By Jamie Hamblin
University of Georgia
Long, hot summers, miserable to most Georgians, offer an excellent growing season for summer vegetables, Boyhan said. And proper planning for a beginner starts with deciding where to garden.
A vegetable garden of any size needs full sunlight, access to water and adequate drainage, Boyhan said.
He offers another tip: put the garden near an outside door of your home. "That way, when you walk out the door, you see your plants," he said, "and you're more likely to weed and water."
Getting startedTo be successful, smaller is better for beginners, Boyhan said, "even if it's just a few potted tomato plants." But like most hobbies, gardening can be as elaborate or as simple as you want.
When you prepare the soil before planting, for instance, you can start a small garden by simply turning up the soil with a trowel. Or you can have the soil analyzed for a slight fee and then add any nutrients the soil lacks. To get your soil tested, contact your county UGA Extension agent at 1-800-ASK-UGA1.
There are two ways to start the plants in your garden. The first and most successful for a beginner, Boyhan said, is to buy established plants from a local nursery and transplant them into the garden soil.
The other way is to start your garden from seeds. If you choose to do that, Boyhan advises growing large-seed vegetables such as melons, pumpkins and beans, which have fairly resilient seeds.
But the most important thing about choosing what to plant is to decide what vegetables you intend to eat. Some that grow particularly well in Georgia include tomatoes, bush beans, southern peas, squash, zucchini and, surprisingly, eggplant.
When to plantPlan to plant your vegetable garden in early spring "when there's no threat of frost," says Josh Stewart, a UGA undergraduate who works in "The Gardens at UGA" under horticulture professor Allan Armitage.
Boyhan and Stewart both advise using 10-10-10 fertilizer. Among other nutrients, 10-10-10 contains equal amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, the three nutrients most crucial to plant development.
"Salt and pepper" the ground with fertilizer before you plant, Boyhan said, and then again once the plants are well-established.
Watering your garden is critical, especially in the dry Georgia summers, Stewart said. But he adds a caution: "Don't spoil your plants." If you water too often, your plants get used to all that water and will need a lot of it to look healthy.
Boyhan advises watering 1 inch weekly. "Get a rain gauge to put out in your garden," he said. "As a guideline, 30 to 40 minutes of water from a sprinkler twice a week or so should give the plants an inch of water a week."
Guidelines aside, ultimately, gardening is a bit of trial-and-error, he said. So prepare to dig in.
Some basic tools for gardening beginners:
- Trowels are scoop-shaped hand instruments that many gardeners use every day for digging up or planting small plants.
- Shovels and spades in many sizes and shapes handle many garden jobs.
- Weeders are variously shaped tools for removing unwanted plants.
- Garden forks with heavy tines can break up compacted soil. Finer-tined versions are better for handling mulch.
- Shears, heavy scissors or pocketknives can cut your harvest off the vine without ripping the plant.
- Tomato cages support tomato plants.
- Garden hoses meet one of the garden's greatest needs.
- Jersey gloves, a wide-brim hat and maybe a kneeling pad will come in handy.
(Jamie Hamblin is a student writer with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)