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Grow Your Own Healthy Crops


Grow Your Own Healthy Crops
By George Giltner, Master Gardener, Beauregard Parish, LA
Health and nutritional value of food has become a common daily concern. The CDC reports that in 1958 less than 1% of the US population was diagnosed with diabetes. By 2010, the percentage has trended to an amazing 7%. For our youth, estimates are that 33% are overweight and at risk for diabetes. The cost of coronary heart disease in the US is over $150 billion annually (World Health Organization), with over 100 million people having high cholesterol levels (200mg/dl), and 70 million are treated for high blood pressure. WHO also reports that global cancer rates could increase by 50% by 2020. Our Western lifestyle with a high caloric diet, rich in fat, refined carbohydrates and animal protein, combined with low physical activity, lead to obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, arterial hypertension and cancer. Those are the unhealthy facts.
Now, is the time for a healthy life-style awakening, a behavioral reality check, and sensible cost-saving solutions to your health goals. Gardening can be the best choice solution for healthy nutrition and physical activity. The DeRidder LSU AgCenter has a nutritionist, Master Gardener classes, and a wealth of experts to support you. Gardens can be grown in containers, from pots to raised beds, or bigger into row gardens. In a month you can have a nice crop of red lettuce, kale, and broccoli. For spring, plan for one of the healthiest foods, legumes. The garden-fun exercise is good for the entire family. Dr. Kathy Fontenot, LSU AgCenter School Gardening coordinator, says “When kids grow vegetables, they will eat them.” This behavioral change even applies to adults!
Since gardening is a consumer of time and effort, you expect a good return on your investment. Education and learning are vital to a successful outcome. The Master Gardeners Program along with the comrade of contacts through the course provides abundant gardening knowledge.
You will also want to grow the healthiest and most nutritional veggies. Questions concerning diets and healthy food can be answered by Christy at the LSU AgCenter.
Whether to go organic or chemical or somewhere between in your garden quest is another nutritional choice. Common chemical fertilizers (NPK) are notorious for acidification and depletion of organic matter in soil. Also balance of nutrients is variable due to solubility and leaching of nutrients, especially when high rainfall amounts occur. However organic agricultural practices in general are right on track towards providing necessary soil conditions for growing vegetables with good, and sometimes superior, nutritional qualities. New mixed-fertility, management systems makes selective use of commercial fertilizers and organics with the goal of producing mineral-dense nutritious foods. These ecologically-oriented farms using this system, produce foods of superior nutritional quality. In many instances it surpasses their certified organic counterparts. Soil testing is of prime importance. It provides the analysis necessary to correct mineral deficiencies in various soils whether organic, chemical or mixture farming.
Between 1963 to 1992, the USDA reported average drops in the mineral content of some fruits and vegetables (oranges, apples, carrots, potatoes, corn, tomatoes, etc.) The average % change was -30% for calcium, -32% for iron, -21% for magnesium, -11% for phosphorus, and -6.5% for potassium. Other studies support depletion of soil minerals in American farm soils and a loss of food nutritional values.
The practice of adding well-made compost in organic gardening is an excellent method of avoiding mineral depletion. Home gardens are under the control of the gardener, who feeds the soil with composted kitchen waste to a large variety of other organic matter. This supports soil life with needed macro/micro minerals and nutrients that in turn, supplies the vegetables with a balance of absorbable minerals (20) and other nutrients in a desirable on-demand release.
Another factor in food nutrition is freshness. Fresh vegetables are more nutritious than canned goods, some frozen goods, and imported produce. Canned veggies are cooked, then have stabilizers, salt, and preservatives added which make them a poor choice for people with health issues. Cooking and draining of food can result in a 75% loss of potassium. Blanching of frozen veggies causes the loss of water-soluble vitamins (like B vitamins), but removes few of the fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A, E, and carotenoids. 30% of vitamin C is lost in freezing. For more information refer to the USDA Table of Nutrient Retention Factors (2003). Imported or distant produce is typically picked raw, then treated with ethylene or other agents for a ripe appearance and a fresh look. However time and the disrupted ripening process of fruit can severely affect its nutritional quality and flavor. Food from the local grower or home garden can always be picked fresh and can have flavor comparable to vine ripe tomatoes.
The ‘mystery factor’ of our food supply is a major residual concern for most people. The ‘mystery factor’ can be “Where did this food come from?” or “Are any harmful pesticide residues or biologicals in or on the food?” or “What is the true nutritional value?”. A recent TV documentary stated that only 2% of food from China is inspected. A close inspection of supermarket pork may reveal that it came from Haiti or another third world country. Also there are only 3 major food suppliers of food in this country. Their main concern is growing food for a profit. It must look good, taste fair, have a long shelf-life and above all – be sold. Therefore, the best approach to obtaining good nutritional food without the ‘mystery factor’ is to buy local quality food or grow it yourself.
So there are healthy benefits in growing your own food. You can control fertility, pesticide usage, harvest time and choose many types of flavorful, nutritious vegetable varieties. Garden produce can lower your grocery budget, or it may even produce income from a Farmers Market. It is a pleasant endeavor that can improve physical and mental well-being.

