[EDITOR’S NOTE – Clemson University Extension expert Tony Melton is a regular contributor to SPW. If you have an article you or idea you’d like to contribute, send it to us at

Tony Melton

Most cool season vegetable farmers in South Carolina and across the Southeast are in planting mode. This is one of the busiest times of the year and many farmers feel like a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest.

Many farmers are trying to get it all done “before corn planting time.” Today we have all types of companies to serve and deliver what the farmer needs to produce a crop.

But the honest-truth is that you can get more products and services than the crop can pay for.

This is where keeping good books, knowing your land, and knowing your crops pays-off. In the past, farmers had to struggle to get/find what was needed to make the crop happen.

One of my fondest childhood memories was “Going Garden Getting” with my dad. No matter how big those fields may have been, it was still “garden.” Daddy loved to garden and always had a gleam in his eye when we went searching for those plants, seed, and tools to make our garden successful enough to sell to the community and feed us eight kids.

Our first trek on this important annual journey would be during this time of year to obtain supplies for our very important spring garden, which supplied us with sustenance and lifted us out of the gloom and monotony of winter.

First, we would go to McBee High School and buy vegetable transplants from Mr. E. B. Earle our Ag Teacher. Mr. Earle has passed now but he is still a legend in the McBee area. I clearly remember pulling transplants out of Mr. Earle’s make-shift hotbeds consisting of light-poles as sides, covered with plastic, and heated with strings of light bulbs.

Pat Earle

Today his son Pat has continued the legacy and has taken over the rains as the Ag Teacher in McBee. Pat still grows excellent transplants; however, he utilizes modern greenhouses and growing techniques. Many Ag Teachers all over the state and region have similar programs that not only supply excellent transplants to gardeners but also are excellent teaching tools for their students.

Next, we would visit the hardware store in McBee. These small stores carried as much merchandise as possible to keep the community functioning and many times they would have available that one thing you need to complete the job.

McBee does not have a hardware store at present but many local communities do. With many folks trying to live “green” and the fact it doesn’t make much sense to drive a-long-way to get supplies, these stores are returning as kind of the life blood of many small communities.

Finally, we would head to Hartsville (the big city) and visit our local feed-n-seed which I called the “Checkerboard Store” because of the checkerboard painted on its side advertising dog food. If I close my eyes and think back, I can still smell the stinky onions and the musky potatoes, hear the seed rustling as they are poured into sacks, and see Daddy smiling as he bought his brand-new version of the Farmer’s Almanac.

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