Thursday, November 5, 2009

UGA Researcher Sends New Abelia Plants to Market

Abelias are perfect for Southern landscapes. The drought-tolerant, disease- and insect-resistant evergreen shrub thrives in Georgia’s climate. Thanks to a University of Georgia plant breeder, gardeners and landscapers will soon have four new stunning varieties to choose from.

“Abelias are everywhere,” said Carol Robacker, a horticulturist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. “They have virtually no pests, grow during drought conditions and some varieties will bloom from May until frost.”

In their natural state, abelias can grow 10 feet tall and have a wild, free-form structure. Flowers are small and not very fragrant.

“The nice thing about breeding abelia is its tremendous variability. There are huge differences among seedlings,” she said.

In her Griffin laboratory, Robacker has spent the past decade breeding varieties that are compact, fragrant and full of blooms, making them more attractive for use in the landscape. A member of the honey-suckle family, the abelia’s sweet, floral fragrance was one attribute she wanted to emphasize.

“We were breeding against some of the wildness,” she said. “Selecting compact growth, fragrant flowers and great foliage color, we have made them stunningly beautiful.”

The new varieties are as follows:

Cloud 99 billows with fragrant white blooms all summer. Reaching a height of 4.5 feet tall, the emerald-green foliage contrasts against the crisp white blooms, creating a cloud-like appearance. The variety has exceptional drought tolerance and survives 0 degrees Fahrenheit.

Plum Surprise’s leaves and stems are worth watching. The leaves go from yellow-green and purple in March and April to emerald-green in May, eventually turning crimson in autumn. New stems are bright red before developing a brown cast with age. The purple beauty has an unusual weeping shape that grows to be 3 feet tall and 5 feet wide. Relatively light on blooms, flowers are scattered individually or in pairs and are pale yellow with purple blush. It’s extremely drought- and heat- resistant.

Raspberry Profusion blooms early and with force. An abundance of fragrant raspberry flowers bloom in early May. By mid-June it’s completely covered in pink. The emerald leaves are evergreen and hardy to 6 degrees below zero. This plant can grow to be 5 feet tall and 6 feet wide.

Lavender Mist gets its name from its mist-like glossy blue-green leaves and fragrant lavender blooms. It’s unique among abelias. Blooms appear in mid-June and stay until autumn, with flushes in June and August. With a slightly sweeping structure, it grows to 5.5 feet tall and more than 9 feet wide.

Ball Horticultural Company holds the license for Plum Surprise, Raspberry Profusion and Lavender Mist. For more information or locations, visit the Web site
“There is a lot yet to be done with this species,” Robacker said. “The biggest limiting factor is people don’t know what it is, so they don’t ask for it, and don’t use it”.

Abelias don’t require much maintenance, but do need at least six hours of sunlight a day. Rainwater usually provides enough water. Every two years, cut abelias back to knee height to keep the blooms heavy and the shape compact.

(Author April Sorrow is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

Consumer Q’s: Muscadines and Azaleas

Q. Is it true that muscadines are rich in antioxidants?

A. That is what the nutritionists say. However, antioxidants are just one more reason to eat muscadines. The main reason is that they are delicious. They are excellent fresh. They also make one of the most flavorful jellies you’ll ever eat. And muscadine wine is a favorite for many.

* * *

Q. I love azaleas but want to plant something else because I see azaleas everywhere. Do you have any suggested alternatives?

A. Azaleas are ubiquitous in Georgia. Because azaleas are common, some people are looking for something different, for a shrub that offers more than one season of interest or for a shrub that offers blooms or something else in a time of year that is not as abundant with flowers as spring is.

