The More You Grow
Spring in the South looks a little different than in years past, but when temperatures rise and the days stretch longer, the urge to get outside and start a project hits just the same. Growing your own vegetables and fruit at home is a great way to de-stress, be active, and enjoy some fresh air while practicing social distancing during COVID19. We reached out to an expert, Anthony Mirisciotta of GrowFood Carolina, who suggested building a vegetable garden as the perfect way for anyone to get their hands dirty and learn more about the food we buy, cook, and consume everyday.
Anthony Mirisciotta is the General Manager of GrowFood Carolina, South Carolina’s first local food hub that provides the logistical support to connect farm businesses to the local food movement and its consumers. We asked Anthony to guide us through the benefits, obstacles, and steps to get started in building your own vegetable garden. He’ll answer all of our questions to kick off this monthly series, and keep us planting by providing tips on what’s in season and how to grow it.
Anthony’s Guide to Get Growing
Interview with Anthony Mirisciotta, GrowFood Carolina General Manager
Why is now the right time to start gardening at home?
Now is the time for everyone to plant a victory garden 2.0. Instead of using the slogan “grow more in ’44”, we can start with “grow plenty in 2020.” Having a diverse and healthy garden is the perfect way to take a sanity break from isolation and get dirty while growing food, learning something and staying busy. Take a breath, be patient and enjoy the sunshine and the season, while connecting to what brings us all together, food.
How might planting at home lead to a better understanding of sustainable, local agriculture?
Gardening at home is the best way to get connected to your local seasons. This connection will lead you to unlimited delights of picking the most perfect produce, not only in your garden, but also at the farmers markets and grocery stores. Understanding what it takes to grow a single onion will lend itself to providing you with the utmost respect for that single bulb the next time you see it. This understanding and connection is something that we all owe to ourselves and owe to our communities, soils and families. Also, it will allow you to be a more informed consumer, both in conversation and selection!
Why is education around agriculture and knowing where our food comes from so important?
Years ago, a farmer in Vermont told me that “people are meant for road trips, not produce.” The last hundred years have marked a time when fresh vegetables were bred and developed for shipping only. All the flavor, the color and nutrients were bred out of these products to develop a crop that held up to 10 days on the road. These times are ancient history. It is up to all of us to understand our local seasons, products and producers, to plant for flavor in the garden and to purchase as local as possible in our communities. Fresh produce is best when it is in its peak season and following the flavor will lead you to so much excitement on your plate.
What other benefits can be derived from home gardening?
Having food to fill your plate! There are so many simple pleasures to having a garden, but the best feeling ever comes from taking the time to grow and harvest your own food for consumption. Being able to have ingredients for your favorite dish, right outside of your door is so satisfying. Share this joy with your friends, neighbors and family, and watch them start getting their hands in the dirt as well!
What are you currently growing in your garden?
Right now, we are in a bit of a transition between seasons, from “overwintered” crops waiting to be harvested (like onions, carrot and garlic) to the newly seeded, warm weather crops waiting to grow and become established. I have beautiful globe artichokes that I planted last November, that are beginning to fruit now and are about three to four weeks away from harvest. On the other side of that, I have about eight different pepper varieties just starting this season, from habanada (a pepper with the flavor of the habanero with none of the heat), Datil (an heirloom variety that was originally brought to St. Augustine by travelers from Mallorca) and others, including the standard green banana pepper. Peppers grow so well in the heat of a Charleston summer and then can be so productive! This year, for the first time since I started digging in the dirt, I will NOT be growing any tomatoes. I love growing them, more than I love eating them, but with our hot and humid weather, I could not control the pests last year. I also have black kabouli chickpeas starting to flower in the garden right now. Some more fun experimental varieties I have in seed trays this year with the intent of planting in the garden in the weeks to come, include black sesame, jicama, papalo and Egyptian spinach.
BUILDING YOUR BED
- The first step is watching how the sun travels through your yard or potential garden space and understanding that this will change with the seasons. I have established winter beds and summer beds on my property that are on completely different sides of the yard. These beds came about almost naturally as I watched the changing light through the seasons. Once you have discovered the best location for your garden and are confident that this site will get 6-8 hours of sunlight, it’s time to have some fun!
- Raised beds range in height, size and appearance, and the plants will love you no matter what. The depth can range from 6-12”; in general, the more soil depth that’s available to your plants, the more freely their roots will grow. More soil also holds more moisture, so a deeper raised bed will require less frequent watering. Before building the bed in its permanent location, use a shovel to remove any grass or weeds and loosen the soil about 8-10” below the surface. This will allow for better drainage and root growth. If you intend on planting any carrots or potatoes, you may want to dig down a little deeper. Length of the bed does not matter; just use the space you have. Lumber is typically available in 4’ or 8’ lengths, so that’s a good start, but you can always have it cut to fit your needs. The width should not be longer that 2’ across, this allows enough space for 1-2 rows of most plants, while giving you the ability to reach across the bed for weeding and planting tasks. From there, just prop the boards up together and screw them in to each other to create a sturdy box. You can also use some framing wood on the corners to better secure the boards together and achieve a more professional look.
- Fill the bed with a mix of topsoil or raised bed soil, compost and maybe about 10% of peat moss or potting soil. If you have the ability to create your own compost at home, that is a huge plus as you will soon find out that gardening is more about that soil than it is the plants. Just fill the bed, mix it up and get started!
For more advanced gardeners, what are the pros planting?
Plant something that can hold up to our summer heat while continuing to produce and provide you with a great kitchen staple through the summer. Try Malabar spinach! Malabar spinach is a vine that loves heat and humidity. It is packed with flavors of citrus and pepper and is also quite healthy. Also, use the summer to consider planting some soil building cover crops, such as cowpeas or buckwheat. These plants will provide beneficial ground cover through the summer heat as well as add nutrient dense organic matter to the soil for fall planting!
Do you have questions about planting in your garden? Email firstname.lastname@example.org for Anthony to answer in his next “What’s in Season?” article.
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