BY TONY BERTAUSKI

Santa brought my wife a vegetable garden this past holiday season. He worked for days getting it ready, and, oddly enough, he looks a lot like me. Not an easy gift since our backyard is shady and wet, but the jolly fat man delivered.

Planning

First, visit Clemson Extension’s vegetable gardening website (www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/plants), a great reference for what to plant and when. You’ll discover that your garden can produce warm and cool season vegetables throughout most of the year.

A piece of paper is all you need to design the garden, but tech-savvy gardeners may enjoy the garden planner at Mother Earth News (gardenplanner.motherearthnews.com) that provides fun and easy templates to quickly layout and track your garden throughout the season. A free trial is available for the first month.

Sun

A minimum of six hours of full sun is ideal for fruit-producing vegetables, such as tomatoes and peppers.

We barely have that in the backyard, so we’ve planned to grow mostly leafy crops that will tolerate more shade, such as spinach and lettuce. There’s also the advantage that they can be planted in the winter and take advantage of additional sunlight since trees have dropped their leaves.

Soil and compost

We have very good soil, but the water table is high and the soil stays wet for long periods of time. We built up the garden with two yards of topsoil to improve the drainage. In addition, we worked in 4 inches of compost to improve the microbial activity and nutrient-holding capacity. We loaded our pickup truck with compost at Bees Ferry for less than $10. For questions, call the Environmental Management Department at 720-7111.

Once the soil and compost were thoroughly mixed, we built up the rows for easy planting and additional drainage. To conserve moisture, moderate temperatures and reduce weeds, we mulched between the rows with leaf litter. In the summer, a bale of straw is an adequate and cheap source for mulch.

Irrigation will be more of a concern during the summer. We are capturing rainwater from our gutters and condensation from the air conditioner that we’re planning to supplement water needs. By storing the water in containers above the ground, irrigation can be gravity fed through drip tubing.

Pests

There are occasional insects and diseases. We hope to keep most of the diseases under control with raised beds and good drainage.

Many diseases can be avoided by annually rotating plants so that the same vegetable is not planted in the same area. When insects become a problem, botanical products such as neem oil are good options because the garden is small and easy to apply with a hand-pumped sprayer.

Our unique garden pests come in the form of two boxers that explore and urinate frequently. Therefore, we enclosed the area with green plastic fencing. Bamboo was harvested from our backyard and used as stakes.

Clumping bamboo (Bambusa multiplex) is an excellent screening bamboo that does not spread, and the Alphonse Karr variety has striped canes for ornamental appeal. In addition, I have found many uses for the canes over the years.

By the way, Santa did plant another garden in a small patch of full sun. He’s still working on how to keep the dogs out of that one.

Seeding

Our initial attempt will be to seed most plants directly into the soil. Seeds can be locally purchased at most garden centers. You also can shop online at quality seed suppliers such as Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (www.southernexposure.com). To extend the harvest season, we’ll start by seeding a third of the rows every two weeks. Be aware that old seed can have poor germination and may result in empty rows.

Some plants do best when plugged instead of seeded, such as tomatoes and broccoli. You can start these indoors by using Clemson’s schedule to have them up and ready for the target date. Again, garden centers typically carry transplants during the planting season.

Tony Bertauski is a horticulture instructor at Trident Technical College. To give feedback, email him at tony.bertauski@tridenttech.edu.