There are other shrubs that can be planted instead of azaleas. Here are some possibilities: glossy abelia (Abelia x grandiflora), American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), sweet-bubby bush (Calycanthus floridus), tea-oil camellia (Camellia oliefera), flowering quince (Chaenomeles speciosa), summersweet clethra (Clethra alnifolia), winterhazel (Corylopsis pauciflora), Scotch broom (Cytisus scoparius), redvein enkianthus (Enkianthus campanulatus), dwarf fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii), Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica), Japanese kerria (Kerria japonica), spicebush (Lindera benzoin), lorepetalum (Lorepetalum chinense), Japanese pieris (Pieris japonica), Yeddo hawthorn (Rhaphiolepis umbellata), Japanese skimmia (Skimmia japonica) and blueberry (Vaccinium spp.).

This is a varied group a shrubs. The list is not exclusive; these are just a few possibilities. Your county Extension agent or local nursery or garden center can answer questions about whether any of these will be suitable for your particular site and needs. They may also offer other suggestions.

Before you totally write off azaleas, however, please note there are also more varieties and species of azaleas available than ever before. For example, it is now possible to find native azaleas for sale, azaleas trained as standards, ‘Encore’ azaleas that have a second crop of blooms in the fall, groundcover azaleas such as ‘Flame Creeper’ and late blooming azaleas such as one of the ‘Gumpo’ varieties or our native summer-blooming plumleaf azalea (Rhododendron prunifolium).

Visit your local nursery or garden center for more details.

Prepared by the Office of Public Affairs
Georgia Department of Agriculture
Tommy Irvin, Commissioner

Thursday, October 29, 2009

USDA wants to introduce families to their farmers

Kathleen Merrigan believes all families should know where their food comes from. To do that, they must first know where it all begins -- with farmers.

The deputy secretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture visited the University of Georgia campus in Athens Oct. 26 to promote the department’s new Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative (

“By better connecting consumers of food to their producers, people across the country will have a greater understanding of the challenges in agriculture today and the effort it takes to put food on their tables,” Merrigan said.

The initiative is especially important considering the average age of a U.S. farmer is 59 and climbing and many national and state agriculture experts are nearing retirement age, she said. Getting the next generation involved now is important.

“There seems to be more opportunities to talk about agriculture now than at any other time in my adult life,” she said.

As part of the initiative, she wants farmers to have the chance to talk to her and other USDA officials in person and through Web sites like YouTube. “We want to recognize a lot of expertise comes from the countryside,” she said. “We want to know what’s going on in Georgia, what’s working.”

While on campus, she spoke with UGA researchers, administrators, farmers and students and found out what the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences is doing to support locally grown food.

CAES promotes local food through work by the Center for Urban Agriculture, Farm to School programs, service-learning courses and community and school gardens.

The college recently graduated its first students in the organic agriculture certificate program, put together an organic production team that works with producers statewide and developed a new sustainable agriculture Web site ( and newsletter.

“We have a unique opportunity to develop and supply local food systems right now,” said CAES sustainable agriculture coordinator Julia Gaskin.

To promote locally grown food, CAES also partners with the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, Fort Valley State University, Georgia Organics, the Atlanta Local Food Initiative and Promoting Local Agriculture and Cultural Experiences, or PLACE.

Local food producers need places to process products like meat. CAES conducts feasibility studies to determine if meat-processing plants are feasible in certain parts of the state.

“There are no small processing facilities in the state,” said Georgia Organics director Alice Rolls. “For small poultry processing, they’re taking it to Mississippi.”

Merrigan mentioned there is interest in mobile poultry processing units, but said at best it’s a gray area when it comes to governing these facilities.

South Georgia farmer Bill Brim asked Merrigan how her department plans to tie food safety back to locally produced efforts.

“There is no size exemption on food safety,” she said. “We’re working on this.”

CAES dean Scott Angle reminded her that some critical research is not getting the funding it needs, for example, phosphorous use in watermelon and other environmental and sustainable issues.
“For farmers, it’s critically important, but government and industry doesn’t see it as important enough,” Angle said.

Farmers need financial help during disasters, like last year’s salmonella-related tomato scare that cost them $1.2 million in sales, said Terry Coleman, the Georgia deputy commission of agriculture.

