Updated: Feb 27, 2019
Vegetable Gardening in the South
Standing in the garden, eating a handful of still warm sun-ripened cherry tomatoes is one of the main reasons people grow their own vegetables. Anyone who has ever eaten sun-ripened homegrown vegetables straight from the garden knows that they taste better than any bought from the grocery store.
Once you start growing your own food, you will enjoy freshness and flavor unlike anything you've experienced. That's because fruits and vegetables that have been picked and then shipped long distances have already begun to lose their nutritional value and flavor.
Associate Garden Editor for Southern Living Magazine Rebecca Bull Reed shares the reasons she grows her own, and tips for beginners.
1) Price The most significant reason to grow your own produce is the price. Take herbs, for example. A pack of herbs from the grocery store can cost anywhere from $3 to $6 and you use the pack for one, maybe two meals. Buying potted herbs, on the other hand, costs $2.50 to $4 and they last for about eight months. Some herbs, like rosemary and thyme, can even last for years. Growing your own herbs can be made cheaper by starting out with seeds, which cost $1 to $2. (Learn more from our Herb Page)
2) Control What Goes In your Food Another reason for growing your own is that you can control what goes into your food. You can either be very strict in keeping your produce organic, or use fertilizer and pest control that you approve of. The security of knowing how your food is grown and what is used in the process can be reason enough to grow your own.
3) Freshness We've all run into the problem of reaching into our fridge's produce drawers and finding limp or bruised vegetables. You won't have that problem when you can pick them straight from the source and put them in your dinner that night. Produce found in the grocery store is typically picked half ripe, having an effect on its flavor.
What To Grow Now that you've decided to start growing your own produce, you may be overwhelmed with all the veggie options out there. For beginners, we recommend starting with herbs--"the gateway plant to gardening." Look at your lifestyle and decided which herbs you use the most before you start buying them all. Rosemary, thyme, parsley, and basil are common choices. Fresh herbs are great in any dish and are perfect for enlivening take-out food and frozen dinners.
Homegrown tomatoes are another great choice because of their exceptional flavor. They can sometimes be a bit temperamental, so beginners should start with cherry tomatoes. Zucchini squash, bell peppers, and lettuce are also good additions to your vegetable garden. But remember to only plant the vegetables that you use frequently. You don't want to bite off more than you can chew. Read the entire Southern Living article here.
Spring planting time for cool season vegetables here in north Georgia is from mid January (for sowing seeds) to late February and early March (for setting out plants).
Leaf lettuce, carrots, onions, cabbage, greens, radishes, broccoli, peas, and kale are just some examples of vegetables that thrive in cooler spring temperatures. The plants need time to mature before it gets too hot so don't delay planting them.
Cool season vegetables work great in pots on the back patio because they don't need a lot of room. It's a very convenient place to have lettuce, beets, and even onions and carrots.
Don't start the summer vegetable garden too early!
Soil temperature determines when it's time to plant heat loving tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, etc. Learn more here.
Growing vegetables in Georgia can be challenging due to clay soils, insects and diseases, and unpredictable weather. But the rewards far outweigh these problems.
Most people who are intimidated by the prospect of growing food become skilled gardeners once they give it a try.
Our goal is to provide you with common sense advice that will help you to grow your own food with ease. Trial & error and practice are required but lead to success and a rewarding sense of accomplishment. Fell free to contact us if you need help with your garden.
Clemson University Garden Information Publications has several informative articles on vegetable gardening.
Lime and Fertilizer
Run a soil test through your local county Extension office several months prior to planting to determine lime and fertilizer needs. If the pH is low (acidic soil), apply the recommended amount of lime before preparing the soil so it can be mixed with the soil during land preparation. A pH of 6.0 to 6.5 is recommended for all vegetables except Irish potatoes, which require a pH of 5.0 to 6.0. Vegetables are classified as light, medium or heavy feeders, based on their fertilizer recommendations for each group.
Apply fertilizer according to the soil test results. Most vegetables need initial fertilizer at planting time, and again after they have begun to mature. Some vegetables, such as corn, need to be fertilized by side dressing after the plants are about knee high. Put the side dressing several inches away from the plant, never directly on the plant.
The following tips are specific for gardening in our Georgia climate.
Have the garden soil tilled, amended and prepared for planting BEFORE you buy the plants. A soil test is worth its weight in gold because it takes all the guesswork out of the pH and fertility needs. Most vegetables prefer a pH of slightly acidic, in the 6.5 range. Having the garden prepared for planting ahead of time saves your plants from sitting in their flats in the yard, waiting for you to plant them.
Think small. Don't plant more than you can care for. When August gets here and your (too big) plot is cranking out food faster than you can pick it, you'll realize why we say this! If you're new to gardening, start off with a garden no larger than 10' X 10.' You can always expand later if you can't get enough of those fresh, tasty vegetables.
Choose a location that receives as much sun as possible throughout the day, at least 8 hours of direct sun. Keep the garden away from nearby tree roots and be sure to locate it near a source of water.
The condition of your soil is very important. Without good soil, your garden will have difficulty thriving because organic matter is vital for healthy vegetable gardens. If your soil does not contain sufficient amounts of organic material, then you will have to work some into it using compost or manure. Compost helps improve texture, fertility, and drainage of our sticky clay soil. Add grass clippings to the soil in the garden throughout the summer; they improve the fertility of the soil and give off nitrogen as they break down. Just don't add thick layers that would take longer to break down. More tips on the importance of good soil and how to create it.
Plant in dedicated beds, not rows. Creating permanent beds that you amend and build up each year makes for great soil that drains well, allowing you to plant your vegetables closer together so you have more produce in less square footage. This method cuts down on watering, weeding, and fertilizing. Leaving permanent pathways that you mulch between the beds cuts down on weeds and prevents compaction of the soil where the plants are growing. A good layout is 4 ft wide growing beds of whatever length suits your needs. Having mulched paths between permanent beds looks good, too.
Keep your plants well watered. Allowing vegetable plants to dry out will stress them and decrease production. Soaker hoses are a very efficient way to put water right at the roots. Another method is to use gallon jugs. Poke a few holes in the bottom of old, empty gallon jugs and bury them two-thirds of the way into the ground next to or between plants. Leave the top exposed and fill with water. The water will seep slowly into the ground, going directly to the plants. Keep the lid on the jugs so they don't fill with soil or debris. And remember- ALL edible plants are exempt from watering restrictions- you can water them whenever they need it. It's a state law!
To add interest and variety to your vegetable garden, add flowers and herbs. They not only make your vegetable garden interesting, they can attract beneficial insects to the garden while deterring others. Flowers and herbs that have strong odors, such as marigolds and garlic, actually can repel pests from your garden and incorporating these plants with vegetables also can create beautiful borders and edgings. Many vegetables make wonderful border plants and can be grown for ornamental purposes. Think chives, kale, leaf lettuce, oregano, and purple basil, just to name a few.
Protect your plants from harsh winds. Cold winds will stunt growth and hot winds will dry the soil and harm the plants. If you don't have a natural sunny protected corner in your garden, prepare a windbreak of garden lattice or plant vines on a fence.
NEVER spray insecticides or fungicides in the garden while pollinators are present. Late evening after the bees and other pollinators are gone is the best time to apply.
Liquid seven and seven dust are lethal to honeybees. Neem oil, spinosad and dipel dust are just a few insecticides labeled organic and safe for the vegetable garden.
Homemade alternatives are also an option. Kitchen ingredients for organic pollinator friendly pest control:
We wish you a successful gardening season and we look forward to seeing you for all of your gardening needs!