Archive for July, 2014

2015 Tree Seedling Applications Available for Louisiana


2015 Tree Seedling Applications Available


Our friends at the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry (LDAF) have applications for ordering tree seedlings.  Many pine and hardwood species are available, including: loblolly, slash, and containerized longleaf pines, baldcypress, 10 species of oaks, and over a dozen other species of hardwoods, including some fruit and nut trees.

Specialty packets include an Arboretum packet ($40) with 50 assorted and labeled seedlings.  This packet has 16 to 25 different species of trees and shrubs. Another packet is the Wildlife Packet for $25. It includes 25 assorted and labeled seedlings with a minimum of five species for wildlife habitat improvement. Those species in the Wildlife Packet are crabapple, white oak, sawtooth oak,  red mulberry and willow oak.

Applications are available at the Beauregard, LSU AgCenter office located at 203 West Third Street across from the Beauregard Parish School Board.  Applications will be accepted beginning July 1, 2014. Some species of trees sell out quickly so place your order early to ensure delivery of your seedlings. Applications and payment must be mailed to the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry in Baton Rouge.  Applications without full payment will be returned to sender.  Completed applications and forms will NOT be accepted at the Beauregard Parish LSU AgCenter Office.  Seedlings will be available December 15 through March 1.  For more information, contact the Beauregard Parish Extension Office at (337) 463-7006 or the local Louisiana Office of Forestry in DeRidder at (337) 463-7801 or in Oberlin at (337) 639-4978.

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Is your Garden Soil Safe for Vegetable Gardening?

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Is your Garden Soil Safe for Vegetable Gardening?

By George Giltner, Adv. MG, Biology MS

Most of our gardens are safe and natural ecosystems, which grow wholesome, nutrient dense foods.  We work and handle the soil, enjoy the rich earth aroma, and appreciate the vital processes of living organisms that recycle nutrients, filter water, and produce our crops.

However, soils can be polluted just like water and air.  Lead, arsenic, and cadmium  are toxic heavy metals that are of concern.  Once these heavy metals are introduced into soil, they persist a very long time.  Knowing the history of the garden location can help to identify areas that are contaminated.  Examples of contamination from the past include arsenic treated lumber residues, some fertilizers, old orchard sites where lead arsenate pesticides were used, a gun range, lead bearing paint residues, and  even soil near roads in the time of leaded gasoline.


Here are watermelons at the Master Gardener Demonstration Garden where George has various project. Photo by Jimmy Earl Cooley, MG’er.

Most common fertilizers are not a significant source of heavy metals.  Nitrogen and potassium fertilizers are generally free of toxic metal content, but phosphate fertilizers often contain cadmium depending on the mining site.  Excess phosphorus typically is “tied-up” with insoluble compounds like calcium phosphate, therefore it lingers in the soil for years.  Use soil tests to determine if additional phosphate amendments are needed.  Thus, avoiding unnecessary phosphorus fertilizer applications may prevent the undesirable cadmium additions, too.

Micronutrient fertilizers have been and are still being produced from recycled toxic materials.  “Ironite” has contained as much as 3600 ppm arsenic and 2900 ppm lead.  No federal standards for heavy metals in fertilizers exist.  Composition of fertilizers is in the control of the states.  However, Washington State does require testing for 9 heavy metals with results on the web.  Gardeners from other states use their postings to look up heavy metal concentrations in commercial fertilizers.

What are the negative effects of heavy metals on human health?  Children bear the greatest risk as the developing brain and IQ are especially vulnerable to lead.  Even the lowest detectable quantities are considered toxic to children.  Children’s behavior as “Rug Rats” with mouthing and crawling on floors, exposes them to greater quantities of dirt and dust. Chromosome damage, nerve damage, cancer, etc. are among other toxic effects of heavy metals on all of us.

Vegetables are not all equal in their ability to uptake heavy metals.  Some are concentrators and others are not.  Leafy greens like lettuce, and root crops like carrots will have more than fruits like tomatoes.  Some plants like water hyacinths are super concentrators that may have thousands of ppm of mercury from water sources.  Therefore it should not be used as compost material for soil.

How do you get your soil tested?  The LSU AgCenter Soil Lab can do an optional lab test for heavy metals for an additional $5.  Another reliable lab is TP&S Lab (956-383-0739) which will cost around $100.  Interpretation of results can be done with on-line research.  Common sense guidelines – “Less is better”.

Please note the first paragraph of this article, “Most gardens are safe-“.  This article is for awareness of heavy metals.  It is not meant to scare or deter in any manner from the joys of gardening.



