Archive for garden

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.

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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.

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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 .

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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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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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2014 Beauregard Master Gardener Graduates

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2014 Beauregard Master Gardener Graduates

2014 BPMG CLASS 1

Congratulations to MG Grads

Graduates are listed in alphabetic order:

 

Lisa Ann Clark
Steve Coleman
Heather Grimes
Paige LeBeau
Paul LeBeau
Marguerite McNeely
Jennifer Newbury
Steven Newbury
Judy Newman
Kay Nyros
Darline Parish
Gary Parish
Byron Redger
Violet Redger
Evan Scoggins
Niki Scoggins
Elizabeth Smith
Jeff Solinsky
Darla Solinsky
Diana Todd
Ronald Weathersby

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Toxins in Mulch – Allelopathic Phytochemicals

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Toxins in Mulch – Allelopathic Phytochemicals

By George Giltner, MS, Adv. Master Gardener

Select your choice of mulch wisely!  Remember that when leaf, bark, wood, nut stem or root mulch is placed around vegetation, you are essentially placing organic chemicals within the living space of growing plants.  When many of these compounds are not decomposed, they perform their original function as a competition inhibitor or toxin.  Think of plants as competitors in a continuous battle for nutrients, water, sunlight, and space.  “Better living through chemistry” is how they win.

Pliny the Elder, a roman scholar, observed that walnut trees were toxic to other plants.  As history repeats itself, gardeners have experienced the effect of juglone, the chemical allelopathic compound of walnut trees that is responsible for reduced growth or death of surrounding plants.  Juglone is concentrated in the buds, nut hulls, and roots, but it is also present in leaves and other plant parts.

Tomatoes, peppers, and other Solanaceous plants are very susceptible to juglone’s effect as a respiration inhibitor.  The plants will exhibit symptoms as wilting, yellowing, and eventual death.  Plants that are sensitive to juglone include apple, azalea, blackberry, blueberry, chrysanthemum, pine, potato, rhododendron, thyme, and many others.  However plants that are resistant to juglone include beets, carrots, corn, snap beans, melons, onions, etc.  Yet these plants may exhibit some degree of toxicity.

Trees related to walnuts, such as hickories, pecans, and English walnuts also produce juglone, but in smaller quantities.  These trees are responsible for pollen allergies in humans and horses.  Horses may even be affected by walnut wood chips when it is used as a bedding material.

Aerobic composting of leaves is effective in degrading juglone and other allelochemicals.  Moisture, mixing, temperature, and microbial action are factors that determine the degree of decomposition to non-toxic levels which can occur in as little as three weeks.  However, it would be safer to allow 6 months of complete decomposition time before using this compost.  Also maintain high organic matter around plants to produce microbial populations that can metabolize toxins.  Twigs, chips, and sawdust from walnut trees are harder to digest, therefore it is best to avoid using them for mulch, compost, or bedding material.

Another allelotoxin is ailanthone from the ‘Tree-Of-Heaven’, Ailanthus altissima.  This tree plant toxin has potent post-emergence herbicidal activity and poses a serious weed problem in urban areas.  Sorghum produces sorgolene in most species which disrupts photosynthesis.  Therefore it is being extensively researched as a weed suppressant.  There are many other allelopathic species which include grasses like Rice, Tall Fescue, some Perennial Rye, woody plants as Cherry, Sycamore, Rhododenderon, Elderberry, Fragrant Sumac, and even Pea (Pisum sativum), Goldenrod,  that have allelotoxins.

One way to test for allelopathy is to grow seeds in potentially toxic mulches, compost, or soils.  Use side by side control pots with “clean” soil as a control.  Over time observe germination, growth rate, length of stem and roots, color of leaves, etc. for any sign of toxicity.  “Use What Works” to avoid problems!

