Leon County Sustainable Community Summit

UF/IFAS Extension Agents and Master Gardeners of Leon County have partnered with the Leon County Office of Resource Stewardship to lead multiple educational activities at this year’s Leon County Sustainable Community Summit.

The conference is breaking out of the indoors this year and will be held at the beautiful J.R. Alford Greenway at 2500 Pedrick Road in Tallahassee on Saturday, March 23, 9:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. There will be many interactive educational activities, including a chance to learn about electric vehicles, waste reduction, green spaces, local food systems and vegetable gardening, and energy and conservation. There will be a kids’ tent and post event tours, including a nature walk, greenway hayride, and a bike ride with Joyride Bicycle Collective.

During the Summit, there will be an opportunity for the community to provide input for the Leon County Sustainability Action Plan, learn about the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing program for making homes more energy efficient, and the Community Garden Network of the Capital Region will be giving away a free garden bed kit.

Please register to attend the Leon County Sustainable Community Summit on Eventbrite (https://www.eventbrite.com/e/2019-leon-county-sustainable-community-summit-tickets-54664825966). Coffee, snacks, and lunch are included in the registration fee. For more information, visit the Growing Green website (www.GrowingGreen.org/Summit2019). Please bring a water bottle and wear weather appropriate clothing.

Get the Scoop on Raised Bed Gardening

Get the Scoop on Raised Bed Gardening

Raised beds are an excellent way to get started with gardening. Photo by Molly Jameson.

One of the biggest obstacles a vegetable gardener faces is how to supply crops with healthy soil that can support crop growth all season long. Many native soils in Florida are stripped of imperative nutrients that crops need to grow, are too compacted from vehicle and foot traffic, and are often too sandy to support soil life, which is very important for nutrient cycling, building soil structure, and combating pests and diseases.

One of the best ways a gardener can ensure a successful gardening experience is to build a raised bed garden. No matter your native soil type and existing conditions, raised bed gardens allow a framework for building nutrient rich soil that can supply crops with what they require to grow healthily and thrive.

Want to learn how to garden using raised beds? On February 5, from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m., UF/IFAS Extension Leon County is offering a Raised Bed Gardening 101 workshop as part of the Red Hills Small Farm Alliance’s Seven Days of Local Delights. This is a week-long annual celebration that includes educational workshops, restaurant partnerships, fundraisers, and more that supports the local food community and farmers in the Red Hills Region. This year, the Seven Days of Local Delights runs from Sunday, February 3 to Sunday, February 10.

A trellis can even be built right on the end of a raised bed. Photo by Molly Jameson.

At the Raised Bed Gardening 101 workshop, learn how to choose the best raised bed garden site location, basics of irrigation in raised beds, planting dates and plant spacing, the difference between treated and untreated lumber, how much and what type of soil to use, and other tips on growing food in your backyard.

There is no cost to attend, but please register on Eventbrite (https://sdldraisedbedgardening101.eventbrite.com). For more information, contact Molly Jameson at mjameson@ufl.edu.

Check out everything going on during the Seven Days of Local Delights at the Red Hills Small Farm Alliance website: https://www.redhillsfarmalliance.com/seven-days. If you are not in the Tallahassee area, check with your local extension office to see what gardening events they may have available and how you can support your local food community and farmers in your area.

It’s Never a Bad Time to Plant Arugula

It’s Never a Bad Time to Plant Arugula

Arugula is a pungent, peppery leafy green native to the Mediterranean. It is in the Brassica or crucifer family, which also contains vegetables such as broccoli, kale, radishes, and cabbage, but is perhaps less common in the edible garden landscape. Although arugula is typically considered a fall vegetable, it can be seeded all year long with a little bit of protection from extreme cold or heat.

Arugula is an easy green to grow and adds pungent, peppery flavor to salads, pizzas, and many other dishes. Photo by Turkey Hill Farm.