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Master Gardener Classes from A Teens Perspective ~ Heather L. Grimes

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Master Gardener Classes from A Teens Perspective ~ Heather L. Grimes, 4-H’er & recent MG Graduate.

 When my dad mentioned the family taking Master Gardener classes together I was excited because I love flowers.  However, after the first few classes I was wondering if I had signed up for extra homework.  There were classes on soil, pests, and vegetables, but where were the flowers?  I did not understand what all of this had to do with planting pretty flowers.  I kept trying to be patient because mom kept telling me we have to learn about all of this before we get to the good stuff.  Well she was right as I went about creating my own flower garden I realized that I needed to think about my soil, was it acidic enough for my roses?  I also had to think about what type of plants I needed to not only make it look great, but also that compliment and help with mom and dad’s vegetable garden.

1 Heathers garden

Over the past month I have been very busy putting all my new found knowledge to work.  I have begun noticing more bees and birds and good bugs.  I am really excited at seeing all I have learned come full circle.  I would strongly encourage others to take advantage of your local Master Gardener Program.  To twist an old saying I would say give a person a flower and they will enjoy it for a while, teach a person to garden and they will enjoy it a lifetime.

1 Heather and parents

Heather Grimes, center, with her parents, Jennifer & Steve Newbury. This family attended MG classes together.



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Mr. Jimmy’s Wildflower Project June 2014

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Mr. Jimmy’s Wildflower Project June 2014

Jimmy Earl Cooley, Louisiana Master Gardener


Growing vegetables and fruit in Louisiana can be a real challenge, given the summer weather conditions along with the animals, insects, and number of pests. I helped my Grandfather raise chickens, make a vegetable garden and milk a cow in Ludington, LA in the 1950’s. I moved to Maryland and worked for NASA after graduating from ULL in 1960. I was an avid gar-dener there and become a University of Maryland Master Gardener after I re-tired in 1992. My general rule of thumb was that I got 80 % of my crop and the animals, pests and etc got 20 %.

wildflower 1

We moved back to Louisiana where I have continued my love for gardening, living in a wooded area where the take for the last few years has be reversed with 80% going to the animals, insects, diseases and etc. I became a LSU Mas-ter Gardener and use semi organic methods to combat this condition. I found that I was spending a lot of money and time on fertilizer, lime, soil additives, gasoline (cutting grass and weeds-mostly for good looks and neat-ness, organic detertnents, picking, and giving away most of my produce. Good exercise, but as one gets older lots of these chores become work and I find that there is only so much energy to go around.

wildflower 2

In 2013-14 these realizations con-vinced me to convert three of my five garden areas into wildflower refuges in an effort to support dwindling wildlife productive areas. Sort of if you cant beat them then join them attitude.

wildflower 3

There is a continuing loss of wooded ar-eas, clearing of fencerows and meadows by herbicides and mechanical means, and necessarily loss of forging materials for the birds, insects, and animals .

wildflower 4

In late 2013 I tilled the areas, spread a small quantity of 13-13-13 and planted wildflowers.

The areas consisted of:

1. Front garden – 1/3 acre near home – _ wild flower packet Butterfly and Hum-mingbird Blend.

2. Burn pile garden – 1/3 acre near shop – wild flower packet Southwestern Wildflower Mix.

3. End of Runway garden – 2/3 acre at end of air strip – wild flower packet Southwestern Wildflower Mix.

The wildflower seeds are very small and fragile and to evenly spread the seed upon the soil is a task, some addi-tive should be added to the seeds to help cover the area. I used a three year old, 50 pound, sack of rye grass as a filler, mistakenly thinking that, since it was old, much of it would not sprout and grow. I knew that the ryegrass used for feed, hay, or ground cover must be planted in early spring so it can grow, mature, and die in the heat of the torrid summer sun in southwest Louisiana. Well grow it did! Leading to a bumper crop of rye grass mixed indiscriminately with the wildflowers. A situation which, I was sure, would doom my wildflower project. .

Now in early June the ryegrass is dying and the wildflowers are peaking their heads through the leaning, dead stems in all their glory.

I had expected a large percentage of the wildflower seeds to germinate and grow into a beautiful parfait of colors and shapes to attract butterflies and beneficial insects, birds, and etc. in and between the spare up coming rye grass. Many of the low grow-ing wildflower plants were surely crowded out.

