Backyard Farming

It’s not too late to plant homegrown tomatoes

Posted on
Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Bob Westerfield spends his days growing vegetables and watching for problems. As University of Georgia Extension’s consumer vegetable horticulturist, he answers questions from backyard gardeners and Extension agents across the state. In the summer months, most of the questions are about tomatoes.

“I’d say 90 out of 100 vegetable calls I get in the summer are about tomatoes,” said Westerfield. “I’m not a huge fan of eating fresh tomatoes, but those who do say the fresh-grown taste is incredible. I want to love to eat them, but I just don’t like them. But I will eat them cooked, and I love ketchup.”

Plant second crop, or first, now

With Georgia’s long summer growing season, Westerfield says it’s not too late to “grab some transplants and put them in the ground” and enjoy your own homegrown tomato harvest.

“Some folks planted tomatoes early and are pulling tomatoes now. On my farm, we stagger our plantings, so that we have some tomatoes that are almost red and some just in the blooming stage,” he said.

When planting tomatoes, Westerfield says you have to keep your personal preference in mind when selecting a variety. What do you plan to do with the tomatoes? Do you want something easy tomatoes to eat fresh or ones to use for canning?

Squash vine borers on gardeners’ hit list

Posted on
Thursday, July 31, 2014

Backyard squash growers may not agree on which variety is best, but they do agree on one thing – squash vine borers are the enemy.

The small larvae burrow through squash plant stems, wilting and eventually killing what appear to be lush, healthy plants. Since they are hidden inside the plant, most home gardeners have no idea the pests are there until the plants wither and die.

 

Squash vine borers overwinter in the soil, usually where squash or zucchini plants were planted the previous season. When the adults emerge from the soil, they lay eggs on the base of the stems of susceptible plants.

They love squash, too

The tiny destructive pests love to lay their eggs on summer squash, zucchini, winter squash and pumpkin plants but seldom attack cucumber and melons. After about a week, a pale larvae hatches and eats its way into the plant stems near soil-level. As water flow is cut off, the plant wilts and literally collapses.

There is no tried and true successful method to control the pest, but University of Georgia experts do offer tips for gardeners who choose to put up a fight.

To stay ahead of the pests, plant squash as early as possible so the plants are producing before the 6 to 8 summer weeks vine borers are active.

Planting fall vegetables in lawns opens door to homegrown food in the city

Posted on
Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A team of University of Georgia researchers is studying the use of home lawns as garden plots. If successful, suburbanites with warm-season lawns could plant fall vegetables on top of their turfgrass lawns.

“Enthusiasm for local food production and self-sufficiency has generated an increased interest in home vegetable gardens. But, many urban dwellers have small outdoor spaces and often lawns occupy the only full sun areas in the landscape,” said Ellen Bauske, a program coordinator at the Georgia Center for Urban Agriculture and leader of the project.

A happy medium

Many would-be urban gardeners love their lawns too much to replace them with a vegetable garden, according to Bauske.

“They enjoy spending their summers on the lawn, watching the kids play while admiring their well-manicured lawn,” she said. “Tearing up the lawn and putting in a traditional garden may not be the best option. Gardens are a lot more work to maintain than lawns and have an unconventional look. Your neighbors may not be pleased to see a working garden in your front lawn.”

At UGA, Bauske’s goal is to find a happy medium—a way to successfully grow vegetables without destroying turfgrass. She, along with horticulturist Sheri Dorn and turfgrass specialist Clint Waltz, all with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, are recording the effects of planting fall vegetable crops into warm-season hybrid bermudagrass.

Before selling eggs from a backyard flock, you must first know how to candle them

Posted on
Thursday, June 23, 2016

Raising a flock of backyard chickens ensures that you have a steady supply of fresh eggs. But if you plan to sell those eggs, Georgia law requires the eggs be candled.

“Candling is the age-old method of looking inside an egg — without breaking it open — and figuring out what’s going on inside,” said Brian Maddy, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension agent in Troup County. “In the days before electricity, candles were used to illuminate the eggs.”

Farmers initially candled eggs to determine if a viable embryo was inside and to check the development of the baby chick, he said.

The procedure also helps farmers determine the quality of the eggs for human consumption. The amount of air inside the shell indicates the egg’s freshness. Looking at the egg’s air cell, the yolk and the albumen, or egg white, determines whether the egg should be graded AA, A, B or inedible.

“Small poultry flocks have become very popular in Georgia, and some backyard farmers are very interested in supplementing their income by selling farm-fresh eggs,” Maddy said.

How to choose the right chili pepper for your garden

Posted on
Tuesday, December 15, 2015

There are hundreds of chili pepper varieties from which to choose for the home garden, so it pays to know which deliver the most flavor and which pack the most heat. Others are popular simply for their looks.

“Color is a big factor,” said Robert Westerfield, a horticulturist with University of Georgia Extension. “People are very color-conscious. Most peppers in the garden are green but if you leave them in the ground long enough, they change colors. They sell a lot better with color.”

Curiosity also drives purchases, said Dave DeWitt, an adjunct associate professor at New Mexico State University and co-author of “The Field Guide to Peppers” (Timber Press, 2015). “There’s something appealing about taking visitors out to the garden and showing them ‘the hottest pepper in the world,'” he said.

Super-hot varieties, in fact, have become the most popular of the 500 different sweet and hot pepper plants sold by Janie Lamson, owner of Cross Country Nurseries in Rosemount, New Jersey, and co-author with DeWitt of “The Field Guide to Peppers.”

“While some buy one super-hot for curiosity, others do enjoy them and buy in quantity,” Lamson said. “Gardeners are making hot sauce like crazy now and giving it as gifts, using all sorts of varieties.