TONY MELTON: Your first crops should be planted

February 25, 2019

Honestly, ladies, like most men, I am tickled to death that Valentine’s Day is past. Not only did I stay out of the doghouse, but Valentine’s Day is my signal to start planting cool-season vegetables like collards, cabbage and kale.

The weather is perfect for planting, but it would be nice to have a little colder temp to put a halt to the progression of the flowering of peaches. Hopefully our beloved McBee peaches will make it past any late spring flower-killing, fruit-annihilating frosts.

I think Southern cool season crops are cool. Not only are they great tasting and full of nutrients, but they also full of fiber to keep a “regular” smile on our faces. Maybe this is one reason we have “Smiling Faces and Beautiful Places” in South Carolina.

Many people, especially those of the Northern persuasion, have never developed a taste for our Southern delicacies such as collard greens, turnip greens and my favorite: a turnip/mustard green mix. Northerners eat the turnip bottoms or roots, and throw away the best part: the greens.

It also is time to plant some of those Northern favorites such as beets, radishes, spinach and carrots. Most farmers are like me: “I don’t mind Northerners coming south as long as they bring their money with them and leave it here.” In other words, we need to learn to market to Northern tastes along with Southern tastes.

Therefore, I have been doing research on farms and at the Pee Dee Research and Education Center to better understand growing these crops in the South. Honestly, it has been difficult with the storms, hurricanes and excessive rains we have been having, and I would recommend a well-drained soil, a slight slope for runoff, and high beds if you attempt to grow them. Like the Southern greens, they also like to be spoon-feed nitrogen, a fairly high rate of potassium (120-180 pounds) and irrigation to get the seed up and when it doesn’t rain for two weeks.

Cool-season vegetables are those that originated in temperate climates and have their favorable growth periods during the cool parts of the year. Most grow well between 50 and 70 degrees F. Many times, we will have a freeze followed by several weeks of milder weather, and believe me, we might have more freeze events.

Hardy vegetables such as beets, cabbage, collards, onions, radish, spinach and turnips will perform well even when temperatures drop into the 20s, especially if the plants are young. They should be planted now, and another one or two plantings can be made later to extend their growing season.

Some cool-season vegetables such as broccoli, Chinese cabbage and cauliflower are considered tender and can be killed by freezing temperatures. They should be planted toward the end of February and in March, and if bad cold comes, protect them by covering with row-covers when temperatures are below 28 degrees F.

Many of these crops are easily transplanted, especially when the weather is cool and misty, like the past week or two. It might be nasty, but we vegetable folks must just grin and bear it and get out the four-wheel-drive tractors. Honestly, with all of the rain we have been having, we need to seriously consider putting tracks on tractors.

Even when the weather is great, look at the 10-day-forecast to check for extremes before setting out transplants.

Monitor closely for caterpillars and yellow-margined leaf beetle feeding on the leaves. These yellow-margined leaf beetles are about the size of a shelled sunflower seed and have yellow streaks down each side. They are a new problem in our area and are especially bad where the soil is sandy. Both can decimate a crop in a short time.

Controls can be found in our 2019 Vegetable Growers Handbook, which you can obtain by coming to our Vegetable Growers Meeting from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on March 12 at 2200 Pocket Road in Darlington.

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