TONY MELTON: Getting around to farming

February 17, 2019

Through my years of traveling around the Pee Dee helping folks, I have had two things prominently placed in full view on the dash of my pickup truck.

One is a picture of my sweet, angel mama with my son. The other is a round wooden coin with the letters “TUIT” on one side. For many years I have used it to remind me of my daddy, who taught all us kids to never procrastinate.

It is that rainy/sleepy time of year when every farmer needs one — “A Round Too It.” Stop procrastinating. It is time to get around to — all of the preparation that will make your crops the best they can be this summer.

Since I am putting in a 20-acre vegetable demonstration/research area again this year at the Pee Dee Research & Education Center, I think a good way to remind you/myself of all the things that will make our crops successful is to go through the individual steps of preparation.

First, plan to come to our Vegetable Growers Meeting on March 12 at the Pee Dee Research & Education Center, which is located at 2200 Pocket Road in Darlington. We will start at 10 a.m. talking about vegetable production until noon.

After a free lunch, Vanessa Elsalah with the SCDA will tell you all you need to know about getting GAP certified until 4 p.m. GAP is not as scary as you may think, and if you market to any grocery store, you must be GAP certified.

Second, take a soil test. This is a laboratory test that will tell you what your current soil conditions are and what to do to get them to the appropriate level for optimum growth for a specific crop. By taking a soil test now, you will have time to correct problems before you plant your crops.

Many people make mistakes when taking a sample for a soil test. A soil test is only as accurate as the sample taken. A soil test sample should be a representative sample of your entire area you are testing. To accomplish this, take many sub-samples (6 inches deep) throughout the entire area and mix them together in a bucket.

After mixing, collect a pint of soil and bring it to your Clemson University Extension Office. In Florence, the extension office is in the back of the Social Services Building at the corner of Third Loop Road and South Irby Street. It costs $6, and you will get the results in approximately two weeks.

It’s a real bargain because of all of the effort, fertilizer, lime and plants you might be saving. The results will tell you how much lime and fertilizer are needed to grow your crop. I did not have to lime my area, but if lime is recommended, use dolomitic limestone. Add it to the soil as quickly as possible, and till into the soil.

Then, if any manure or compost made using manure is to be added as a source of nutrients, it must be applied 120 days before the harvest of a crop. This is to allow the detrimental organisms in manure like salmonella or E. coli to degrade before harvest. In fact, it is too late to apply manure to cool-season crops like collards, cabbage and broccoli, but you still have time to apply manure to most crops planted after April 1.

Next, it is time to plant seed to produce transplants of most warm-season crops such as tomatoes and peppers. It takes four to six weeks to produce good transplants, and most warm-season crops should be planted somewhere around the first of April in the Pee Dee. By the way, my transplants are already growing in my greenhouse.

Finally, I am getting my irrigation system in working order now before it gets hot and dry. The moral of the story is that vegetables are more than 80 percent water, and if you wait until you need an irrigation system to get it in working order, you have waited too late.” In fact, Triest – one of our local irrigation folk – will have an open house from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesday.

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