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Help your garden meet your needs
Extension advice
Ashley Hoppers ext agent
Ashley Hoppers is UGA Extension Service agent in Liberty County. - photo by File photo

Are you thinking about planting your own vegetable garden? Growing your own may bring to mind images of endless amounts of fresh produce, but there are many challenges associated with growing produce that can hinder your gardening venture and lead to frustration.

To help ensure you reap the full rewards at harvest, I encourage you to consider which vegetables you like to eat, how much space you have for them, and how you will meet each crop’s growing requirements before planting.

Seed catalogs are loaded with all sorts of vegetable species, some of which may be familiar but others may be intriguing and foreign to you. While I encourage you to expand your culinary horizons, there is no need to plant several types of eggplant if your family will not eat them.

An easy way to safeguard your money, time and gardening space is to ask your family what they will eat prior to purchasing seeds or transplants. Consider the pros and cons of planting space hogs, like squash, okra and melons.

Those crops require large areas in full sun to be fully productive, so those of you with a small gardening space may find it more advantageous to save precious gardening space for specialty crops like unique peppers and tomatoes.

Gardening is hard work. Not only do vegetable gardens need to be weeded, watered and monitored for pests and diseases, but some crops are more high maintenance than others.

For example, bush beans need to be continually harvested throughout the growing season or they will end up too large and too tough to be eaten.

When selecting which crops to plant, consider your time availability. If you do not have the time to get out into your garden every day to pick, then those types of crops may not be the best choice.

Information on seed packets contains a treasure trove of information to help you be a successful gardener.

The packet should have a basic plant description: Is this vegetable an annual or perennial? What are its characteristics? Is it resistant to any pests, diseases or viruses?

The packet should also include important information such as the seed’s recommended planting depth, proper spacing, days to germination, if the crop requires thinning, days to maturity and how much light is needed for the crop to perform its best.

Additionally, each seed type has something to offer. Knowing your needs, interests and values beforehand will help you choose which seed type is right for you.

Nowadays there seems to be much confusion regarding hybrid seed. Simply put, hybrid (F1) seeds are created by crossing two different parent varieties from the same species. Varieties that are available for purchase are proven to contain desirable traits, such as disease resistance, increased yield and uniformity.

F1 merely means the first generation offspring. These seeds are NOT genetically modified, rather they are created using traditional plant breeding techniques.

If you wish, you can even make your own hybrid at home by cross-pollinating two different tomato varieties. Keep in mind that the more different the parents are from one another, the more interesting the offspring will be.

All you need to do is choose one parent as the recipient (female) of the pollen from the other parent. I recommend flagging the flower truss you hand pollinated with some ribbon or twine so you won’t forget which flowers you pollinated.

There are also open-pollinated (OP) varieties. These seeds have more genetic diversity and often more variation than hybrids. Pollination occurs by insects, birds, wind, humans or other natural mechanisms.

Heirloom seeds fall into the open-pollinated category of plants, and have been handed down for generations in a particular region. These plants were hand-selected by gardeners for a special trait, such as flavor, which is a common characteristic of heirloom varieties. The Brandywine tomato is an excellent example of an heirloom.

If purchasing transplants, do so from a reputable source. Many retailers provide hybrid cultivars that are disease-resistant, such as early blight-resistant tomatoes. Before purchasing, inspect plants for signs of insects and diseases by checking under leaves and around stem tips. Avoid plants with leaves that are browning, spotted or wilting.

A taller plant doesn’t necessarily mean it is a better plant. If plants do not receive adequate light while developing, they often stretch toward the light, which gives them a weak, spindly appearance.

Don’t be afraid to invite pollinators and other beneficial insects to your garden. Many gardeners interplant herbs and native perennials throughout their vegetable garden.

These plants not only add diversity by providing valuable food and habitat for native pollinators but they also provide shelter for beneficial insects that provide natural pest control in your garden.

While those planting into raised bed and container gardens do not need to worry about soil testing, those with in-ground gardens should consider getting their soil tested. This simple test will let you know if your soil has the proper nutrients and the pH for good vegetable production.

Our native soils have a naturally low pH and are often depleted in phosphorous and potassium, which can greatly reduce yields. If you’ve never had a soil test, I recommend you do one this year. A simple lime application could mean the difference between a merely surviving garden versus a thriving one.

Spring is well upon us and many of you already have much of your spring garden in the ground, but there is still plenty of time to plant the bulk of your strictly warm season crops.

Contact the Extension Office at 912-876-2133 or if you have any questions.

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