Preparing your veggie garden for spring starts with a soil test

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By Susan Brown, County Extension

This winter was mild and I can’t believe it is already March and time to be thinking about getting started in the garden again. It is still too early for those warm season vegetables to be planted. The first and most important task in the garden, 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 or sulfur 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 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 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 located 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 located 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.

Susan Brown is a horticulture agent with the Brunswick County Extension Service. Call 253-2610 or e-mail susan_brown@ncsu.edu.