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Kale – the Super Food for a Sharp Mind and a Healthy, Lean Body

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Kale – the Super Food for a Sharp Mind and a Healthy, Lean Body

By George Giltner, MS, Adv. Master Gardener

Kale is the ideal vegetable for your garden.  It is hardy and easy to grow, nutrient dense, and delicious.  With over 48 varieties that exhibit numerous color, texture, and leaf forms, it delivers eye-appeal to food dishes and the garden.  Just go beyond typical preparations of chopping, serving raw, steamed, sautéed, or juiced.  Think about a luscious cheddar kale omelet for breakfast, a chipotle flank steak with lime, black beans, and kale for lunch, and then top it off with chocolate chip kale cookies, or kale and black cherry sorbet for lunch or supper.  After a day of kale-centric meals, you will be hooked on this tasty vegetable that offers so many health benefits.  With just 33 calories per cup and loaded with bioavailable nutrients, you will be eating decadent-tasting foods without guilt.

kale,ncsu

A Variety of Kale, Image from NCSU.

What do you get in a cup serving of kale?  Get ready for a ‘Wow Moment’!  Your body receives more pro-vitamin A than any other leafy green, close to three times the calcium as a lunch container of milk, and more vitamin C than an orange.  Also the ratio of fats, omega-3, and 6’s are in perfect ratio.  Fresh kale gives you a medicine chest of phytonutrients which turn on your genes for detox.  Sulforaphane  protects against diseases like cancer and diabetes.  The flavonoids which are responsible for the deep vibrant colors, boost the immune system and cardiac health.

Hippocrates in all his wisdom said, “Let thy food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”.  Let’s look at the “medicine” in kale.  Folate – required for cell replication and to produce molecules like serotonin that regulate mood to feel vibrant and full of life.  Pregnant women must have adequate supplies of this vitamin for proper fetal development.  ALA (alpha-linoleic acid) – this fat lowers the risk of diabetes, depression, anxiety, and lowers the effect of stress hormones.  Sulforaphane – is a sulfur molecule that detoxes safely and naturally to prevent debilitating diseases.  Magnesium – along with manganese produces hundreds of cellular reactions.  Most diets do not have adequate supplies of Mg for proper health which leads to diabetes.  Kaempferol – stimulates the longevity genes for longer life, and boost cellular mitochondria.  Fiber – it helps the body excrete cholesterol and bile as it passes through the intestines.  Quercetin – neutralizes inflammations, protects blood vessels, prevents plaque formation, and is a cancer fighter.  Iron – supplies oxygen to our body cells, and it is a co-factor in making the pleasure molecules of serotonin and dopamine.  All of this body biochemistry is in just a cup of kale.

When you cook kale, be careful not to destroy its wonderful chemistry.  Remember that some of our local water supplies contain alkaline water (9+ pH) that ruins folic acid.  First add an acidic organic acid (like lemon juice) to the water before the kale.  Then let the magic begin.  Add garlic to lower blood pressure while making a savory flavorful dish.  Ginger has antibacterial molecules that calm nausea and upset stomachs while it spices up dishes.  Make a crunchy salad with kale, olive oil, and walnuts/Brazil nuts for healthy hair, omega-3’s, and metabolism regulation.  Adding lemon juice aids your body to absorb kale’s iron, and the peel zest contains molecules that diminish pain and enhance pleasure in the brain.  While thinking of the world’s best salad,  top it with Parmesan to aid in absorption of kale’s antioxidants and to add extra zinc, magnesium, and B12 to this tasteful chemistry.

Why do you want to grow kale or buy organic kale?  Commercial kale is sadly in a group of vegetables labeled as “the Dirty Dozen”.  All grocery-store peppers, celery, cherries, potatoes, spinach, and even blueberries are in this group which are more likely to contain residual pesticides.  Research this website for a list of the “Dirty Dozen” and the “Clean Fifteen” at www.ewg.org/foodnews.

Is kale a routine food for everyone?  No.  Talk to your doctor first – if you take warfarin or other blood thinners, if you have a blood clotting disorder, and if you have a thyroid sensitivity to goitrogens.  Kale does deliver a huge dose of vitamin K (600% DA/serving) which is excellent for most healthy people.