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Planting Tips & Community Gardening Plots Available in DeRidder for 2013

By George Giltner, Master Gardener

LSUAC4C72-80px[1]MasGarTM5x7_w85[1] A Blog from the LSU AgCenter and Beauregard Master Gardeners

Master Gardeners welcome gardeners to grow and care for vegetable plots in DeRidder.  Master Gardeners or community gardeners can obtain plots by calling the AgCenter, 463-7006, or George Giltner at 460-1715.  Corn, early tomatoes, a row of blackberries, broccoli, lettuce, snap peas, etc. are suggestions.  Our aim is to grow healthy, nutrient dense foods, and to support our LSU AgCenter.

A healthy potato variety, Nicola, will be trialed this spring in two sites in the Master Garden.  This potato has a low glycemic index and a buttery flavor that is great for potato salads and mashed potatoes.  One planting site is the primarily clay soil on the west end, and the other in a sandy loam site in the center of the garden center.

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Santa visiting a winter garden in Beauregard Parish

Potato planning tips:

  1. Be sure to order your potatoes early.  Many heirloom and hard-to-find varieties sell out quickly.  Ask about the delivery date.  This is important because potatoes do not do well when the temperatures reach the 90’s.  If a late planting runs into hot weather while the tubers are in the early bulking stage, you may get a low yield.
  2. When your seed potatoes arrive, store them in the refrigerator until the week before you are going to plant them.  To break their dormancy, take them out of the refrigerator, and place them on a bright and warm place, like a window seal.
  3. Plan on where you want to plant your potatoes.  The critical consideration for planting is good soil drainage.  Heavy spring rains can soak soil and turn it to anaerobic conditions and rot,  without proper drainage.  Do not plant potatoes where tomatoes or other members of the Nightshade family grew the previous year.  Plant them in spots where cabbage, mustards or other brassicas were grown for their fumigant and disease resistant properties.
  4. The right time to plant is determined by weather conditions.  Potatoes should be planted in soils that are dry enough to be cultivated without heavily sticking to cultivating tools.  The target date for our Nicola potatoes is Feb. 14.  However some may be planted under hoop wire and cover cloth for an earlier start.
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Containerized beds with hoop covers for winter gardening.

More planting and gardening tips will follow next month.  Gardening is fun.  You get mental and physical exercise, but the best part is really great food at the end of the day.  An outstanding web site is  All of us want good health.  So think about a New Year of discovering ways to live a healthy life style.

