Dig into the earth to create something fresh, delicious

  • Posted: Saturday, March 30, 2013 11:19 a.m.
Staff Photo by Stephanie Turner
Citrus-calamondin is a cross between limes and oranges and creates a bitter fruit.
Staff Photo by Stephanie Turner Citrus-calamondin is a cross between limes and oranges and creates a bitter fruit.

When Rhonda Herron became captivated with the idea of starting a garden, she rushed home to share the idea with her husband Mark.

But, it was more like, she asked him to start one up in their backyard.

“Michaela Bereley from Cold Creek Nurseries gave a class (on gardening) to the women of our church, and my wife came home all excited,” Mark said. “I kept dragging my feet, thinking, ‘Man, this is something else I have to do.’”

But, he did it. Now, two springs later, their backyard has close to 10 raised-beds plotted around it, with plants also growing in pots on their shed’s porch.

In those plots and pots, you will find growing lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, cabbage and blueberries, and that’s just to name a few.

And, Mark isn’t stopping.

He started out with an four by eight box and plants like tomatoes, squash and bell peppers.

“(At first) I didn’t know if I was going to expand or not, but I got really into it, really enjoyed it,” he said. “I’m not done yet.”

He plans on putting down more plots and planting more plants, like cucumbers and an apple tree.

“I pretty much plan on eventually having this backyard growing something,” he said.

And the growing bug hasn’t just bit the Herrons.

Herron and Berley have noticed that growing fruits and vegetables has become a popular pastime.

Why plant a garden

It helps people get outside, while getting exercise, Bereley pointed out. It saves money, because it reduces trip to the grocery store. You get safer, fresher food, because you control the amount of pesticides you use.

Also, “it’s a great family activity,” Berley said. “It also encourages kids to eat more fruits and vegetables … Knowing they have grown it, they are more inclined to taste or try it.”

But, perhaps, the reason is simply because, at the end of the day, it feels good to grow and do something a bit more for yourself.

“Even a single plant can provide a rewarding experience,” said Karen Eckert, Aiken Master Gardener Association vice president.

Whatever your reason for planting a garden, you’ll need to know how to get started.

Planning

Planning is key to starting any project.

Herron did research and still does research to help him with his gardening. His methods include surfing the web, reading gardening-guide books and attending seminars at Palmetto Nursery and Florist. Eckert says even talking to people with gardens and experience can also help.

Through your research, you might get a better idea on what you want to grow. You might, then, also notice how much the seasons play a part in your decision-making.

Plants can be placed into the ground really any time of the year, according to Annette Weese, Cold Creek horticulturist.

For the late winter to early spring season, one can choose from produce such as potatoes, beets, onions, lettuce, carrots and asparagus, while in the spring to the early summer, there are options like green beans, tomatoes, eggplants, squash, okra, peas and watermelon.

If none of those strike you, cole crops like broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower can be planted right now, as well as fruit trees.

Once you got the plants in mind, you might want to think about your garden’s size.

Eckert recommends to start small. She said spring is ideal for trying to scatter out a few containers in a sunny spot or doing a small in-ground or raised-bed garden out in the yard.

Cold Creek is a place to turn for this.

“At Cold Creek, we have been growing a demonstration square foot garden to educate people on how to garden using the square-foot garden method,” Berley said. “An advantage to (this) is that you do not have to have a large plot of land to grow your own veggies.”

Cold Creek offers other ways to do compact gardens. A fixture available for vertical gardening is a set of at least three pots lined up in a vertical line. Options like this help for those with limited space, according to Bereley.

When you think about size, you might want to think about how much time you will have to upkeep the garden.

“A garden of any size … requires some physical labor to prepare, plant, water, fertilize, weed, manage pests and harvest,” Eckert said. “During our hot summers, regular watering is crucial … It is very discouraging to come back from two weeks at the beach to find rotting vegetables on drought-stressed (or dead) plants.”

Once you have thought about the size, you might want to think about where is best to place the garden.

“The site needs to meet three essential criteria: at least six hours of sunlight a day; good drainage and access to a convenient and adequate water supply,” Eckert said. “It is best if the site has good air circulation to help prevent diseases.”

Be aware of sun conditions though, Bill Hayes said in his Aiken Standard’s “Master Gardener” December 2012 column.

“Most of our summer plants need sun, but all sunlight is not the same,” he said.

“The hottest part of the days comes in mid-afternoon.”

OK, so the basics are thought out.

Now, you should probably browse for some supplies.

Buying

Tools could include shovels, pruners, hoses, sprayers and, also, “good leather gloves,” Hayes said.

“The best garden tools that you can afford … will last a lifetime and never break when you need them the most,” he said.

The leather versus cloth or coated gloves will “save your hands when pulling wild blackberry or smilax weeds, and they will (also) last for a very long time.”

A fence might be an investment thought, as unwanted critters could creep up to want to nibble your creations.

To name a couple, rabbits are kept out with fences that come from below the ground, so they can’t dig their way in; deer, on the other hand, can be shut out with a variety of fences, Eckert said.

Soil is essential.

Bags of it can be bought at gardening departments. To test it, stop by Clemson Extension Agency, Country Boy garden shop or Nurseries Caroliniana.

“The homeowner will … receive a report from Clemson Soil Lab with specific recommendations for amending the soil so that soil pH and nutrients available are most suited for the fruits and vegetables the homeowner wants to grow.”

You can even add compost – an organic substance that can be made and is used to aid and enhance the soil. Mark Herron made his own with shredded-up leaves, horse manure, leaves and dead-head flowers, egg shells and fruit and vegetable peelings.

Once the soil is built up, as Berley puts it, and the necessities are bought, it’s time to dig down into the dirt and start your garden.

A community option

If you are interested in the food-growing process but don’t have the time or resources to start your own garden up, Golden Harvest can help.

Right now, the food bank is seeking volunteers for its community garden. The garden’s products will be given to the bank’s partner agencies, who will in turn hand the food out to those who need it.

“It’s exciting,” said Michael Gibbons, Golden Harvest chief development officer for South Carolina. “It’s going to be a place where, it’s not the biggest garden in the world, but every little bit helps. If we can be successful on a small scale, here, maybe we can grow it here and certainly grow the experience to other people who can bring it to their backyards.”

The ground-breaking on the garden plots was at the beginning of March.

Since then, many groups have expressed interest in volunteering, and employees from Cold Creek Nurseries have installed in compost.

Planting should start in April, Gibbons said.

For those interested, call him at 803-270-7859 or email him at mgibbons@goldenharvest.org.

To find out more about the resources at Cold Creek, call 803-648-3592 or visit www.coldcreeknurseries.net.

To find out more about Aiken Master Gardener Association, call 803-649-6297, ext. 122 or visit www.aikenmastergardeners.org.

“I believe the earth is capable of producing enough food to feed the entire world,” Mark Herron said. “We just need to learn how to capitalize on old and new methods of production and try to instill in people the desire to do so.”

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