Ruth, a recently retired English teacher, has lived most her adult life in San Jose, California, but relocated to Taylors, SC in May, 2011, to share her mother's golden years and to be near three sisters. Now she's excited to have a house with a yard 10 times the size of her property in California, and can't wait to get digging! Follow her blog to see how a recent transplant experiences gardening, both ornamental and vegetable, in the hot clay of South Carolina.

Recent Blog Posts

May 22
Blooms and Beds and Garden Buddies   (2 comments)

Apr 08
Cardinals, Crows and Thunder Snow.   (4 comments)

Jan 02
Minding the Future Garden as the Old Year Wanes   (3 comments)

Dec 30
Brimming Well of Winter and Goblets of Ice   (4 comments)

Dec 16
The Garden Green, Deep in December   (3 comments)

Nov 26
A Taste of Cold November   (3 comments)

Oct 28
In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the (Garden)..I’ll Be There   (4 comments)

Oct 11
Summer Garden Residents: The Original Earthlings   (4 comments)




In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the (Garden)..I’ll Be There
by Ruth Mason McElvain - posted 10/28/12

Fall has come full-blown to the Piedmont of South Carolina: the maples are brilliant, dogwoods and cherries are bare, and acorns pop and clatter as you roll down your driveway, leaving a golden flour that once made tribal bread.

My queen tree by the drive, the cherry, un-leafing weeks and weeks ago, was one of my first signs of fall coming.   Now her silver sheen and beautiful shape are openly displayed above the Kelvin Floodlight dahlia and sprawling crape myrtles.

Fall prompted me to bury more bulbs: hyacinths, daffodils, and paperwhites, adding them to jonquils and freesias I tucked into my front yard last fall.

Only snuggled into the bed the end of September, my new bulbs woke already, sending up green, making me doubtful of their survival to a fragrant spring.

The backyard dirt, though, is the main area I dote on--my veggie garden.  I postponed clearing out the summer garden till the last week in September, when the marigolds and peppers and okra were still rampant, but the remaining tomatoes straggled.   Eighteen plants gave me tangy red fruit to grace my own table and others': salads, sandwiches, soup, sides: mmmm, thank you, talented vines.  Next summer I promise to prune and feed them better so the tomatoes don't hurry off like this year, too tired and lean to keep producing their treasure. 

The marigolds were the plants I tore out most recently.  I first prevented sure injury by upending plastic bottles on the exposed rebar...

sharp bars left when I lifted off the trellises made of electric conduit pipe, elbows, and zip-tied plastic mesh.  They were sturdy, economical, and light, a breeze to stow for the winter in the shed till I need them in the spring; they worked like charms.

I plotted the new fall garden to sport English peas, carrots, beets, onions, spagetti squash, broccoli, radishes, and greens: mustard, collards, spinach, turnips. These are the seeds I planted, experimenting against online advice that the piedmont doesn't do broccoli or onions from seeds very well.  To hedge against the good chance the advice is based on strong Piedmont knowledge..

I put in sweet onion sets, also, that I spied at Lowes a couple weeks ago, almost 30 bulbs for three bucks.  In another nearby bed,  seeded with mustard and spinach, I stuck nine romaine plants bought the same day at Lowes. To the far right of the onions, here, are young Burpeeana Early peas, and immediately right a straggly row of Golden Globe turnips I thinned last week to a foot apart.  Left of the onions are Short 'n Sweet carrots for my shallow raised beds; in spring I'll deepen the soil with layered composting again, and then I can plant sweet nantes.

Meanwhile, I'm eager for beets to pop up their ruby globes, though now they are tiny plants, where the white acres grew, with pretty spatulate leaves edged in magenta.  They share the row with garlic bulbs I bought at the grocery store, twelve cloves plunged a finger deep in the soil in a double row just beyond the beets.  The broccoli seeds on the other side of the white acre pea bed have not shown their faces, and I fear the worst for them, no shows that create question marks.

In the bed seen behind the one above, I interplanted more beets with radishes in the center rows, since radishes will mature and be harvested in time for the beets to form freely, with carrots down one side of that bed and more peas on the other side.  The spaghetti squash in this immediate bed, some hiding in marigolds, will not have the hundred days they need to fruit before the first frost, but I enjoy their pretty plants, apologizing to all my garden beneficiaries for not timing better.  Too bad for the squash you bake in the oven and then scrape out the pale flesh stranded like pasta.  I'm hoping to find cold-weather-successful brussel-sprout plants somewhere to replace the okra stalks that need to come out next.

