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Preparing your veggie garden for spring

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By Susan Brown, County Extension

I received a call from a consumer the other day wanting to know what he could do out in the garden this time of year. People usually don’t start getting the “garden bug” until the weather warms up a bit. I told him one of the tasks he could work on is preparing the vegetable garden for spring planting.

The first and most important task, especially here in Brunswick County, is to take a soil test. North Carolina is one of the few states that offer this service for free. The soil test report will tell you how much lime and fertilizer your garden soil will need per thousand square feet of growing area. 

Growing fresh vegetables, herbs or fruits provides a great sense of joy and accomplishment. It can also reduce a family’s food budget. One of the reasons that people garden is that vegetables from the supermarket cannot compare in taste, quality or freshness when grown in the home garden. There are several factors to consider when selecting a garden site. 

All vegetables need a minimum of at least six hours of sunlight for optimum performance. Eight to 10 hours a day is ideal. A good loamy soil that is fertile, deep, well drained, and high in organic matter is needed to grow quality vegetables. 

For light sandy soil, incorporate a 2- to 3-inch layer of well-rotted leaves, compost, aged horse manure and peat moss in the spring before preparing the soil and again in fall after harvest. A vegetable garden needs at least an inch of water a week, so planting close to a water source would be beneficial. Make sure to avoid soils that have standing water after a rain.

Locate the garden close to the house. The closer the vegetable garden and the easier it is to reach, the more you will probably use it. In the past, vegetable gardens have been traditionally in an area separate from other parts of the landscape because it was considered unsightly. With proper planning, the garden can be both functional and attractive. Incorporating annuals and herbs in with your vegetables can often deter insects and deer. 

Avoid locating the garden at the base of a hill or foot of a slope. These areas are slow to warm in the spring. Vegetable gardens on high ground are more likely to escape light freezes, allowing an earlier start in the spring and a longer harvest in the fall.

The past three years I have done all my vegetable gardening in containers. Almost any vegetable that is typically grown in a backyard garden can be grown in a container. They may require more frequent watering but are an excellent choice for small spaces. Raised beds are another technique that makes gardening easy to manage. The planters will warm up quicker than the ground, require less weeding and water, and can be a nice alternative to digging in newly constructed areas that are likely to have compact soil.