Posted By Tony Melton Florence County Extension Agent

 I am brokenhearted.  Unless something miraculous happens, this will be my last week to publish this article, work as a County Agent, and serve the great people of the Pee Dee.  I am retiring from the best job on earth and the   memories flow like the Great Pee Dee River. One of my Dad’s favorite sayings was, “If I have done it one time, I have done it a thousand times.”   When I was young all I could think about was the thousand rows of crops he had for me to hoe and harvest, but I really didn’t understand the meaning of his words.  Now, after teaching a thousand Master Gardeners, writing a thousand news articles, and making a thousand presentations to community groups, I think I am beginning to understand a little.  Each endeavor is so very important, but with each event you learn much, improve a little, and continually move to another. 

            Doesn’t this sound a little like gardening?  Each plant is cherished, nurtured, and really babied but there is always more to plant, care for, and harvest.  Some are annuals, biennials, or perennials, while others, like the Angel Oak, are thousands of years in age.    My sometimes feeble attempt at gardening always includes picturing or placing myself into the life of the plant itself.  In other words, if I were this plant what would I require, want, and need to flourish?  Just like people, each plant has its own requirements to excel.  Azaleas, rhododendrons, blueberries, and camellias like a lower pH than most plants; however, tomatoes and peppers prefer a fairly high pH of 6.5. Turnips, mustard, cabbage, collards, and sweet potatoes require more boron while peanuts require more calcium.  We could continue in this vein for eternity, and this is one of the reasons I tell all the folks who take the Master Gardener Course that they will truly never be a master of gardening.  I have worked with plants all my life and every day I still learn.

            To mark my retirement, the great people in my office are giving me a party.  After all these TV shows, articles, and presentations over the years, many people introduce themselves to me and say that they feel like they’ve personally known me.  Well, I feel like I also know you, and, in fact, through all my appearances at many civic and community organizations we may have actually met.      Therefore, this is my invitation to you to come to my retirement party which will be held on   June 5th from 11:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. at the Schoolhouse Restaurant in Scranton.  $7.50 is the cost of the meal, which you can pay at the door.  You may call my office at (843) 661- 4800 for more information. I hope to see you there.

Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, marital or family status and is an equal opportunity employer.


 
Posted By Tony Melton Florence County Extension Agent

  When I was, as Daddy would say, “knee high to a grasshopper,” I slept on a small cot jammed between my parent’s bed and a window because there were a total of ten of us and only three bedrooms in our home.   At the end of my bed was a small upright chiffonier which I thought contained all the secrets of the world. Whenever I would get a chance  -- like during the middle of the one of those “pre-air” days when it was like Daddy would say, “Too blessed hot to do anything else,” I would forage through the treasures stored in that old chest.  I loved to reminisce over and guess who was in all those old black and white photographs.  One of my favorite pictures was of a young, strapping Army boy with his loaded pack standing on a pair of skis in deep snow.   Becoming a ski trooper deployed in Italy in WW II had to be tough for my dad, a flatland S.C. boy, where snow is rarer than a cold day in July.  Until he got mad, Daddy was a quiet man, and he seldom talked about his war times.  However, I would listen wide-eyed when my brothers and sisters expounded about all the war memorabilia stored in that chest. The string of machine gun rounds ignited my imagination of how Daddy fought hard against Hitler’s and Mussolini’s armies.  The Italian and other foreign coins took me around the world in my dreams. The pump-up flashlight --- oh, it must have been dark during those long nights.  The fold-out camera brought Daddy’s war to me.  But I puzzled over the pen wrapped in electrical tape in the special heavy-duty pen case.  My siblings told me about when Daddy’s squad was in a real fight and the bullets were flying.  The bullet heading for my Dad’s heart hit and ricocheted off the pen in his shirt pocket.  This explained the other reinforced box in the chest which held my father’s Purple Heart.

