Where did spring go? The hot temperatures in the early part of the week made it feel like summer.
Thankfully, our spring temperatures returned.
With the warm temperature, many gardeners are starting to plant their warm season vegetables. I planted my first crop of squash, cantaloupe, watermelon, green beans, sweet corn, tomatoes and peppers.
But before I could plant my vegetables, I had to take some time and plan my garden. I started by looking back at the records of my garden. Good records will include where certain crops were planted last year, what varieties were planted, when they were planted and the yield of these varieties.
Clyde Lester, a retired Richmond County extension agent, says that the most important tool in a vegetable garden is a notebook.
First, plan for the location and size of the garden. Then consider land availability, how much time is available to care for the garden and the kinds and amounts of vegetables desired.
It's best to put the garden near the home for quick, convenient access. Be sure to select a site with a suitable source of water for irrigating on hot, dry summer days. Locating the garden near the home makes it easier for watering and timely management.
For those with a small back yard, it's still possible to have a vegetable garden. Many vegetables can be raised in containers or small raised beds.
When deciding on a garden site, remember, most vegetables like a lot of sunlight and prefer a well-drained, fertile soil. Most of our vegetables need seven to eight hours of sunlight a day to produce fruit.
A soil test should be conducted to determine whether the soil is fertile and how much fertilizer is needed.
One of the best and easiest ways to help the garden is to apply compost or some type of organic matter to the soil. This helps loosen our clay soils, makes nutrients more available to our plants and helps retain moisture during drought. Good-quality compost is available for purchase, or gardeners can make their own. With adequate planning and appropriate cultural practices, a productive vegetable garden can grow on most any Georgia soil.
After selecting the site, draw a map of the garden showing the overall dimensions and the number, width and length of rows. This is an important step and will help determine whether there is enough space for certain vegetables. Squash, cucumbers, watermelons and cantaloupe take up a lot of space. Watermelons need to be planted 4 to 5 feet apart in the row. Some of these vegetables also can be grown vertically by putting them on a trellis.
Some vegetables will produce a large number of fruit. Squash is one of these plants. Two to three squash plants will feed a family, but five or six squash plants will feed the neighborhood. For those who have extra produce or have the room for an extra row of vegetables, Golden Harvest Food Bank accepts fresh produce from gardeners.
Next, decide which vegetables (and specific varieties) are wanted. List them in the garden plan. Place perennial crops, such as asparagus and strawberries, on one side, so they won't interfere with other garden activities. Tall crops, such as sweet corn, should be planted on the north or west side of the garden to reduce shading of lower-growing vegetable plants. Put planting dates and fertilizer rates on the garden map.
Also, vegetables should be rotated within the garden. If the same vegetable or vegetables in the same family are planted in the same spot each year, it can build up diseases and nematodes and deplete certain elements in the soil.
If possible, plants should be on a three-year rotation. For example, tomatoes, peppers, potato and eggplant are in the same family of vegetables, so these would be planted in an area of the garden once every three years. This is why a notebook with all of the history of the garden is important.
Be sure to order garden seed four to six weeks before the first scheduled planting date. This will help make sure the seed arrives in plenty of time before planting. For those buying plants, be sure to inspect them for insects, diseases and damage. It is best to start with a healthy plant.
Charles Phillips is a retired Columbia County Extension Service agent and operates Hort Consulting. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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