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DALY: Home vegetable gardens are fun to grow

Many homeowners enjoy growing a vegetable garden that provides them with a source of fresh produce. Even with limited space, well cared for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and other vegetable plants can be quite productive. The key to having a successful garden is to plan its size, what type vegetables to grow, and how much of each you will need prior to planting.

The garden should be located where it receives full sun all or most of the day. Do not plant the vegetables near large trees. In addition to shade, the outward spreading roots of the trees compete with the garden plants for essential water and nutrients. Ideally rows of vegetables should run east-west to get the maximum amount of sunlight. Remember to plant the tallest vegetables, such as corn and plants growing on trellises, on the north and west sides of the garden to prevent them from shading the smaller vegetables. The garden area should take only a minimal amount of space in your yard. To reduce the amount of unnecessary work, you should plant only what you can maintain and harvest.

Another important consideration is water accessibility. The garden should be planted close enough to a water source so the application of water will be convenient. During dry spells, supplemental watering will be necessary to keep the plants in optimal condition.

The soil should be loose, moist and well drained. Organic soil amendments, such as composted manure, top soil, and compost should be added to help increase the aeration and drainage of the soil as well as help retain water and nutrients. The soil should be tilled at least 12 inches with the amendments added to it. The ideal soil pH for most vegetable plants is 6.0 to 6.5. Consider having your soil tested through the Extension office for pH and soil nutrient levels to get the proper fertilization and liming recommendations. If you have not had your soil tested, apply a complete fertilizer with a formulation such as 8-8-8 or 10-10-10 at the rate of 20 to 30 pounds per thousand square feet.

Once the ground is prepared and fertilized, you can begin planting. Vegetables can be planted in two ways: by transplants and by seeds. Transplants are small, young plants that were seeded in containers indoors or in greenhouses four to eight weeks earlier. They are easier to establish than directly seeded plants. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and cabbage are often planted as transplants. Other vegetables can be directly seeded into the ground such as beans, squash, peas, melons, and radishes. Larger seeds are easy to plant. Smaller seeds may need to be mixed with sand to make them easier to plant. Sometime they are in gels or tapes to improve the ease of sowing. Refer to the directions on the seed pack on how deep to plant. Then cover with the necessary amount of soil and firm the soil around the seed by pressing the soil down lightly with a garden tool. Water thoroughly after planting.

Vegetable gardening can be enjoyable while supplying you with a bountiful supply of fresh, healthy vegetables. Careful planning, knowledge of site conditions and plant preferences will help ensure the success of your garden.

Timothy Daly is an Agricultural and Natural Resource Extension Agent with the Gwinnett County Extension. Call him at 678-377-4010 or email him at timothy.daly@gwinnettcounty.com.