Vegetable Gardening (for the not-so-green thumbed)

Photo courtesy of Clemson Extension

Photo courtesy of Clemson Extension

By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer,

It’s said that one can grow vegetables about as easily as one can grow non-edible ornamental plants, but for veteran plant killers (like me), the idea of planting, tending, and harvesting food is a fairly intimidating concept. But this year, I – like many other novices around the world – will take the plunge and plant my first vegetable garden. On the advice of friends and family, I’ve decided to keep things simple and work on something decidedly not scary or fussy, like growing my own salad ingredients.

Here’s a little primer for my fellow veggie gardening newbies, with planting suggestions and advice that might help us all reap some delicious rewards this spring and summer.

Ingredient #1 – Lettuce! Several varieties of lettuce grow fast, harvest easily, don’t hog a lot of space, and don’t demand perfect sunny conditions. You can even grow lettuce in containers, beside flowers, and sheltered under bigger plants. Lettuce is the one thing I’m pretty sure I can’t mess up because it has such an accommodating nature. Best planting times for central SC: the entire month of February, and mid-August

Ingredient #2 – Tomatoes! So popular, so delicious, and so easy for a starter garden. If you have a nice sunny spot and a support rig (like a cage or stake) for their growing stalks, tomatoes are nearly a sure thing. Low-maintenance varieties with small fruits are available at most garden centers, and these types – with yummy names like “Red Currant” and “Chocolate Cherry” – can yield delightful results with little of the rot and splitting troubles that sometimes plague larger tomatoes. Some folks say they’ll taste even better if you plant them beside basil, and the handy little herb also helps repel pests. Best planting times for central SC: April 5 to 25, July 10 to 20

Ingredient #3 – Cucumbers! These might be a little work at the beginning, arranging sturdy support for their vertical growth and plotting an area where they’ll receive steady sunlight, but cukes will grow like mad once they’ve taken hold. Just keep these thirsty little critters watered and you’ll likely have an abundance of delicious cucumbers for salads, pickling, or donating to friends. Best planting times for central SC: April 1 to 15, August 1 to 10

Ingredient #4 – Carrots! If you have deep and well-drained soil, you’re in luck. This versatile root vegetable is an easy go in the right kind of yard, or in a raised bed if your soil is rocky. Full sun is best for this bright orange staple, though easygoing carrots can deal with a little time in the shade. Best planting times for central SC: February 10 to 28, August 1 to 15

Ingredient #5 – Green Beans! An ideal choice for home gardening, with hundreds of varieties to choose from depending on your tastes and your space restrictions. If you’ve got the room, vine types grow really robustly, but bush varieties (like snap peas) take up less space. Green beans typically grow well from seeds and they like full sun and well-drained soil. Best planting times for central SC: varies by type, but most do well when planted in April, and late July/early August

Ingredient #6 – Zucchini! Not just a salad stand-by, this wonder veggie also makes pretty tasty noodles (or zoodles, as the foodies say) when cut with a spiralizer. Zucchini are notorious for growing almost out of control, so most small gardens will get plenty of squashes from just one or two plants. Settle them in mounded soil or in containers, keep them watered and warm, and these workhorse plants might just outproduce all your other produce. Best planting times for central SC: April 1 to 20, August 1 to 15

Courtesy of Clemson Extension

Courtesy of Clemson Extension

Experts say it’s easier to plan out your garden’s parameters once you’ve decided what you want to grow. I’m aiming for an easy to maintain 10 x 10 plot, with six to eight hours of direct sun each day, easy access to the garden hose, and a wire fence to discourage the neighborhood rabbits.

Our backyard has unusually rich soil (it’s like chocolate cake riddled with gigantic earthworms!), but you should probably get your soil tested before planting to avoid disappointment and wasted work. To check your drainage, soak the prospective garden down thoroughly, wait a day, then scoop a handful of soil and give it a squeeze. If water seeps out, you may need to add compost or organic matter to enhance the drainage. If the soil falls apart or won’t form a ball, it may be too sandy, meaning it needs more organic matter. The Darlington County Clemson Extension Service can help with this, and provide plenty of great advice to boot. Check out their website at, or call our local office at 843-393-0484.

Author: Jana Pye

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