Upcoming Events



4-H Master Gardener Field Day

4-H Girl in Garden with Elderly Gardener

You’re invited to our first 4-H Master Gardener Field Day on August 11th from 9 am-2 pm! You don’t want to miss this amazing day full of fun learning! Cost is $5 per family. Check in will begin at 8:30 am.

We will have a canning workshop, a gardening workshop, an environmental workshop, and a pollinators workshop. We’ll break up the day with a yummy lunch, and some refreshing 4-H Yoga! Don’t forget, we’ll also have a good ole’ Watermelon Seed Spittin’ Contest! Humans of all ages are encouraged to participate.

RSVP now so you have a spot saved for you and your family! Call the Baldwin County Extension Office at 251-937-7176 or email Heather LeGrand, 4-H Foundation Agent at hll0004@aces.edu. Deadline to RSVP is August 1st, 2017.

Volunteers Needed for the 2017-2018 School Year!

Volunteers Needed for the 2017-2018 School Year!

Volunteer educators present environmental lessons to Baldwin County students 2nd – 6th grade.  The training is August 17 from 8:30 am – 3:00 pm. CALL us at 251-937-7176 to register and for more information about this free training. Registration is required to attend.

 Training and materials provided!

  • Recycling
  • water cycle
  • groundwater pollution
  • energy
  • aquatic nuisance species
  • nonpoint source pollution
  •  invasive plant species
  • backyard wildlife habitat

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M University and Auburn University), is an equal opportunity educator and employer.  Everyone is welcome! Baldwin County Extension programs are supported by the Baldwin County Commission.

Hubbard Trap Crop Can Keep Squash Bugs Away!

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Squash producers and gardeners are bugged by three major insect pests. Cucumber beetles are early season pests that can severely damage transplants and delay plant maturity. Squash bugs are often the next wave of mid-season insects that lay a number of eggs on the leaves, stems, flowers, and fruits. Squash bug nymphs and adults can form large aggregates on fruits and cause direct plant damage. Both cucumber beetles and squash bugs transmit diseases. The last major insect pest of squash is the vine borer that can infest gardens as well as commercial plantings. Heat or water stress can hasten the devastation caused by vine borer larvae that live inside the stem. In all cases, most common organic insecticides appear to provide low to poor control of the pests. So, we have to think out of the box for managing insects like the squash bugs and here is an alternate IPM strategy.

One of the most recent studies completed in Alabama for squash bug control focused on the use of Hubbard squash as a trap crop. Hubbard squash establishes quickly after planting and grows vines like crazy, just like kudzu! In all our studies, we planted two rows of Hubbard squash trap crop around 3-4 rows of yellow squash (main crop). Once you have figured out where the squash bugs are migrating from, you can actually plant more rows of yellow squash and less of Hubbard to maximize your profits. Remember to plant the trap crop at least two weeks ahead of the main crop and on good ground for maximum effectiveness. Don’t ignore the trap crop and don’t forget to scout!

In the recently completed large scale study at Cullman, we observed over 4,500 squash bug eggs on the Hubbard squash trap crop and only 285 eggs on the main crop (Fig. 1). This is about a 15 times reduction in pest numbers!! We did see squash bug adults land on the yellow squash but they quickly move on to the Hubbard where they will hide and lay the majority of eggs. This study also provided evidence regarding an area-wide effect of trap crop on insects with limited amount of trap crop. For example, yellow squash planted about 400 feet away from the Hubbard had nearly 10 times lower number of squash bug eggs. It is evident that trap crop placement is very important along with the attention provided to the planting time. In all our studies, we first established an excellent stand of Hubbard squash and delayed the planting of yellow squash; the latter seems to catch up and do fine in terms of yield and the quality of produce. We eliminated all insecticide treatments in the large study and still got a wonderful crop (Fig. 2). Even the big round fruits of Hubbard squash are marketable and tasty to eat. Finally we have a trap crop that can pay for itself!

One of the major disadvantages of trap crop system is that it takes up space due to its prolific growth habit. Hubbard is also susceptible to a number of diseases – so planting should be done during optimum time. Dead seedlings can be replanted to maintain a good stand of the trap crop. If you are interested in more results, then please visit the Alabama Vegetable IPM project website and look at the ‘squash pest’ training module for videos and factsheets. Also join us on the vegetable IPM page on Facebook.

