Leading up to the Great Pollinator Census we will be looking at the benefits of adding pollinator habitat to your school or community garden. Today we will look at milkweed.
Attracting Monarch butterflies to your garden involves including their larval host plant, milkweed or Asclepias, in your garden. Common milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) is a popular milkweed with orange blossoms that frequently appears along roadsides. The beautiful plant also provides nectar to bees and other pollinators. Many gardeners feel that growing milkweed from seed is challenging and it can be. However, there are a few tips and tricks that can help you find success.
Common milkweed seeds need to be stratified before they will germinate. This means that they need a period of moist cold. In nature, it is easy to see how this is accomplished. Our winters provide the chill and the rain provides the moisture. You can mimic this process at home with a few easy steps.
First, purchase some clean sand from your local hardware or craft store. Craft or playground sand will work. Moisten the sand with water until you have a paste. You want damp sand, not wet sand.
Add your milkweed seeds and mix them in the moistened sand.
Put all of this in a plastic baggie or jar and label it with the date.
Place this in your refrigerator for thirty days. Mark on your calendar the date the seeds will be ready so that you don’t forget them. Once they have stratified they are ready for planting.
Lay the seeds across planting soil, not covering them. They need light to germinate. Use your greenhouse or home light set-up.
For more information on milkweed join us on the Georgia Pollinator Census Facebook group or on @gapollinators Instagram. This week we will be exploring milkweed types, ways to grow it, and how it benefits our pollinators. Leading up to the Great Georgia Pollinator Census we will be exploring all types of pollinators and pollinator habitats in our social media groups. This year’s Great Georgia Pollinator Census will be on August 21st and 22nd. You can find out more at the project website: GGaPC.org.
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.
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!
Insufficient production and storage of photosynthates during the fall transition into dormancy can translate to issues during spring green-up. Drought stressed turfgrass in August 2016 (Left) was able to recover prior to dormancy following appreciable rainfall (Right). However, we are seeing drought-stressed turfgrass in September of 2019 and the dormancy transition is quickly approaching. Photo by Clint Waltz, UGA.
Tips for managing drought stressed turfgrass as dormancy approaches
by Clint Waltz
During periods of hot and dry weather, certain modifications to your lawn maintenance practices will help to carry your turfgrass through periods of inadequate rainfall and reduce losses. The height of the warm-season turfgrass growing season spans from May to October. Given average conditions (regular rainfall and moderate temperatures), bermudagrass, zoysiagrass, St. Augustinegrass, centipedegrass, and other warm-season species respond quickly to cultural and maintenance practices such as mowing, fertilizing, aerating, topdressing, and weed management. However, the summer of 2019 has delivered hot and dry weather with sporadic rainfall. With fall approaching, now is the time to adjust your turfgrass management program to promote a smooth transition into dormancy and green-up next spring.
From mid- through late-summer rainfall across Georgia has been variable with some areas receiving timely rain and other areas being droughty. Moisture stress in turfgrasses can be recognized in the early stages by a dull bluish-gray cast. Additionally, take note of footprints and tire tracks in the turf that do not seem to rebound. If you are in an area that has lacked rain, consider applying some irrigation to get the grass growing.
Dr. Clint Waltz, UGA Extension Turfgrass Specialist, suggests these tips for managing turfgrass as it transitions into dormancy:
Raise the cutting height within the recommended mowing range
Do not apply nitrogen containing fertilizers
Modify herbicide programs during high temperatures and moisture stress
Water deeply & infrequently
Use water conserving and drought tolerant turfgrasses
Raise the Cutting Height
Turfgrass stress can be reduced by using a sharp mower blade and raising the cutting height by 1/2″ or to the tallest allowable height of the recommended mowing range during drought. A clean cut also reduces moisture loss through wounds and minimizes entry points for disease. Taller shoots promote deeper roots and a dense canopy can help to reduce ground surface temperatures and conserve moisture. Grasscycling (mulching clippings versus bagging) can also help to conserve moisture.
Avoid Nitrogen Applications
As grasses move into dormancy they need to “harden-off”. Nitrogen fertilization encourages new shoot growth which directs plant sugars, and other metabolites, away from storage organs (e.g. rhizomes, stolons, and crown). These storage organs and sugars provide the energy for the grass to green-up next spring. By allowing the plant to harden-off and accumulate sugars in the storage structures, the grass is better able to survive winter stresses and recover next year.
Modify Herbicide Programs During High Temperatures and Drought
Many herbicides act upon plant growth processes and can be less effective during periods of drought when weeds are not actively growing. In addition, certain herbicides may cause damage to drought-stressed turf or non-target landscape plants due to volatilization and drift during high temperatures. Review your pesticide labels for specific information regarding temperature requirements, watering requirements, and proper application.
Water Deeply and Infrequently
The optimum watering schedule can be roughly determined by observing the number of days that pass between signs of moisture stress. Apply sufficient water to saturate the root zone to a depth of 6-8 inches. Clay soils and sloped areas may require staggered watering intervals to allow time for water infiltration between cycles and prevent runoff. Irrigating in early morning conserves water by reducing evaporation and drift. A good practice is to align watering schedules with drought management rules so that in the event of a declared drought, the appropriate watering program is already in place. The 2010 Water Stewardship Act permits lawn watering between the hours of 4:00pm and 10:00am.
Use Water Conserving and Drought Tolerant Turfgrass Cultivars
The University of Georgia Turfgrass breeding programs continue to make excellent strides in developing improved cultivars with low water use and high drought tolerance. For new installations or where turfgrass replacement is needed, look for improved cultivars such as TifTuf bermudagrass. Visit www.GeorgiaTurf.com for more information on selecting turfgrasses.
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:
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)!
School is back in session over most of the state and with that school gardens are being used in curriculum. Hopefully teachers came back to a neat and weed-free space. In the perfect world, teachers would come back to crops planted and paths cleared. If neither of those is your school, you definitely have some work to do this year in building your school garden committee!
Over the coming weeks we will be exploring how to tie your school garden into your classroom curriculum. I look forward to hearing from you all on ideas that you have as well.
This week I want to make sure that all educators are aware of the Great Georgia Pollinator Census. This is happening Friday, August 23rd and Saturday, August 24th. This program is perfect for school gardeners. I have been working with teachers across the state to help them craft events for their students. All that is needed is pollinator garden or an area with several pollinator plants blooming during the census.
For fifteen minutes, participants count insects that land on a favorite pollinator plant and place the insects into categories:
Carpenter Bees Bumble Bees Honey Bees Small Bees Wasps Flies Butterflies/Moths Other Insects
The Insect Counting & Identification Guide is found on the website and is the key to success with the project. The observation sheet can be printed and carried to the garden and actual counts will be uploaded to the website. You do not need a strong entomology background to be successful with this project.
Two years of pilot projects helped us refine the project and make it ideal for upper elementary through high school students. It fits in perfectly with STEAM curriculums. The website also has a special page for educators with ideas on how to use the census with your students. We also have a Facebook group, Georgia Pollinator Census, where educators have been sharing ideas.
Many of us are busy harvesting a tomato crop and putting in a late season crop as well. Today I am excited that we have Liberty County UGA Extension agent, Ashley Hoppers, joining us to talk tomato harvesting.