By Ira Wallace
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Get the inside dirt, Georgia!
This ultimate local guide to growing vegetables and other edibles provides you with insider advice on climate zones, average frost dates, and growing season details across Georgia. Information includes details on sun, soil, fertilizer, mulch, water, and the best varieties for your region. A garden planning section helps with design and crop rotation, and monthly lists explain what to do from January through December. In-depth profiles of nearly 50 edibles round out the information and help ensure a can’t-miss harvest.
I have been giving talks on gardening, writing articles, and contributing to the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange catalog for many years. But it took surviving a life-threatening operation for me to finally agree to write an actual book. For this second foray it was Timber Press again who got me to consider offering specific advice for Georgia gardeners. This volume would not be possible without the help and support of the team at Timber Press, as well as the generously shared knowledge from our many knowledgeable agricultural extension agents, organic farmers, and gardeners throughout our state.
Thanks also to my gardening friends Pam Dawling, Cindy Conner, and Ken Bezilla, who shared their experience and their years of gardening records, and answered so many of my questions along the way.
I am especially grateful to Lisa Dermer, organizer par excellence, and Gordon Sproule, who both worked with me from the beginning, helping whenever I asked—editing and offering insightful suggestions and personal encouragement whenever I needed them.
Thank you to all my friends and fellow worker/owners at Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and Acorn Community Farm for supporting me in writing this book by taking on a lot of my usual work in our gardens and in the office.
Vine-ripened tomatoes, succulent figs, crisp winter salads, corn on the cob, and sweet braised greens are just a few of the fresh-from-the-garden delights awaiting gardeners in Georgia. Working with long, hot summers and mild, uneven winters, southern gardeners from Thomas Jefferson to Barbara Kingsolver have feasted abundantly in every season. Every year at the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello, a celebration of heirloom varieties, local food, and sustainable agriculture at Jefferson’s mountaintop home, I have the privilege of meeting hundreds of eager gardeners. The bountiful harvest on display at the festival is an inspiration to new gardeners. With a little planning and knowing how to make the right choices for your Georgia garden, even beginning gardeners can have that abundance throughout the year.
I often run workshops on year-round gardening and growing garlic and perennial onions at the Monticello and Mother Earth News fairs, and afterward, eager participants frequently ask if I have a new book. This is my newest offering, a more localized book, sharing what I have learned about year-round food growing in over 40 years as an organic gardener and over 20 years as an advocate and producer of heirloom organic seeds at Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (SESE). Our motto at SESE is “Saving the past for the future”; we strive to preserve the knowledge that lets farmers enjoy abundant harvests without chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Our farm is certified organic and I am committed to keeping our spot of earth healthy and productive. Throughout this book, I have shared the information you’ll need to make your own garden equally rich.
My gardening roots trace back to my grandmother’s backyard in Florida, where I grew up. We had something growing every month, although all I remember growing in late summer were black-eyed peas, okra, and sweet potatoes. That was the slow time, but it didn’t last long. As soon as the weather started cooling off a little, we went all-out with greens, squash, peppers, tomatoes, and beans. Winter brought on lettuce, celery, and even more greens. I don’t think I grew broccoli and other, more refined members of the cabbage family until after I went off to college. But, boy, did we have some fine cabbages, collards, turnips, and mustards. These memories make fall and winter gardening special for me. Fall harvests provide fresh organic food just when it is most expensive in the markets and less available from local farms. And growing a fall garden is actually easier than summer gardening, once you get the timing down. In theand chapters, I’ll go through the basics of summer planting for an abundant fall and winter harvest. I share the techniques and timing that work for us to start seeds in the heat.
In these hectic, modern times, many of you might feel that it is hard to find the time you need to produce your own food. Well, let me tell you that I struggle with having enough time myself. It’s one reason that I am always looking for new ways—like creating no-dig “lasagna beds”—to make gardening easier. Gardening is still a lot of fun for me. I always make time to try out something new in the garden each year. This is how I find new and exotic tastes like Thai Red roselle for jams and refreshing drinks or delicious new-to-me heirlooms like Shronce’s Deep Black peanut. I have tried to share many of my favorite heirloom varieties for those of you who want to be able to save seeds as well as enjoy fine flavors. I have included basic seed-saving instructions for each of the vegetables in thesection.
There are almost as many reasons for gardening as there are gardeners. But whatever the reasons, in the last five years we have seen the number of new gardeners buying our seeds increase by 10 to 20 percent every year and the attendance at the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello has quadrupled. The question of what is going into our food and where it comes from has led many of us toward local and organic food, and that excitement is only growing. And what food is more local than the food from your own backyard? Whether you are new to gardening or an old hand looking for tips, I hope this book will give you the tools and motivation you need to get gardening straight away.