According to US Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2012, the average individual spends $3900 in food costs/year at home and $2700 with purchased meals.  Your food dollars can be saved by growing your own vegetables and meat, or they can support our local gardeners and farmers that produce food in a safe and sustainable manner.  Kale is just one of the fantastic vegetables that can be purchased or grown locally.  Contact the LSU AgCenter for Master Gardener Classes for more information.

 

 

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Soil Science from the International Space Station Comes Down to Earth – In your Garden!

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Soil Science from the International Space Station Comes Down to Earth – In your Garden!

By George Giltner, Adv. Master Gardener, MS Biology

NASA has been developing artificial soils for several decades for use on long duration space flights.  These trials have proved that numerous crop species have growth and development similar to plants grown in ground controls.

2014 zeolite images

The advantages of the “Zeoponic Soil Systems” is that only water is needed for activation, and yields are substantially higher than those obtained from the field.  The objective is to have a soil substrate for plant growth that can be used in a regenerative life-support system ( a sealed sustainable living space).  Data from the Lada greenhouse in the space station has helped advance Earth-based greenhouses and controlled environment Ag systems.  This information is also used by researchers and farmers to produce better, healthier crops in small spaces with optimum amounts of water and nutrients.

Commercial products have been on the market for some time.  Examples are “Zeo-Pro” which is used as a slow release fertilizer on golf courses.  Another product “Miracle Mountain Zeolite” sells zeolite as a garden amendment.  For gardening purposes, be sure the zeolite is without a sodium load, examine the heavy metal report, and assure the product is oriented for Ag purposes. Many other products and expanded use of zeolites are expected as advantages are learned.  It is definitely a 21st century product.  Applications include odor control products (Horse Stall Refresher), Fish hatchery water treatment, a Portland Cement substitute, Kitty Litter, and higher yields in crops and pastures.

What are the benefits of using zeolite in horticulture applications?  1) The CEC (cation exchange capacity – value of available nutrients) is increased.  2) Soil porosity and water holding properties are improved which results in decreases in water run-off and ponding 3) Zeolite increases nitrogen retention by reducing ammonia volatilization, therefore reducing nitrogen pollution. 4) It improves the fertilizer efficiency by capturing nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium and other trace nutrients for utilization by plants. 5) Zeolite can be used as an inorganic substitute for peat moss in mixes.  6) It helps to open compacted soils.  7) biological activity is increased by supporting nitrifying soil bacteria.

A most important use of zeolite is its role in developing controllable and renewable fertilization plans to provide plant growth nutrients.  It can be used to mitigate the adverse effects water contamination due to highly soluble and concentrated fertilizers.

Zeolite is a crystalline, porous alumino-silicate with a unique interconnecting, honeycomb lattice structure.  This structure of channels of negatively charged alumina, with neutral silica tetrahedral building blocks, can effectively capture positively charged nutrient ions.  Because of zeolite’s molecular composition, it has incredible absorbent and adsorbent properties.

In nature, zeolites are naturally formed microporous, alumino-silicates that are found where volcanic rocks and ash layers react with alkaline groundwater.  The mineral is also known as clinoptilolite.  Check bags of “Kitty Litter” and “Horse Stall Refresher” for clinoptilolite as the effective ingredient. Obnoxious odors and gasses are trapped in the mineral honeycomb structure of these commercial products like fertilizer nutrients are captured in soil-use zeolites.

Most of our local acidic soils are classified as Ultisols composed of kaolinite which has a very low ability (low CEC number) to retain plant nutrients.  Therefore most of the commercial fertilizer is lost through leaching with rains and irrigation water.  Typically the top 3 to 6” of topsoil contains nearly all of the nutrient value.  Additional nutrient depletion occurs when crops are harvested, and when the soil is left barren, and oxidized by tillage.  However this soil can be frequently amended with organic matter and humus to increase the pH to a more neutral value, and to increase the CEC to a higher fertility value.  This usually requires much labor and effort.

