University of Georgia horticulturists Rachel Itle and Dario Chavez recently traveled to Australia to collect seeds from wild raspberries and peaches to bring back to the UGA Griffin campus. As scientists in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Itle and Chavez research Georgia-grown fruit.
Landscapers can soon add a bit of Georgia’s historical Piedmont and native prairies to their designs thanks to the creation of three new little bluestem perennial grasses, released through a University of Georgia and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) partnership.
Little bluestem grasses are native to North America and are a major component of the tallgrass prairie. They typically produce green to blue-green foliage. With names that conjure up thoughts of the ‘70s, the new little bluestem varieties are much more colorful than their traditional parents. ‘Cinnamon Girl’ has a red-burgundy glow, ‘Seasons in the Sun’ has a lavender glow and ‘Good Vibrations’ is a mix of colors: red-purple with green-yellow foliage.
The idea to breed the colorful grasses came from USDA scientist Melanie Harrison. Harrison curates more than 500 different species of grasses and safely cold stores them in the USDA Plant Genetic Resources Conservation Unit facility on the UGA campus in Griffin, Georgia. Most of these grasses will never be grown in home landscapes, but their genes may be used to breed specific characteristics into new grass varieties.
Looking at little bluestems day after day, Harrison began to notice ornamental characteristics.
“My job is to conserve close to 500 different species of grasses, so there’s a lot of variety,” she said. “I thought they were pretty, but I’m not a plant breeder, so I asked Carol (Robacker) what she thought.”
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?
In addition to building and maintaining roads, the Georgia Department of Transportation (DOT) mows grass and kills weeds that obstruct drivers’ views. A University of Georgia scientist has created an app to help DOT agronomists kill weeds quicker, using less chemicals.
Patrick McCullough, a weed scientist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, decided to create the Georgia Roadside Management app after Georgia DOT officials approached him for help.
“The biggest problem they have is fighting invasive weed species, like broomsedge, vaseygrass and Johnsongrass. They are major species, and they are spreading, increasing maintenance costs and, more importantly, reducing safety for motorists,” said McCullough, a UGA researcher based on the campus in Griffin, Georgia.
Ray Dorsey, Georgia DOT agronomist manager, says tall weeds, like Johnsongrass, and invasive weeds, like kudzu, create “sight and distance problems,” especially at driveways and intersections.
“When we do road building, the contractors are required to replace the grass. Our permanent grasses of choice are bahiagrass and bermudagrass because they can help choke out weeds,” he said.
Georgia House Resolution 744 created a committee to study the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, in the state. Created as a result of public concern, the committee will look at the uses of these remote-controlled, airplane-like devices, equipped with cameras and used by law enforcement agencies and other government authorities, to determine whether they invade privacy.
University of Georgia scientist Clint Waltz in Griffin, Georgia, has been using an aerial drone to reduce the amount of time he and his technician spend documenting data in fields. They also use the drone to gather supplemental data through bird’s-eye-view photographs of research plots.
Waltz is uncovering how his research benefits from the use of his drone, or what looks like a miniature helicopter with a camera mounted underneath it.
“Photo documentation is essential to our research, and the drone can take aerial photos of the effects of different fertilizer and pesticide treatments on various grasses,” said Waltz, UGA Extension’s turfgrass specialist. “It can go up 50 or 60 feet and take a photo, which helps us measure treatment effects.”
The drone Waltz uses on the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences campus in Griffin is lightweight, weighing under 5 pounds.
Summertime is synonymous with cooking outdoors, taking a dip in the pool and cranking up the lawn mower to begin the arduous task of caring for your home lawn. University of Georgia Cooperative Extension has made the task a little easier through a few mobile apps for Georgia homeowners and green industry professionals alike.
“More and more people rely heavily on their smartphones and mobile devices, so experts in the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences created mobile apps based on agricultural topics,” said Patrick McCullough, a UGA Extension weed scientist and developer of several turfgrass-related mobile apps.
McCullough developed a series of turf management apps that include photos of turfgrass varieties, pests, weeds and diseases. There are three versions: Turfgrass Management – Lite; Turfgrass Management – Subscription; and Turfgrass Management Lite (Spanish). The lite and Spanish versions are free. The subscription version costs $19.99 per year and includes the lite version, plus information on pest control applications and a pesticide database.