Alabama Beginning Farms Update: Are you a producer or market gardener with less than 10 years of experience?  Then the Alabama Beginning Farms website is a useful starting point for you. Visit www.aces.edu/beginningfarms and explore resources about on-farm services, microloan programs, and educational events all at one place! Bookmark the website today and watch the monthly webinars on the last Monday of each month at 9 a.m. Recordings of past webinars are also available.

Annual Fruit and Vegetable Conference: The Alabama Fruit and Vegetable Growers Annual Conference will be in Clanton on November 17 and 18, 2016. Keep checking www.afvga.org for more information about registration details and agenda.

The “Bee” Friendly Garden

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Did you know that about one third of our garden fruits and vegetables, and the flower seeds we harvest from our gardens, are the result of bees? Having a garden “friendly” for bees’ means it is also friendly for many other beneficial forms of wildlife, such as butterflies and hummingbirds.

Of the 2,500 or more species of bees in the U.S., nearly all are gentle and won’t sting you unless they feel threatened or provoked. This is not their goal. Nor is it to pollinate our flowers for our use. They don’t chew up our flowers either, as some people believe. Rather, they are merely trying to find food for themselves and their young, or to gather home building supplies. In doing so, they end up pollinating our flowers, fruit trees, and shrubs.

The most common bees, especially early in the season, are the honeybees. As they hibernate for the winter, they must store plenty of honey. Bumblebees appear later in the season. Male bumblebees die after mating, the workers die at the end of the season, and so only the females survive. They hibernate in holes in the ground, old mouse nests, and similar places.

The worker honey bee collects pollen on brushy hairs, storing it in leg pockets. Worker bumblebees have a long proboscis to collect nectar, something other bees can’t do. The other common bees are the solitary ones (Adrenidae family) that don’t live in colonies.

Bees are attracted to flowers that are colorful or contrast well with their background, or have an ultraviolet coloration that serves as a nectar guide. This is especially true in the case of red flowers, which bees don’t see unless they contain some ultraviolet light, which we usually don’t see.

Purple and blue are bees’ favorite colors, followed by yellow and orange. Many newer cultivars of flowers, especially annuals that have been highly bred, are deceptive to bees. Even though they may have attractive colors, they lack the pollen and nectar that bees like because these traits have been bred out.

In addition to flowers, bees need a source of water if one is not nearby.  A small pond, puddle, birdbath, or even dripping faucet usually fulfills this need.

Bees need protection from predators, a place to call home.  Many bees live in old or dead wood, often in tunnels created by wood-boring beetles. This is true for most bees in the leafcutter bee family (Megachilidae). If you spot some elliptical holes in leaves on garden plants, they are likely from these bees gathering leaf pieces that they use for homes for their young.

So, think of these bees before cutting down dead trees, or even limbs.  Dead trees will also be attractive to several species of woodpeckers. In addition, many bees live in holes in the ground, so leave some bare ground for them in an out-of-your-way part of your yard or garden.

The final point crucial to bee survival is to not use pesticides that will harm them. Either avoid using pesticides, or if this is not possible, use preferably after dark when bees are not active. And be sure to read all label directions. The label often will tell if the material will be toxic to bees. Remember that you usually have other, less toxic choices, so always choose the least toxic product for the job. Dr. Leonard Perry, University of Vermont Horticulturist was used as resource for this article.

Planning the Garden to Preserve the Harvest

iStock_000017358071_MediumSpring is on its way and now is the time to plan what produce you may want to plant in your garden. In order to get the most out of your garden space, it’s important to plan what to put in the ground, and also plan how to preserve the bountiful harvest. Careful planning and careful attention throughout the growing season can provide your family with delicious home grown fruits and vegetables throughout the year.

Two resources can help with your planning. The first is the Alabama Extension publication “The Alabama Vegetable Gardener”. It gives vegetable yields per 100 feet of land – an essential planning tool for the home food producer. For example, 100 feet of tomatoes should yield 100 pounds of tomatoes. The publication also contains information about planting, soil fertility, weed control, disease control, and insect control.

