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Deep Roots

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Deep Roots THE IMPULSE TO GARDEN IN HARD TIMES Te x t b y D r . J e n n i f e r A t k i n s o n

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he coronavirus pandemic has set off a global gardening boom. In the early days of lockdown, seed suppliers were depleted of inventory and reported “unprecedented” demand. Within the U.S., the trend has been compared to World War II victory gardening, when Americans grew food at home to support the war effort and feed their families.

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During coronavirus lockdowns, gardens have served as an escape from feelings of alienation. Photo by Anthony Ievlev.

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Seed suppliers were depleted of inventory and reported unprecedented demand. Photo by Micheile Henderson.

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The analogy is surely convenient. But it reveals only one piece in a much bigger story about why people garden in hard times. Americans have long turned to the soil in moments of upheaval to manage anxieties and imagine alternatives. My research has even led me to see gardening as a hidden landscape of desire for belonging and connection; for contact with nature; and for creative expression and improved health. These motives have varied across time as growers respond to different historical circumstances. Today, what drives people to garden may not be the fear of hunger so much as hunger for physical contact, hope for nature’s resilience, and a longing to engage in work that is real. WHY AMERICANS GARDEN Prior to industrialization, most Americans were farmers and would have considered it odd to grow food as a leisure activity. But as they moved into cities and suburbs to take factory and office jobs, coming home to putter around in one’s potato beds took on a kind of novelty. Gardening also appealed to nostalgia for the passing of traditional farm life. For black Americans denied the opportunity to abandon subsistence work, Jim Crow-era gardening reflected a different set of desires. In her essay “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens,” Alice Walker recalls her mother tending an extravagant flower garden late at night after finishing brutal days of field labor. As a child, she wondered why anyone would voluntarily add one more task to such a difficult life. Later, Walker understood that gardening wasn’t just another form of labor; it was an act of artistic expression. Particularly for black women relegated to society’s least desirable jobs, gardening offered the chance to reshape a small piece of the world in, as Walker put it, one’s “personal image of Beauty.” This isn’t to say that food is always a secondary factor in gardening passions.

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Convenience cuisine in the 1950s spawned its own generation of home-growers and back-to-the-land movements rebelling against a mid-century diet now infamous for Jell-O mold salads, canned-food casseroles, TV dinner, and Tang. For millennial-era growers, gardens have responded to longings for community and inclusion, especially among marginalized groups. Immigrants and inner-city residents lacking access to green space and fresh produce have taken up “guerrilla gardening” in vacant lots to revitalize their communities. In 2011, Ron Finley – a resident of South Central L.A. and self-identified “gangsta gardener” – was even threatened with arrest for installing vegetable plots along sidewalks. Such appropriations of public space for community use are often seen as threats to existing power structures. Moreover, many people can’t wrap their heads around the idea that someone would spend time cultivating a garden but not reap all of the rewards. When reporters asked Finley if he were concerned that people would steal the food, he replied, “Hell no I ain’t afraid they’re gonna steal it, that’s why it’s on the street!” GARDENING IN THE AGE OF SCREENS Since the lockdown began, I’ve watched my sister Amanda Fritzsche transform her neglected backyard in Cayucos, California, into a blooming sanctuary. She has also gotten into Zoom workouts, binged on Netflix, and joined online happy hours. But as the weeks stretch into months, she seems to have less energy for those virtual encounters. Gardening, on the other hand, has overtaken her life. Plantings that started out back have expanded around the side of the house, and gardening sessions have stretched later into the evening when she sometimes works by headlamp.

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Gardening is a sensory pleasure that appeals to the whole body. Photo by Micheile Henderson.

