By Cammie Jones
Once I tried when my children were younger, yet failed to grow a garden. I do believe the reason I failed is that I didn’t take the steps necessary to ensure success and I didn’t exactly take good care of the garden once it was planted. Lesson learned. That was years ago and just recently I started to think that maybe it was time to test my green thumb again. I turned to my friend Campbell Vaughn, who is the Agricultural and Natural Resource Agent at the UGA-Richmond County Extension Service for advice about how to get started.
Select your space and draw it on paper.
Choosing a small space in your yard will cut down on unnecessary work and is a sure way to avoid getting overwhelmed. You want to make sure that the space gets direct sunlight for approximately six hours a day. According to the Clemson Cooperative Extension, leafy vegetables can tolerate partial shade but vegetables that produce fruit (e.g. peppers and tomatoes) will need full sun. Try not to plant your fruit or vegetables too close to other trees and shrubs or else the plants will be fighting for the nutrients in the soil. Also, planting close to the house and near a water source is a great way to ensure that the garden is taken care of properly once planted. Out of sight can mean out of mind!
Decide on vegetables as a family.
This is the fun part and will help your children feel like they are part of the process. Choose fruits and vegetables that you like and that your children prefer. There is no need to plant something that will just take up space and will go bad because no one will eat it. (To find out when the best times are to plant certain vegetables, see the chart.) When it comes time to harvest the plants, you and your children can research various recipes to make with your bounty.
Test Your Soil.
A wonderful perk of having the experts nearby is that you can have your soil tested at your local extension office. Once you have your garden mapped out, you can take a soil sample from each area according to what you will be planting there. Use a zig zag approach and take about 6-8 samples of soil near the drip line of the plants. You should dig about four inches down using a tool such as a trowel or shovel that has not been used for fertilizer or lime. Try to cut about a 1/4 inch thick and 2 inches in width from each area. After air drying the dirt overnight, put each sample in a soil sampling bag to be dropped at the extension office. The office will send the samples off to UGA and you should receive results in 7-10 working days. From this report, you will know what type of fertilizer and lime you will need to make your garden a success.
Plant Those Seeds.
There are two major planting periods – March – May (spring) and mid-July to September (fall). The spring plantings are harvested in June and July while the fall plantings are harvested from October through December, according to UGA Extension’s Vegetable Garden Calendar. If you are planting in March, it is important to watch the weather. If it looks like a night of freezing temps, cover your plants. Also this is a good time to watch out for bugs and insects and put down mulch between rows to control weeds.
Care for your Garden
Once you have completed the dirty work of planting the seeds, it is important to maintain and care for your garden. Ensure that your crops get plenty of water and nutrients to strive. Try to time working in your garden when it is dry. Wet foliage makes it easier to spread diseases from one plant to another. Control grass and weeds since both compete for water and nutrients. And, if you ever have a question, contact your local extension agent for an expert opinion at 706-821-2350.
The UGA extension website (www.extension.uga.edu) includes a plethora of information including a vegetable garden calendar as well as which plants work best in our climate. Take a chance, start small, learn and see what grows best in your yard, and you just might have enough vegetables to share with neighbors.
This article appears in the March 2019 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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