For the more serious home gardener, the Turfgrass Management Calculator app covers all types of applications, pesticide rates, fertilizer requirements, topdressing sand requirements, and calibration of sprayers and spreaders. It also converts units from standard to metric, includes more than 16,000 pre-programmed calculations and costs just $5.99.
Maxwell Lamptey is visiting America, specifically Griffin, Georgia, in the hopes of learning new methods to fight aflatoxin — a carcinogen produced by soil fungus that can grow on peanuts — in his home country of Ghana. Lamptey is participating in a short-term training program, from March to September, supported by the Peanut and Mycotoxin Innovation Lab (PMIL), housed at the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
A senior technical officer studying legumes at the Crops Research Institute, Lamptey has been working on the university’s campus in Griffin, Georgia, alongside food scientist and PMIL collaborator Jinru Chen.
Research is nothing new to Lamptey, but his work normally focuses on ways to increase yields.
“In Ghana, I am involved in conducting a lot of trials, evaluations and cross hybridizations of all kinds of legumes, but mainly cowpeas and groundnuts (peanuts),” he said.
On the UGA Griffin Campus, he is studying the use of solar drying to control aflatoxin contamination in peanuts. He is comparing solar drying to normal drying.
Normal drying involves exposing the peanuts directly to sunlight on the ground or on concrete. Solar drying does not expose the peanuts directly to sunlight or rain. Instead, a dryer captures the heat from the sun and an enclosed structure around the nuts conducts the heat, Lamptey said.
Mike Doyle doesn’t eat raw bean sprouts, medium-rare hamburgers or bagged salads. He isn’t on a special diet, but as director of the University of Georgia Center for Food Safety in Griffin, Georgia, he studies the food pathogens that sicken thousands of Americans each year.
Doyle works closely with the food industry, consumer groups and government agencies, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, on issues related to the microbiological safety of food. He also serves as a scientific adviser to groups like the World Health Organization, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Academy of Sciences.
For a time, foodborne illness was most often connected with undercooked meats, and most product recalls and outbreaks were connected to meat products. Today, 33 percent of cases are tracked back to raw produce, Doyle said. In an odd Catch-22, he says America’s efforts to become healthier, including eating more produce, and efforts by the CDC and local health departments to do “a better job tracking sources” have led to the increase of reported foodborne illness cases linked to produce.
The University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES), Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources and the Graduate School jointly hosted a graduate research event, focusing specifically on research conducted in south Georgia.
The reception, held Thursday, March 17, at the UGA Tifton Campus Conference Center, recognized 11 current graduate students who represented UGA’s campuses in Athens, Griffin and Tifton, Georgia, as well as the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation's Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center in Newton, Georgia. All of the student-scientists presented their research projects and spoke with invited guests about their work.
Among them was Shannon Parrish, who is pursuing a master’s degree in crop and soil sciences from CAES. Her research focuses on cotton’s sustainability in Georgia.
“As a graduate student, being able to present research (that) you have worked on is always exciting. With each presentation, I look forward to educating others on the importance of determining cotton’s sustainability in Georgia,” Parrish said. “I hope everyone I spoke to comes away from our encounter with an understanding of how vital cotton is to the state and the need for documenting the crop’s environmental footprint.”
Other UGA graduate students at the event and their areas of study include:
–Kiran Gadhave (CAES), studying plant-vector-virus interactions.
Like most college students, David Jespersen was unsure of what he wanted to study. At first, he was intrigued by psychology, but the required biology and science classes drew him to plant sciences. As a result, he's now the newest member of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences' turfgrass research team.
"Something about the plant sciences grabbed my interest as being practical and underappreciated," said Jespersen, who now conducts research on the UGA campus in Griffin.
Jespersen earned a doctorate in plant biology with an emphasis in turfgrass physiology from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
A native of New Jersey, Jespersen is adjusting to life in the South and the relentlessly intense heat of Georgia summers.
"Summers (in New Jersey) are kind of hot. It hits the 90s (degrees Fahrenheit) and there's an occasional heat wave hitting 100 (F)," he said, just a few days after sharing his research results in humid, near-100-degree weather at the outdoor UGA Turfgrass Field Day, a research event held biennially in August.
He is also adjusting to working on a smaller extended university campus.
"Everyone on the Griffin campus is very friendly, but it's not as lively as a large campus," he said. "It's definitely a lot easier not to get distracted and to focus on research."