Time to Play in the Dirt
Do you want to harvest fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs from your own garden this year? If the answer is “yes!” then it’s time to get dirty and plant that garden. For the most part, you’ve already missed the window for the early spring crops like greens, broccoli and cabbage. Those crops are already being harvested, or will be harvested soon, and you can find them at your local farmers market. But there’s still plenty of time to get summer’s best selections in the ground, from tomatoes and cucumbers to okra and watermelon. If you’re disappointed about missing the cole crops, mark the calendar for late August to catch a planting cycle in the fall.
Right now, you have two choices for planting summer veggies: buy seed or buy transplants. Seeds may be cheaper, but transplants will be easier, especially for beginners. Either way you go, this Vegetable Garden Planting Guide is a great N.C. Cooperative Extension resource for planning your garden. It lists more than 40 vegetable crops, suggested varieties, planting dates, planting depth and planting distance (watermelons require more space than okra, for example). One of the hardest planning components for a new gardener is determining how much to plant. You have to consider space allocation, how much you and your family can consume fresh and how much you want to preserve. And don’t forget, some veggies can be planted several times to prolong the harvest. Succession plantings of radishes, squash and sweet corn are common. Whether you have a large space or are limited to a container garden, growing your own can be fun and rewarding. And it may help you develop a new-found respect for farmers!
Let me offer a few pieces of advice for a bountiful harvest:
- Feed your soil with compost. North Carolina has a diverse soil profile from sandy in the East to red clay in the Piedmont and loamy soils in the West. Adding organic matter improves many aspects of soil, from aeration to beneficial microbial activity.
- Stay on top of the weeds. Weeds compete with your veggies for water and nutrients from the soil. Mulch the garden well after planting and hoe or hand pull weeds as they appear.
- Make a map of the garden when you plant. You may find a new tomato variety you love, but the plant tag can’t be found anywhere. You’ll also need to remember where certain veggies were planted this year, so you can rotate crops next year to maximize soil health and avoid disease issues.
For more gardening tips, including specific information for your region, visit N.C. Cooperative Extension’s Extension Gardener, to sign up for a quarterly online newsletter and monthly e-tips.
There’s nothing more satisfying than sitting down to a meal of home-grown goodness. If you need some inspiration for healthy dishes with fresh produce, visit the Recipes section.