Friday, April 4, 2014
“Daddy, Daddy, I want to!” squealed 2-year-old Katie in the Sunday afternoon sunshine.
She was one of four children scurrying around the tilled rows of earth in the backyard; it was time to plant the family's vegetable garden.
Working in the garden has become a family tradition since starting it last summer. John Lange purchased a home in Summerville three years ago and it was last year he and girlfriend Anna Smith decided to try something new.
“A couple of my friends have gardens and we didn't know anything about it, but we figured we'd give it a shot,” Lange said.
With their kids in tow – Lange's daughter Katie, and Smith's children Evan, 12, Madeleine, 6, and Vivian, 3 – they planted squash, zucchini, tomatoes, okra, radishes and cucumbers.
Although the heavy rains put a damper on the growth last summer, the garden was a hit with the family.
“The whole thing was an experiment, but our best accomplishment was the pickles,” Smith said. “We had so many [cucumbers] we couldn't eat them all.”
It's not that they didn't try though – according to the parents, some of the vegetables, in particular the cherry tomatoes, never made it into the house because the kids ate them all while harvesting.
The family spent the entire summer dining on homegrown vegetables, making fresh salsas and homemade pickles, and giving away produce to friends and family.
But the best part of the garden, Lange said, is how easy it was to construct.
He said it cost the couple no more than $100, between buying seeds, fertilizer, manure and other garden tools.
Their secret weapon, Lange said, was the Flower Barn in Walterboro.
“They told us when to plant, where, how deep... . We stayed and talked with them for one-and-a-half hours. It's a 40 minute drive there, but worth the trip.”
Since discovering the small shop full of knowledgeable growers, the couple said they avoid going to corporate garden and home improvement stores.
They have plenty of tips for new gardeners based on their learning experiences, including keeping a sprinkler in the yard and having an outdoor cat around to chase off rodents. The couple also said they prefer to plant from seed instead of buying starter plants – “they taste so much better,” Lange said.
Lange also recommends borrowing or renting a tiller, which will speed up the weeding process and make it easier to create raised rows for the plants.
Evan, who was planting seeds in the rows with his fingers at the time, explained it's important to have raised beds for the crops so their roots have a place to grow. It also helps protect the plants from drowning in heavy rains.
He said watching the plants grow is his favorite part of the garden.
“And last year we made pickles, those were the best.”
The girls said they love the garden too: Madeleine and Katie said the flowers are their favorite, and Vivian loves to play in the dirt.
This year wildflowers and sunflowers are joining the crops, in addition to last year's array of vegetables plus eggplant, corn, garlic and onions.
Madeleine said she's most looking forward to eating the corn, and Evan said he wants to try the radishes.
“The kids have the best time out here,” Smith said.
Lange agreed, “I'd rather have them out here than inside all day.”
After the summer harvest is over the family grows a fall garden too, with vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes and potatoes. They also want to try pumpkins.
“I have 1,000-acre dreams on a half-acre lot,” Lange joked.
The couple said their dream is to buy a large piece of property on the Edisto River and make a huge garden.
But until the dream comes true, the family will continue growing in their backyard and encouraging others to gardening, too.
“It's so easy, it doesn't matter what size yard you have,” Lange said. “Anyone can do it.”