“They’re vulnerable to natural disasters and also to misspeak,” Coleman said.

To get the next generation involved, young people need access to land and skills to grow food, said Craig Page with Athens-based PLACE.

“We need to be making it affordable so young people who want to farm closer to urban areas can,” he said, “so they can meet their social needs, too, and not be restricted to rural areas.”
Brian Barrett with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service told Merrigan that Georgia may soon move from being a state with few certified organic acres to one of the top 25. A $1.2 million NRCS grant will help it do that.

“Ag continues to grow in Georgia,” Angle said, “both at the state and local levels. It’s an interesting place to be right now.”

By Stephanie Schupska
University of Georgia

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Thanks for plant ID! Jersusalem Cherry it is...

Thanks to the person who identified the plant in a previous blog... it is a Jerusalem Cherry. Turns out the berries are highly poisonous so I am considering getting rid of it. I kind of hate to do it though as I like it AND it's not supposed to thrive in Georgia. Not only does it come back every year without any help, but it's thriving. So there experts!

I need to make sure somehow that visiting children don't have access to it if I keep it. I was even tempted to try it myself... it looks just like an orange tomato or edible fruit. I wouldn't do it, but if it tempts me, I know a young child wouldn't hesitate.

Good luck in finding your plant!

Have you tried your local extension service? I was told recently that they're a great resource when it comes to identifying local plants. They were next on my list of places to try.

I'll be happy to post a photo and description on here if you'd like to send a link.

Thanks again.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

ID Plant? Orange "berry", white flower...

I have a mystery plant that pops up each year in a shady part of one of my flower beds. I love the colors and the way it is so hardy (which means it's probably a weed ;-).

I had one plant, now I have two, which I "assume" means one of the berries seeded. With all the berries it produces I'm surprised I don't have a hundred of them, but maybe I'm pulling them up as weeds unaware.

I've lived here five years and a fair percentage of my garden was here when I arrived so it could be something planted by the previous owner or it could be a wild plant.

I've asked my plant friends, the lawn guy and made countless searches on the Internet but haven't been able to identify the plant. My Mom, who knows a lot about plants couldn't identify it either (however, she only had my verbal description to work with... maybe when she sees these photos she'll go "a-ha, I know what it's called...").

I'm sure it's something simple, something common, and someone out there in blog or Twitter land will know the answer... right? please?

The plant is about 2 feet high and is located in the Atlanta, Georgia area (southeast US).

It has pretty small white flowers during early summer that hang upside-down. They have a dark yellow or orange center. I think the petals come to a point, but after looking at so many photos on the Internet I could be remembering incorrectly.

I thought it might be in the Fairybell family because of the flowers, but didn't see any located in the Southeast.

I took a photo of the flowers earlier this year, but can't find them now (of course). They're tiny, not as large as the fruit / berry.

It has 3/4 inch dark shiny fruit or berries that turn a gorgeous orange. I cut one open this morning to see what's inside. It rather looks like a tomato but it's not soft.

It has a familiar smell to it, but for the life of me I can't quite attach it to whatever it's reminding me of from the garden (or maybe the wilds).

Hopefully the plant isn't in the poison sumac family (read that some have an orange berry it seems...) given the fact that I pulled off one of the berries, took it into the kitchen to cut and photograph! That's going to be my next Internet stop. Making me itch just to think of the possibility.

I have searched for "orange berry" and "white flower". Could be I need to change "berry" to "fruit" in my Internet search efforts.

I also tried a search on "Fairybell" and while I found similar flowers, none of the photos showed the fruit.

Any ideas? Anyone know what my mystery plant is named?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Preserve your summer bounty

More and more, people are planting gardens and preserving its bounty. For some, the draw is self-sufficiency and quality control.

“I have an organic garden, and I want to keep my organic produce,” said Ken Davis. “I know I could buy organic at the store, but I know exactly what I used to grow and can my food.”

Some people can food to preserve family traditions.

