top story

Gardening: Basics about growing vegetables in Charleston and the Lowcountry

Bertauski veggies

The vegetable lab at Trident Technical College's Horticulture Program features raised planters and metal troughs filled with quality soil to provide good drainage.

I know very little about growing vegetables.

Horticulture is a broad industry, and you don’t need to know it all if you know smart people. The fundamentals of plant growth, however, apply to trees, flowers as well as vegetables. Let’s start with the basics before we get to smart people.


Sunlight is a primary limiting factor. Plants need to photosynthesize carbohydrates (food) for growth. Ideally, plants function best under full-spectrum light. Dappled shade is often low quality.

Fruiting vegetables, such as tomatoes, need a minimum of six hours of full sun. Herbs such as cilantro, parsley and oregano can produce reasonable harvest with fewer than six hours. Bok choy, nasturtiums and, for some reason, hot peppers also do well with less than ideal sunlight.

So the garden location needs at least six hours of quality sunlight. However, that will vary throughout the year as the sun is lower or higher in the sky or the leaves have dropped from trees. There are tools to help with evaluating sunlight throughout the entire year. One easy method is a sun-tracking phone app such as Sunseeker.


Feed the soil, not the plant, goes the adage. If the soil is junk, no amount of fertilizer or magic potion will help. A good soil has active micro-organisms, sufficient nutrients and a good balance of water and oxygen. That’s achieved with the proper pH, good structure and texture, and sufficient organic matter. Most importantly, it should be well-drained. Nowhere will you find gardening instructions that begin with “start with poorly drained soil.” Nowhere.

Raised beds are an easy way to achieve good drainage. Simply mounding the planting bed will work. Planting boxes are a more visually appealing approach. They only need to be four feet wide so you can reach across without stepping in the bed. Twelve inches deep is plenty for a successful harvest.

Use quality topsoil. Consider purchasing in bulk from local suppliers who can deliver. Amend the topsoil with plenty of compost. This improves aeration and drainage and boosts nutrients and microbial activity. The Bees Ferry Compost Facility, 1344 Bees Ferry Road, is a great source for inexpensive compost.

And don’t forget the fertilizer. An all-purpose organic fertilizer can be added to each planting hole.

Get a weekly recap of South Carolina opinion and analysis from The Post and Courier in your inbox on Monday evenings.


Location and soil are easily achievable for the novice gardener. Scheduling is the hard part.

If you just relocated from Ohio or from anywhere it gets dreadfully cold, we have two growing seasons in the Lowcountry. Winter is one of them. The temperate off-season is perfect for cool-season crops like broccoli and spinach.

There are scheduling resources that are helpful. Clemson is a good place to start ( This tip sheet breaks down the crops you can grow, along with planting and harvesting times. If you’re ready to plant, transplants can be purchased at local nurseries and quality seeds can be acquired from places like Johnny’s Seeds or Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Seeds offer the advantage of growing unique cultivars.


However, if you want more than just a tomato plant in your backyard, your greatest resource is someone familiar with growing in the Lowcountry. Experts like Rita Bachmann of Rita’s Roots Backyard Harvest are the kind of smart people I call.

She’s a local organic gardener who specializes in residential vegetable growing. She can develop a plan to schedule what to grow, where to grow it, when to plant it and when to harvest it. Whether it’s simple consultation or full-service gardening, you can cut out the experimentation and get right to the harvest.

You also can benefit from her local knowledge online with her Garden Growers Club or get your hands dirty at one of her workshops.

If you like the idea of vegetable gardening without the dirty part, she has a service for that, too. Her crews can build raised beds, plant them, maintain them and harvest them. You get the benefits of a backyard harvest without the backache.

And the best part? You’ll know exactly where your food comes from.

Tony Bertauski is a horticulture instructor at Trident Technical College. To give feedback, e-mail him at

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


Breaking News

Free Times Breaking News