When Shay Grant offers up a bit of gardening advice, you can take it to the bank. She knows what she’s talking about.
Part of her knowledge is learned — she has an undergraduate degree in ornamental production and a masters degree in horticulture, both from Auburn University.
The rest of her knowledge is a part of her birthright. Her great-grandparents were Livingston and Bonnie Paulk, the founders of Bonnie Plants.
Yep. That Bonnie Plants.
"They started out selling cabbage plants they had grown in their yard off the back of their pickup truck," Grant said.
"That grew into a business which is now in every state in America and Canada."
Grant’s parents had their own greenhouse business where they grew vegetables, flowers and herbs, so she grew up loving all things garden-related.
Although she has been the office manager for Grant Garden Group — which she co-owns with her husband, Sid Grant — for the last eight years, she hasn’t lost her passion for sharing her gardening knowledge. She used to do it regularly during her five year tenure as an agriculture and natural resources agent with the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Office in Hall County.
Recently, she lead a Growing at Gardens on Green workshop at the educational gardens at the Hall County Board of Education office at 711 Green St. in Gainesville.
While she’s passionate about gardening in general, Grant has a soft spot for growing edible plants.
"I think when you know where your food comes from, you’re more prone to eat healthy," Grant said.
When it comes to laying out their family garden, the Grants use a combination of seeds and young plants.
"Seeds are less expensive and some things, like beans, are just easier to grow from seed," Grant said.
"I like to grow my tomatoes from transplants though because then you’ve got a real head start."
If your only outdoor space is a patio or balcony and you think that limits you to having an herb-only garden, think again.
"If you have enough sunlight, you can grow a lot of things," Grant said.
"There are certain tomato varieties that aren’t as long and leggy as a garden-type tomato, so you can grow them in a container and they’re not going to take over. There’s one called a husky cherry red and even one called a patio tomato."
Peppers and cucumbers are also good choices, she says. Although squash and green beans would be difficult for container gardening, you may be surprised to find out that potato crops can thrive in that environment.
"I have my potatoes in containers right now on my deck. They’re in those big, black containers that (small shrubs) would be in at the garden center," Grant said.
"I like those containers because they’re easy to come by, are inexpensive and they really help to keep the soil warm.
"And they already have the holes in the bottom, so your drainage is taken care of."
The key to growing potatoes in a container she says, is layering.
"When you first plant your potatoes, just put enough soil to cover them. Once the leaves start to come up, then you put more soil down," Grant said.
You repeat the process as the leaves grow taller.
"That gives the potatoes lots of soil area to develop in," Grant said.
If you’re planning to replant your existing raised beds or garden plot, you may want to consider rotating your crops.
"The same families of plants attract the same insects and diseases, so it’s a good idea every few years to swap out what you’re growing in one area," Grant said.
"For instance, tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and bell peppers are all in the same family, Solanaceae. If you’ve grown those in the same spot for three or four years, plant them in another area and start growing plants from a different family in that spot."
If you’re unsure about which fruit and vegetables are kin, Grant says you can always "Google it."
No matter what or how you’re growing your fruits and vegetables, be sure to document when you plant your garden and how many days it takes for each thing to mature.
"Say I’m planting watermelon and it takes 120 days to mature. After 120 days have passed, then I know it’s time to start thinking about harvesting," said Grant, who sets a reminder in her cellphone’s calendar.
For the Grants, gardening is a family affair. She encourages more parents to include their children in the process.
"Our kids just don’t get outside much anymore and they don’t know where their food is grown and that’s just sad," Grant said.