Homegrown Harvest

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In the not-too-distant past, most adults had a childhood memory of their parents or grandparents vegetable garden. Today, many young adults dont have that recollection. Long gone are the days when almost every family had a small square of land where they grew edibles for their table. Fortunately, growing vegetables at home is becoming popular again, and anyone whos eaten a vine-ripe tomato or a freshly picked ear of corn can tell you why. Once you learn what to grow and how to grow it, youll be able to step out your back door and gather your own harvest for cooking.


Pick a spot
First of all, select a nice, sunny site. Dont plant the garden in an area that is shaded by buildings or trees. No matter what variety of vegetable you plant, most have the same basic requirements: full sun (eight to 10 hours a day), nutrient rich, good draining soil and plenty of water. As long as youve got enough sun, vegetables can be grown in traditional planting beds, raised beds and containers.

Many potential problems, such as diseases or pests, can be avoided by providing the best planting environment in your garden. If this is your first vegetable garden, be sure you prepare and improve the soil. You may not have good soil to begin with, and a soil test run by your county extension service can help you improve it.

A mixture of organic material (such as compost) and granite sand, tilled in with the existing clay soil, increases aeration and begins the process of turning clay into good, viable soil. Fertilizer and lime also should be incorporated at this time, according to soil-test recommendations. If you are replanting, be sure to add composted material to the area to replenish the nutrients in the soil.

An excellent option for a small garden (or a small gardening area) is to use containers or raised beds. This way, youll have total control of your soil, since you can use soil that is purchased from garden centers.

Photo courtesy of Atlanta Botanical Garden

Choose your veggies
Next, decide which vegetables youd like to grow. If you are a new gardener, pick varieties that are easy to grow where you live.

You can grow from seed or nursery transplants. Both can be found at nurseries and garden centers, and out-of-the-ordinary varieties can easily be found on the Internet and through mail order. For the best results, buy varieties recommended for where you live and labeled disease resistant. If you are planting from seed, follow the instructions on the seed packets with regard to spacing. If you are buying transplants, read the label carefully to determine how far to space the plants in the soil.

Gardeners are a mixed bag as to when the best time to plant is. Some claim that St. Patricks Day (March 17) is not too early, but the old farmers adage, Plant on Good Friday (early to mid-April) is advice well taken.


Keep them growing
Once they are in the ground, your new plants will require maintenance to grow hardy. If you plant from seed, youll need to thin the germinating plants according to the plant packet directions. Vining plants like tomatoes, cucumbers and squash will require staking, so plan for that when planting these vegetables.

Mulch is a must when gardening with vegetables, as it provides a barrier to prevent soil-borne disease problems, conserves water in the soil, keeps the plants roots cool when hot weather arrives and reduces the weed population.

Consistent watering also is crucial. When watering, remember that too much or too little water can ultimately kill a plant. Dont wait until the soil is completely dry before watering, and do not depend solely on rainfall to satisfy all of the plants watering needs, particularly in container gardens. To determine if its time to water, press a finger about one inch into the soil. If it feels dry, its time to water.

For a garden bed, consider installing a drip system, which is a time and water saver. Directing water only at the roots of the plants will help prevent fungus and mildew on the foliage, and daily inspection for insects will help you avoid problems. If problems do develop, take action quickly by diagnosing exactly whats wrong with your plant; call or e-mail the volunteer Master Gardener at your county extension service or visit your local nursery for help. In most cases, problems can be dealt with easily by changing watering and maintenance practices and wont require insecticides or fungicides.

Pull weeds weekly to prevent them from becoming a major problem, fertilize regularly and harvest vegetables when theyre ripe. Replant tomatoes and other vegetables throughout the season, and before you know it youll be supplying your own kitchen and all your neighbors with fresh vegetables until Novembers first frost.


LEARN MORE

For good basic vegetable gardening tips, call your county extension service or visit these Web sites:

Home Vegetable Gardening
http://pubs.caes.uga.edu/caespubs/pubcd/l171-w.html

Small Garden Plan for Georgia
http://pubs.caes.uga.edu/caespubs/pubcd/L178-w.htm

Vegetable Garden Calendar

http://pubs.caes.uga.edu/caespubs/pubcd/L174.htm

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