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Rhinoceros Beetle – Giant Grub Worm

By George Giltner, Master Gardener

LSUAC4C72-80px[1]MasGarTM5x7_w85[1] A Blog from the LSU AgCenter & Beauregard Master Gardeners

3 rhino beetle adult

Adult Rhino Beetle

The rhino beetles (Scarabaeidae family) look like June bugs on steroids with up to a two inch length.  Some species have males with large horns which make them ferocious looking.  However, do not fear because these beeltes are harmless.  They even make good pets which can be kept in captivity for up to two years.

Strategus aleous is a common species found in our Beauregard Parish.  Look around parking lots at night, as they are attracted to street lights near grass or wooded areas.  The males have dominant curved side horns and a frontal rhino horn.  If two males are put a box, you may have a battle of the bugs contest with shoving and pushing.  These bugs are extremely strong.  One entomologist glued a weight 100X the weight of the beetle, on its back.  It carried the weight.  This is equivalent to a man walking with three cars on his back.  Therefore ounce per ounce, these beetles are among the world’s strongest animals.  Online “Giant Beeltes, Hercules Beetles, Ox Beetles, Rhino Beetles and Unicorn Beetles” can bring in big prices from collectors.  Perfect specimens can be sold for thousands of dollars.

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Grub of Rhino Beetle

The giant 4 inch grubs that residents of Beauregard parish find in their compost, rotting stumps, sawdust, and leaf piles are the harmless larvae of these beetles. They are beneficial by aiding in the decomposition of high-carbon organic matter. In my own 4’ cube compost pile, I have counted up to 50 of these grubs. They are dossel and easily picked from finished compost to add to unfinished organic matter. Fishermen love to use these grubs to catch the prize “big One”.  Insectivorous animals like opossums and armadillos love to dig up thick layers of leaves under hardwood forest to feast on the grubs of these giant beetles.

These fascinating goliaths of the beetle order, Coleoptera, are totally beneficial to man.  Whether put to use as fish bait, a compost grinder, or as a pet for a curious child, these beetles are useful insects.

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Battle of the Bugs – Vacuum Option


Battle of the Bugs – Vacuum Option

By George Giltner, Master Gardener, Beauregard Parish, LA

Imagine a 97 HP, tractor-mounted, 8-fan vacuum straddling 16’ of lettuce in the field of the US’s second largest lettuce grower.  With the force of hurricane winds, this $80,000 vac cleaner hurls bugs against metal components for an instant kill and exhausts them for soil amendments.  This equipment is the invention of entomologist Edgar Shaw who plans to develop smaller, less expensive models in the near future.  The machine is as effective as chemical pest control, but it does not burn nor discolor the lettuce as a side effect of chemical control.  Also this big bug “Salad-Vac” is one answer to consumer, grower and environmental concerns over chemical issues. Since lettuce is reported to have some of the highest levels of pesticide residues, it makes sense for the producer, Tanamura and Antle, to utilize these machines on all of their 20,000 acres in three states.  Therefore vacuuming is a viable option on the commercial scale, and it can be applied to smaller farms and gardens.

In the home garden, different vacuums have been tried with varying success. Years ago a Briggs powered vac could be bought to drag down rows, but it did not pass all of consumer’s expectations.  The underpowered and rechargeable hand models like the Bugzooka, Lentex Bug Vac, and Dust Busters just don’t have the suction power that you need for good capture.  On the larger scale, shop vacuums are bulky, can damage plants, and are a pain to move around in a gardening space.

 However, I have found a powerful and portable model that is just right – the DeWalt 18V portable vac with the option of an electric cord.  It has a battery charged up for construction-grade power tools that gives plenty of time to cover most garden sizes. The vacuum has the just right suction to get the bugs without damaging plants.  It gives the gardener the upmost satisfaction to zip the suction hose around plants, sucking up harmful bugs with ease, while leaving the lady bugs to continue their beneficial activities. With a little practice, stink bugs, cucumber beetles, and sharpshooters don’t have a chance of escape.  This vac has a large capacity tank, so you will not have to dump bugs until you’re sweep is finished.  When you do open the vac, dump the bugs in a bucket of soapy water for the final kill.  No, they will not fly off when the vac is opened.  It’s probably comparable to a person going through Hurricane Rita and being slammed against trees.  It just makes them so disoriented that they readily fall into the soap bath.

