Archive for Vegetables

PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE

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By: Emily Shirley, President, Beauregard Master Gardeners Assoc.

Happy June!  If you live in the South, you know what we do in June and it does not necessarily have anything to do with gardening.  We prepare for hurricane season.  This month’s newsletter will toss in a little reminder of things to do for this season.  As with all our newsletters, we publish with the new gardener in mind, while also reminding seasoned gardeners of things they already know. 

 

This month we give you articles on composting and even share that now not-so-secret “Master Gardener soil recipe” developed by Advanced Master Gardener, George Giltner.  And you say, what else is there to learn about composting?  It really is science and I am one of those people that have to let science soak in.  Composting really is such an important topic not only for the home gardener, but for everyone involved in tending the earth and growing crops, whether you live on thousands of acres or on a tiny plot. If you are going to garden, “it all starts with the soil.” 

Soil must be replenished. And adding compost, (organic matter), is how soil is replenished. There is no substitute for adding back organic matter to your soil.  If you are gardening and you aren’t composting, make it a resolution to start a compost pile, or two or three, somewhere in your garden area. You’ll be a better gardener and have better soil too.

 

The AgCenter has been getting calls about these “tiny worms” that are coming inside the home so we are also sharing information on these “Millipedes”.  And, oh the confusion between the leaf-footed bug and the milkweed assassin –we will try to clear that up for you too. Probably the last thing a gardener would want to do is kill off a beneficial insect, like the Milkweed Assassin Bug, that is controlling pests (flies, mosquitoes, caterpillars, cucumber beetles, the Asian citrus psyllid, aphids, army worms, and other prey 6x their size). 

 

We know that next to tomatoes and peppers, the next vegetable that most gardeners always grow is squash.  But growing squash means there are many questions to ask about what is going on when you do have issues.  The article “Six Reasons Squash Fails and What to Do About It” will hopefully help you with all your squash issues. 

Emily

 

 

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Beauregard Master Gardener Demonstration Gardens Closing

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 Beauregard Master Gardener Demonstration Gardens Closing

by Ms. Emily Shirley, President, Beauregard Parish Master Gardeners

I almost started this paragraph with “On a sad note…” but I corrected myself – it is not on a sad note, it is on a note of appreciation and thankfulness. There was so much that was accomplished, good times, sharing, and lots of learning that too place in the Demo Gardens.  Last month the Beauregard Master Gardeners made the decision to close the Demonstration Gardens that have been in existence for approximately five years.  This was a wonderful and successful project and now we are ready to move on to other projects.

There are so many of you to thank and recognize for the work that you did, as well as the time, money, and energy you spent to make this project so successful, I can’t begin to name everyone.  We have money in our account at this time because you so willing to spend your own personal money to pay for things in the gardens. I want you to know that that has not gone unnoticed.  There are a few that spent a considerable amount of time and personal money and I do want to publically acknowledge them.

George and Merlyn Giltner spent so much in terms of money and time that I cannot begin to list all the things they did or all the things they paid for.  There were times when it was so hot and some days when it was so wet and ugly, but you could pass by the gardens and you would see George and Merlyn out there working.  On those hot days when things needed to be watered every day, we could always know that things were being taken care of because George and Merlyn would be there to water things.

The same goes for John Markham.  I even joked one time that I really thought John was living the potting shed in the Demo Gardens and had not informed any of us.  He was there almost every day working and taking care of things.  Not only did John oversee the installation of the irrigation system, I never worried about the system in the winter time because I knew John would take care of it.  The same for the raised beds.  John was always around to plant, fertilize, water and harvest the vegetables.  John and Dale Vincent raised some beautiful corn that we were able to sell at the Farmer’s Market and made money for future projects.

Jimmy Cooley installed an awesome Muscadine orchard and showed us all how it is done and what materials to use.  It was a wonderful teaching project and we so appreciate all the time, money and energy that went into that project.

Chris Krygowski came along just as we were all talking about a Children’s Garden.  She not only volunteered to help with this project, she agreed to head up this project and made it into something the rest of only dreamed of.  We all have commented on the energy Chris seemed to always have and the number of hours she spent making that area into what it is.

Dana Whittington took over an area of the garden that was difficult to garden for a number of reasons, but she certainly showed us that it can be done — if you have a difficult area you can always garden in containers.  In addition to the onions, garlic in the ground, she demonstrated how to grow purple potatoes and carrots in containers.  I harvested some of her onions and carrots for a wonderful soup one day last year.  Fresh from the ground is always good!

Allen Wells demonstrated how to grow vertically with his “Arbor Garden”.  His use of cow-pen panels is a unique way to have things growing overhead while other plants in-ground below.