A better system may be to utilize zeolites, organic matter, and inorganic minerals.  This approach uses the advantages of each.  The zeolite adds a long term substrate to improve the CEC, porosity, nutrient and water retention, and microbial life.  The organic matter with cellulose gives life to the soil, water retention, porosity, structure and acts as a slow release fertilizer upon decomposition.  Inorganic minerals can be added to supplement deficiencies as indicated by testing or visual symptoms.  The overall effect is that leachate pollution is minimized, and fertilization, water, and labor cost are also reduced, while yields are high.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge (Aug 2013, Peter Leggo) has shown that even marginal land like deserts can grow fruits and vegetables using a zeolite mix with chicken manure.  Control experiments have shown that dew water can be held on zeolite until the hottest part of the day, which increases overall soil moisture content for plant growth. Dr. Peter Leggo of the Department of Earth Sciences says, “Previously, you’d douse crops with chemicals, and it caused a huge reduction in soil microbial diversity.  The material we’ve developed takes less energy to produce, improves soil structure, and enables you to grow crops on almost any type of soil”.  Plans are to commercialize the product for world markets.

You may wish to experiment in your own gardens with zeolite soil conditioners and fertilizers.  Let us know about your experiences and procedures to share with others in the 21st century.

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Plant and Flower Photography: Composition

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Plant and Flower Photography: Composition

by Jimmy Earl Cooley, Master Gardener

     Composition has been defined as “The pictorial quality of a photograph resulting from the pleasing arrangement of the elements of the picture”. *Kodak describes it as visual organizations or simply the effective selection and arrangement of your subject matter within the picture area.
     Spacing Objects: The spacing of objects or subject matter in a photograph in an informal or unsymmetrical pattern seems to give the most interesting results. Try to avoid placing the central subject in the middle of the photograph, and do not space objects equally in the picture area. Avoid placing important lines of the picture so the photograph is divided in half. A formal composition or arrangement of objects in a photograph gives a feeling of dignity, balance, strength, and stability; i.e. photographing monuments, architecture, cathedrals, documentation, Catalog photos, plant or flower identification is an example of formal spacing. Informal composition allows flexibility and is more creative giving the photographer the opportunity for personal _expression and artistic design.
A basic principal that is accepted in good composition is “Divide the Picture Area into Thirds”. The idea of thirds is used vertically and horizontally. When you look into your camera viewfinder imagine the scene being cut by two vertical lines (cutting the scene into thirds; left to right) and two horizontal lines (cutting the scene into thirds; top to bottom). The intersection of these lines (four places) is the best possible options for placing your center of interest. The major object in the picture (for example a rose) could be placed along any one of the lines, or where the lines intersect or cross. The points where the lines intersect are the most important points in the picture area and objects placed at or near these intersections will attract the most attention. The greatest attention is achieved by using only one of these intersections. Try to have only one main point of interest in each exposure. The principal subject may be one object or several but always choose a main subject. Two can also be used effectively especially when used diagonally opposite each other. Using all the intersections would produce symmetrical, formal designs, which is probably not what one wants when producing photographs of plants and flowers for enlargement and general viewing.

2013 swallowtail adultA swallowtail butterfly in the garden.

