06 March 2013

Advice to a Transplanted Maine Gardener

Awhile ago I put a "Have Gardening Questions?" link on this blog, hoping someone would email me - I get a lot of practice answering random questions at the Master Gardener's office, and I always learn something when I do.  Despite doing this, no one has contacted me, until today. Out of the blue I received an email this morning, asking for loads of gardening advice:

I'm new to Park Circle, having moved here from Maine in September. We finally have our beds made and filled, and yesterday I did a little planting. I'm very excited to try my hand at veggies since there's such a long growing season (compared to Maine!). I do have a few questions, and thought maybe you could help me out.

I'm looking for a nice nursery that sells a variety of gardening supplies and plants. I've been to Abide A While and another place in Mt. Pleasant. They're both lovely but I found one a tad pricey and the other more gifty, if that makes sense. Do you have a favorite?

I have to say that I don't have a favorite garden center. I don't frequent them and most of them seem gifty and pricey to me too. Besides box stores, the other store that came to mind was Hyam's on Folly Road on James Island. You may find them similar to Abide-a-While, however, I got a pair of garden clogs from them that I love. I had to search the internet to find anything similar to those places in our area, and the only other place I found was Hidden Ponds Nursery in Awendaw, north of Mount Pleasant. Their website boasts of their "mile of grand pathways", and for us to "come take a walk in the woods". It sounds like it would be worth the drive just to look around.

 I'm looking to grow potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, and asparagus - all things that should be grown from starts or seedlings. Where can I get these?

Oh, if only you had emailed me a month ago!  Around here Clemson Extension recommends planting potatoes in early February, onions in during February as well and asparagus crowns during January and February.  You'll have another chance to grow onions in the fall and it may not be too late to plant asparagus.  It is a perennial so it will grow and produce spears for more than a single year. Because of this, you'll have to devote permanent space in your garden to it.  It is also recommended to let them become established for 2-3 years before beginning to harvest.  Not all is lost - you have until mid-April before planting sweet potatoes.  I've never grown these before, but it looks as if you can buy transplants from a garden center - you may have to call around to see who offers them.  For planting times, see HGIC 1256 Planning a Garden.  That site is my go-to place for information on all things gardening.

As far as where to get these. I have a few suggestions.  For potatoes and onions, I tend to go to feed and seed stores.  They are nearly the only places that carry a large quantity and variety of these.  Other places have had these in the past, like local hardware stores, but I would stick with the feed and seeds.  For my recommendations, click here.  I have talked about other sources in the past.  If you search for "feed and seed" on this blog, you will find those as well.  I used to drool over the seed catalogs every winter, but I've decided that it may be too much choice.  My two favorite feed and seeds have a good selection of seeds that I will continue to buy, unless I need or want something special.

What "pests" am I going to run into? I can already guess squirrels. Anything else i should be looking out for? And do you have recommendations for eradicating them?

My experience has taught me that pests vary greatly by yard.  I had minor problems with leaf-footed squash bugs the last few years, but a friend who lives south of Charleston had tomato hornworm invasion.  A woman called the Master Gardener's office about the "kudzu bug" or bean platispid ravaging a tree of hers.  There is something called "Integrated Pest Management" that some of us try to practice.  It's about preventing problems before they happen.  Chose disease resistant varieties of plants.  Rotate crops to prevent pests and diseases from reaching a critical level.  Cleaning up dead plant material to limit the spread of disease.  Heat and humidity are also problems to be dealt with.  As questions or problems arise, I'll be happy to help.  In the meantime, feel free to check out HGIC 2755 Integrated Pest Management, or their IPM site that I just found.

How do you feel about the quality of the Bees Ferry compost? I filled my beds with this but I'm concerned - pulled out plastic fork tines and shredded plastic bags. It's what I got so I planted, mixing in a little lobster compost we brought with us from Maine.

If anything, I'm a frugal gardener.  I have always gotten compost from the landfill.  In the past it had a lot of plastic in it (see a photo here), but recently the county mandated that paper leaf bags be used instead of plastic and it has eliminated(?) that problem.  It was more of a business decision for them - they are now able to sell larger quantities because of its higher quality  According to extension agent Amy Dabbs, Clemson University "certified the compost from Bees Ferry for use in organic farming operations, a first in the state. (The compost itself cannot be 'certified organic.' That term is reserved for agricultural products consumed by humans.)"  You can read her article here.

Think of compost as a soil amendment, something you add to your soil.  If your beds are all compost, you will be missing key minerals and other nutrients that are in soil, but not available in organic materials.  You can take soil from your yard or buy bags of sterilized garden soil, or even get a truck load of topsoil from local businesses.  I had to explain this to someone at the MG office recently - there are thousands of weeds seeds in any soil, from your yard or brought in.  When you buy garden soil in bags from a garden center, it has probably been sterilized - cooked to kill all the weed seeds and potential pathogens.  The problem is that all the beneficial organisms in the soil were killed as well.  At your first opportunity, you should get a soil test to see what it needs.  It is likely similar to mine, but only after getting your results will you know for sure.  Here's how to do that: How To Get A Soil Test. Another option is to try sheet composting, also known as lasagna gardening.  It is especially good for starting raised beds.  Oregon State University has a good guide to doing it.

Any tips or tricks for having a successful growing season in the south?

I haven't taken a poll, but I know one other person who agrees with me - summer is my least favorite time to garden.  At my house the gardening year starts off in January when I plant peas.  I planted them in February last year and it was too late.  This year I planted them in mid January and I have a feeling it may get too warm for me to get many peas.  I may have to plant them right after Thanksgiving, like I heard another master gardener does.  In February I plant onions and potatoes.  I never know what to do in March.  According to some charts, our last expected frost date is around March 15th, but experience tells me that there is usually a frost the first week of April.  It's also the first best time to sow seeds, like beans, squash and corn, directly in the ground, but watch that frost! Serious gardeners are growing seedlings at this time, to transplant into their garden after the last frost, but since I'm not set up for that, I twiddle my thumbs a little bit right now.

April is when I transplant veggies like squash, tomatoes and peppers, and start a second crop of seeds.  May and June is when it really starts to heat up.  Potatoes are ready by that point and hopefully you've gotten the first fruits of some of your vegetables.  By July it's too hot to do anything - plants won't produce fruit when it's this hot, but you can always dream of cooler weather.  August is when they say to start your cool-season vegetables, but that's the last thing I'm thinking about then.

Once October gets here you can get serious about cool-season crops.  Onions get planted again.  Garlic, for harvest next fall, can be planted.  Broccoli and collards can be transplanted.  Despite a few frosts and freezes, winter is rapidly becoming the best gardening season here - if you like leafy greens and root vegetables, like lettuce, spinach, collards, broccoli, turnips, carrots, and radishes.

Good luck with your garden and, I hope this has given you a dose of what it's like to garden in our part of the world.  If I can help in nay way, please let me know.

1 comment:

Sandi's Garden Patch said...

Have you thought of finding good online plant suppliers. Get them to send you their catelogues. It is good fun buying and receiving packets, especially when they are not bills.