Matter of fact, you can plant arugula every few weeks year-round to enjoy young tender leaves anytime. Since arugula has a compact root system, sow seeds one to two inches apart, thin out young whole plants as they fill in, and add them to salads for some extra dinner pizazz. Once plants are four to six inches apart, begin to harvest just arugula leaves, leaving the plants to grow taller in height. Leaves make great toppings on a sandwich or pizza, can be tossed in pasta just before serving, or can be steamed, stir-fried, or pureed and added to a plethora of dishes.

Although arugula is not as flashy as many of its fall garden counterparts, it is often the easiest to manage and last to get pest and disease problems. While your lettuce is attacked by slugs, kale crawling with aphids, and cabbage chewed up by armyworms, arugula often shines unblemished. And in late fall and winter, arugula will only need cold protection if we have a hard freeze (temperatures below 28 degrees for more than four hours). In these cases, cover your plants with frost cloth, bed sheets, or simply buckets, if your arugula patch is small. Just remember to secure your cover to the ground, such as using bricks to pin the cloth, to prevent gaps for air to escape. If done correctly, you can raise air temperatures eight degrees.

From June to September it will be helpful to plant your arugula in partial shade or use shade cloth with 40 to 60 percent density to cut the intensity of the heat. Spring and summer planted arugula may go to seed faster than in fall or winter, but because it is such an easy plant to sow and manage, you can be planting your next round just as your previous crop begins to senesce.

Throughout the life cycle of arugula, you will notice changes in the intensity of the plant’s complex flavor. This is due to fluctuations in sulfur compounds called glucosinolates, which increase as the plant matures.

So be brave, clear some space in your garden plot, and give this spicy cabbage cousin a try!

I Ain’t Afraid of No Slime Mold

I Ain’t Afraid of No Slime Mold

The plasmodium of Fuligo septica slime mold consuming bacteria and fungi inside the office worm bin. Photo by Molly Jameson.

Just when we thought we had our Leon County Extension vermicompost bins all figured out for recycling office food waste with the aid of worms…aliens invaded. I instinctively started looking all over for my “Ghostbusters” proton gun and backpack – but when they didn’t turn up, I decided to retreat and do a little research.

Fuligo septica moves as a mass of protoplasm about a millimeter an hour. Photo by Molly Jameson.

A mesmerizing bright yellow substance had taken over the entire top of the office worm bin, and when the lid was lifted, the yellow ooze was streaming down the inside of the lid and into the bin. Long, squiggly zig zags seemed to be engulfing nearly all the contents within the worm bin.

Unlike Ray Stantz’s reaction when he first meets Slimer devouring the room-service leftovers in the hotel hallway in the original “Ghostbusters,” we were all a little taken aback by our surprise intruder.

“Oh my! Will it kill our worms? Is it toxic? Where did it come from?”

Turns out our slimy yellow visitor was Fuligo septica; a species otherwise known as – and here’s hoping you’re not eating – dog vomit slime mold. A fitting name, indeed. To our amazement, Fuligo septica is not actually a mold (aka: fungus). Nor is it a plant, animal, or bacteria. It is actually a plastid, in the kingdom Protista and class Myxogastria, whose wind- or insect-spread spores converge and divide into a singular giant cell containing millions of nuclei, known as a plasmodium. These individuals come together to form a larger plasmodium and move as a mass of protoplasm, about a millimeter per hour, to feed on microorganisms living in decaying plant material.

I know what you’re thinking…this smattering of scientific terms has you right back in high school science class, and you’re feeling a bit woozy. But really – who needs science fiction movies like “Ghostbusters” when we have scientifically-explained neon slime molds all around us?

After a few days, Fuligo septica transforms into a pillow-like fruiting body in preparation for spore dispersal. Photo by Molly Jameson.

