Gardening in the {DEEP} South :: Specifics

I thought I would dive a bit deeper into the whole "gardening" thing for those of you who are interested.  I am definitely NOT a master gardener {though I would love to be one day} but after many years of failures and victories in my own garden I at least have a few things to share that might help someone attempting their own home garden.

{I'm going to stick with the topic of summer gardening right now... I'll do another post about cool weather crops when the time is right :)}

First, the prep is somewhat minimal - you can stick with containers, large and small, on a patio if you don't have space for a garden.  My first crops were in old white barrels from my grandfather's garden back in the day.
my first little garden!
Later we moved on to raised beds, which just helped us have more usable space but also still be contained {and keep the dog from walking all over it}.  These are similar to ours - except ours are even more rudementary than that, see below:
our garden in late May several years ago

Generally the composition of our beds was just soil and dirt from the yard, with some bagged garden soil and manure on top.  {It might seem weird throwing manure all over your flower beds but it really is black GOLD for gardening}

sorry, couldn't resist ;)
so appropriate yet so not yet so true in so many areas of life

 I have never tested my soil's pH, but "they" recommend it and I might test it just to check this year - they sell tests at local garden shops, hardware stores, Lowes/Home Depot, etc.  Once our plants are established, we usually mulch a bit using piles of leaves in the corners of our yard that have been decomposing for a bit.  This helps seal in moisture around the base of the plant but also helps prevent weeds from thriving.  Dry grass clippings also work {and, just like leaves, are free}.  Every year when I clean out my beds from the previous season I decide if I need to add anything too it - soil or compost - but generally after years of gardening, mulching, and crop rotating {very important!} the soil is pretty rich on its own {again, I'll update once I test the pH! I might be way off}.

Now a few simple reviews of what exactly we have planted over the years and had luck {good and bad!} with:

1.  Tomatoes: our go-to crop.
- We have our best luck with grape tomatoes and romas.  The larger slicing tomatoes never actually 1) produce that many or 2) grow that big.  Last year I just did three grape tomato plants and one heirloom. I probably harvested a thousand grape tomatoes and one heirloom.  I have had luck growing them from seeds and buying them from a garden center as mature plants.
- If you grow from seeds these do best started indoors under grow/fluorescent lights about 6-8 weeks before the last frost {February-March for coastal areas}.  If you are zone 8b {Gulf Coast} or generally lower 8 {southern states}, you can actually start seeds mid to late summer when your early summer tomatoes are dying or wilting from the late summer heat and plant outside late summer to early fall for a fall harvest.
- Our tomatoes are usually plagued by these annoyances around late June, early July, after heavy rains:
Leaffooted Bug Nymphs
The best way to work over these pests is to just put on some gloves and hit them off the plant, then step on them or just squish them with your fingers.  "Ugh" I know... but I haven't had any luck with any of the organic or home made pest controls and I'm not a fan of bottled harsh chemicals on our veggies!
- Tomatoes do great in containers and plants can generally grow pretty close to each other, just make sure you have a tomato cage for support.
- I love the way my hands smell after picking tomatoes.  I actually love the way my entire garden smells.  Mmmmmm...

2.  Yellow Squash/Zucchini:
- I have had hit or miss luck with these.  But when it hits, I am SO excited because just like tomatoes, there are so many things you can make with squash and zucchini.
- I have started from seeds indoors every year.  This past fall I started seeds outside and had MUCH better luck with production that way.  This year I am starting the seeds outside, as it is recommended on the seed packets.  They need to be started outside after the average last frost in your area, ours is mid March.  These also make a great late summer crop.
- My squash is devastated every year when the rainy weeks of the summer hit.  The leaves get all moldy and gross.  It's hard to really prevent this but if the plants have been under watered and then experience a deluge it's even worse = keep the plants evenly watered. A few times they just died over night and I had {still have} no idea why:

 My squash plants are also popular places for the Mexican Bean Beetle and just like the tomato bugs the easiest way to manage it is just to put on some gloves and squish them.  I tried an organic soapy looking spray and I really didn't notice any improvement.  They lay eggs on the bottom of the leaves so quick control is essential!

- Squash does great in containers too as they generally stay pretty compact.  You can plant these plants {seeds or small seedlings} in mounds about 24" apart and plant several seeds per mound.  They do not need any special support.

