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Published on 02/21/08

From garden to grub: Put your harvest on the table

By Kristen Plank
University of Georgia

Number 1
Page 4

If you’re a gardening novice and a vegetable lover, a University of Georgia vegetable specialist suggests planting your first garden in beans, corn, tomatoes and eggplant.

“Beans are probably one of the easiest things to grow in the garden,” said Bob Westerfield, a UGA Cooperative Extension horticulturist.

First soak the seeds overnight. The following day, plant them 5-6 inches apart in the garden.

Bean plants are prone to Japanese beetle infestations and to rust, a fungal disease that can be treated with fungicide. Westerfield recommends keeping a close eye on your plants for signs of these two pests.

When it’s time to harvest your first crop of beans, pick early. “If you leave them on the vine too long, they can become stringy,” he said.

Corn is a little more difficult. Westerfield said the biggest mistake he sees is gardeners planting a single row of corn.

“It’s necessary to grow corn in rows, because it’s wind-pollinated,” he said. “Four short rows are best so that the pollen can be blown around each plant.”

Corn is a heavy feeder, and needs nutrition three to four times from planting until harvesting, he said. It also requires a good bit of water, especially as the kernels near maturity.

Westerfield recommends the Sugar and Cream or Ambrosia varieties as bicolor selections, or Silver Queen as a white variety.

When it comes to planting tomatoes, Westerfield says you must first decide why you are planting them.

“Tomatoes can be broken down into two varieties: determinate and indeterminate,” he said. “Determinate varieties put out one large crop of tomatoes then taper off the rest of the season.” These are typically used for canning.

Indeterminate tomatoes produce fruit a little bit at a time throughout the entire season. These varieties are best for topping tacos, salads or hamburgers.

Westerfield recommends Celebrity or Rutgers as determinate varieties and Better Boy or Beefmaster as indeterminate varieties.

To plant, grow seed indoors for 6-8 weeks or use a transplant. When transplanting, pinch off the lower branches on the stem and plant as deeply as possible. This creates a strong root system. Leave room between each plant for good ventilation and to cut down on foliar diseases.

Similar to tomatoes, eggplants should not be sown directly into the soil. They must be grown indoors initially and then transplanted into the garden.

Westerfield warns gardeners to be on the lookout for flea-beetles which will riddle the leaves and suck the vigor out of the plant. The beetles can be suppressed by using insecticides.

“You want eggplants to grow fairly close to maturity,” he said. “When they’re ready to harvest, they should be shiny and firm, denting in a little when pressed.”

No matter which vegetables you choose to plant, Westerfield reminds novice and veteran gardeners that site selection is essential.

“To grow vegetables you have to start with a site that gets full sun,” he said. “It should also be away from tree roots and you should amend the soil with compost before planting.”

Kristen Plank is a student writer with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.