I started keeping bees in 2012 with two hives; named Hebert and Shirley. I also started raising Muscadine grapes in 2012. My bees were to help with the polli-nation of the grapes and vegetables, and some honey for personal use. The first year I got a half gallon of good, dark honey from tallow tree flow. in 2013 the Hebert hive swarmed and I lost half of the bees. The bees remaining filled two brood boxes with honey (amount they needed to sustain the winter) but not sur-plus for me. The Shirley hive survived but was not strong and I harvested only one frame of honey; 2.5 quarts. The planting of the wildflowers was suppose to increase the amount of pollen and nectar available and help the bee population and produc-tion. Unfortunately, the Hebert Hive ex-perienced, what I believe to be, a case of the CCD, Complete Colony Disorder. First a number of bees died, after a cold spell in the weather, followed by the bees abandon-ing the hive completely by date . This left me with only the Shirley hive. In date of 2014 I split the Shirley in thirds, leaving 1/3, transferring 1/3 to a new brood box (Carollyn) and 1/3 to the Hebert hive pieces. As of June date all three boxes have queens and the bees are now working hard during the tallow flow. So it remains to be seen if the wildflowers have been of any benefit. I have not noticed a lot of added activity with bees on the new wildflowers but butterflies are on an increase. The Wildflower Project has been quite an ad-venture. I’m hoping that reseeding will oc-cur and the added flowers will help the honey bees better sustain their life and help in plant pollination.





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Brief Photo Essay on Prescribed Burn Workshop



Brief Photo Essay On Prescribed Burn Workshop

Jimmy Earl Cooley, Master Gardener, and Keith Hawkins, SW Area Extension Forester


Dr. Niels d Hoop, LSU AgCenter, was the lead instructor of this year’s workshop.


This field exercise included a test burn.


After the test burn, the class evaluated to site and decided to burn a small area.


The field exercise included the mop-up of the burn site.


Graduates and Instructors of the 2014 Prescribed Burn Workshop in SW Louisiana.

The graduates of this year’s Prescribed Burn Workshop include, in alphabetic order:

  • Stewart Bailey
  • “Doc” Calcote
  • Joe Chaney
  • Steve Coleman
  • Douglas Dowden
  • Ashton Dupre
  • George Giltner
  • Bret Hardisty
  • Ronny Jones
  • James Love
  • Bryce Mae
  • Wendell Marcantel
  • David Meaux
  • Dick Meaux
  • Gaston Messer
  • Luke Parlier
  • Jonathon Perkins
  • Wayne Pleasant
  • Todd Strother
  • Clint Travis
  • James Turner

Instructors were Mark Davis, District Forester, LDAF, Darrell Eaves, Firefighter, LDAF, Dr. Niels de Hoop, Forestry Professor, LSU AgCenter, and Keith Hawkins, SW Area Extension Forester LSU AgCenter. Mr. Jimmy Earl Cooley was event photographer.



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Gardening Note: Toxins in Concrete Blocks and Concrete


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Gardening Note: Toxins in Concrete Blocks and Concrete

By George Giltner, Adv. Master Gardener, MS Biology (and Pesticide Applicator Certified)

Gardeners love raised beds.  And, raised beds are so easily built with concrete blocks which are thought of as the most inert and safest product on the market for gardening.  Gee, I hate spoil your perceptions.  Like the commercial food we consume, some is good and some is bad, just like concrete products used in gardening.

Masonry block and concrete producers use coal combustion byproducts in two ways – fly ash as a cement replacement and bottom ash as a partial replacement for the sand and/or coarse aggregate. The fly ash composition varies from 5 to 60+ percent depending on the product.  Adding fly ash prevents hydration of lime which increases its strength and makes concrete less porous, makes finishes smooth, and eases concrete pours.  Seems like the ideal way to recycle hazardous waste that has historically created problems in water supplies.

Hazardous waste.  Yes, there are small amounts of heavy metals in concrete products.  Typically the main composition of Class C fly ash contains 3.5 to 40% calcium oxide, 0.5 to 40% aluminum oxide, and 2.5 to 25% Magnesium oxide.  However smaller percentages of strontium, chromium, nickel, lead, arsenic, cadmium, and other heavy metals are also present which cause it to be classified as hazardous waste by the EPA.

The spherical particle size of coal fly ash varies from 5-120 microns which is similar to that of silty sand to silty clay.  The good news is that this material is bonded, insoluble, and immobile in concrete.  However if the concrete or blocks are pulverized in destruction or become soluble with acids, the surface area exposed is greatly increased and the heavy metals may become mobile.  Example: You would not want to use pulverized concrete to “lime” a garden where it could be acted upon by microbes and organic acids.

