-By Randy Cooper
For the last few weeks I’ve been using my time off to turkey hunt, work on summertime food plots and look for sheds while I’m out. Now that it has warmed up it’s time to plant the vegetable garden for my family. I’ve been married to the most beautiful woman on earth for going on 32 years. In that time I can’t remember a spring that we didn’t have a garden. We love canning and freezing veggies for use all year long. As the prices at the gas pump and at the grocery store continue to climb, I’m amazed at the amount of people I know who have a place for a garden, but think it’s too much trouble. They would rather pay the skyrocketing prices for produce than to fool with raising their own vegetables.
My approach to preparing the garden closely resembles the way I go about preparing a food plot. Below I’ve listed the steps I have taken.
- In the fall, when I was through gardening for the season, I cleaned everything out of the garden and just let the grass and weeds take over to help with erosion. This year however, I’ll till the garden at the end of the season and plant clover in it. Next spring I’ll till the clover under to add to the nutrients in the soil.
- I start by using a steel rake, and rake as much of the weeds and grass out as I can. It would be very difficult to turn under the tremendous amount of leaf litter, pine straw and other things that find their way into the garden space.
- After I’ve removed as much as I can with the rake, I broadcast my pelletized lime and fertilizer with the Moultrie seed spreader. It really works great and is a huge time saver over the push type. It holds over 100 lbs of material and I get a lot of coverage without having to reload it as often.
- Using my tiller, I go over the entire area twice in opposing directions to completely mix the lime and fertilizer into the seed bed and turn under anything that was left behind after raking. This also loosens the hard packed clay we have here in Georgia and aerates the soil.
- Now that the soil is prepared, I stake off my rows with surveyors stakes and tie a string from a stake on one side of the garden to the opposing stake on the other side. I use this as a guide for laying my row with a sharp angled hoe. I just put the hoe in the ground and lay it up against the string and back up all the way to the other side of the garden, leaving a good straight row. I usually put my rows about 6 feet apart to be able to get a tiller in during the season and have plenty of room for the plants to grow.
- Now it’s time to plant. Since we raise a variety of vegetables, I have installed a hog wire fence on three of my rows for the pole beans and purple hull peas to run on. It helps keep everything up off the ground and aids in being able to get to them to pick. I make a mound for cucumbers, squash and watermelons. Just make three or four holes with your finger in the top of the mound for the seeds and cover them up.
- After I’ve finished planting, I use a watering bucket and water everything very well. I then set up my orbital sprinkler on a timer. I program it to come on for an hour at about 3am. I do this so that by the time the sun really gets on the garden later in the morning, the water will be right where it needs to be, around the roots. Watering during the heat of the day will shock and kill a lot of plants. It’s better to water when the temp is cool.
- Now it’s just a matter of patience, maintenance and the enjoyment of the great food produced by your very own garden. There will be no preservatives or color enhancers in them, and by canning or freezing them you can enjoy the fruits (and vegetables) of your labor well into the winter.
- One other item worth mentioning is that if you live in an area like I do where there are deer around, it would be worth your time and money to invest in a deer proof fence. I installed one that is literally invisible at a distance. It is made of plastic-covered, high strength nylon cord. It is light weight and easy to install. Mine is 8 feet high and is tested to stop a deer running full tilt weighing 200 lbs.
I truly love farming for wildlife. For me, it’s a natural off shoot from the gardening I’ve been doing for most of my adult life. I can’t imagine going without a garden and raising my own produce each year. With prices going out of sight because of the drought last year, I am doing myself and my family the biggest favor I can by growing my own food. If you’ve never tried raising a garden before, give it try. It’s not that hard to do. The ones DEAREST to you will show how much they appreciate it. Mine do!