3.  Cucumbers:
- Love/Hate them.  Have grown them every year because they are so easy but they take up a lot of space and I generally don't have much use for them.  No one in my family eats them.  I like them on sandwiches and summer salads but it doesn't justify to me how much space it takes up!
-  Easy to start from seed or buy plants.  One or two cucumber plants can end up taking over your entire raised bed.  You can try to trellis them but they really do just need a lot of space.
-  I haven't ever experienced pests on my cucumbers...just have to make sure you find the cucumbers when they are ready to be picked because, if left on the vine, they just keep growing and growing and can get huge! {and not taste good}

4.  Eggplants:
- Grew one plant last fall, for the first time, and actually had several eggplants.  It was relatively easy to grow and the only pest we found was birds and squirrels. We would leave for the weekend with five or so small eggplants on the plant and come home to NOTHING! So frustrating.  This year I am trying the smaller thing variety vs. the typical huge kind I did last year.
- Can grow in containers or beds but definitely need some type of support like a tomato cage or two.

5.  Peppers:
- I tried red bell peppers for a couple years but never had any luck - maybe one bell pepper ever.  We only eat the red, yellow and orange peppers and they seem hard {for me} to grow so this isn't a priority in our garden.
- My dad gave me some jalepeno seedlings this year so I hope to try my hand at that.  Fresh garden salsa anyone?

6.  Corn:
- Easy to grow from seed.  This past fall I planted the seeds in rows directly in our garden and had an almost 100% growth percentage.
- Our only pests were squirrels.  They dug up a few kernels/seed before they sprouted and ate about twelve ears of corn one weekend when we left town, only about a week before the corn was ready to be harvested!!! The only pest control in this case is a huge squirrel proof cage {yea right} or permission for your husband to shoot the squirrels with a BB Gun {don't judge - I was quite angry at those pesky rodents last fall!}.
- Corn cross-pollinates and that is why you have to plant many plants, not just a couple.  They do best in long skinny rows so planting them along a back fence line is a good idea {so they don't cast shadows over your other plants!}.  I was surprised at really just how easy corn was to grow.  Maybe this year we can actually EAT some...

7.  Herbs:
- Basil - easy to grow and can actually come back year after year.  Good in container or straight in bed.  Fragrant and your hands smell awesome after you pick it :).  If you want your basil to last longer and not get bitter during the heat of the summer, clip off the seed/flower tops when they appear:

- Parsley - easy from seeds or plants.  Doesn't get very big
- Cilantro - sadly, I have had very little luck with cilantro.  It goes to seed SO quickly and always before there are enough leaves to even use.  I just stick with purchasing this at the grocery :)
- Mint - easy!
- Rosemary - super easy and if you aren't careful can take over your entire garden! The plants last through the winter and mine is at least five years old.  I had to dig it up last fall and move it because it was taking up so much room and, while part of the plant died, the majority is still alive and kicking.  So be mindful of where you plant it early on.  It's definitely another plant I always rub my hands over when I go to my garden because it smells so nice! {I'm obviously a big fan of gardening-hand-smells...}
- Lavender - trying it this year from seeds for the first time

8.  Flowers:

- Zinnias! Easiest flowers ever.  Literally throw seeds on the ground and they will find a way to grow and bloom.  Mine even reseed themselves sometimes and I just get a pencil and dig the small seedlings out of the random places they are growing and plant them together as they should be.  I usually throw the seeds directly in the garden but this year I am trying some from seeds "just because".
- Marigolds - planting from seed this year.  Supposedly when planted near tomatoes they help prevent disease and bugs.
- Mexican Sage - Easy and pretty and comes back year after year, unless there are a few really hard freezes that kill it off.  Mine are from small plants from a few years ago.

9.  Blueberries:
- Had two bushes for years and, while they LOOKED like they were overflowing with the start of small blueberries, they never ripened or amounted to anything.  I learned recently that blueberry bushes also cross pollinate so you need many to really be successful.  We plan on planting around six of them this year.  Lowes sells them and puts good partner species on the tags so you can make sure you buy the pairs that will actually cross pollinate.

10.  Cantaloupe, Okra: trying this year for the first time!  But I do know cantaloupe needs a lot of space like cucumbers and okra grows straight up and doesn't need support.  Will let you know how it grows ;)

Important fact about crop rotation from year to year: Plants like tomatoes and squash suck nitrogen out of the soil.  So if you plant them in the same places as each other year after year, you probably won't have much luck because there aren't proper nutrients left from the year before {unless you manage this all yourself with special additions and compost etc}.  The easiest way to manage this is to try to rotate your crops around your different beds or make sure you add plenty of nitrogen rich new soil/compost each year or plant partner crops {like beans} that actually put nitrogen back into the soil.  Good article on this HERE

Happy Gardening!
note to self: need a library
also: not unlike tomato plants, basil, and rosemary, books smell good too :)

1 comment:

  1. Whew! I'm exhausted! So what would you advise for a total novice who just wants to let her little city boys experience something natural? Tomatoes, basil, rosemary, and mint?


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