The five sisters bed on the opposide side of my yard, having lost the summer sisters: beans, corn, squash, cukes and cantaloupe, is now fall planted half-crosswise with Georgia collards and half with Golden Globe turnips, flanked with radishes on the long side by where doxie Otto stands, and with Granix hybrid onions on the opposite.  This is one long bed and the other yard side has five shorter ones.  To the five, over there, I want to add two more in spring, and on this side, also two more: a smaller perennial bed to leave unmolested for asparagus and shrub herbs, and another longer one to be planted in some single, space-demanding favorite crop each season, backbone vegetables like corn, peas, beans, potatoes--the satisfiers of the garden.

One resplendent jewel nasturtium lingers past the summer, one I left in the collards for the leaves like lily-pads and blooms drenched in coral color.

Four weeks after seeding, radishes are lifting their Cherry Belle prizes, all getting ready to harvest.

I was thrilled to pull the first  spicy samples for my friend who loves them and who washed and popped them whole into a salad this week.

I myself harvested chives, garlic and onion tops, and a few mild peppers to garnish a walking taco dip for my sister's drop-in party this week, the basic seven layer dip in layers: refried beans on the bottom, seasoned with salt and tobasco, then sour cream, shredded extra sharp cheddar, finely diced tomatoes, sweet onion, my chopped herbs above, cilantro, and a final seasoning of salt, pepper flakes, and more tobasco.  So lip-smacking with corn chips.  My sister said her guests practically left grooves in the platter scraping it for the last residue of the dip.

I laid out sprinkler hoses among the collards and turnips in the five sisters bed before I planted...

...and reconfigure as needed a soaker hose in beds on the other side of the yard where the summer tomatoes and peas were, beds looking so different without the trellis heights.  I need a watering supplement now and then, like when Hurricane Sandy skipped giving rain to the Piedmont this week.

Now, I'm enjoying the last flowers my ornamentals are making in the cooler weather, this lacecap hydrangea, pink in the summer, going lavendar now...

and the climbing lantana  putting out her best show since getting planted in spring, a mere six inches high all summer, now eighteen.  Guess she prefers a cooler party. 


So here we are, it's a waiting game, a bet I've made with the fall garden that by Thanksgiving a few weeks away, I'll have some veggies to serve for the holiday: some beets to roast with carrots and onion or some romaine for a grill and chill caesar salad (mmmmm, first tasted at a Chef 360 Catering  birthday party here in Greenville), or a bowl of English peas, or even just crisp radishes for crudite with chive dip.  If not..I have summer harvest waiting in the freezer, though hope still reigns for the fall veggies.  My dachshund buddies Belle in the left photo (tiny in the low right corner) Otto on the right, and Masie somewhere looking in the trees for the missing squirrels,  join me in watching the garden till then.  Maybe some of my ignorant, random planting will not be too late to yield some sweet and savory gifts from the backyard dirt this fall, if nothing else good lessons to learn on how to time each crop better next year.  Whatever the dividends, I'll keep you posted...



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Carolyn Choi - 10/29/2012

I envy you all the space you have for a backyard veggie garden! At this time I have just a small space on my back deck but I have filled it with herbs and veggies . This is my first winter garden in N.C. Hope that your gall garden will be bountiful !
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Ruth Mason McElvain - 10/31/2012

With my parents, a couple lil part-time jobs, and family near and far needing my attention, I'm not getting to my fall garden enough so far. But that roomy backyard is what made me first want to buy this place the DAY I drove down the street leading to my Mama's on the drive from California I made with my two dachshunds 17 months ago. Where are you in NC and what's planted? Thanks for sharing, CC!
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Carolyn Choi - 10/31/2012

I'm in the " Southern Part of Heaven " - Chapel Hill. Planted some garlic, rosemary, parsley, sage, kale, savoy cabbage and a Bay tree. I may have to cover them tonight -the forecast calls for near freezing temps.
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Ruth Mason McElvain - 11/03/2012

Hope your garden survives. The crops all sound cold-resistant. The garlic especially should pay dividends next year, not to mention the herbs. I plan to get sage into a perennial bed. I love it fried in olive oil on steaks~
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