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Master Gardener Column; Vegetable Gardening 101

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By Robert Shugart

One of the most rewarding projects a person can take on is starting a vegetable garden.

It can be as simple as a designated end-of-the-flower-bed to a well-established plot.

Whatever you do, get started. Planning is very important because good preparation will save many hours of labor. Locate the garden where it:

Gets eight or more hours of direct sun (free of competition from other plants)

* Is highly visible

* Is close to a water source

* Is not a low spot --- drainage is important

* Can be planted, tended and harvested at the right time (for the plant, not the gardener)

Be sure to provide adequate space for things like squash and melons.

The end of the previous season would be a great time to select the area.

Don’t be too ambitious.

The first year a 10 foot by 10 foot area will keep you busy and supply some nice treats for your table with a few to give to friends.

Next, turn the soil with a spading fork or a tiller.

A spading fork will naturally limit the size of your garden!

This should be done in the fall, preceding your spring garden and should be done several times adding amendments as you go.

Amendments such as leaves, manure, and compost are all “Garden Gold.” Adding fourinches or more the first season and each fall thereafter is a wonderful way to keep it productive.

Take advantage of dry spells during the winter to till and add amendments.

Contact the local Master Gardener office for information on vegetable gardening.

Master Gardeners love to talk about gardening and can provide invaluable information regarding recommended varieties of vegetables to plant and how to plant and care for them.

Come December, order seed catalogues.

It’s a nice way to spend some cold winter hours.

Plan the garden layout.

Plan to put tall plants (tomatoes, corn, etc.) on the north side of the garden so you won‘t shade other plants.

Run the rows east and west to provide the most sun exposure per plant.

Select locally recommended varieties to plant (either seed or transplants).

Large varieties of tomatoes planted in the northern states are not productive here due to the higher temperatures.

The tomatoes we recommend tend to produce medium sized fruit but in abundance compared to northern varieties.

Most gardeners have favorites. Some like to plant heirloom tomatoes (like Grandma used to plant).

I have been known to put a couple at the end of rows --- don’t expect big yields, but the flavor might be worth it.

Thinning row crops (like beans and peas) is difficult, but necessary to improve yields.

Mulching between rows and around vines can cut down on weeding.

Remember the most important thing that a gardener can plant in the garden is his or her feet!

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