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When I asked about her new obsession, Amanda kept returning to her unease with screen time. She told me that virtual sessions gave a momentary boost, but “there’s always something missing … an empty feeling when you log off.” Many can probably sense what’s missing. It’s the physical presence of others, and the opportunity to use our bodies in ways that matter. It’s the same longing for community that fills coffee shops with fellow gig workers and yoga studios with the heat of other bodies. It’s the electricity of the crowd at a concert, the students whispering behind you in class. And so if the novel coronavirus underscores an age of distancing, gardening arises as an antidote, extending the promise of contact with something real. My sister talked about this, too: how gardening appealed to the whole body, naming sensory pleasures like “hearing songbirds and insects, tasting herbs, the smell of dirt and flowers, the warm sun and satisfying ache.” While the virtual world may have its own ability to absorb attention, it is not immersive in the way gardening can be. But this season, gardening is about more than physical activity for the sake of activity. Robin Wallace, owner of a photo production business in Camarillo, California, noted how the lockdown made her professional identity “suddenly irrelevant” as a “non-essential” worker. She went on to point out a key benefit of her garden: “The gardener is never without a purpose, a schedule, a mission.” As automation and better algorithms make more forms of work obsolete, that longing for purpose gains special urgency. Gardens are a reminder that there are limits to what can be done without physical presence. As with handshakes and hugs, one cannot garden through a screen. You might pick up skills from YouTube, but, as gardening icon Russell Page once wrote, real expertise comes from directly handling plants, “getting to know their likes and dislikes by smell and touch. ‘Book learning’ gave me information,” he

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explained, “but only physical contact can give any real understanding of a live organism.” FILLING THE VOID Page’s observation suggests a final reason why the coronavirus pandemic has ignited such a flurry of gardening. Our era is one of profound loneliness, and the proliferation of digital devices is only one of the causes. That emptiness also proceeds from the staggering retreat of nature, a process underway well before screen addiction. The people coming of age during the COVID-19 pandemic have already witnessed oceans die and glaciers disappear, watched Australia and the Amazon burn and mourned the astonishing loss of global wildlife. Perhaps this explains why stories of nature’s “comeback” are continually popping up alongside those gardening headlines. We cheer at images of animals reclaiming abandoned spaces and birds filling skies cleared of pollution. Some of these accounts are credible, others dubious. What matters, I think, is that they offer a glimpse of the world as we wish it could be: In a time of immense suffering and climate breakdown, we are desperate for signs of life’s resilience. My final conversation with Wallace offered a clue as to how this desire is also fueling today’s gardening craze. She marveled at how life in the garden continues to “spring forth in our absence, or even because of our absence.” Then she closed with an insight at once “liberating” and “humiliating” that touches on hopes reaching far beyond the nation’s backyards: “No matter what we do, or how the conference call goes, the garden will carry on, with or without us.”

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Dr. Jennifer Atkinson is a Senior Lecturer in environmental studies at the University of Washington, Bothell. She is the author of “Gardenland: Nature, Fantasy and Everyday Practice,” a book that explores the hidden desires behind gardening throughout American history. Dr. Atkinson’s seminar on “Climate Grief & Eco-Anxiety” was one of the first college courses of its kind in the U.S., and has been featured in The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, NBC News, The Seattle Times, Grist, and dozens of other outlets. She is also the host of “Facing It,” a podcast about climate despair and eco-anxiety. She holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Chicago and has taught at the University of Washington for the past 11 years. This article was originally published on The Conversation.

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Picking fresh vegetables from the family garden. Photo by Jacob Lund.

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THE FAMILY GARDEN Te x t b y M i a P e r k i n s

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hether you have a large backyard or just a few pots on a balcony, plant a family garden. Gardening is an easy activity to share and you’ll harvest a myriad of benefits along with fresh vegetables, flowers, and herbs. FAMILY GARDEN•EDITION 11 NO. 2•THEMILLMAGAZINE.COM

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Even better, you don’t have to wait for your plants to bloom to see those benefits. Some of them, like stress relief, are almost immediate. And, when parents and kids work together to plant and care for a garden, they all enjoy these benefits. BENEFITS OF THE FAMILY GARDEN Gardening and yard work are moderate-intensity exercises, which we all need every day. While tending your family garden doesn’t require the vigorous activity of running or playing tennis, it’s still beneficial to your body. Research shows that once you start gardening, you usually continue for more than the recommended 30 minutes. And gardening incorporates fine-motor skill strengthening and stretching. Gardening is an excellent stress reliever for a combination of fascinating reasons: exposure to fresh air and sunlight, relaxing and repetitive tasks, and even contact with harmless bacteria in the soil that helps release serotonin in the brain. Children are prone to spending a lot of time indoors, which can negatively affect their behavior and health. A family garden gets them outside enjoying and experiencing the natural world. All of the above (exercise, stress relief, and being outside) can contribute to more and better sleep for everyone. And better sleep, in turn, can improve kids’ behavior and performance at school.