“Growing up, my mom always had a jar of something around the kitchen,” said Stephen Crae. “I want to keep up what she started.”

Crae and Davis recently attended class, offered by University of Georgia Cooperative Extension in Oconee County, on the proper way to can food to preserve it.

Canning fresh food isn’t easy. You can’t just put it in a jar and stick the lid on. And it isn’t fast. It takes several hours to can foods safely. It’s a scientific process that requires following instructions, said Denise Everson, the UGA Extension agent in Oconee County who taught the class.

“Food preservation does not allow for personal variations,” she said. “Creativity happens after you open the jar.”

You can’t leave ingredients out, add extras or double recipes. Recipes must be followed exactly, one batch at a time.

Process and cooking times are exact. Use recipes tested and approved by the United States Department of Agriculture or other food preservation specialists such as with Cooperative Extension, she said. Recipes tested and approved by the University of Georgia are available in the book, So Easy to Preserve or online at the National Center for Home Food Preservation Web site.


Canned foods need to be processed or cooked to a temperature high enough to destroy dangerous bacteria like Clostridium botulinum. Botulism is a potentially deadly illness caused by consuming the nerve toxin produced by bacteria found in dirt. According to Everson, nearly 80 percent of botulism cases occur from food preserved at home.

Numbness in fingers and toes, upset stomach, blurred vision and difficultly speaking, swallowing and breathing are signs of botulism that usually occur within 12 hours to 72 hours of eating tainted food. Once it starts, the nerve damage is permanent.

Processing jars also stops enzymes that can cause changes in color, flavor and texture.

There are two methods for processing jars: in a boiling water bath or pressure canner.

“The food you choose determines which method you use,” Everson said.

High-acid foods like fruits, pickles and tested salsas can be processed in a boiling water bath. Boiling water should completely cover the jars and sit at least one inch on top. Add jars when water is simmering, and start timing once the water boils.

“Table salt can make foods cloudy,” Everson said. “Acid levels are important in canning, so don’t use homemade vinegar or fresh lemons in canning recipes.”

Most vegetables, soups and meats are low-acid foods that need to be processed in a pressure canner. Start timing a pressure canning process once the correct pressure is reached. Dial gauges on pressure canners must be accurate and operated correctly to prevent injury or illness. Dial gauges should be tested each year. Many local UGA Extension agents can do this.

Canning 1-2-3

Use mason-style canning jars, lids and bands. Canning jars and rust-free bands can be used for several years. Lids, however, only create one safe seal and must be tossed once used.

To can properly, follow these steps:

• Prepare food as directed in recipe.

• If required, sterilize canning jars in a hot water bath.

• Fill hot jars with hot food. Leave correct amount of headspace listed in recipe.

• Remove air bubbles in jars using a plastic knife. Readjust the liquid and headspace if needed.

• Use clean, damp paper towels to clean jar rims before adding lids.

• Center lid over the jar. Screw bands down just enough to close finger-tip tight. (Do not overtighten.)

• Process in a boiling water bath or pressure canner for the required time listed for each food.

• When the process time is over in a boiling water canner, turn off the heat, carefully remove the canner lid, and let the jars sit for 5 minutes before taking them out. At the end of the process in a pressure canner, turn off the heat, let the canner cool naturally to 0 pounds of pressure. Remove the weight, let the canner cool another 10 minutes, then remove the lid carefully.

• Remove jars by lifting them straight up and placing them on a towel. Don’t move the jars for 24 hours.

• After they cool and seal, remove bands and wash jars with soapy water to remove any food residue.

• Store in a cool, dry, dark place.

• Enjoy canned foods within a year for best quality.

By April Sorrow
University of Georgia

Friday, June 26, 2009

Outdoor Writer Says "Sting Stopper" Saved His Life

Bob Epstein, past President Florida Outdoor Writers Association , was recently stung on the lip by a yellow jacket wasp. Almost perishing from an allergic reaction, Denver’s Sting Stopper was applied by his wife Barbara. All symptoms including major facial swelling, pain, and breathing returned to normal in under 2 minutes...

