Growing a successful vegetable garden in Alabama is easier than in some regions of the country. The long growing season and abundance of rural land make the practice a yearly ritual for many families, filling freezers and pantries with delicious stores to last through the winter. Still, a successful garden does require a bit of planning, know-how and sweat. Here are the basics to help any novice reap a healthy harvest.
Growing Vegetables in Alabama
In February, develop a plan and a timeline for your spring garden. Decide which vegetables you'd like to grow, and consult the Alabama Cooperative Extension System's gardening guidelines for optimum planting dates. Working backward from the earliest planting dates for your chosen vegetables, allow time for site preparation, soil testing and buying needed seeds and plants.
Choose a well-drained site that receives full sun. Determine how large your garden will be, and turn under the soil using a rotary tiller or shovel and hoe. Loosen the top several inches of soil, removing rocks or other debris.
To assess the condition of your soil and what type of fertilization or enhancement it may need, perform a soil test. Test kits are available from your county extension office. Simply fill the supplied cardboard container with a sample of your garden soil according to directions, and mail it to the soil testing laboratory indicated. Results and recommendations for your garden should be returned to you in approximately 10-14 days. If you are planting an organic garden and wish to receive recommendations for organic fertilizers, indicate this on your soil testing forms. When you receive the results of your test, amend the soil as directed.
Use your hoe to trench out shallow rows for planting. Consult the seed packet for each particular vegetable for recommendations on seed depth and spacing. Cover the seeds and water. If you choose to set out plants that are already started in pots, set them out at the same soil level at which they grew in the pot. Again, water thoroughly.
Some gardeners find it helpful to mark the rows of the garden with small signs to help remember which vegetables are planted in which rows.
While waiting for your plants and vegetables to mature, cultivate your garden by irrigating and controlling weeds and pests. Chemical weed killer is typically not recommended for vegetable gardens, so regularly remove weeds with a hoe or by hand. Don't dig too deep or too close to developing plants, because this might disturb the developing root systems of your vegetables. Pests can be managed using some chemical controls, provided you heed the label instructions carefully. Some common pesticides for destructive bugs and worms are Malathion and Carbaryl (also known as Sevin).
Pay special attention to your garden's water needs during times of drought. Water in the early morning, allowing the moisture to soak into the soil before the sun's heat causes evaporation.
As vegetables reach maturity, harvest from your garden often to get the greatest supply at the peak of ripeness. Early morning harvesting when temperatures are cooler is best. Check with your local extension service or a gardening guide for proper handling of harvested produce. Some vegetables require cool storage or immediate processing of some kind to ensure quality.