Based on what is planted, plans can be made to preserve the produce. To can the tomatoes in the above example, the 100 pounds of tomatoes will make about 35 quarts of whole canned tomatoes. A yield chart, canning recipes, and freezing instructions can be found in the Alabama Extension Home Food Preservation book. More information on canning and home food preservation can be found in ACES Publications or by visiting the ACES Food Safety website, including food storage charts showing how long you can safely keep different foods in your pantry, refrigerator, or freezer. Additionally, there are recipes and resources can be found online at the National Center for Home Food Preservation hosted by the University of Georgia.

Want to plant more and provide your local community with fresh fruits and vegetables?  Think about selling some of your excess at a Farmers Market?  It’s a great way to earn a little extra money this summer and help build our local food system. Farmers markets are located throughout the state. For more information on farmers markets, for both farmers and consumers, or to find a farmers market near you, visit the ACES Farmers Market website. If you are interested in selling prepared foods such as baked goods, sauces, jams & jellies, etc., see our publication on Cottage Food Law in Alabama.

For more gardening and food preservation information, or call Amelia Mitchell, Regional Extension Agent, at 251-574-8445 or mcgreaj@aces.edu.

Recognizing Volunteers

During the spring, we like to recognize how important volunteers are to the Baldwin County Extension Office.  We appreciate each person that volunteers with our office.  Volunteers help us reach more families with research- based information.  We have volunteer programs that include 4-H Volunteers, Baldwin County Master Gardeners and the Master Environmental Educators.  In addition to these three programs, we have volunteers that serve as advisory members, judges for special events, guest speakers, fair volunteers and more.

Many of our 4-H volunteers are leaders of our local 4-H clubs.  They are helping youth learn how to conduct a meeting, speak before a group, prepare for a competitive event, give back to their community through service projects and learn life skills.  Our 4-H members have been busy with events such as State Archery Competition, State Livestock Show and County Competitive Event and the volunteer leaders have been at each of these events to support and encourage our 4-H’ers.

MGSpringWorkshopVolunteers

Baldwin County Master Gardeners have been very busy.  You may have met some of our volunteers at Arbor Day events, the plant sale or at the spring gardening workshops.  This time of year, Master Gardeners are answering lots of Home Gardening questions at the Master Gardener Helpline (1-877-252-GROW). This is a toll free line that provides answers about home gardens and home grounds for our region.

The Master Environmental Educators have presented information at Earth Day events this month as well as school programs. For this school year, a total of 171 lessons have been taught at 27 schools for approximately 5,200 students.  These program topics include aquatic nuisance species, backyard wildlife habitat, energy, groundwater pollution, invasive plants, nonpoint source pollution, recycling, and the water cycle.

A special thank you to all our 2015 volunteers!  If you are interested in becoming a volunteer in any of these program areas, please contact the Baldwin County Extension Office at 251-937-7176 or 928-3002/943-5061, ext. 2222.

Easy-to-grow Vegetables

If you’re just starting gardening, or have been gardening and had some failures, or even if you’ve been gardening a while but are short on time this year, consider this list of a dozen easy-to-grow popular vegetables. Keep in mind that you should enjoy eating it to grow it!

The most popular vegetable to grow is the tomato. Decide if you want determinate tomatoes–those that stop growing when they produce fruit, or indeterminate types–those that keep growing. Determinate types usually mature earlier and with less fruit, and need less staking. Dwarf tomatoes are compact, good for containers, and just produce fruit all at once. Tomatoes now come in various colors if you want something different. Look for varieties with some resistance to common tomato diseases.

Peppers are becoming more popular with many new varieties, both sweet and hot types. There is a rainbow of colors too, literally. The hot ones are great in salsa. The sweet or bell types can be stuffed, or diced and fried, or grilled. Peppers are short, so good for small spaces and containers. As with tomatoes, peppers like warm temperatures so should be planted later. Both these are generally started indoors in early spring, or bought as small plants.

There are three “root crops”, or those with underground edible parts, that are easy. Carrots are sown from seeds early, even before the last frost. Sow in intervals to have crops all season, especially in fall. There are many types, based on their shape. Some are baby-sized when mature, others you can just harvest young.