 In early spring is the time to focus on harmful bug control before the populations have a chance to reach high levels of damage to plants.  Keep up the effort to avoid outbreaks of pests as the season progresses.  By late August, the build-up of stink bugs will be fairly large. They will travel great distances to land in your pea patch or late season tomato crop.  Remember that stink bugs transmit viral, bacterial, and fungal diseases.  So you have to keep them under control, but have fun doing it with a simple vacuum.

Editor’s Note: Mr. George Giltner is a Louisiana Master Gardener in Beauregard Parish, and he regularly writes “Battle of the Bug’s” articles for the Beauregard Parish Master Gardeners Community Newsletter.

Also, the use of the name of any product is intended for educational purposes, and is not a product endorsement of the LSU AgCenter

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Battle of the Bugs: Insect Control Alternatives to Broad Range Insecticides

Battle of the Bugs: Insect Control Alternatives to Broad Range Insecticides

By George Giltner, Beauregard Parish Master Gardener







Friendly insecticidal oils &  repellents                                                                         

 Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly

One mistake of novice home gardeners is to use the most lethal, broad range insecticides on the market.  Vendors readily advertise on their products of all the insects and arachnids that they destroy.  However new approaches to insect control are similar to modern-day warfare, where precise targeting is used instead of inaccurate carpet bombing with extensive collateral damage.  Welcome in the new age of Integrated Pest Management, IPM, which utilizes multiple approaches to target specific insect pest without harming beneficial bugs and soil organisms.

A small investment of time is required to learn about IPM – beneficial insects, pest resistant plants, physical controls, biological controls, barriers, repellents, and traps, cultural controls, etc.  Beneficial insects can easily be destroyed by a broad range insecticide like carbaryl (Sevin).  Organophosphates, another group of broad range insecticides, can also harm the nervous system of animals and humans.  Also insects are becoming more resistant to routinely used chemical insecticides.  Use of some insecticides will just enhance the spider mite damage to plants, which is controlled best with biological predator control.

An example of using IPM with spider mites would first include an ID of the pest.  Check out:,, or or use a book reference like “Organic Gardening for Dummies” for a fun read.  You’ll find that spider mites are very active in dry weather like last summer.  Control measures include washing plants with a blast of water, using dormant oil in early spring, and spraying plants with light horticultural oil or insecticidal soap in summer.  Encourage beneficial insects that prey on spider mites by planting attracting plants like yarrow and alyssum.

Another example of IPM control – this time use a physical control measure of vacuuming to collect difficult to chemically kill, leaf-footed bugs in the garden.  The trick is to find a vacuum that is not too strong that damages plants, and one that is not too weak to suck up the bugs.  Personally I have found a portable 18 V DeWalt vac that is perfect.  For the time of your life, find a young gardener to challenge with “vac-bug control”.  In 10 minutes, a 300 sq ft garden can be swept clean of harmful bugs and your help will be begging to do it again the next day.  Beneficial insects like lady bugs, lacewing bugs, minute pirate bugs, parasitic wasps, and parasitic flies are left unharmed.

So the message of IPM is to first use the best and least harmful method of insect control.  The tunnel vision of harmful and expensive chemical control first, usually leads to more problems later.  The butterflies and beneficial insects will reward you with their beauty, pollination activities, and a sustainable and safe garden.

“The garden suggests there might be a place where we can meet nature halfway” Michael Pollan.

Editor’s Note: Mr.  George Gilter is a Master Gardener in Louisiana, and he writes  the “Battle of the Bugs” articles regularly for the Beauregard Parish Master Gardeners community Newsletter.

Also, the use of product names and images is intended for educational purposes only, and is not a product endorsement  by the LSU AgCenter.

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