            How ironic the pen being mightier than the bullet.  Daddy lived, and therefore so do I.    Even though I joke a lot, and hopefully it makes these articles interesting, I seriously share with you my love for plants, people, and the Pee Dee of South Carolina (my home). Both Mom and Dad are gone now, and, by the way, we have a copy of the snapshot of that Army boy proudly mounted on their tombstone.

During WWII people started planting Victory Gardens.  With today’s increased interest in vegetable gardening many have asked me if we are going back to the Victory Garden, and I hope so.  Those days were hard but experiencing some of the basics of life, like knowing what is required to produce our own food, may be what this country needs.

Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, marital or family status and is an equal opportunity employer.


 
Posted By Tony Melton Florence County Extension Agent

This is my favorite country meal time of year.  My mouth waters just thinking about Mama scratching around those Irish potato plants to get enough red and golden jewels to boil a pot.  The skins were easy to remove with that special potato scraping do-hicky (Mama had - I think since the beginning of time) so we wouldn’t have to waste any with the peels.  Then she would cover them with water, plop in a whole stick of butter, and boil them until they started to fall apart which made what we called the pot liquor thick with the potato starch.  http://www.cooks.com/rec/view/0,1638,131181-252199,00.html

While they were boiling she would have me slice the squash, mince the scallions, and coat them with a thin layer of cornmeal.  After heating the oil in the fry pan, she gently rolled this glorious mixture into the hot grease --   I can still remember the sizzle  By the way, today for health purposes, I leave out the cornmeal.  Then, I helped by slicing an entire fresh cabbage, nothing was wasted --  I would even eat the raw core.  Again she would heat oil but this time in a deep pot and sizzle the cabbage – what we called frying the cabbage – before adding water to boil.  

            After grabbing a piece of Mama’s pan-fried chicken (if only the Colonel knew how to cook chicken that good), a handful of Mama’s hot biscuits, and a fresh scallion, I would sit down and totally lose myself in a country-boy’s heaven.   

            Yesterday, I got, as Mama would say, “a mess” of new potatoes, squash, and scallions from a local farmer and  now I am waiting for enough time to fix and enjoy my slice of heaven – how did Mama and Daddy ever have enough time to grow and fix enough to feed all nine of us kids.   Today I am thankful for Certified SC Grown – Nothing Fresher Nothing Finer.  We have an abundance of great SC farmers ready to provide us with the freshest locally grown produce. It’s simple  -- always look for the Certified SC Grown sign and ask, “Is this locally grown?” when you are buying produce.   Also, we now have a new website called SC MarketMaker (www.scmarketmaker.com) that connects folks interested in the SC food supply chain. http://sc.marketmaker.uiuc.edu/index.php

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, marital or family status and is an equal opportunity employer. http://www.clemson.edu/extension/


 
Posted By Tony Melton Florence County Extension Agent

   I have seen a lot of dead grass this spring.  Northerners or sophisticated southerners call it lawns but most common people in the south just call it grass.  I hate to say it but most of the problems have been people problems - causing grass problems.  These problems stem from the fact that many people try to make centipede into something it is not a dark green, lush, thick carpet - a more sophisticated grass or like my daddy would say “They try to make a silks purse out of a sow’s ear.”  For example, fertilizing in the fall will cause winter kill and is the “Grim Reaper” for a centipede lawn.            So I am repeating this earlier article to remind folks how to maintain centipede grass.
   Centipede is a low maintenance grass.  It was developed to flourish in situations where it would be ignored or left alone, except when it comes to mowing.  Many homeowners simply over-maintain centipede which leads to its demise.  I have had hundreds of phone calls where they begin by telling me how beautiful, thick, and lush their centipede lawn was for four, five, or maybe six years and now there is nothing but dirt.  Therefore many folks call centipede a poor man’s grass, a lazy man’s grass, a golfer’s grass, or my favorite a redneck grass.

   If you fertilize your grass enough to keep it darker green than your lawn mower but it stills turns bright yellow in the spring (Iron deficiency) then you might have a redneck grass.

   If your lawn is cushiony, soft, and feels like a lush carpet and then it starts to dying then you might have a redneck grass.

