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Don’t wait to start veggie garden

By Terry Kelley
University of Georgia

Winter is just getting started, and the garden spot looks brown right now. It’s time to start thinking about your springtime vegetable crop.

What? Why all the rush? The groundhog hasn’t even determined how long winter will last. Well, the early bird gets the worm, they say.

It’s primetime to look through seed catalogs and pick out varieties. If you haven’t ordered your seed catalogs, by all means, get the request in the mail.

Many companies send catalogs to regular customers. Some have online catalogs and ordering to make selecting and getting your seeds easier. Order now to make sure you get the varieties you want. Popular varieties may sell out before spring. You may get left out and miss your favorite bean, zucchini or sweet corn.

If you grow your own transplants, spring is closer than you think. You’ll want to start growing them indoors in a few weeks. Transplanting instead of direct seeding gives you a head start on spring because you can start plants indoors before the weather is suitable for planting outside. It also results in better stands and takes fewer seeds.

Crops like tomatoes, pepper, eggplant, watermelons and cantaloupes are more suited to transplanting than direct seeding. It takes about five to six weeks to grow most transplants. If you’re in an area where you can plant outdoors in mid-March, plant transplant seeds in early February.

Crops such as broccoli, cabbage, collards, cauliflower and kale will do well when started as transplants, too. These crops can be planted outdoors even earlier than the ones mentioned above. Plant these seed in mid-January to transplant later.

Growing transplants in the winter isn’t for everyone. You can wait and buy them at the local garden center in spring if you like.

Many people know which varieties that they want to plant from year to year because they have favorites that have worked for generations. However, there are always new varieties hitting the market, and you should never be afraid to try something new. It may be better than the one you’ve used for years. But don’t plant the whole crop in a new variety. Try it sparingly at first to see if you like it and if it performs well in your area.

Some newer varieties can make life easier in the garden. Selecting a variety with a good disease resistance package will always give you a leg up in the garden. For example, if tomato spotted wilt virus has been your nemesis in recent years, there are several tomato and pepper varieties on the market with resistance to that disease.

Buying seed at the local garden center is convenient, and they usually have at least some of the most popular varieties. However, if you want something unique or new, you may have to order it from a catalog or the Internet.

Remember, there is a world of new and different varieties out there. You may find a sweet corn you like better than “Silver Queen” or a tomato you like better than “Better Boy.” Go ahead and explore, but now is the time to do it before the crocuses start to bloom, and it’s time to get to the garden.

(Terry Kelley is a former University of Georgia Cooperative Extension horticulturist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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