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Kids who grow vegetables eat vegetables. Photo by Johnny McClung.

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Strawberries are a snap to grow from seeds or seedlings. Photo by Lucinda Hershberg.

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Kids who grow vegetables eat vegetables. Or at least, they are more willing to taste unfamiliar veggies, which is the first step to incorporating those new flavors into their diet. Adults who garden are also more likely to eat more fruits and vegetables than nongardeners. Planning, sowing, and tending a family garden offers physical activity with a purpose shared by everyone. Gardening helps teach kids responsibility and gives them a sense of accomplishment. It gives all of you a project to work on and enjoy together, which reinforces your family bond. PLANNING THE FAMILY GARDEN Consult with a gardening expert, a local farmer, a local nursery, or a cooperative extension service to find out what plants will grow best where you live. You might also consider investing in a rain barrel and starting a compost pile to make your garden more eco-friendly. If you have limited outdoor space, planting in containers is a good way to try out gardening. Even if you do have space, starting with containers can be a good introduction to gardening for little ones. Plant vegetables from seed, or purchase seedlings to get a jumpstart. If your kids have a favorite vegetable, it’s definitely worth letting them try to grow their own. You can find favorites like carrots, string beans, bell peppers, and

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potatoes in kid-appealing purple hues. Tomatoes, available in different colors, shapes, and sizes, are great kid-worthy options. Quick-growing plants, such as radishes, peas, cucumbers, and many herbs, are satisfying for kids to grow. And if your children are very small, remember that it’s easier for them to plant veggies with larger seeds, like peas, corn, and beans. There are lots of options for involving kids in growing flowers. Let them pick out some seeds based on the pretty pictures on the packets. Or, opt for drama with easy-to-grow sunflowers, which can reach as high as eight feet tall. Simple daisies produce lots of blooms for kids to enjoy, display, and craft with. Other blooms that are easy to grow are marigolds, snapdragons, and geraniums. You might also decide to plant with a goal in mind, such as creating a butterfly garden full of plants that attract and nourish butterflies. You’ll get the satisfaction of growing beautiful things while welcoming beautiful creatures. Fruit trees can be difficult to care for and may take several years to yield a harvest. But strawberries are a snap to grow from seeds or seedlings, and blackberries or raspberries can also be an option. Plus, they are perennial and will come back year after year. If you live in a very warm climate or keep them indoors, you can also grow your own citrus fruits.

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Daisies are a great option for growing flowers with kids. Photo by Isaac Quesada.

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Harvesting zucchini from the family garden. Photo by Pexels.

KIDS IN THE FAMILY GARDEN Kids can do a lot of the work for your family garden, either independently or alongside an adult. While you don’t want them to burn out on tedious tasks like weeding, taking responsibility is part of what makes a family garden meaningful. Set a goal, such as clearing one small, designated area or working for 15 minutes, then do something else. Depending on their ages, kids can collect sticks and other debris, spread bark or mulch, sprinkle plant food, bring compostables to the compost pile, water plants with a watering can or hose, rake leaves, weed, dig holes for seeds or plants, harvest fruits or vegetables from the garden, and snip flowers for a bouquet. Whatever you choose to do with your family garden, make sure to educate your kids along the way. You’ll be growing their brains right along with your family crops. So, go for it. Dig in the dirt together.