   If you plant bag after bag of that expensive seed and water it daily to keep those tiny plants alive but it bears quicker than your balding husband then you might have a redneck grass.

   If your irrigation water bill is higher than your child’s tuition and your lawn still gets bad grades then you might have a redneck grass.
   If your lawn prefers a good long drink once a week to a sip everyday then you might have a redneck grass.

   If your lawn prefers a shower in the wee hours of the morning before sun-up then you might have a redneck grass.

   If your kid loses his football in the tall grass of your front yard and your grass loses the game because it prefers to be cut short (1 to 1.5 inches) you might have a redneck grass.

   If your lawn prefers not to be wakened in the early morning by a lawn mower spreading disease (Large Patch) then you might have a redneck grass.

   If you love to give your lawn a crew-cut with your thousand- horsepower-zero-turn mower faster than a qualifying pole lap and your grass wins the race then you might have a redneck grass.
   If you prefer setting in your porch swing, drinking a cold ice tea, and listening to country music to irrigating or fertilizing your lawn and your grass appreciates the relaxation then you might have a redneck grass.
   Finally, if you spend more time babying your lawn than you do watching Making-it-Grow on ETV and it still dies then you might have a redneck grass.

   Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, marital or family status and is an equal opportunity employer.


 
Posted By Tony Melton Florence County Extension Agent

   The China Berries trees are beginning to flower and if the old farmer saying is correct “That their flowers mark the end of the frosts” then we should be set free to plant.   Also, the Southern Plant and Flower Festival is coming to full bloom, in fact today is the last day. No self-respecting, serious gardener would miss the Southern Plant and Flower Festival at the Pee Dee State Farmers Market.  Open from noon until 5:00 p.m. and with free admission and parking, it is the perfect Sunday evening family-outing.
   Our glorious spring weather makes all those Yankees shiver in the chill of the north and long for their vacation in South Carolina. However, we tend to take all this beauty for-granted.  We hide in our air-conditioned homes and offices and let the outside adventures pass us by.  With the high price of fuel, wouldn’t it be a great idea this year to make our yards a beautiful vacation destination and skip the costs of traveling.
Also, don’t forget the simple beauty of our forests, or what we called it as I was growing-up in McBee “The Woods.”  During my youth, daddy worked a day job to pay for his farming habit so while he was at work, I went exploring, “The Woods.”  I was lucky because on our property we had a medium sized hill we called “Rabbit Mountain.” It was a kid’s dream.  It had rocks for throwing, crevices for foxholes, slopes for sliding, and even a couple of small caves for hiding. Needless to say it was a haven for wildlife, including a barefooted, scrawny, dirty-faced little boy.  The only time I would come inside was to eat or watch Red Skelton or Mission Impossible.
   Today adults and kids need to be taught about nature and the environment; they know its wild out there with such creatures as “Lions, Tigers, and Bears,” but they haven’t experienced the true beauty and knowledge that’s waiting for them.  Clemson University doesn’t educate just up on the Hill: the Pee Dee Research & Education Center (PDREC) invites you to the ”Celebrating Rural Heritage Day” at the Outdoor Education Trail from 10:00 a.m. ‘til 4 p.m. on April 25th.   In other words, while you are enjoying the beauty of the Outdoor Education Trail you will be learning a little bit about our southern rural heritage at displays highlighting such favorites as Barbeque and Blacksmithing, Cane Syrup and Corn Milling, Fiddling and Fishing, Cotton and Kudzu, Rice and Red Wine, Tobacco and Tea, Soap and Sassafras, and etc.  Eat your heart out city folks. ADMISSION IS FREE.  The PDREC is located on Pocket Road near the Florence/Darlington County line.  In Florence, take Exit 169 off I-95 or Irby St to TV Road.  Go north on TV Road until it dead ends into Pocket Road.  Turn left; the Pee Dee Research and Education Center is one mile on the right.                
   Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, marital or family status and is an equal opportunity employer.


 

 

 
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