Onions are most easily purchased in a bundle of small plants, called “sets”, ready to plant out and grow. If purchasing locally, be sure to get varieties suited for your climate, and in particular day length.  You might also consider the easy onion relatives of leeks, shallots, and garlic.

Potatoes are not on many top ten lists, but they are one of the easiest, and come in many novelty and tasty varieties you won’t find in stores. You buy these in spring as “seed potatoes” – tubers ready to sprout that you cut in large pieces and plant. As they grow, just hill up soil around them, or plant low in a large container and as they grow add more soil.
Probably the easiest vegetable to grow, the one given to children to start, is beans. Often called green beans, some varieties are yellow. Some produce vines, so need a trellis, others are “bush” types and remain compact. Just sow directly in the garden when the soil is warm, and be careful. A few bean plants can produce lots of beans.

Peas are another favorite on many lists. Traditionally they grow as vines, so need a trellis, and produce pods with peas inside. Now there are varieties that grow low as bushes. Those with the tough pods and peas inside that need shelling out are English peas and Southern Peas; although tasty they can be time-consuming to shell. The snap pea also has peas inside, but its pod is edible. Then there are the flat snow peas, harvested before the peas inside form, and eaten for their edible pods.

Two favorite and easy vegetables, cucumbers and squash, are produced commonly on vines. If short on space, look for varieties that are “bush” types making large mounds. Both these crops like heat, so sow seeds in the garden when the soil has warmed.

The two main types of cucumbers are the short, spiny pickling ones and the larger, smooth-skinned and dark green slicers. The latter are what you usually see in grocery stores. You can eat the pickling ones too. The bush types take less space, but produce fewer fruits.
Zucchini is listed separately on some lists, but it is actually a type of summer squash. Other types are the yellow, straight or crookneck varieties. There are other varieties of summer squash with green or white skins and scallop shapes. Summer squash usually mature in about 2 months, compared to about 3 months for the winter squash. The latter are called this as they store well in a cool space into winter. There are various winter squashes based on their shape.

Lettuce is on most easy-to-grow lists, but if you like them you should try other leafy greens as well. Some of these favorites are spinach, Swiss chard, and specialty greens. There are four main types of lettuce to choose from crisp-head, loose-head, loose-leaf, and romaine. Although those with green leaves are most common, some varieties have burgundy too. Decide if you want ones with smooth, frilled, or deeply-cut leaves. These crops like it cool, so sow early, and pick anytime–you don’t have to wait for them to mature. They’re great in containers.

With all these crops, all gardeners should pay attention to “days to maturity” on varieties if nothing else. This is the time from seeding, or in some cases planting out, until the first fruits are ripe. Figure the number of days after your last frost day, and make sure you’ll either be around and not on vacation when they ripen, or that they will ripen before first fall frost. Don’t know these frost dates? There are many online resources for finding them in your area, or check with your local garden store, Extension office, or Master Gardener program. Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor, University of Vermont was used as a resource for this article.

What’s Up with Lichens on Trees and Shrubs?

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When gardeners see lichen growing on the trunks and branches of trees and shrubs they usually get worried. After all, something is growing on their tree. In fact, most people want to blame these frilly blue-green organisms for any tree health problems. This isn’t surprising because they are often seen growing on plants in poor health. However, lichens are not the problem but rather a sign of poor tree health.

Lichens are organisms composed of a fungus and a green or blue-green alga growing together. The fungus, in this mutually beneficial relationship, absorbs water and minerals from both the air and structure to which they are attached. The alga uses photosynthesis to convert these materials into carbohydrates and vitamins. Lichens are extremely tough and grow in some of the harshest environments on earth; from deserts to the arctic tundras.

Lichens come in three distinct varieties that are common in our area. One grows flat, looking like a white, gray or blue-green splotch with little raised definition. The second variety forms leaf-like folds that are frilly and the third develops branch-like structures, which are often long and hair or coral-like. While most lichens that occur on trees are a gray-green in color they can come in a variety of colors ranging from dark brown to yellows and even bright oranges. In South Alabama, it is not uncommon to see orange and almost salmon-colored lichens on live oaks.

Lichens on trees and shrubs mostly occur on trunks and branches that are exposed to full sun. As a result, trees that have thinning leaves or missing branches will have more lichens on the exposed inner branches.