And who can forget John Hendrix’s okra – we thought he had some type “Jack-And-The-Beanstalk” type okra out there.  And he harvested okra right into the fall.

Shirley Corda spent a considerable amount of time helping us get our Five-Year-Plan on paper to be presented to the Fair Board.

Keith Hawkins has been our MG Coordinator from the beginning and we appreciate what he has done for this program.  And to ALL the others not mentioned above, THANK YOU for all your contributions of time, money and sweat equity.  A job well done!

Ms. Emily Shirley is a Master Gardener in Beauregard Parish. She also publishes the BEAUREGARD MASTER GARDENER NEWSLETTER.

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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.

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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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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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Dinosaur Period Expanded Shale – for Gardens

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Dinosaur Period Expanded Shale – for Gardens

By George Giltner, Adv. Master Gardener, MS Biology

                 2014 expanded shale    2014 expanded shale 2

A garden soil recipe for success is to add a soil conditioner that originated from the Late Cretaceous Period, when the most famous mass extinction of dinosaurs occurred, 65 million years ago.  In this time period, Tyrannosaurus and Giganotosaurus roamed, and flowering plants began to flourish.  Fine grained sedimentary rocks from mud of clay and silt were laid down to form the Texas Midway Shale formation which is 10 -15 ft. underground in a pattern from Corsicana to Texarkana south to Laredo.

When shale from the above area is mined and exposed to 2000 deg C for 40 minutes, 65% of the silica makeup changes chemically as gases escape to form a porous lightweight rock, Expanded Shale.  It can absorb 38% of its weight in water for a water-wise soil amendment.  Also it will conservatively last for decades, unlike deteriorating vermiculite and decomposing peat moss.  Expanded shale is mostly an alumino-silicate that will not change the soil pH, is non-toxic and inert, and environmentally friendly.  It enhances plant growth and performance.  Applications include raised beds, window boxes, gardens, large container boxes, and in landscaping.

The porous structure of expanded shale absorbs water, therefore any fertilizer components dissolved in the water will also be absorbed onto the aggregate, porous-rock surfaces.  Extension researchers from Texas and Florida, J. Sloan, P. Ampim, R. Cabrera, W. Mackay, and S. George (Moisture and Nutrient Storage Capacity of Calcined Expanded Shale), have tested the bioavailability of nutrients loaded onto expanded shale by using Romaine lettuce.  Results demonstrated significant increases in the size and the mass of yield.  Shoot mass increased linearly from 0.1 grams with no fertilizer on expanded shale to 1.9 grams/pot with 100% fertilizer-treated expanded shale.  No additional fertilizer was needed for the 45 day crop rotation.

Dr. Steve George, Texas Agrilife Extension Service horticultural researcher in Dallas, recommends this expanded shale to “open up and aerate clay soils faster than any other product tested”.  His shale research work is extensive with two years of study and 6 years of field trials.  Expanded shale increased soil porosity (for drainage and aeration), reduced compaction (for healthier root systems), and insulated roots from temperature extremes.

Jim L. Turner, director of horticulture research at the Dallas Arboretum, praises its use for solving watering issues as overwatering causes more plant deaths than any other cause.  Expanded Shale is used extensively throughout the many beautiful gardens in the Dallas Arboretum to optimize water usage and conservation.

In your own gardens, utilize expanded shale by adding 3 inches of compost and 3 inches of expanded shale, then till to 8 inches deep.  Add top mulch to the mixed soil with a layer 3 inches deep. Continue mulch additions spring and fall.  Soil tests may reveal that additional commercial fertilizer is not needed due to decomposition additions from nutrient balanced mulch.

For containers, fill the bottom quarter with expanded shale, then add a mixture of 1/3 of each – expanded shale, compost, and garden soil.  Also add mulch to the top of the container. Due to our very hot summers and intense tropical solar light, use wood or other insulating material to reduce the temperatures on the surface of the container when the heat comes.  Always use a water meter to confirm moisture levels of your container soil.  Rain water is recommended due high sodium values (>100 ppm) in some of our local tap water supplies.

By late Spring 2014, an application-test demo plot will trial expanded shale and zeolite amendments to grow various garden vegetables in the Beauregard Demonstration Garden in DeRidder, La.  The initial soil was basic kaolinite clay subsoil with little nutrient value and low ability to retain nutrients.  In early November, compost and varying additions of zeolite were added to specific rows.  LSU AgCenter soil tests have indicated high nutrient values 6 weeks later in mid-December.  Identical mass of expanded shale will be added to ½ of each row.  Then in mid-March various vegetables will be planted.  Practical observations like yield, water meter readings, soil nutrient tests, soil bulk density, and plant health will be observed.  This Master Gardener application test is not meant to be a scientific experiment as the scope, time, and expense would be beyond volunteer resources.

