With grocery prices steadily rising, planning for fresh vegetables, herbs and fruits to grow at home will reduce grocery bills while providing nutritious produce for the family’s enjoyment.
Tending the garden or orchard will also benefit the gardener with exercise, fresh air, and a sense of well being. Gardening has the potential to improve both health and finances. Now is the perfect time to start planning and preparing for a prosperous, healthy year!
During the planning phase, first answer several questions. How many people will tend the garden? Plan to plant quantities the gardener or gardeners can effectively manage. What are the family’s food preferences? This will determine the types and quantities of vegetables or fruits to plant. Do you plan to can or freeze any of the produce? If so, plant a larger area or plant successive plantings to provide enough produce. How much garden space is available? If space is limited, focus on growing costly vegetables to save the most money. Also, consider whether or not children may be participating in gardening. Ask for their input to encourage participation and excitement in growing their own food!
A suitable site for vegetables, herbs and fruits should be selected. The garden should receive a minimum of six hours of sunlight per day. Avoid locations around or under trees as they will compete for both nutrients and water. Consider irrigation as you select the site. Is the site located near a water source? If not, how do you plan to irrigate the garden during the hot, humid, dry summer?
If planting fruit trees or berries, plan to locate in an area that will not be disturbed once planted.
Sketch out a garden plan on graph paper. When possible, orient your rows north-to-south. Plant taller or trellised vegetables on the north side to prevent shading of smaller plants. Group plants by length of growing period and fertility needs. Perennial vegetables like asparagus should have a designated area in the garden that will remain undisturbed from season to season and year to year.
Once a site is selected, a soil test should be taken. Soil sample boxes and instructions are available at the Clemson Extension Office located beside Piedmont Tech on Wilson Road in Newberry. Collect samples from the garden or orchard site, and return the samples to the Clemson Extension Office. After analysis is complete, results from the test will be mailed or emailed to the gardener.
The soil’s pH is critical. Vegetable crops thrive in a pH range between 5.8 and 6.5. If the test indicates the soil is out of this range, the soil may be amended to either raise or lower the pH. Proper soil pH will improve plant health and the availability of nutrients.
Some plants such as blueberries require a lower pH range than in the vegetable garden. Blueberries prefer acidic, well-drained soils high in organic matter. Since these conditions generally don’t occur naturally, soil amendments will be necessary. A pH of 4.8 to 5.3 is desirable for blueberries. However, soils in the Piedmont region of S.C. are high in manganese. To avoid manganese toxicity when growing blueberries, keep the pH above 5.0.
Several soil tests may be needed for areas where a particular crop prefers a different pH. The soil test will also indicate the type and amount of fertilizer to apply for the specific crop. This $6 test will save the gardener valuable time and expense involved in “guessing” what may be needed.
Following the recommendations on the soil test results will maximize garden production. Garden soil should be cultivated to a minimum eight to 10 inch depth. The addition of organic matter will improve air and water movement throughout the soil allowing plant roots to move freely and to absorb nutrients and water. It will also encourage beneficial soil organisms.
If last season’s garden was planted in a winter cover crop and you plan to plant some cool-season crops in February, mow the cover crop and let it dry out for a week or two prior to tilling.
Not enough land to cultivate a garden in your landscape? Simply plan and prepare for gardening in containers or mixing vegetables with annuals, perennials or established plantings. The vegetables and herbs will add interesting contrasts to the landscape while providing delicious produce for the family.
Plan and prepare now as growing season will be arriving soon.
A prosperous and nutritious year ahead waits in the garden.