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TONY MELTON: It’s time to plant cool-season crops
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TONY MELTON: It’s time to plant cool-season crops

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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 in the garden.

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

I think cool-season crops are cool. Not only are they great tasting and full of nutrients, but 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 like 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.

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. Hardy vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collards, onions, radish, spinach and turnips will perform well even when temperatures drop into the twenties. Some cool-season vegetables like beets, Chinese cabbage and cauliflower are considered tender and can be killed by freezing temperatures. However, their season can be extended by covering with cloth or plastic when temperatures are below 32 degrees F.

Many of these crops are easily transplanted and are available in nurseries and feed stores as transplants. Others grow well from seed. Transplant survival is better if the transplants are allowed to harden-off (get used to garden conditions) before they are set-out in the garden. In other words, take the plants out of the house or greenhouse and place in a semi-protected area outside and if weather conditions get severe bring them back inside. Even though the weather is great, look at the 10-day forecast to check for extremes in conditions before setting-out transplants.

Fertilizer and lime should be applied according to soil test results, which can be obtained by submitting a sample at our office in the Public Service Building at the corner of Third Loop and Irby. However, it takes about two weeks for a soil sample to be processed and this may be too late to get your garden started. In the absence of a test, apply two pounds of 5-10-10 fertilizer to every 100 square feet before planting and again about one month later. Also, side- dress after these applications with two pounds of calcium nitrate per 250 square feet. Two cups of granular fertilizer weighs about one pound. If the area has not been limed properly in the last 5 years apply about 5 pounds of pulverized dolomitic limestone per 100 square feet. If it has been limed wait on the soil sample results before liming.

Monitor closely for caterpillars feeding on the leaves. They can decimate a crop in a short time. Regular sprays of a biological insecticide containing Bt (Dipel, Thuricide, and Others) or spinosad will provide good control and can be applied up to harvest.

To further ensure success, learn all you can about the vegetables you want to grow by going to our Home & Garden Center at www.clemson.ed/hgic.

The Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability, political belief, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or family status and is an equal opportunity employer. Email Melton at amelton@clemson.edu.

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