Besides the potential of Fuligo septica spores to be an allergen to those who are susceptible, this surprisingly common slime mold is not toxic to people, plants, or animals. It can be found on rotting bark and forest floors in nature – or on wood mulch in urban areas – normally when conditions are moist. The microorganisms the slime mold consumes are mainly bacteria and fungi, which are also very much present in the decaying food scraps and coffee grounds within a worm bin. And although Fuligo septica is harmless to people, it needs to watch out for us, as it is actually edible! Appropriately, another name for dog vomit slime mold is scrambled egg slime, as indigenous people in some areas of Mexico have collected the mold and scrambled it like eggs. Breakfast anyone?

Although real-life slime molds give Slimer a run for his money, the plasmodium blob of Fuligo septica will not stay its striking yellow amorphous shape for long. After a few days, it transforms into a pillow-like aethalium – a spore-bearing fruiting body like that of a mushroom – then degrades, darkens to a pinkish tan color, and finally releases its spores to start anew when conditions are right.

As the slime mold degrades, it darkens to a pinkish tan color, and releases its spores into the air. Photo by Molly Jameson.

Slime molds have stood the test of time, as analyses of their DNA has revealed they’ve been on Earth approximately a billion years! For reference, that’s hundreds of millions of years before plants or animals. And it’s a good thing Fuligo septica is here, because some of its characteristics has shown a lot of potential to be helpful, including as antibiotics, an ability to fight cancer cells, as antimicrobials, and environmental site remediation due to its ability to hyper-accumulate toxic heavy metals, such as zinc, and convert them to inactive forms. Scientists have discovered it’s the same yellow pigment that gives Fuligo septica its striking color that also forms a chelate with the heavy metals.

So, if you’re walking through a forest, down a path of mulch, or tending to your worm bin and come across this eye-catching, bright-yellow blobby creature, let this plasmodium do its thing. Probably better to scramble some actual eggs, lest your guests be squeamish.

Fall Gardening on the Horizon

Fall Gardening on the Horizon

Start preparing now so your fall garden will be full of dark leafy greens, multi-colored lettuces, and root vegetables of all shapes and sizes. Photo by Molly Jameson.

August is a double-edged sword. The oppressive heat is at its pinnacle – where even the thought of spending time in the garden makes you break into a sweat – but it is also the time of year that visions of fall start coming into focus, and you can’t help but peek at the weekly forecast for signs of declining temperatures.

If your garden looks anything like mine, there are sweet potato vines weaving in and out of every corner of sunlight they can find. The sweet peppers you let fully ripen are bright red and sweeter than ever. You may have already reaped the reward of your watermelons, but you’re still hoping you can get the harvest timing right for the late season bloomers. Your okra is as tall as you – maybe even taller – and you’re grateful, for their big oblong heart-shaped leaves are shading out at least some of those warm-season weeds.

Fall is the time to start growing kale, lettuce, onions, parsley, mustard greens, and much more. Photo by Molly Jameson.

But the seasons are-a-changing, and soon you’ll be pulling up the last of your summer garden to make room for dark leafy greens, a cornucopia of roots, and a rainbow of lettuce varieties.

If this is making you want to rush to your nearest plant nursery and unearth all your half-used fall seed packets, then come on down to the Leon County Extension Office in Tallahassee to join us for our annual Fall Backyard Gardening Series!

This is a two-part series, running from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. on September 4 and 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. on September 11, 2018, at 615 Paul Russell Road. I, along with Extension Agents Mark Tancig and Trevor Hylton, will discuss garden site selection, soil and fertilization, and fall planting and gardening techniques. As a bonus, you’ll leave with freshly planted vegetable seeds to take home to later transplant into your garden.

Please register on Eventbrite. The cost for both evenings is $10, and light refreshments will be provided. For more information, contact Molly Jameson at mjameson@ufl.edu or by phone at 850-606-5219.

And if you’re not in the Tallahassee area, check with your local extension office to see what fall gardening events they may have available. Tending a fall garden in Florida can be one of the most rewarding outdoor endeavors you can experience!