Furman’s farm manager shares gardening tips

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Bruce Adams, farm director at Furman University, poses by a row of spinach. Photo by Will Crooks.

In a short stroll through Furman University’s community garden this time of year, you can find the last remnants of its leafy spinach crop, a row of chard, chocolate and apple mint sprouting in groups, and dutiful planters sowing seeds for the summer harvest.

Farm director Bruce Adams said the garden grows about 30 to 40 types of crops year-round — each season, volunteers harvest crops and plant new ones in preparation for the next season.

April is one of the farm’s transition months — the farm helpers are still harvesting some of the winter crops while planting their summer ones.

Spinach is one of the final crops at Furman University’s farm to be harvested in the spring. Photo by Will Crooks.

Adams said there’s a short window to plant summer crops — most farmers wait until mid-April to ensure they aren’t damaged by a surprise frost, but summer crops also need to be planted prior to May.

Until the end of April, Adams and volunteers at the farm will finish planting okra, beans, corn, squash, tomatoes, onions, eggplant, and zucchini in compost-enriched soil. The compost soil is particularly key for hard-to-grow plants, such as corn.

“One of the hardest plants to grow is corn because corn has the heaviest nitrogen pull of all your veggies, and corn demands proper soil conditions,” Adams said. “If you can grow corn, it’s probably near-perfect soil condition.”

Bruce Adams, farm director at Furman University, shows a barrel of the school’s own compost used for gardening. Photo by Will Crooks.

Other plants don’t take as much effort. Adams said onions and peppers are hardy and easier to grow than corn for someone just starting out in gardening.

“Onions would probably be, hands-down, the most care-free because they’re a bulb,” Adams said. “Bulbs, you pretty much just put in the ground and watch them grow — you can’t mess them up.”

Adams also said insects and pests tend to stay away from onions and peppers. Instead of using pesticide to deter insects, Adams uses warm water, a teaspoon of canola or peppermint oil, and a teaspoon of antibacterial Dawn soap mixed together in a regular-sized spray bottle. If it rains, it has to be reapplied, but generally Adams sprays the plants early in the morning a couple of times a week.

Volunteers harvest crops at Furman University’s farm. Photo by Will Crooks.

“Peppers are really easy because once you plant that pepper plant, and you experience a little rainfall, they’ll do just as good in a drought as they will during normal conditions,” Adams said.

For anyone who wants locally grown, organic produce but lacks a green thumb, the farm at Furman is a community supported agriculture (CSA) garden, where you can pay $95 per month and pick up a box of vegetables each week.

Adams said a lot of members will volunteer at the garden to help them better tend their own gardens.

“They’ll help to work the ground, put out compost, they’ll plant, they’ll prune,” Adams said. “Most of these people who volunteer are home gardeners, and they’re sharing the challenges they have at home.”

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