recipe, but if you have already soaked the beans, that’s not a problem, just use 1 less cup of water/stock.

If you prefer a more “brothy” soup, add an extra cup of liquid when preparing or near the end. Remember this is a soup so you may need that extra liquid to make it soupy. If you prefer a creamier soup, simply mash some of the soft bean or you can use an immersion blender stick to make them creamy. You can turn them all creamy if you like. Basically, this recipe is very versatile and you really can’t mess it up unless you don’t get your beans cooked enough. Taste the beans and make sure that they are soft with no resistance with a creamy texture.

This recipe is easily adapted to fit a variety of beans that we can grow here in The South. You can select just one variety or mix several varieties together to create a version of the popular 15 bean soup. See the 15 bean variety generally used in the 15 bean soup. Use what you harvest or have left over to create a unique soup. Any mix of these beans that make up 16 ounces or 2 cups is sufficient.

15 bean varieties to consider for soup
dried black beans
dried red beans
dried kidney beans
dried navy beans
dried great northern beans
dried baby lima beans
dried field peas
dried pinto beans
dried green split peas
dried yellow split peas
dried black eyed peas
dried red lentils
dried green lentils
dried brown lentils
dried cranberry beans

Thanks, Terry for the recipe! Happy Cooking!