Dinosaur dirt (Texas expanded shale) and porous volcanic rock (zeolite) soil conditioners have demonstrated their value in nutrient and water conservation by numerous scientific tests from NASA to University Extension Service experiments.  The nutrient cost-savings and environmental benefits of these products can be employed in cropping, forests, and in small-space gardening.  Experiments have proven that soil beneficial microbes are enhanced with greater moisture control, nutrient retention, and soil porosity, which should increase yields and Ag success.  “Let’s give it a try!”

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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.

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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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Soil Fertility Factors

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Soil Fertility Factors

By George Giltner, Advanced Master Gardener

You don’t have to battle through botany, chemistry, cellular biology and physics to understand that when essential nutrients are not available to plants, they will not grow.  Common garden logic is in the “Law of Return”.  When plants are removed from a garden, along with them goes a portion of the nutrients in the soil.  Therefore the gardener must return that complement of nutrients in the form of fertilizer back into the soil to maintain its fertility.  Other nutrient-loss factors like water leaching, volatile gases lost in decay, pest grazing, mineral insolubility, even removing weeds, and others contribute to fertility losses.

Soil testing can identify these losses.  Also soil test results supply information on soil mineral corrections.  Soil test sample boxes are available in a convenient mail-in form that can be obtained from the AgCenter.  Results are usually emailed or mailed within a week.

Organic matter additions are an excellent means returning nutrients and minerals back to the soil.  Consider making compost year round for garden amendments.  The compost is important to the soil structure, the microbes to insects in the soil-food web, moisture and mineral retention, and to the environment.  Mineral fertilizers do return mineral nutrients quickly to the soil, but it is in a leachable form that is destructive to soil life and the long term detriment of soil fertility.  Organic fertilizers provide a wide range of macro and micro nutrients that chemical fertilizers do not have.

Plant nutrient intake is influenced by temperature, mainly from 42 to 95 deg F for most plants, due to limits on photosynthesis and microbial produced nitrogen.   Also mycorrhizal fungi are very important for most of plant’s phosphorus uptake.  During early spring, one may notice purple leaves on tomatoes exposed to cool temperature soils.  This is probably due to lack of phosphorus transport activity of the fungi due to cool temperatures.  In summer, exposed soil around plants can reach temperatures around 120 deg F, thus limiting photosynthesis.  Mulching can reduce these temperatures by a significant 30 degrees, thus allowing for moderate temperatures for photosynthesis.

Problems with pH are typical with chemical gardeners.  Additions of ammonium are converted to nitrates by nitrogen-fixing soil bacteria, resulting in a lowering of the soil pH.  As the soil pH goes more acid, less and less of soil minerals are available to plants.  If lime is added during the plant growth cycle, “lime shock” occurs which leads to further problems with nitrogen loss, and a lock up of phosphorus in insoluble (unavailable) calcium phosphate.  Plant microbes are affected and other minerals become unavailable for plant absorption.  With a healthy organic soil, plants synthesize and release exudates that adjust the pH through action of the microbiological community.  Therefore organic soils are much less pH complicated to the gardener.

Poor soil aeration can devastate beneficial microbes in soils.  A compacted soil results in trapped carbon dioxide reacting with water to form carbonic acid. Excess carbonic acid then reacts with organic matter to form deadly alcohols and other noxious chemicals that kill root cells.  Aerobes in the soil are replaced with anaerobic life which ties up nutrients that would be going to plants.  Organic soil will hold its loose structure even after rains, whereas mineral soils will collapse and become compacted. A fluffy soil that can allow oxygen and water to flow easily is ideal. Water and oxygen movement is necessary to maintain the microbes and to transport soluble nutrients to plant root systems.

Chemical balances influence availability of individual mineral nutrients.  There is completion among ions of minerals for absorption on root sites.  Example: If you have too much potassium, magnesium, or sodium in your soil, plants will take up less calcium.  As a result, blossom-end rot would be much more common in your tomatoes, squash, and other plants.  This is why frequent soil tests are very important to chemical gardeners, but less so to organic gardeners.

Many people want to become gardeners, especially with rising food prices, problems with food safety, and reports of lack of nutrients in food items.  Too many are taking the “modern path” by pouring on N-P-K fertilizer without knowing how the fertilizers work.  These people use three times the nitrogen that farmers use.  This results in excess nutrients (esp. nitrogen and phosphorus) that are washed into waterways and harm aquatic environments, plus their garden is a flop.  To become a responsible and knowledgeable gardener, take the Master Gardener Classes at the LSU AgCenter. For more information about Master Gardeners, call the AgCenter at 337-463-7706 or email khawkins@agcenter.lsu.edu.

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