We carry the Denver's Sting Stopper. Great stuff, something everyone should have handy when out in the yard, on a picnic, a hike, camping or anywhere they might go in the great outdoors.

Squishy Squash

I'm growing squash for the first time this year. It's been a lot of fun watching the plants envelope and overtake the space I allotted for the two plants.

I've had squash for a few weeks now and have enjoyed a squash casserole and fried squash one night. Next I plan to make stuffed squash. Stewed squash is NOT on the menu ;-)

There are only two of us so I've been giving squash to friends and family. I had no idea how much two little plants could produce.

Now though I'm concerned that I may lose future squash. The things are rotting on the vine before they get to the picking point. They have a fuzzy mold growing on the things.

I thought maybe I was over-watering, or watering too late in the day so I've switched to morning watering. They get a fair amount of sun, but it's mostly morning sun. Around 1-ish the sun moves just enough to put them in light shade. By 2 or so they're in the shade.

My tomatoes and asparagus beans that are growing near them are doing just fine. But then again, they don't have the large shady canopy of leaves covering them.

So, after I type this I'm heading off to the nearest Internet search engine to see if I can find out what to do, if anything, about the squishy squash. Could be that it simply boils down to location, location, location and I'll have to choose a different area next year. At least that's one plant the deer don't seem to want to munch on! Thank goodness for prickly leaves and stems.

I'm open to any help from readers (assuming I have any at this point... after all, it's a brand new blog!).

Tips to prevent fire ants

(ARA) - Fire ants are very serious and territorial insects. They are not only a nuisance to your property; they can harm you, your children and your pets. Being able to identify fire ants, where they live, treatments for prevention, working with your neighbors for season-long control, and what to do if you are stung are all very important elements to educate yourself and family on in order to be fire ant-free.

Identifying fire ants and their mounds

Fire ants are small insects. They range in size from 1/16 to 1/5 of an inch long and are dark red and brown. A fire ant mound can be identified by its dome-shaped, soil-based structure that forms the upper most part of a fire ant colony. Their mounds can reach up to 12 inches or more in diameter and height and are usually found where water is nearby and the soil is damp.

Fire ants are hard workers and compile loose soil and other contents in the surrounding area to build their mounds. Mounds are typically visible in yards as soil granules form a "mound" shape, but are small and often hidden in grasses, weeds, under rocks and other landscaping. Mounds can pop up almost anywhere, but common places to watch for them include: Lawns and ornamental planting areas, patios, sidewalks, curbs, flower beds, compost piles, under trees and around electrical equipment. Be sure to keep an eye for fire ant mounds when you are enjoying parks, on golf courses, sports fields and any other places you, your kids or pets may walk through or play in.

Two-Step Method

There are two common approaches for effectively controlling fire ants -- broadcast treatments and mound treatments. For large yards and early season prevention, use a broadcast treatment, such as Over 'n Out Fire Ant Killer or AMDRO FireStrike to treat the entire yard. For smaller areas when visible mounds are present, use a mound treatment such as AMDRO Fire Ant Bait directly around individual mounds.

For the most comprehensive control, especially in the case of severe infestation, experts recommend a Two-Step Method using both broadcast and mound treatment. First use a broadcast spreader to treat your entire lawn. Then, treat particularly stubborn mounds you see with AMDRO Fire Ant Bait to eliminate fire ant activity in as little as one week.

It is an ant's nature to pick up food and bring it into the colony to feed to the queen and other ants. Ants believe that bait and AMDRO Fire Ant Bait are food. You feed the worker ants and they in turn, feed the queens. As the bait works, it destroys the colony.

Quite the opposite, but with the same results, fire ants unknowingly pick up Over 'n Out Fire Ant Killer on their bodies, carry it back to the mound, and distribute it to other colony members including the queen. Fire ants ingest it or absorb it through the cuticle, killing them and destroying the colony.