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HUMMINGBIRD

A BIRD-FRIENDLY GARDEN Te x t b y E l l e . C h r i s t e n s e n

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f you want to design a hummingbird garden that will attract these desirable birds even to the smallest spaces, you’ll need to consider more than just the basics like attracting birds with water and seed. Even the best birdfriendly garden may not be useful to hummingbirds. A specialized hummingbird garden can be a delightful part of your environment, whether the plan is for an entire yard, just one section, or only a few containers.

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Hummingbird feeding on nectar. Photo by Anchor Lee.


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Hummingbirds prefer water misters and shallow basins. Photo by Levi Jones.

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No matter what size hummingbird garden you want to plan, you must incorporate the following into your garden design to attract hummingbirds. FOOD Hummingbirds feed on nectar, but also on large quantities of bugs, particularly during the nesting season when insects are essential protein for hatchlings’ growth. Nectar-rich flowers and supplemental hummingbird feeders are a big part of a hummingbird garden, and the garden should be maintained in a way that is insect-friendly. WATER These tiny birds prefer misters, drippers, and shallow basins over a deep bath or quick-flowing stream. If broad-leafed plants are arranged so water can accumulate on the leaves, hummingbirds will also bathe by rubbing on wet foliage. SHELTER Trees are necessary even in a small hummingbird garden to provide adequate perches and shelter safe from predators and inclement weather. Attractive options that can fit in nearly any landscape are dwarf or ornamental tree varieties. Larger, mature trees positioned near the garden are useful as well. NESTING Hummingbirds are not cavity-nesters, so traditional birdhouses are not useful. But, protected shelter and abundant trees will give them good options for nesting. Spider webs should be left available for nesting material. Hummingbirds can nest in unusual locations like clotheslines or wire fencing.

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While hummingbirds will visit any yard that meets their basic needs, a carefully designed garden is not only more attractive to birds, but will offer better views, easier care, and more enjoyment for you. When planning your hummingbird garden, consider these additional elements of garden design. SIZE AND SHAPE OF YOUR GARDEN A hummingbird garden does not need to be large to be useful, but remember that flowers grow and plants spread when determining the garden’s boundaries. A larger garden will accommodate a greater variety of plants and give more birds room to enjoy the offerings. An ideal hummingbird garden will get both sun and shade throughout the day, but will also offer good views to birders from a nearby window, patio, or deck. Consider the growing needs, including sunlight requirements and soil type, of flowers you want to include when deciding where to position your garden. A longer, narrower garden will provide more area for the birds to spread out and enjoy, and will have fewer obstructed views of the flying visitors. A slightly curved garden or one with a more flowing shape will be more aesthetically pleasing as well. PLANTS AND STRUCTURES Choose plants with colors that will attract hummingbirds’ attention and lure them to your garden. Red and pink shades are the best options, but any colors that attract birds will also be useful for attracting hummingbirds. The exact plants you choose will vary depending on your climate, location, soil type, and other factors. Choose several of the top flowers for hummingbirds to make your garden a beacon for these little birds. Mix annuals and perennials and choose flowers with staggered bloom times to ensure an abundant food source as long as possible. Flowers that bloom in early spring and late fall are especially

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Hummingbirds are attracted to red and pink flowers. Photo by Chris Charles.

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Brightly colored accents like this feeder attract hummingbirds to your garden. Photo by Tracey DeLeon.

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valuable since nectar sources can be scarce at those times. Position plants carefully to create a tiered effect that will give birds greater access to more food sources without obstructing the best views. Place taller plants and trees either in the center or back of the bed, with shorter plants and mounding varieties in front. Grouping plants with similar watering and fertilization needs together will make caring for them easier as well. If your hummingbird garden will incorporate structures such as the side of a shed, a trellis, an arbor, or even garden hooks, keep them in mind when planning. Position structures to be part of the overall garden design in a useful, practical way. You can also add accents, such as a gazing ball, statue, paving stones, or other decorations to add more color to the garden. Include space to add hummingbird feeders, water sources, and nesting material in your hummingbird garden to make it a one-stop-shop for these flying jewels. These accessories can also become great options for getting great views of hummingbirds as they repeatedly visit the same spot. MAINTAINING YOUR HUMMINGBIRD GARDEN A carefully designed hummingbird garden will not need excessive maintenance as birds are not particular about whether you pruned or weeded the garden. But, some simple steps can help make the garden even more useful for hummingbirds. Avoid chemical use as much as possible. Even small amounts of herbicides or insecticides can contaminate nectar and be fatal to hummingbirds.

