Homegrown goodness

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home grown vegetables

Whether in salads, side dishes or main entrees, nothing tastes better than fresh-from-the-garden vegetables. If you have already planted summer vegetables, that’s great! If not, you still have time to plow and plant. In fact, given that Georgia has two major growing seasons interspersed with one minor growing season, there’s no reason not to have fresh vegetables on your plate all year long.

Knowing what and when
Georgia’s two main growing seasons are spring–from March to May–and fall–from mid-July to September. “I would dare say, however, that we have more like three seasons,” says Emily Thomas, president and owner of Red Dirt Designs LLC, www.reddirtlandscaping.com, in Roswell. “We plant winter crops in September and then again in early February. Our ‘summer’ crops we usually plant in late March to early April.”

Summer vegetables commonly include tomatoes, corn, squashes, potatoes, herbs, okra, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers and green beans. Fall vegetables include cabbage, carrots, greens, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, parsnips, celery, garlic, chives, leeks and fennel. Spring vegetables include lettuce, carrots and radish.

Preparing to plant
Before starting your garden, it’s important to know where to place it in your yard. First, make sure you have a space large enough to accommodate the garden. Second, watch the sun. “The vegetables and fruits require at least six hours of full sun every day,” says Avi Moyal, owner of Atlanta Curb Appeal, www.atlantacurbappeal.com, in Marietta. “To figure out the best spot for maximum exposure, spend the day watching the sun move across your yard.”  

Third, if planting in the ground, prepare the soil. “Ideally, your soil will consist of 20 percent clay, 40 percent silt and 40 percent sand,” says Betsey Norton, president of Going Green Horticultural LLC, www.gghort.com, in Marietta. “Adding organic matter, or compost, improves the soil texture and structure, which creates a better growing environment.” To determine the state of your soil, have it tested at your county extension office (see sidebar). The test results can guide you on what additional prep work will be needed before planting.

For those creating raised beds, fill the bed with a good mixture of quality organic topsoil, vegetable organic soil and organic compost, says Adriana Hernandez, president and owner of Arcoiris Design Gardening, www.arcoirisdesign.com, in Atlanta. “Once the mix of soil is raked level, add organic fertilizer, and you’re ready to plant or sow seeds,” she says.     

Once you start planting, be careful about which plants you put together. “There are many vegetables that improve when planted next to a proper companion plant. However, there are also some vegetables that do not mix well with others,” says Kate Wright, owner of Bloom’n Gardens Landscape, www.bloomngardens.com, in Mableton. “They may not be tolerant of certain root excretions, plant aromas or pollen.” For example, keep tomatoes separate from corn, cucumbers away from potatoes and cabbage apart from pole beans.  

Maintaining growth
After your vegetable garden is established, it’s important that you continue to monitor it every day. “If you see a weed, pull it. If you see a bug, pick it off by hand,” says Julie Thaxton, in-house garden and landscaping expert with Get More Curb Appeal, www.getmorecurbappeal.com, in Norcross. “Don’t wait until the garden becomes overgrown with weeds, as care will be overwhelming.” She also says to remove problematic plants and those that no longer produce so they do not create problems for remaining plants.

Also, proper watering and irrigation is vital to a successful vegetable garden. “Water should be given to your plants in large quantities,” Hernandez says. “Do it early in the morning, every four to five days in spring and summer and every seven days in the fall and winter. Remember to water the soil, not the leaves.”

Be sure to feed your vegetables too. “Plan to fertilize the garden at the time of planting as well as routinely throughout the growing season,” Norton says. “Ideally, an all-purpose organic plant food is best.”

Keeping out unwanted guests
One of the biggest threats to vegetable gardens is pesky bugs and insects. “Aphids, caterpillars, moths, all sorts of beetles and even birds will attack!” says Hillary Thompson, horticulturist and marketing director for Super-Sod Outlets, www.supersod.com, in Forest Park, Marietta and Lawrenceville. “Not to mention diseases. There’s not enough room to list the culprits and the arsenal.”

So how do you keep these pests at bay? Think twice before reaching for just any pesticide. “You don’t want to use pesticides because you want to attract beneficial insects like ladybugs, lacewings and hoverflies,” says Matthew Klyn, founder and owner of GARDEN, www.gardenatl.com, in Atlanta.

The best solutions are natural repellents. “There are many organically acceptable products that can be applied to your crops,” Moyal says. “Check with your local county extension agent, who can give you the latest information on these products.”

Although planting a vegetable garden may seem a bit daunting, don’t be afraid of the challenge. “It’s all trial and error, so don’t get frustrated,” Klyn says. “Have fun with it!”


RECIPES
Garden Delight

Carolyn O’Neil, MS, RD, co-author of “The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!”, shares two of her favorite recipes that include summer vegetables. 

Photos courtesy of Georgia Pecan Commission

Avocado, Grapefruit Salad with Grapefruit Vinaigrette and 
Toasted Pecans
For the salad: 
1-2 heads Bibb lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces

Add beauty and interest to a salad with healthy, colorful, crunchy ingredients, and choose dark greens with flavor punch. The vinaigrette is made with fresh grapefruit juice from the segmented grapefruit and red wine vinegar. 
Yield: 4 servings

1 bunch arugula, torn into bite-sized pieces
2 Haas avocados, ripe but firm, peeled and cubed
2 Ruby Red or pink grapefruits, peeled and segmented, reserve excess juice
½ cup toasted pecan halves (toasted in a sauté pan)
¼ cup minced fresh parsley
For the dressing:
 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
Juice from segmented grapefruit (approx. 3 Tablespoons) 
Freshly ground salt and black pepper to taste.

Arrange the lettuce and arugula on large platter. Arrange the avocado and grapefruit segments on the bed of greens. Combine the ingredients for the dressing, and drizzle over the entire salad. Garnish with toasted pecans. Add final garnish of minced parsley.

Georgia Pecan Confetti Quinoa
This gluten-free side dish features quinoa and pecans paired with confetti-colored sprinklings of orange, green and yellow veggies flavored with garlic and rosemary. Yield: 6 half-cup servings

Ingredients:
2 teaspoons olive oil
½ cup diced carrots
½ cup diced zucchini squash
½ cup diced yellow squash
1 garlic clove, minced
2 cups cooked quinoa (prepared to package directions)
¼ teaspoon finely chopped rosemary leaves
¼ cup toasted pecan halves or pieces
(reserve 2 Tablespoons for garnish)

Directions:
Heat oil in large skillet and add carrots, zucchini, yellow squash and garlic. Cook until crisp tender. Fold in the cooked quinoa, rosemary and pecans. Season to taste with freshly ground black pepper and sea salt. Present quinoa on a large platter and garnish with additional toasted pecans.

Additional Resources
If you have more questions about planting and maintaining your vegetable garden, contact a landscape professional or check out these resources:

•    The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service Vegetable Planting Chart, 
http://www.caes.uga.edu/applications/publications/files/html/C963/C963VegeChart.pdf
•    The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service Agricultural & Environmental Services Laboratories, 
http://aesl.ces.uga.edu, where you can locate your county extension office for soil and water testing
•    “Commonsense Vegetable Gardening for the South” by William D. Adams and Thomas LeRoy
•    “Home Growing: Your Complete Guide to Growing Vegetables, Fruit and Herbs” by Edwin F. Steffek
•    “Organic Gardening for Dummies” 
by Ann Whitman
•    “Good Bug, Bad Bug” by Jessica Walliser
•    www.organicgardening.com
•    www.garden.org/foodguide/browse/veggie

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