Greg Bowman

You might be able to put me in the category of people that are wishing that spring would come soon. I like all of the seasons, but it has been a lot colder this year, making my normal farm chores more difficult. I do realize that in just a few short months, it will be time for vegetable gardening again for many citizens. Today’s article is to give some reminders or tips for the veteran gardener and for the person wishing to vegetable garden for the first time. I will be sharing information from a UGA publication by Robert Westerfield, UGA Extension Horticulturist and David Linvill, Chatham County Extension Agent.

For starters, the size of the vegetable garden is basically up to the person or based on the available land. I would tell a person to plant a garden they can manage. Sometimes folks will plant a vegetable garden for the first time and love it, but then may plant their next garden double or triple the size. The garden may become more of a job than a fun hobby at that point. Note, you may be able to get all of the produce you need from a few plants of your favorite varieties. Some folks may not have any land space available, but get by with container vegetable gardening that we will try to cover in a future article.

When you do select a site for the garden, make sure the area will get at least 8-10 hours of sunlight a day. It is also very important to plant the garden close to a water supply. That is why many gardens are planted close to a home so you can hook up to a water source when needed. The area needs to be well draining and ideally it needs to be free of weeds, too.

If the gardening spot has never been soil tested or it has been a while between soil testing, this is an excellent time to submit a $9 sample to the UGA Soil Test Lab. We have a great tendency to be low on soil pH or more acidic in our soil make up. We like to have our soil pH in the 6.0 or 6.5 range and many of our soils are not. A lower pH can limit fertilizer utilization and can reduce your production. We can tell you how to take a proper soil sample and you will bring your sample for shipping to us. We will take it from there. I know the ground is frozen now, but when we warm up soon, it would be a great time to get a sample submitted to the lab. I know you will not be planting for a while, but if the pH is off, you can get the lime applied now so it will start activating with the soil and raising that pH.

It is suggested to plan your garden on paper first before ordering seed or planting transplants. If the planting area is small, you can select crops you like best and you can consider more dwarf varieties that can give you a good supply on a few plants. Also, you can plan to use the garden spot again by planting another in season crop soon after the last harvest is completed. A rule of thumb is to plant tall growing vegetable items on the north or west side of the garden so they will not shade out the lower growing plants. You need to keep a map or planting chart of your garden and use that for crop rotation in the garden spot. You can also use the UGA vegetable planting chart that can give you planting dates, how many seeds or plants per 100 square feet, row spacing and planting depth for the different vegetable items.

Variety, seed and/or plant selection is important. It is suggested to select recommended varieties for the main portion of your planting. There are new varieties of plants on the market each year. You may want to try some of the new varieties to see how they work for you in your area. You also need to buy your seed from companies with good reputations. It is suggested to not save your own seed unless it is from a variety that unavailable or one you do not want to lose from the garden. Most folks will plant mainly transplants so try to buy plants that are free of disease and insects. When we get closer to spring, many of our stores and dealerships will have seed and transplants available. In addition, many of our local schools will have vegetable plant sales.

Proper irrigation many times is a key to success. Ideally, you should use soaker hoses or irrigation tape to give moisture in times of drought. This type of irrigation can keep the plant foliage dry and reduces the chance of disease. Be on the lookout for deals on soaker hoses and other forms of drip irrigation for your garden spot.

Also, since we are still in the off season, make sure you gardening tools and equipment are in good shape or repaired before garden season arrives.

For more information, contact UGA Extension- Gordon County at 706-629-8685 or email gbowman@uga.edu.