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Furthermore, using chemicals will eliminate many insects that hummingbirds need to feed on. Use compost to fertilize the plants and protect the soil, and it will also foster abundant insect life that hummingbirds will happily feed on. Compost will also add rich nutrition to the soil, so plants will produce more abundant flowers for a natural nectar supply. Care for flowers appropriately to encourage reblooming, so they will continue to feed hummingbirds throughout the season. This may mean some pruning or deadheading to keep the flowers blooming as long as possible. Be on the lookout for hummingbird predators and take appropriate steps to keep the garden safe with baffles, sheltered perches, and other protection. Work to discourage feral cats and other unwelcome guests from taking over your hummingbird garden. Take steps to attract butterflies and hummingbird moths along with hummingbirds. These attractive insects share many characteristics with hummingbirds and butterfly-friendly plants are hummingbird-friendly as well. These insects will also help pollinate flowers for even more blooms hummingbirds can use. Any size garden can be a delightful hummingbird garden. By meeting the hummingbirds’ needs and providing them with abundant resources and security, you will be delighted year after year with their spectacular presence in your garden.

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Encourage reblooming of flowers to feed hummingbirds throughout the season. Photo by Zdenek Machacek.

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People are now looking towards their backyards and patios as a source of food. Photo by Pixabay.

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Local LocalFood Move Movement

MOVES CLOSER TO HOME

Te x t b y B e n . B o y l e s a n d P a u l . T h o m p s o n

T

he impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been felt in all areas of American life, especially as it revealed the fragility of our food supply. The idea of a food shortage is no longer an abstract or foreign idea, as panicked consumers cleared grocery store aisles of meat, milk, and other pantry staples as the virus made its way throughout our nation. FAMILY GARDEN•EDITION 11 NO. 2•THEMILLMAGAZINE.COM

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In normal times, some studies have suggested only about 10% of the food that is consumed in South Carolina is produced in South Carolina. This low percentage leaves a lot of opportunity on the table, especially with our year-round growing climate, and opens us up to being negatively impacted by fluctuations in the global food system. As all of us explore ways to adjust to the new normal, families have begun to look inward in an effort to become more self-reliant, especially when it comes to one of our most basic needs – food. Over the past decade, people have become increasingly more aware of food supply chains and how food finds its way to our plates. The desire to know where food comes from has led to the growth of fresh-on-the-menu restaurants, on-farm agritourism activities, and farmers’ markets across the Carolinas. These local food connections have provided a foundation for folks to become at-home farmers, especially during this time of uncertainty and change. People are now looking towards their backyards and patios as a source of food. This shift can be seen at the cash register of local nurseries and seed shops as George Ball, chairman and owner of the Burpee Seed Company, just reported that his company sold more seeds than any time in its 144-year history in March 2020. Having a connection to the land is not a new phenomenon during a time of crisis. During World War I, the U.S. government started a campaign encouraging the growing of vegetables for the war effort. Most canned food items were rationed, and the transport of food used fuel, so Americans were asked to support the war effort by planting a War Garden, which later became the now-famous Victory Garden. Over 20 million of these gardens were planted as either an individual garden on the home grounds or as a community 60

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Watching seeds sprout and grow gives you a great sense of accomplishment. Photo by Markus Spiske.

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Anything fresh from the garden just plain tastes better. Photos by Pixabay.