WELCOME TO GARDENING IN
Georgia has been well known for its gardens and natural beauty since colonial times. Early European settlers learned much about gardening from the Cherokee and Apalachee in the mountainous areas and many groups from the Piedmont to the coast, including the Muscogee, Oconee, and Yuchi. The geography is varied—from the Golden Isles and the sandy soils along the coast and in the Pine Barrens, through the richer soils and rolling hills of the Piedmont, to the small but rugged and majestic mountains, as well as rich valleys and plateaus at the southern edge of the Appalachian Mountains.
Defining our Climate
The climate in Georgia is wet and warm with long, hot summers, high humidity, and mild winters. It’s wonderfully suited for year-round gardening when microclimates are used to stretch the seasons and attention is given to temperatures that can change quickly. While the well-drained, sandy soils of the Inner Coastal Plain near the fall line and the Piedmont may be richer than others, gardeners all over the state can have success building their own rich garden plots, with the addition of ample compost and organic matter to sandy coastal soils, plain old Georgia red clay, or thin mountain soils.
Looking at differences in the regions of the state will help frame your garden season. First, let’s define the hardiness zones used throughout this book in the To Do This Month lists. In 1960, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) created the Plant Hardiness Zone Map, defining ten climate zones. Each zone represented a 10°F difference in the lowest reported winter temperature. In 2012, the map was updated adding two zones at the warmer end using the average low temperature and other scientific data for 30 years that gave a more accurate picture of the weather. The number of freezing days in various areas has declined by four to seven days since 1970, bumping up the rating for many. Knowing the average first and last frost dates helps us decide when to plant, but these dates alone are not enough. Local features such as mountains, distance to the ocean, elevation, lakes, buildings, hedges, walls, and windbreaks all affect the hardiness of plants, and can help us decide when stretching beyond recommended dates is worth the risk. Other factors like soil type and drainage are also important for getting abundant harvests of greens and root crops during Georgia’s wet winter months. The accompanying maps and chart will offer a picture of the zones in Georgia and show the average first and last frost dates for some major cities.
Growing Season in Georgia
The length of the growing season is the time between your area’s average last spring frost date and average first fall frost date.
Zones 7, 8, and 9. These growing zones encompass Georgia.
Average minimum winter temperatures:
Zone 7: 0 to 10°F
Zone 8: 10 to 20°F
Zone 9: 20 to 30°F
Average days above 86°F:
Zone 7: 61 to 90
Zone 8: 91 to 125
Zone 9: 126 to 150
GEORGIA REGIONAL GROWING PROFILES
The Coastal Plain, south Georgia (zones 8 and 9). This is the largest region of the state, comprising a long, low, flat area along Georgia’s Atlantic coast, west to the mountains and north to the Fall Line. The Lower Coastal Plain is home to the Okefenokee Swamp, one of the best-known wetlands in the country. As the elevation rises going west and north toward the Fall Line, the well-drained areas of the Inner Coastal Plain have some of the best farmland in Georgia. This land was hunted and fished by Native Americans long before European settlers arrived.
Early gardens in the Coastal Plain combined tropical fruits, sweet potatoes, okra, and peppers brought from the Carribbean, along with corn, beans, squash, and other traditional European vegetables. Shaped by the knowledge and labor of enslaved Africans, “low country” cuisine evolved, and continues to be valued today, especially in warmer areas such as Savannah and the Golden Isles. As in many acidic, sandy areas, the secret to success as a gardener in the low country is generous applications of compost and other organic matter, as well as the judicious addition of lime. A long growing season (often no snow in any given year) and ample rainfall put a four-season harvest in easy reach here.
The Piedmont, middle Georgia (zones 7 and 8). This is an area of gently rolling hills and rocky rivers bounded by the Georgia Mountains regions on the west and the cities of Columbus, Macon, Milledgeville, and Augusta along the Fall Line. This is the home of Georgia red clay, but even areas that have been degraded by erosion can become beautiful and productive gardens, with the generous addition of organic matter and lime as needed.
The North Georgia mountains (zone 7). This is the smallest area of Georgia, including the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east, the Ridge and Valley region to the west and the Appalachian Plateau farther west. The mountains run along the northern border of the state and produce breathtakingly beautiful mixed hardwood forests in fall, refreshingly cool evenings in summer, and enjoyable hiking all year. But the mountainous soils are thin, making for small farms that often require extra work for good gardening results.
Climate and weather are distinguished from each other by time. Climate describes weather conditions over a long period of time. Weather is what’s happening right now: short-term variations tied to individual weather systems (for example, fronts, hurricanes, air masses).
The weather in Georgia is impacted by several major factors. Being near the Gulf Coast and having the long Atlantic coast provide two big moderating factors—cooling winds to lower temperatures in summer and mass to moderate winter temperatures. Altitude and proximity to the southern Appalachian Mountains block cool air from the northwest in winter, creating a leeward rain shadow in the midlands of the state, reducing precipitation, and making for slightly higher temperatures in this middle section of Georgia.
According to the National Weather Service, another important factor in forecasting seasonal weather in Georgia is the El Niño/La Niña Southern Oscillation (ENSO). It describes the variable surface temperature and atmospheric conditions far away in the Pacific Ocean near the equator. The strongest impacts are during the winter months. Usually, El Niño means a cool, wet spring and La Niña results in a warmer, drier winter and spring. However, La Niña winters can sometimes lead to drought that summer, and El Niño may delay spring planting dates due to excess soil moisture.
