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Starting a vegetable garden
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With our traditional last frost date, April 20, soon approaching, many folks are getting ready to start planting summer vegetable gardens.

Home gardens can be an enjoyable way to stay active and provide your family with fresh produce throughout the summer. However, a productive garden takes a lot of work and proper planning can greatly increase a garden's success.

Many garden problems are more easily prevented than solved once they occur.

Good planning can reduce problems and help make the most of your effort. It is best to plan out what crops to grow, how much and where and when you will plant before you begin.

One mistake many first time gardeners make is planting too much.

Many plants are indeterminate, which means they bear edible parts throughout the growing season. It is a good idea to learn whether the variety you are planting will produce the entire season.

You could end up putting more time than expected into harvesting and this increases the chance of wasting food.

Location of your garden is important. It is best to find a site with loose, friable soil. This is often a difficult task with our red Georgia clay, but our soils can be amended with the proper materials. Select a planting site with at least six to eight hours of sunlight per day.

Vegetable leaves need lots of light to grow and produce enough food to set fruit.

Your garden site also needs to be close to a water source. If you are near a hose spigot it won't take as much effort to properly water your plants. Gardens that are closer to a house tend to be better cared for and more successful.

The closer a garden is to your house, the easier it is for you to water, weed, scout for insects and harvest.

Planting rows should run east to west to maximize available sunlight. Plant the taller vegetables on the north and west sides of the garden to keep them from shading out the other plants. It is also recommended to plant certain vegetables, such as corn, in blocks rather than long rows to improve pollination.

Perhaps the most vital component for successful gardening is having good soil.

Amendments like topsoil, compost and manures can make a tremendous difference in how well your vegetables will grow.

UGA Horticulture specialist Bob Westerfield suggests that you spend your money getting your soil right before you ever spend a dime on seeds or transplants.

Especially on new planting sites, it is important to build up your soil quality before you begin planting.

Have your soil tested periodically at the extension office to determine the nutrient needs of your specific soil.

If you are a new gardener, or a seasoned veteran looking to brush up on the basics, you might be interested in attending my basic vegetable gardening class on Friday. It will be held from noon to 1 p.m. April 20 at the Dawson County Agricultural Center.

There is no attendance fee and everyone is welcome to attend. I will be discussing topics including planning, site selection, planting, soil and soil amendments, fertilizer, watering and what types of vegetables to plant.

Clark MacAllister is the Dawson County extension agent. For more information, call (706)265-2442.