Few things are more delicious than fresh fruits and vegetables from a home garden. But I have a love-hate relationship with vegetable gardening. I love the results, but I hate the process.
Bugs, diseases, prickly/itchy leaves and stems, staking, pruning, watering, harvesting fruit (not too big, not too small), slimy/rotting fruit (I plunge my finger into occasionally, yuck!), not to mention the soil preparation… Well-drained soil, not hard as a brick (hello, the upper half of the state), holds water for more than 5 minutes (hello, the lower half of the state). All these unpleasantries are enough to give us lazy gardeners anxiety!
Vegetable gardening is challenging. I greatly respect talented vegetable gardeners with their neat, weed-free rows of perfectly green, fruit-heavy plants, free of insects and diseases. For the rest of us, try these tips to grow some vegetables and make it a little more enjoyable.
Start Small: For novice gardeners, large vegetable gardens can go off the tracks quickly. Start small to get a feel for how the plants grow, what issues may arise, and the quantity a few plants can produce. Then, incrementally increase the garden’s size to what is manageable. For more information about starting small, see Small Scale Gardening.
Raised Beds/Containers: A great way to start small is by using raised beds or containers. But the best benefit of containers and raised beds is that they help overcome poor soil. Fill containers with appropriate potting soil that allows for good drainage and aeration. Never use native soil in containers. It is heavy, drains poorly, and compacts in the container, destroying critical pore space for plant roots. See HGIC 1251, Container Vegetable Gardening for more information.
Choose quality garden soil for raised beds. Quality garden soil is dark, crumbly, with an earthy smell. Avoid soil mixes with large quantities of visible wood products as their physical and chemical makeup is not ideal for vegetable plants. For more information, visit HGIC 1257, Raised Beds.
Water Early in the Day: Avoid plant diseases by watering garden plants early in the day. Preferably, water before 9:00 AM, allowing plants to dry out throughout the day. Watering in the afternoon or evening extends the time plants are wet, allowing more time under ideal conditions for fungal diseases to develop.
Don’t Get Attached: Vegetable plants are mostly annuals in South Carolina and die at some point. If something is not doing well, remove it. If a few leaves have spots or problems, remove them. However, if 40% of the plant or more is affected, remove the entire plant. Doing so reduces diseases from spreading to other plants and reduces stress and headaches for the gardener.
Cover crop: Vegetables can be grown year-round in South Carolina. Just because gardeners can, does not mean they must. Those wanting to try fall and winter crops, go for it! However, do not be afraid to take a break.
Plant a cover crop in the fall to take a break from gardening and protect and build the soil. Cover crops add organic matter to the soil, reduce weed growth, improve soil structure, feed soil microorganisms, fix nitrogen (legumes), and reduce soil erosion. Visit one of several HGIC publications about cover crops at Cover Crops in Raised Beds, Cover Crops for Fall, and HGIC 1252, Cover Crops.