Camera Angle: Position your camera where you get the best camera angle for the center of interest. Also consider whether the photo would be better if you move in closer to your subject. Close up’s tend to bring your attention directly to the main subject and show details that may be missed from a more distant shot. For example, when shooting an open flower, maybe a tulip; move closer to show the reproductive parts, pistil and stamen, as the main interest and shoot straight down the flower. Look into the viewfinder and move toward the subject until everything that does not add to the picture is eliminated, but fill the frame. By doing this you get the largest image size of the subject on the film and when the film is developed and you decide to enlarge one of the shots; you get higher image quality because less enlarging is required. *Kodak says “Careful composing the pictures in the viewfinder is essential for taking color slides because cropping techniques are not generally used with slides and because the frame size of a 35 mm camera is not large, you will obtain the highest quality when you utilize all the picture area.
Background: The background of an exposure is very important and can ruin an otherwise good photograph. The surroundings and background can add to the composition or detract from the center of interest. If you are photographing a flower or group of the same flower and some other plant or variety of flowers are in the background you may lose the concentration on the main subject. Move the camera around for a better composition by changing the background or use a lens or camera setting that will decrease the depth of field; thus burring (out of focus) the background. If there is some object or action in the background that does not add to your subject then try to arrange your setup to eliminate it. If you are photographing tall plants or flowers, shooting from a low camera angle may give you some sky in the background. This may be good if it is a clear day and some interesting clouds around but be sure this is what you want in your exposure as it may turn out to be the highlight and distract from your subject. The sky may make it necessary for you to manually compensate for brightness detected by the camera’s automatic exposure reading. When there is a cloud cover or overcast move, the camera to a high angle and keep the bleak, unappealing sky out of the picture. Plant foliage is a good background and blue is excellent with color slides. Just before you trip your shutter for a particular exposure look through the viewfinder, carefully, at the background (especially the four corners) and beyond your subject to satisfy yourself that all is well and what you see is what you desire and it adds to the composition of your main subject. Your camera lens will surely see all!
So when you are in the garden and have decided on a subject flower or plant set camera and tripod near and look through the camera viewfinder; moving the camera toward the flower (while visualizing 3rds) until the desired picture presents itself. The informal composition concept is achieved by locating the flower at or near one of the intersections. If your subject is a group of flowers, locate a main one and try to place others (perhaps a half-open one) or leaves at other intersection junctions. Place stems on diagonal if possible and keep the foreground reasonably full. Look at the background behind the flower and surroundings to be sure that nothing can be seen that will take away from the interest of the main flower. If there is a distortion, move the camera left to right or up or down to eliminate or diminish the unwanted background. Set your camera for proper exposure, and look directly at your subject, watching to make sure the wind is not moving it and release the shutter with the cable release.

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Health Benefits of Fall Gardening by George Giltner, Master Gardener

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Health Benefits of Fall Gardening

By George Giltner, Adv. Master Gardener, MS Biology

Here we are in the hottest, most humid month of the year.  Wow! Who in their right mind is enduring these temperatures, fighting off pests, and drought to garden?  It does seem like an unhealthy tortuous activity – unless you are a seasoned gardener.

The summer trips to the garden are earlier in the cooler morning when the birds are chirping and a glistening dew is on the vegetables and flowers.  In this serene time, an inspection for pests is not a chore, but a look into the health and balance of life in the garden.  A hand spray of neem oil or a mist of horticultural oil takes care of most pests.  The timer and watering system are checked, and a few weeds are pulled or scraped.  Fresh vegetables like peas, okra, and squash are harvested for daily consumption.  So begins the day with a relaxing and rewarding activity that sets a non-stressful mood for the day.

Collards

Collards are popular fall vegetables. Photo by Georgia Extension.

Next, is the fall garden which is my favorite.  The vegetables which include a whole spectrum of healthy nutrients from carrot beta carotene to anticancer agents in kale are only part of the health advantages of gardening.  The regular physical exercise aids in the prevention of heart disease, obesity, adult-onset diabetes and high blood pressure.  “Compost turning strength-training” is important in the prevention of osteoporosis.  Lift and push a wheelbarrow around to have a complete workout without the transportation and cost of a gym workout.  “Gardening is a labor of love.  A treadmill is just labor.”

