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Winter is good time to think about, work your garden
Grass is always greener...
Don GardnerColor
Don Gardner is an UGA Extension agent who lives in Ellabell.

It is almost winter. This is a good time to start getting ready for planting your garden for next year.

If you do not grow at least a few vegetables at home, I encourage you to try it. There is nothing like actually growing food yourself to make you appreciate the American farmer.

Now is the time to work more organic matter into the soil. Any time we want to improve soil for growing, stirring in more organic matter is always at the top of the list. You do not necessarily have to buy organic matter. I see people raking up perfectly good tree leaves and putting them in plastic bags at the curb.

Instead of wasting them, leaves can be composted and then added to the garden; or if you are in a hurry or don’t want to compost, just stir them in directly with a tiller and let the soil do the rest.

I’m not sure there is such a thing as too much organic matter in our sandy soils. If you stir 1 foot of raw, un-composted organic matter into your soil you might want to add some fertilizer to give the soil bacteria and fungi something to support them while they chew down the organic matter.  

A soil sample is best taken now so if pH needs to be adjusted, you can apply lime or sulfur over the winter so it has time to react before spring planting. Lately, I have run into quite a few people who think that adding lime is a routine thing, so they throw some out without knowing why. It’s a great way to ruin a good centipede lawn or kill the yields from your vegetable garden. We apply lime on a prescription basis. We like to apply fertilizer the same way. There is actually a science to this.

Decide what vegetable varieties you want. Find out when they should be planted. UGA’s Circular 963 – Vegetable Planting Chart is a good place to start. Go to and click on PUBLICATIONS at the top of the page. Or visit the Bryan County Extension Office in Pembroke and pick up a hard copy. It is wise to order from the seed catalogs in December or January before the most popular varieties are sold out. If you have seeds left from this spring, test them for germination by folding them into several damp paper towels and see what percentage germinate. Then you will know how many seeds to plant to get 10 seedlings.

If you don’t think you have space, do you have a porch or deck? If there is a will, there is a way.

Knowing how to grow vegetables is right up there on the self-sufficiency ladder with knowing how to field dress a deer or how to can vegetables. We have become way too disconnected from the land.

We had an elementary student who lives in public housing in Brunswick take a 4-H trip to Jekyll Island to the Sea Turtle Center, just 12 miles from her home. After the tour, as the students got back on the bus, this little girl asked about turtles in the ocean, and where the ocean was. Our 4-H agent asked her if she had ever seen it. Living in Brunswick for all her life, she had never seen the ocean. The agent drove the bus to the beach and let the girl put her feet in saltwater for the first time. I was never more proud of 4-H.

If you don’t know where to start growing vegetables, canning and preserving food, you’re in the same ignorance trap as that girl. UGA has wealth of information at your fingertips on the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences website.

If you want more intense one-on-one training on growing food, I am offering the Homeowner Horticulture Academy on St. Simons Tuesday and Thursday evenings in February and March. It’s a long way to travel and there is a fee, but it is the content of Master Gardener without the volunteer requirement or background checks. Call me at 912-554-7578 or email if you want more information.

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