Here is where many misconceptions about lichens are born. We see declining health in trees, which have thinning leaves and more sunlight reaching inner branches and thus more lichens. We then assume it’s the lichens that are the causing the tree decline and seek out costly chemical controls that are not addressing the tree’s problem. Lichens are not parasitic like mistletoe but are opportunists that are a sign of declining tree health.

Furthermore, trees that are vigorously growing will regularly slough-off bark making it difficult for lichens to become attached. This is especially the case with smaller branches at plant extremities. Lichens on exposed tree trunks are not uncommon and should not raise concerns. It is lichens growing on the younger and faster growing outer branches that should raise concern that our trees are unhealthy and need care.

The problem with your shrubs or trees may be poor soil fertility, root disease or circling and girdling roots. These problems are often below ground and difficult to immediately identify.

In the short term, I would recommend the following procedures:

  1. If the plant or shrub was container grown and planted within the last 3 years carefully dig around the base of the plant looking for circling or girdling roots. Girdling roots will often choke the main trunk or other large roots. If these are found, use a sharp saw to cut them. If the shape of the pot is still discernable in the soil, remove the plant and start over.
  2. Take a soil test. Soil test kits are available at your local extension office. Lime and fertilize based on soil test results.
  3. Look for any fruiting fungus at the base of your tree. Their appearance can range from clusters of mushroom to woody disk-shaped growths called conks attached to the base of your tree. If these are seen, contact a Certified Arborist.

Long-term management of declining tree health should include the following:

  1. Mulch the trees and shrubs. Mulch should be applied to a depth of 2 to 3 inches to the tree’s drip-line with care to not pile mulch at the tree’s trunk.
  2. Water trees during periods of extreme drought.
  3. Consider removing trees that are not responding to the above treatments.

For additional information, contact Beau Brodbeck at the Baldwin County Extension Office in Bay Minette by email at brodbam@auburn.edu or by phone at 251-937-7176.

Crucifer Insect Pest Control and New Resources

By Dr. Ayanava Majumdar, Extension Entomologist,

James Miles, Regional Extension Agent

It is true that insect pests never sleep in Alabama! Temperature fluctuations with an occasional rain during spring are great for insect pests like caterpillars and aphids on crucifer crops. With the mass popularity of high tunnels in Alabama, we now not only have crop season extension but we have also successfully extended the life and feeding duration of insect pests that overwinter inside the tunnels. This article will focus on crucifer crops since many producers have one or more varieties on their farm for direct sale to customers. Our crucifer IPM project has been funded by the USDA Organic Agriculture Research and Education Initiative and Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Grants.

The major problem with crucifers is that pests directly attack and contaminate marketable produce. So, pest prevention is the key strategy for all producers – big or small, organic or conventional, open or closed cropping systems. Consider the case of the beautiful cabbage butterfly that zips around in your field or garden amazing you with its energetic flight. But look closely…that beautiful yellow butterfly landing on your cabbage is actually a female laying small elliptical eggs on the leaf surface. The eggs will hatch into tiny velvety green caterpillars that start munching on cabbage leaves and fatten themselves. Interestingly, a few days of cold weather may cause the medium-sized caterpillars to move into the developing cabbage head in order to survive temperature fluctuations. Producers and gardeners who do not act timely may wrongly think that the caterpillar has disappeared, when in actuality, the insect has moved into the inner cupped leaves where it cannot be destroyed by insecticide sprays. We have experienced outbreaks of cabbage butterfly or imported cabbageworm in fields where the crop looks grazed due to extensive feeding. Cabbage butterflies are usually seen munching along with their cousins, like the striped cabbageworm, diamondback moth, and cabbage looper. Again, prevention is better than the cure for the caterpillar complex!

Scouting of these pests involve weekly checking of crops, counting larval size and numbers, and calculating the economic threshold for maximizing spray effectiveness. For details about the caterpillar pests and scouting methods, visit the Alabama Vegetable IPM website (www.aces.edu/vegetableipm) for Extension bulletins and look for the crucifer pest scouting sheet to learn calculation of larval units.