By using both a mound treatment and a broadcast treatment together, you achieve season-long control.

Neighborhood programs

The best way for homeowners to prevent fire ant infestations is to coordinate treatment with neighbors. A coordinated effort among neighbors maximizes the treated area, making it harder for fire ants to find a place to re-colonize. A neighborhood Two-Step Method is the most effective way to control and prevent fire ants for season-long control.

Studies show that areas with diligent neighborhood fire ant control programs, where multiple homeowners treat their lawns at the same time with the same fire ant control product, can reduce the number of active mounds by as much as 96 percent.

Treating fire ant stings

Fire ants bite and then inflict painful stings, which cause small blisters or pustules on the skin, typically up to 24 to 48 hours later. If you, your child, or your pet is stung by fire ants, it is important to follow first aid guidelines and to seek medical attention immediately if there is any suspicion of an allergic reaction. Allergic reactions include severe swelling, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, headaches and sweating.

If blisters occur, make sure they are clean and avoid any action that might further irritate the area, such as scratching or rubbing. Rinse the sting area with cold water and gentle soap to avoid infection and elevate the affected area of the body. You can use a cool compress or ice to reduce swelling and alleviate pain and itching.

Summer is the season to enjoy the outdoors. Now is the time to educate yourself and family on fire ants. Being able to identify fire ants and their mounds, proper treatments and handling stings are all extremely important to avoid fire ant infestation. Take time to educate yourself and family and enjoy a fire ant-free season.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Apply proper fertilizer for large fruit, not plant

Fertilizer can work wonders on plants, but applying the wrong kind to tomatoes can leave you with a tall, healthy plant with no fruit, say University of Georgia Cooperative Extension experts.

“'How can my tomato plants be 8 feet tall and not produce any tomatoes?’ That's the question I answer the most," said Bob Westerfield, a UGA Extension consumer horticulturist. "It's like I have a crystal ball. I know right away that the gardener is using liquid fertilizer."

Westerfield says it's very easy to give your tomatoes and other garden vegetables too much of a good thing when you use liquid fertilizers like the ever-popular Miracle-Gro. Liquid fertilizers are hard to calibrate, and they're absorbed into the plant very quickly.

"Too much nitrogen will cause the plant to put out incredible growth but hold back on reproducing," Westerfield said. "You want the plant to reproduce, because that's where the fruit comes from. Too much fertilizer will also cause the blooms to abort. And no blooms means no tomatoes."

The key to growing tomatoes, he said, is to fertilize at planting and not again until the plant produces dime- to quarter-sized fruit.

Gardeners shouldn’t use the traditional 10-10-10 fertilizer throughout the gardening season, says Billy Skaggs, UGA Extension coordinator in Hall County.

“Once the plants are established, you need to use something with less nitrogen,” he said. “Nitrogen encourages foliage growth, and unless you are growing leafy greens, you want large fruit, not large foliage.”

The numbers on a fertilizer bag represent the mixture’s ratio. The first number represents nitrogen. The second is phosphorus. The third is potassium. For fruiting vegetables, Skaggs recommends a mixture of 5-10-15 or 6-12-12.

Using the right fertilizer mix will give you the most return on your gardening money, he said.
People are turning to vegetable gardening more and more. “I don’t know if it’s a sign of the economy or not, but it’s definitely a growing trend,” Skaggs said. “People are growing their own produce to try to help feed their families.”

Half of American families are involved in home vegetable gardening, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This can range from growing a couple of tomato plants in a container to planting a “full blown” vegetable garden, Skaggs said.

“Growing a home garden is definitely economical,” he said. “For every dollar you spend -- from seeds to fertilizer -- you get an $8 return on your investment.”

Home gardens also provide readily available, more flavorful produce. “And you know it’s fresh because you picked it from your own back yard,” he said.

For more information on home gardening, contact your local UGA Cooperative Extension office at 1-800-ASK-UGA1.

