Oh man, what an awesome summer we had with our first Georgia garden! Sam and I have learned so much from this first year, and I know that we’re gonna make adjustments and implement some necessary changes in order to make next year’s garden even more successful. I am more than impressed with the bounty of produce we had. In some ways it was just overwhelming, and in other ways it was a bit short. There were many times when our harvest wasn’t quite enough to merit digging out the caner and quart jars, but it was too much to just leave sitting in the fridge for a few days – especially since it’s just the two of us eating it. I have discovered that most things freeze very well, and are much easier and quicker to preserve when I used that method.
Here are some of the gardening lessons we’ve learned this year and will be putting into practice next year
1. Even though Georgia has two distinct planting seasons, we need to plant all of our tomatoes early so we get a bigger harvest, and I can get the canning and freezing of sauces out of the way early in the year. Our second season plants are producing, but only 1-3 tomatoes at a time, where my summer plants were yielding 6-15 tomatoes per plant each week. The last thing I want to do next year is spend hours squatting over raised beds in the blistering, late summer sun picking produce, to which I’ll have to carry it inside and stand over a hot stove for hours trying to preserve it.
2. Hot peppers grow best in 5-gallon utility buckets where we can individualize their water and fertilizer needs. The peppers we’ve grown in buckets have outproduced any of the peppers we planted in a raised bed – and they’re still flowering and producing to this day, where our bedded hot peppers have been done for weeks.
3. Earth Boxes really are the best container planting system for cucumbers and green beans. I had one cucumber plant that produced approximately 40-50 full sized cucumbers! And the green beans just kept on producing – even when I was ready for them to be done! We also had great luck with the jalapeno plants that were planted in the Earth Boxes, although I suspect they would have done just as well in 5-gallon buckets. I realize that Earth Boxes are a bit spendy, however the results are second to none. If you’re interested in gardening but have limited space or a short growing season, I highly recommend using the Earth Box system. We’ve successfully used them in Maine (where the growing season is less than 75 days) and in Georgia (when we have about 225 frost-free days).
4. Herbs do not grow well in small containers here. It’s too hot for them, and I can’t keep them watered enough. Every one of our herb plants dried up and died within a couple of weeks of planting. I have never had trouble with container herbs until Georgia. So, next year, we’re going to use a kiddie sized swimming pool as my herb bed – hopefully that will work well for us, but the results won’t be known until next year.
5. Tomatoes grown in Georgia get HUGE. We had some plants that were nearly 6 feet tall and at least 4 feet wide. They were shrubs, practically! We started out with tomato cages, and quickly discovered that wasn’t going to be strong enough to hold them up. Next year we’ll be using 1″x1″x 8′ boards as stakes.
6. Squash bugs and Japanese beetles are relentless here. We lost all of our butternut squash and pumpkins to the squash bugs and some of our tomatoes have been ravaged by the beetles. We’re not sure why as we have been consistent with our bug spray regime, so we’re gonna have to find pesticides that are more organic and specifically targeted for those bugs.
7. In Georgia, strawberries have to be planted in the fall instead of the spring. Because we lived in Maine, we’re used to planting things in the spring, but our strawberries all died here because we put them out far too late – they just burned up before they ever got started. October is strawberry planting month in Georgia, so I guess we know what our project is next Saturday!
8. We need more bees. For whatever reason, we seemed to be very low on bee pollination. I’d love to have a few bee boxes, but we’ll have to check with the HOA before we start setting any of those out.
9. Iris is a tomato thief – she’s done more damage than even the rabbits could have. My corgi loves to eat tomatoes. She’s ‘stolen’ more tomatoes than we’ve picked. She’s compelled to hop up into the gardening beds and pick tomatoes off the plants and then eat them – doesn’t matter if they’re green or red, or some color in between – she just loves them. We even put up some fencing and she still managed to find a way to wriggle through. It’s entirely my fault – out of pure curiosity, I wanted to see if she’d even eat a tomato, so one day I gave her one – that was the dumbest thing I’ve ever done!
10. Growing plants from seed is not as difficult as I’d imagined it would be. We’ve managed to successfully raise tomatoes and peppers from seed, and in some cases we’ve had a better harvest from those plants then the ones we purchased at our local garden center. However, we have discovered that the plants really need about double the amount of time indicated on the package to germinate and ‘harden up’ before we plant them outside. Most seed packets say 6-12 weeks before planting, when in reality we found that the seeds we keep inside for 18-30 weeks did much better when we finally got them in the ground.
11. Mulch really is necessary if you want to maintain viable and healthy plants. We found that the plants that we mulched retained water more efficiently and resisted soil born bacteria more than the plants that were not mulched. Mulch also looks nicer and keeps the weeds at bay much longer than un-mulched beds.
12. Raised beds require more support than just inside corner bracing. Because we did not use pressure treated lumber (due to chemical leaching), the 1″x1″ corner braces (which were recommended) did not hold up. Many of the bed corners have bowed and separated, due to humidity, sun, and moisture. Once the garden is completely cleaned out we’re gonna have to dig out the corners of each bed, re-fasten them, and then attach metal corner brackets on the outside of the beds, which will prevent any further splitting and separating.
13. Home grown produce really does taste better than what you can buy in the supermarket. We have actually enjoyed eating our own produce, which is most surprising for those of you who know us (for those of you who don’t personally know us, we don’t really like veggies). Tomatoes are fruity and sweet, and bell peppers aren’t bitter and hard, cucumbers aren’t flavorless and gas-y, green beans are mild and crisp, and hot peppers really are HOT. Home grown really is better!