Fall gardening provides fresh fruits and vegetables.  When you grow your own food, it will be on your table within hours of harvesting without vitamin loss.  The family will enjoy the fresh taste, the money saved, and the satisfaction of self-sufficiency.  Be sure to plant blueberries, Satsuma’s, plums, and apples this fall for seasonal treats and a cornucopia of healthy nutrients.  New flavors and varieties of vegetables add spice and nutrition to the family diet.  My son would not eat peas until we introduced him to fresh “Quick Picks” straight from the garden.  The flavor of kale cooked with sausage bits also became his favorite.  Also when you grow your own food you have control over pesticides, plant genetic choices, and fertilizers that are used.  Add herbs to “Kick it up a Notch” in enhancing flavor, yet reducing sugar and salt.  Try herbs early in your gardening experience.  The aromas and ease of gardening will increase your success and pleasure of gardening.

Gardening is a pleasant brain workout with creativity, research, and planning.  Let your persona come out with your garden plans.  Take Master Gardener Courses offered by the LSU AgCenter (337-462-7006) to stimulate and encourage your creativity.  Find a whole wealth of information on the internet.  Interact and exchange ideas with other Master Gardeners.  Get connected.  Everyone likes to talk to a gardener.

Studies have shown that gardening provides a natural rhythm of life in stressful world.  You become more knowledgeable and appreciable of nature. You become aware that a garden is not picture perfect all the time, but your labor can usually restore problems.  Just viewing a garden or nature has healthy psychological benefits.

Gardening is good for family bonding and for people with special needs.  Kids and people with handicaps can enjoy garden activities as a form of physical therapy.  This hobby increases range of motion, improves motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and increases self-confidence.  Raised beds that are 24 inches high are accessible to wheel chairs and elementary kids.  Many new gardens tools are now designed for little ones, and for those with physical limitations.

Begin the planning now, and plant your garden this fall.  Start small for success, then work your way up to more complex gardening challenges.  Whether you try a deep flower pot for carrots or a hydroponic greenhouse, enjoy the journey, learn new techniques, try new varieties, and have a healthy hobby!

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Spittle Bugs – the Mystery Foam Source

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Spittle Bugs – the Mystery Foam Source

By George Giltner, Master Gardener

two lined spittle bug

Two lined Spittle bug (Prosapia bicincta), Clemson University Coop Extension Service photos

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Spittle (bubbly froth mass with larvae), Clemson University Coop Extension Service photos

From the name, spittle, you know what to look for – a spit-looking mass on vegetation.  This frothy mass is excreted by yellow-brown nymphs mainly on grasses and ornamentals as defensive protection against predators and desiccation.  Below the froth, the nymphs insert piercing mouth parts into the plant consuming large amounts of plant juices.  They go through 4 instars before reaching adulthood.  Populations expand during wet humid climate periods and retract during drought.

In Louisiana, they can be found on grasses like St. Augustine, centipede, rye, Johnson, coastal Bermuda, and small grain crops.  Usually spittle bugs are not a problem, unless large populations develop under wet environmental conditions.  Pyrethroids can be used for control.  Also look for them in vines like honeysuckle and morning-glory and in ornamentals like holly, aster, and redbud where their feeding results in white blotches on the leaves.  They are most active in the morning to avoid the heat and drying conditions of hot afternoons.

The common two-lined spittle bug adults look like large black leafhoppers.  They are easily identified with two large red or orange stripes across their triangular-shaped body.  If you get close enough, notice the small red eyes.

The adults only live for three weeks, with females laying eggs during the last two weeks of their lives.  Eggs laid in the fall, overwinter in grass sheaths and ground debris.

The Pecan spittlebugs, Clastoptera achatina, are more of a problem insect, especially where pecans are grown.  The nymphs become active after bud break in the spring by feeding on young buds and later on tender shoots and nutlets.  Heavy populations can cause terminal bud death and immature nut shedding.  Infections can be recognized by white bubbly masses on terminal buds to dried yellowish masses on young nuts.  The adults are small, 4 to 5 mm, and yellowish brown in color.  Therefore they are hard to detect in pecan trees.

So the next time that you see those frothy masses on your plants, shrubs or trees, look for the larvae spittlebugs underneath.  At least you will know the source was not a rabid animal or from human origin.

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