HERE’S HOW TO PLANT YOUR VEGETABLE GARDEN
BY DEAN ROWLAND
Temperatures in the Lowcountry can be slightly temperamental, a few degrees here and there. Barring a dramatic swing in temps that rattles the thermometer, homeowners can safely mark their calendars with cool to warmer climes in the spring and warm to cooler climes in the fall. (March 15 is the traditional date for the last frost of the spring.) Planting vegetables too late in the spring or too early in the fall poses risks that are naturally inherent: plant yields, maturity, weather damage, negligence, etc.
Ever wonder why the farmers’ markets on Hilton Head, in Bluffton and in Beaufort are teeming with customers weekly looking for fresh vegetables with succulent flavors and rich textures? It’s because they don’t grow their own.
Homegrown vegetable gardening can be timeconsuming but is rewarding. It’s like creating edible art for your dinner table.
Location, size and selection are keys to your garden of earthly delights.
Choose a sunny location on stable ground with good draining that will allow at least six hours daily of direct sunlight. Leafy vegetables can tolerate partial shade. Make sure the sandy soil is nutrientrich made of organic composition or add compost. “Soil is the first thing you have to get right,” said Susan Spruill of Carolyn’s Landscaping on Hilton Head. “Our soil is really sandy, and you really need some good amendments in there. I use a compost mix. Every year when I turn my beds, I add in a fair amount of cow manure.
“The most common thing, especially for a first-year gardener, is they either don’t amend the soil enough or they plant stuff too close together,” she said.
A good beginner’s plot in the ground of 10-feet by 10-feet will comfortably allow three to five plants for each of your favorite three to five varieties of veggies. Tall veggies belong on the north side of the garden to avoid shading shorter plants.
Leave room for a path of a few feet between rows to attend to the weeding and harvesting of your crop and be sure to plant only what’s likely to be eaten or stored. Eyes can easily mislead the stomach.
Prime time for planting vegetables in the spring kicks off in early March and extends through the end of May. There’s a wide array of delicious choices to make for a fresh, bountiful harvest later in the year, with some able to endure the nippy weather in winter.
Jump start with the planting of garden peas, string beans, red potatoes, onions and cabbage early in the season followed by carrots, beets, broccoli and cauliflower, according to the Clemson University extension service. Plant collards, kale, cabbage, lettuce and beans now, as well as sweet potatoes and sweet corn, eggplant, honeydew, leeks, mustards, peanuts and squash in April. Hold off on okra until May.
Wait until the soil warms in late spring and early summer before handling cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes and other warm-season veggies.
“Tomatoes need calcium,” she said. “When I plant my tomatoes, I either put in a handful of crushed oyster shells or powdered milk. They’re really susceptible to blossom and rot. You’ll end up with a beautiful fruit and then suddenly, you’ll get a black spot on the bottom. It’s a calcium deficiency.” When you water, make sure to thoroughly reach the roots.
“Water down near the roots instead of spray irrigation,” she said. “And obviously keep everything weed free.”
Be sure to consider freezing and canning vegetables for keeping overproduction until later in the season.
“If I don’t eat them, I can them,” she said. Vegetables can last for years if canned, and remember that pickling produces a sweet, spicy and sour side dish throughout the year. Submerge the veggies in a jar along with a briny mixture of water, salt and vinegar, cover and wait.
Whatever you do in the garden, “Don’t plant it and let it go. It’s a labor of love.”