While climate describes the weather over time in our region, microclimates are those small areas that are different than the larger general region. Microclimates bring us home to our yard and garden. They may be created by a number of things: buildings, extra-windy areas, topography, or large bodies of water. In urban areas, buildings can have a huge effect on the climate nearby and paved areas may act as heat sinks, keeping city gardens a few degrees warmer. Buildings and fences may act as wind barriers or create wind tunnels. If there’s a large body of water nearby such as a lake or the ocean, this tends to moderate the air temperatures of nearby areas.
Living on top of a hill or deep in a valley plays a major role in microclimates. Warm air is lighter than cold air, so if a gardener lives in a valley, they may have more frost problems than someone living higher up. In windy areas, the top of the hill can be several degrees colder than a spot along the slope.
Other microclimate factors are soil types, mulching practices, paved surfaces, fences, walls, raised beds, cold frames, row cover, balconies, and rooftops. Smart gardeners will observe their microclimates and use them to an advantage when locating crops or making modifications. Adding a brick wall or a living windbreak of trees can help trap heat or provide shade where needed.
In these times of climate change and erratic, unpredictable weather, many scientists and gardeners are returning to the observation of nature as a guide to planting times and predicting insect and disease problems. Phenology is the study of recurring plant and animal life cycles and their relationship to weather. Many historical figures, including Thomas Jefferson, recorded phenological observations that are being resurrected and used to understand how climate and weather have changed over the last century or more.
Plant and insect development are temperature dependent, not calendar dependent. After the winter dormancy period, temperatures rise and plants and insects develop. Growing degree days (GDDs) are a scientific measure of accumulated heat. Farmers and gardeners with scientific inclinations are using the GDD measurement of heat to predict which insects will be active at which point. Calculating GDD is a bit complicated for most gardeners because the base temperature varies with plant and insect species. Fortunately for us, recent research at the University of Ohio has confirmed the relationship between GDD and traditional phenological observations. Currently in the Appalachian region, numerous organizations and schools perform small-scale phenological studies. The Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont and the Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center at Purchase Knob each have independent phenology monitoring programs that are coordinating efforts in the area. These efforts and the National Phenological Network allow you to contribute your own observations and draw from the information being gathered by fellow citizen scientists in your region.
So—gardeners who record bloom times, insect occurrences, and bird migrations and use the concept of phenology have another important tool for success at their disposal. For example, if you plant your peas when the forsythia blooms, you risk losing a few plants to late frost but you will be in the right ballpark.
Planning for Fresh Food All Year
Even in the sunniest parts of Georgia, January brings some rainy days well suited to sitting in a cozy chair, planning for the year ahead. The preparation work you do now—garden maps, a planting schedule, testing seeds left over from last year and ordering any you’ll need for this one, and setting up a spot to start your own plants from seed indoors—ensures a bountiful garden for the year to come. There’s plenty to do outside as well, from pruning perennials to taking soil samples for testing, to preparing beds (if the soil dries out enough). If you are new to growing your own food, thesection of this book will help you learn about the climate and soils in our region, pick a good location for your garden, and get started growing healthy, fresh, delicious food for a twelve-month harvest. Let’s start planning!
Garden Maps and Planting Schedules
There are many joys to vegetable gardening, but there are also a few predictable and avoidable frustrations. One of these is having everything ripen at once. Planning for a continuous harvest of fresh, tasty, homegrown produce is one of the major challenges for a beginning vegetable gardener.
In the previous chapters, we discussed locating your garden, succession planting, types of planting systems, and other things that will help you with your garden planning. Take some time to review those chapters and think about how much time you have, what you want to grow, how big you want your garden to be, where it will be located, and what type of planting system you prefer. A smaller, well-maintained garden is often more productive and a better situation for gaining experience than a larger garden that is a bit out of control. Once you make these decisions about the size, type, and location of your garden, it’s time to make a map and create a planting schedule to keep your garden producing all year.
Measure your garden plot and plan the spacing of paths, rows, and beds. Note the location of any buildings, large trees, or shrubs that will shade your garden in the coming months. Include the north-south orientation on your map. Show sources of water and any areas with obvious drainage problems.
Graph paper is the traditional way to make an accurate, easy-to-use map of your garden. Using one square to show one foot of garden often works well for home gardeners. Make the map as large as you can with the size of paper you have so there is lots of room to write and revise. Make copies so you have maps for the different seasons you will be gardening, including succession planting and cover crops.
These days, many computer-savvy gardeners use spreadsheets or an online garden-planning tool for making their garden maps. All have many useful options for bed size and shapes, vegetable selectors, harvest log, and field notes. They even send you email reminders for planting dates. If you have a large yard or country property, Google Maps (
- On Sale
- Mar 31, 2020
- Page Count
- 252 pages
- Timber Press