Organic or small farm approach for caterpillar control is to use insect netting or screens for deterring large moths and butterflies. A properly sealed high tunnel with netting around the sides can keep large insects at bay but may not stop aphids and other small pests from getting in. This is called the High Tunnel Pest Exclusion (HTPE) system and even shade cloths can be used under the rolled up side walls to permanently block insect pests (Will Mastin’s Local Appetite Growers in Silverhill, AL, is a perfect place to see this technology in action). HTPE system can be designed to keep out insect pests but allow beneficial insects to colonize high tunnel crops. Watch pest exclusion videos on Alabama Vegetable IPM website for more information.

Caterpillars on the crops can also be stopped by using consistent weekly spray of products like Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis or Xentari), spinosad (Entrust) or pyrethrin (PyGanic) (Figure 1). Bt product (Xentari) alone can be quite effective on cabbage butterflies if the coverage is uniform and thorough as we have seen in our test plots. So, Bt becomes “preventive spray” if you farm in a high caterpillar pressure area. Bt can also be tank-mixed with Pyganic for higher pest pressure conditions. Remember to remove infested or unwanted vegetation to prevent these insects from building up (sanitation).

Conventional cabbage producers not only have the option to start out with Bt (to protect natural enemies that do a great service in this case), but also could use some reduced-risk foliar insecticides include flubendiamide (Belt – a selective feeding inhibitor), spinetoram (Radiant), and novaluron (Rimon – an insect growth regulator). Belt and Radiant are very effective caterpillar control products that have been tested extensively in Alabama. Chorantraniliprole or Coragen is also a great preventive insecticide suitable for application through the drip irrigation system. Pymetrozine (Fulfill) is a unique selective insecticide for aphid control and whitefly suppression with minimal side effects. A number of synthetic pyrethroids are also cheap alternatives for caterpillar and aphid control during mid-season but they wipe out beneficial insects as well. We recommend using pyrethroids for cooler weather for quick kill of insect pests while incorporating some selective insecticides for long term benefit. Always remember to check the label (especially when using generics) and rotate insecticides because insecticide resistance can happen rapidly with uncontrolled pesticide use.

Watch for the Yellow-margined leaf beetles! These 5-mm long beetles have brown forewings and a yellow margin along the edge. The larvae are black with three pairs of legs behind the head and much body hair. Adult beetles and larvae completely devour turnips and napa cabbage, especially on organic farms. If you suspect this insect to be present, then call the main author (251-331-8416) for possible solutions or visit the IPM website (www.aces.edu/vegetableipm). Subscribe to the Alabama IPM Communicator newsletter (www.aces.edu/ipmcommunicator) and stay informed about the latest agricultural innovations and training events statewide!

New Extension Resources for Small Producers

We are excited to inform high tunnel producers about the availability of the New Producer Handbook for High Tunnel Crops. This is a must-have book for beginning farmers! This book has chapters on basic high tunnel cropping system and agronomics, several chapters on integrated pest management and statewide resources. The Alternative Vegetable IPM Slide Charts are also available to small farmers and transitioning producers that provide information about the three-tiered IPM approach to insect pest management. These publications have been supported by grants from USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, SARE Program, and the Wallace Center at Winrock International. Industry donations have also supported publications. Contact James Miles (Regional Extension Agent) at 574-8445 for details or attend a crop production training meeting to receive your copy. The New Producer Handbook for High Tunnel Crops is also available on iBooks.

Announcement: AFVGA Annual Conference and Tradeshow this fall

The Alabama Fruit and Vegetable Conference and Tradeshow is set on November 19-21, 2015 at a new location. The Fall conference will be held at the Clanton Conference and Performing Arts Center near Jeff State Community College. The conference will include several farm or field tours and hands-on workshops on a range of topics suitable for producers and gardeners. Watch for more information at www.afvg.aces.edu.

Gardening Basics Workshop

A Gardening Basics – Growing Tomatoes Workshop is scheduled for Thursday, March 26, 6:00-8:00 p.m.  The workshop will be at the Gulf Coast Regional Research and Extension Center, 8300 AL Highway 104 in Fairhope.  Plan to attend and learn about the basics of growing tomatoes, tomato varieties, managing pests and beneficial insects.  There is no cost for the workshop. Please register to attend before March 20 by calling 251-937-7176 or 943-5061/928-3002, ext.2222.