Georgia Garden Girl

Garden Great in Zone 8!

It Helps to Have a Plan

on January 12, 2013

There is a narrow fenced stretch of land on the northern side of my house that gets plenty of sun in the summer.  In a previous life, that little plot was a dog run.  I decided to make it a vegetable garden.

I had my first vegetable garden in 2008, the year I bought my house.  I tried a few tomatoes but wasn’t incredibly successful, mainly because I tried to water everything by hand.  This approach does not work well if you go out of town, run out of time, or just plain forget.  The next summer, I discovered “Zone 7” on the irrigation system that came with the house; if I turned on “Zone 7,” little misters popped up in the middle of the dog run-turned-vegetable garden.  It wasn’t perfect, but it’s what I had.  I added a few more tomatoes, some cucumbers, and some bush beans.  It was an okay harvest.

My vegetable garden improved dramatically in 2010.  There are three main reasons why.  First, I took the master gardener course in the fall of 2009, and the vegetable gardening class by Bob Westerfield was highly informative.  Second, Daddy built me raised beds for Christmas in 2009.  Third, I discovered drip irrigation (which was especially helpful since the Zone 7 misters were buried under the raised beds).

Since 2010, I have taken the same basic approach to my vegetable garden.  I plot out on paper what I am going to plant in each bed and when, then I figure out when I need to plant the seeds.  For vegetables that need to be started indoors and then transplanted, I start the seeds (it’s certainly not necessary for you to start your own seeds, but if you have time, space, and adequate lighting, go for it).  Later, I run a soil test through the UGA extension service, I prepare the beds, then I plant the veggies and keep notes on my successes and failures.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

My vegetable garden site meets the main requirements for a good site:

  • More than eight hours of full sun per day in the summer.  If you don’t get six to eight hours of full sun, you won’t have good results with vegetables like beans, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant.  You can still grow leafy greens in less-than-ideal light situations, but they do need some full sun during the day.  If you do not have a good site for a large-scale garden because you don’t get enough sun, I highly recommend trying containers in a sunny spot—you can grow just about any vegetable in a container.  More on that in a later post.
  • Conveniently located near the house so I can keep an eye on things.
  • Near a water supply.
  • Not near trees and shrubs with extensive root systems (which can affect nutrient and water uptake of veggies).
  • Drains well, especially after a heavy rain.
  • Quality soil.  I filled the beds with quality soil, peat moss, and compost, so I am confident in the quality of the soil.  I add compost every year, and I add lime if the extension service soil test tells me to do so.  More on soil preparation in a later post.

The only downside about my vegetable garden site: I cannot use it year-round because it does not get enough sun during the winter.  So I plant my collards and broccoli in the flower bed on the south side of the house, and I plant my lettuce and parsley in containers on the front porch.

In the vegetable garden area, I have five raised 5×4 beds for vegetables and two smaller raised beds for herbs.  In the herb section, I always have basil, oregano, thyme, sage, rosemary, lavender, and mint.  With the exception of the basil, the herbs are perennials, so I don’t have to worry much about them other than summertime irrigation.  In the vegetable section, I only grow the vegetables I like most and will therefore eat.  Don’t grow vegetables you (and your neighbors/local food bank) don’t like to eat regularly.  Several years ago, Daddy grew radishes because he heard they were easy to grow.  They are.  So Daddy and Mama were overrun with more radishes than they could eat, and after a while none of their neighbors wanted them, either.  Daddy is no longer allowed to plant radishes.

My list of favorites: tomatoes, okra, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, pole beans, lima beans, eggplant, and snow peas.  I’d like to try asparagus, but asparagus is a perennial and I’m not ready for that kind of commitment.  Anyway, with the exception of the snow peas, these are all summer crops.  After hours of leafing through catalogs and deciding on the perfect line-up based on my available space, I selected and purchased the seeds.  If you’re not sure what you should to plant, get started with the UGA cooperative extension’s list of recommended vegetable varieties for Georgia (Table 7).

Now I just need to figure out where the plants will go and when to start the seeds.  I know that tall-growing plants like pole beans and okra should be planted on the north side of the garden so that they will not shade other plants.  I also know that the east side of the garden tends to get a little more sun than the west because of my neighbor’s tree.  I try to do “succession planting,” which means that I plant another in-season crop soon after the last harvest of another crop.  This technique works especially well with short season crops like beans and snow peas.  For example, I plant snow peas in February, and they are finished by May; when I take up the snow peas, I plant pole beans.  I must make a note on my garden plan to remind myself of these intentions.  Also, I have decided this year that I will start one row of beans much earlier than the second row of beans so that I’m not eating beans at every meal.  Based on these considerations, I’m ready to plot out the garden plan.

Plot 2013

Now that I’ve got my map, I can figure out when I need to plant what.  Pole beans are not easily transplanted, so I definitely want to sow those directly into the ground sometime near my 50% frost date, March 23 (note: the 50% frost date is the date after which there is only a 50% chance of frost—for more info on frost dates, see What is a Frost Date?).  Cucumbers, zucchini, and peas can be transplanted, but they require extra care in the process, so I usually direct sow those, as well.  I will start the snow peas by mid-February.  The rest I will start near my 50% frost date.

As for the rest of the plants, I can start them indoors or purchase plants at a nursery for transplant.  If I purchase plants at a nursery, I try to purchase them very close to the time I will transplant them—if I buy too early, I may forget to water them.  Usually, though, I start the seeds myself.  Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants take between six and eight weeks to reach transplant size, so if I want to transplant them outside in March, I need to start the seeds in late January or early February.

Next week, it will be time to start my tomato seeds, so next week’s post will focus on seed starting.  Meanwhile, let me know if you have gardening questions!

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