Now is a busy time for school and community gardens around the state. With fall garden time under way, all across Georgia, school gardeners are planting lettuce, spinach, collards, carrots, broccoli and other cool-season crops. With all that goes into gardening, questions are bound to pop up. Did you know that extension has many resources and staff available to help?
Generally, budgets for school gardens are often either very tight or non-existent. Supplies and materials that make gardening easier and more successful are often costly, but the savvy gardener knows there are ways to plant a vegetable garden or fruit orchard with limited funds.
Garden centers and large retail stores are usually very generous to schools, and some have formal donation programs. Almost every retailer ends up with broken bags, faded labels, overgrown plants and leftover products that they are often willing to donate or sell at a reduced price at the end of a marketing season.
Vegetable seed is fairly inexpensive and sold locally at hardware stores and garden centers, as well as online; however, many garden centers will offer free seed to school groups. Last year’s packets are often given away to make room for a new shipment and the seed is still perfectly good.
Another option is saving seed yourself, which can not only save you money, but also serve as a fun lesson in the garden with your students. Some heirloom vegetable seeds can be saved from year to year; however, hybrid seed does not save true to type, so it is important to know the difference.
Most garden centers and hardware stores do not grow their own vegetable plants. They purchase them from large growers that specialize in vegetable transplants that are delivered weekly during the planting season.
Sometimes, garden centers will give away packs of plants that have one or two missing plants and can’t be sold, or plants that have started to outgrow the container. These are perfectly good plants, just not marketable to the public.
Fruit plants are more expensive and harder to come by than vegetable transplants, especially because the variety needs to be suited for our production zone. Garden centers will often put fruit plants on sale after the primary planting season is over, but this may be too late for schools to plant.
Many fruits can be rooted easily from cuttings, but the cuttings will need to be collected in early summer by a parent or teacher and grown under close watch. A great example of a fruit crop that can be easily propagated by cuttings is the fig. Just be sure that you conduct a soil test and have ample room for a fig tree to grow before you plant!
When it comes to finding fruit, the cheapest source of plants is generally through mail-order nurseries; however, you should know your plant source. There are several mail-order nurseries based in Georgia that provide good quality plants at a reasonable price, contact us if you would like their information.
Getting the plant material you want and planting it is half the battle. The other half of gardening is keeping those plants alive. Weeds can be a big problem in a community or school garden. Knowing how to weed correctly will make this job less of a headache.
UGA Extension’s community and school garden coordinator, Becky Griffin, conducted an informal poll asking experienced gardeners to give their top three rules of weeding. Here is what they had to say:
Rule No. 1: Get the roots out.
If you just remove the leaves above ground chances are the weeds will come back and you will need to perform the same weeding chore over again. Many perennial weeds grow from underground roots and tubers. Those need to be removed as well.
Rule No. 2: Remove the weeds before they make seeds.
If your weeds are allowed to flower and make seeds your work will get much, much more difficult. Weed plants make an incredible amount of seeds. For example, crabgrass can produce 53,000 seeds per plant and pigweed can produce over 200,000 seeds per plant! Seriously, don’t let those weeds seed out!
Rule No. 3: Don’t let weeding get out of hand.
If you don’t routinely remove weeds you could be looking at a plot of weeds instead of a vegetable garden. Weeds compete with your crops for water, nutrients, and space, and you will find that the weeds always seem to get the upper hand.
Over the years I’ve found that dedicating one day a week to weeding is enough to keep the weeds at bay. Another option is spending the first 5 or 10 minutes each visit at the garden pulling weeds. If you make pulling weeds a garden priority, then you will find them much easier to control. Make weeding part of your garden routine and make your life easier!
Lastly, knowing what weeds you have is helpful in coming up with a long-term weed management plan. Your local UGA extension agent can not only help you with weed plant identification, but also work with you to develop strategies to minimize weed issues in your garden.
While some of these tips are geared towards school and community gardeners, there is a lot of great information extension can provide to the home gardener too! If you are not sure when or what to plant for your fall garden, I encourage you to check out our helpful vegetable planting chart, which is located in the UGA Extension Circular 963 “Vegetable Gardening in Georgia.”
As always, contact us with your gardening questions at 912-876-2133 or email@example.com. You’re also welcome to come by our office in the Historic Courthouse in downtown Hinesville at 100 Main Street, Suite 1200.