Concrete blocks are porous unless they are sealed for outside and inside use.  Sealing with paint and other products prevents mineral (like hydrochloric acid, a concrete cleaner) and organic acids (from microbes and other life forms) from decomposing the locked in heavy metal chemical structure in concrete materials.

Variation in solubility and composition of concrete heavy metals is all over the map, depending upon the type of coal burned to produce the fly ash, percent of fly ash used, sealants incorporated in the blocks, acids in the environment and other factors.

If you are concerned about heavy metals in concrete materials, there is a reliable way to test for their presence.  Grow hyper accumulator plants in the concrete structures of concern, and then have chemical analysis performed on specific plant parts.  These plants can be found in Wikipedia and on other web sites.  Example: Sunflower parts can be used for soil and water hyacinths can be used in aquatic environments.

Another option is to separate the soil from the concrete structure.  Line the container with plastic or polymer paint.  Therefore decomposition products are not available for plant absorption.  This is probably your best and cheapest option.

Decomposition of concrete is usually slow; therefore your risk level is probably small in comparison with other heavy metal routes of entry into your body.  Rice, chicken, and other foods have been in the news with carcinogenic arsenic concerns recently.  Lead always comes up with old paints in buildings, and possibly lead shot cooked in wild game acid stews and gumbos.  Lead as an example can cause DNA genetic damage, nerve damage, and child learning disorders.

The science behind heavy metal poisoning is very well documented and proven.  Awareness of toxins in our environment, not phobias, leads to healthy gardening and living.

Author’s note: I recently had a conversation with fellow Master Gardener, Emily Shirley and after giving her the above information about concrete blocks, her question to me was “Bottom line – would you use concrete cinder blocks to build raised beds that you would be growing food to eat?  If yes, what would you do to the blocks before filing the bed with soil to plant in?”  My response to her – was to seal the blocks with concrete sealant and polymer paint before adding dirt. An extra layer of safety gives “Peace of Mind”.




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Battle of the Bugs: Oak Leaf Gall Mites

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Battle of the Bugs: Oak Leaf Gall Mites

By George Giltner, Adv. Master Gardener, MS Biology

2015 oak gall mites

Welts from Oak Gall Mites

Have you ever raked leaves, gathered them, and then later develop red welts on your face, neck, arms and upper body? Note that chiggers normally invade from the feet upward to the waist area, but these super itch bugs like the upper body. Welcome to a new invasive species, the Oak Leaf Gall Mite, that is invading our range.  This is an organism from Eurasia (Egypt, Germany, etc.), but has also been reported in Chile, India, and Australia. Outbreaks occurred in 2004 in Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri and other states and again in 2007.


The usual season for outbreaks is August to October when they rain down from trees.  If you observe browned and crispy edges on oak leaves – beware because you may be within range of some nasty, itchy bites.  If you are a curious person requiring evidence, get your magnifier out, then open the crispy leaf edge gall.  There you will find dead midge larvae and itch mite females with large abdomens. Actually the mites would prefer Oak Leaf Midge Gall Larvae or cicada egg nests, its normal hosts that are required for reproduction. However when that food source is depleted, they began their downward fall journey where they can be picked up by wind and possibly be blown with leaves into other trees.  When they land on humans, they crawl around for 4 to 5 hours, and then they dig in.


A good practice is to shower within 4 hours after an expected exposure to these mites.  Also be careful with infected clothing.  If you don’t, itch mite welts form into pimple lesions after 12 hours.  The neurotoxin bites can last up to 2 weeks with intensive itching.  Over counter topical anti-itch creams may help along with oral anti-histamines. But do not scratch due to possibility of bacterial infections.  Then you should have a medical visit skin infections.


According to Kansas State Research and Extension, “There is no research-backed, proven ways to control them (Oak Leaf Gall Mites) yet”.


Pyemotes herfsi, the Oak Leaf Gall Mite, is being investigated, and more of its life cycle and niche is being uncovered.  Studies have shown that the mites can fall from trees in numbers of up to 370,000 per day (Penn State University).  The typical host is the Oak Leaf Gall Midge that forms a leaf-marginal gall fold.  Trees commonly infected are pin oaks and other ‘red oak’ group trees.  Overwintering has been reported in oak leaves, in wood inside of wood-boring beetle larvae, and in grains where they feed on various stored-product pests.


Therefore this fall beware of the ‘fall of mites’ on ‘under the old oak tree’ picnics and hunting stands in oaks.  Load up on calamine lotion, if you do encounter these very itchy mites, but do not scratch!



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