(Sharon Dowdy is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Georgia blueberry crop ripe, ready and robust

A late spring freeze followed by heavy rains were a blessing for some Georgia blueberry growers. But they brought more hard work to others, according to University of Georgia experts.

The heavy rains delayed harvest of the southeast Georgia crop, causing some early concerns about highbush berry quality. “We had to work harder to make grade due to the heavy rains this spring, but it’s turning out to be good year for rabbiteye growers,” said UGA Cooperative Extension blueberry agent Danny Stanaland.

“We grow two blueberry crops in Georgia – highbush and rabbiteye,” Stanaland went on to explain. The highbush crop in some areas of southeast Georgia, which is the state’s major commercial production area, “was hit hard by the late freeze and will produce only about 35 to 50 percent of the crop.”

Robust rabbiteye crop

Fortunately, blueberry fans all over Georgia can expect a bumper crop from the rabbiteye variety.

“It will be the largest crop of rabbiteye blueberries we’ve had in several years,” Stanaland said. That’s especially good news for Georgia’s 300 blueberry growers. The majority of the crop is rabbiteye variety, and about 10 percent of the total crop is highbush variety.

“The highbush variety blooms and fruits early, making it more susceptible to the low temperatures and rain,” Stanaland said. “But, May 20 we finished harvesting highbush. That crop is gone.”

Growers are now harvesting rabbiteye berries in three phases.

“The early rabbiteye berries were wet and had some grading issues because it required more selective picking to get the good berries,” he said. “Now that it’s dry again, it’s much easier to harvest and grade, and fruit quality is very positive. We have the heaviest rabbiteye fruit set we’ve had in years. So, while we were short on highbush berries, we are going to be long on rabbiteye.”

Pick-your-own time

In the northern half of the state, where most blueberry operations are pick-your-own, growers are reporting larger-than-normal berries and an abundant crop, just in time for many markets to open this weekend.

In 2008, Georgia blueberry growers harvested more than 14,000 acres of blueberries with an off-the-farm value of close to $61 million dollars, slightly above the five-year average.

This year, growers expect to harvest between 12,000 and 14,000 acres, but that figure could surge as high as 15,000 to 20,000 acres, according to Stanaland and county Extension agent reports. About 75 percent of those acres are in southeast Georgia.

Prices are holding steady in spite of the abundance of available fruit this year, which usually drives prices down. Growers are getting about $14 per flat — or $1.40 per pound — for fresh berries, only a shade lower than last year’s price.

(Author Faith Peppers is a news editor for the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

Georgia farm organizations to share nearly $1 millionto promote, support and enhance “Specialty Crops”

Georgia Department of Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin says that nearly $1 million in federal funds are on the way from Washington for competitive grants that promote the marketing and enhancement of “specialty crops” in the state. The funds, distributed as part of the 2008 Farm Bill, are designated under the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program.

Irvin says $909,576.44 in U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) funds will be awarded on a competitive basis for developmental projects that support and enhance the competitiveness of Georgia Specialty Crops. Awards will be presented for projects that can successfully measure the greatest return on investment of the federal dollars. Grants of $10,000 up to $150,000 will be awarded for up to three years.

The Georgia Specialty Crops eligible for these competitive grants include: fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, Christmas trees, turfgrass (sod) in addition to nursery and greenhouse crops.

Organizations eligible to apply include non-profit organizations, corporations, commodity associations, state and local governments, colleges and universities. Applicants must live, conduct business or have an educational affiliation in Georgia. The application deadline is 5 p.m., Friday, July 17, 2009.

Grants will not be awarded for projects that solely benefit a particular commercial product or provide a profit to a single organization, institution, or individual. Single organizations, institutions, and individuals are encouraged to participate as project partners.

To request an application for this grant program e-mail inquiries to or write Georgia Department of Agriculture, Specialty Crops Block Grant Program, 19 Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. SW, Atlanta, GA 30334.