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effort in many urban areas. At one point, up to 40% of all vegetables consumed in the country came from these gardens. Fast-forwarding 100 years, there are still many great reasons for growing your own food at home. The first is that anything fresh from the garden just plain tastes better. Whether this is true or just psychological may be debatable, but when fruit ripens on the vine, it certainly has more flavor. While at your local grocery store ask yourself how a tomato has a sticker that says “vine-ripened” when it isn’t even close to ripe when you buy it. You see, to ship a soft fruit like a tomato, it has to be picked while it is still green and firm; otherwise, it would be damaged during the shipping, and not fit to eat when it arrives in the produce department. This means it ripens in transit and storage, but in no way is it the same in texture or flavor as one picked straight from the garden. Another benefit of producing your own food is with your kids. Studies have shown that when you involve the kids in growing and harvesting vegetables, they are more likely to want to eat what they have grown. Vegetables are an important part of our diet that we usually do not get enough -- especially our children. Growing at home is also educational as it shows children the relationships of plants, soil, and insects. Need a new home-school activity, mom? And finally, producing your own produce is very satisfying. Digging in the dirt, watching the seeds sprout and grow, harvesting your efforts, and then seeing it on your plate, gives you a great sense of accomplishment and certainty during an uncertain time. Ok, so you are now interested in producing your own food but you don’t think you have the space? Think again. FAMILY GARDEN•EDITION 11 NO. 2•THEMILLMAGAZINE.COM

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While many of us live in neighborhoods that do not have a lot of space to grow a vegetable garden there are options. Do you know you can grow a tomato plant in a five-gallon bucket with potting soil and easily harvest 10 pounds of tomatoes? Or that you can create a raised bed with good soil, and grow a variety of vegetables with amazing results? At our Clemson Extension office in York, South Carolina, with help from Master Gardeners, we were able to build three raised beds this past spring, and through the course of the growing season harvested over 350 pounds of vegetables in an area of less than 200 square feet. That is a lot of back-yard produced produce. Raised beds can be built out of treated lumber, concrete block, broken-up concrete slab, stones, or many other items. We built ours out of 4” x 6” treated timbers from the local home improvement store. The total cost for each raised bed was approximately $100.00. The beds are 4 x 16 feet are 16 inches deep. The soil is a mix of two parts topsoil and one-part compost. We fertilized the plants only twice last year and the compost did the rest. We had squash plants that were over eight feet across. The advantages of raised beds are that they save a lot of bending over, provide excellent drainage which vegetables need, and you can really improve the soil. The other advantage is that you will never have to till the garden again after they are built, and because you are not walking in the raised beds, the soil does not become compacted. Other space-saving ideas are to grow vertically instead of horizontally. Plant pole beans instead of bush beans. They produce over a longer period, and by providing climbing support, you have more space to plant other vegetables below. Cucumbers also do well as climbers, and it makes it easier to see and harvest the fruit. 64

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Create a raised bed with good soil and grow a variety of vegetables. Photo by Markus Spiske.

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Vegetables are an important part of our diet that we usually do not get enough of. Photo by Pixabay.

The possibilities are endless. And, it’s not too late to start preparing for a summer garden as we can grow vegetables all year in South Carolina. Don’t think you have a green thumb? No problem. Clemson Extension has a vast amount of resources to help you produce your own food. As a start, visit our Clemson University Home and Garden Information Center at hgic.clemson.edu for information on building raised beds, garden planning, and planting dates, and recommended varieties for your area. With a little time and effort, you will be enjoying dinner with food from your patio to your plate in no time, helping to keep your family full now and into the future.

aM T M T H E M I L L M AG A Z I N E

Ben Boyles is a Clemson University Cooperative Extension Senior Agribusiness Agent serving York, Chester, and Lancaster (SC) Counties and is the Director of the South Carolina New and Beginning Farmer Program. He has over 13 years of experience in food system work, co-founding the Catawba Farm and Food Coalition, a regional food-focused non-profit, and launching the South Carolina Ag + Art Tour in 2012. Paul Thompson is a Clemson University Cooperative Extension Distinguished Urban Horticulture Agent for York, Chester, and Lancaster (SC) Counties. He is a Certified Nursery Professional with the SC Nursery and Landscape Association and a Coordinator for the Master Gardener Program. Learn more about Clemson Extension in York County at clemson.edu/york.

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