20 April . 2020
Starting a Garden
Now that spring has sprung, gardening offers a golden opportunity for exercise, family bonding and basking in North Carolina’s mild weather. If your yard doesn’t allow for plot gardening, container gardening has risen in popularity due to its versatility, mobility and accessibility for homes and yards of all sizes. Check out these green-thumb tips for jumpstarting this season’s garden.
Pick the Perfect Location.
Plants need at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight per day to flourish, so choose a location with appropriate “shine time,” and of course, clear weeds (pulling from the root to mitigate regrowth). If you’re new to gardening, starting with a small patch of land is your best option so you won’t waste seeds if something goes wrong. Container gardening is an excellent alternative method if you don’t have adequate yard space for a traditional garden. Determine your location before buying supplies, so you can get containers if need be. After your location is set, plot out your garden, so you have an idea of how much you’ll be able to plant in the space.
A trowel, pruning shears and a watering can are staples, along with a recommended gardening bag to tote the goodies. If you’re planning a container garden, aim for clay, stone or ceramic containers, but almost any bowl or pot with a draining hole and a flat bottom will suffice. For gardening in small plots, you’ll need to buy fencing or build a wall for the north side to ensure your tall plants won’t shade the smaller ones. The Home Depot and Lowes have all the supplies you need, including a large selection of containers and fencing. The Micro Gardener proffers ideas for DIY container gardens, and EatingWell has the full list of gardening tools you need to get started.
Use the Right Seeds.
If your seeds don’t germinate, then all of your hard work is wasted. Take a cue from local seed houses, since native seeds have a higher survival rate in your climate. Other great options include seed catalogs and online resources like Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Seed Savers Exchange and High Mowing Seeds. It’s best to plan a mixture of shallow and long-rooted seeds to make sure your vegetables won’t compete for soil space and nutrients.
Make it a Group Project.
Plan to spend anywhere from 30 minutes to five hours in your garden per week depending on what your plants need and how they are growing. The process of starting and maintaining a garden will go much faster and smoother with more people lending a hand. Let the little ones in the family help plant the seeds and water them. The older kids and adults can oversee the more rigorous duties, such as pulling weeds, hefting containers and repotting.
Plant and Harvest on Time.
Follow the date located on your seed packet, or look at a planting calendar from The Old Farmer’s Almanac or Urban Farmer to “plot your plot timing.” It’s most common to plant based on moon dates, which are phases of the moon, and frost dates, which are the average dates of the first and last light freeze in temperature. For example, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, beans should be planted in April and harvested by mid-October. Tomatoes and peppers should be planted in March and harvested by September. Plant seeds close enough together that their leaves will touch to save space, crowd out weeds and preserve moisture. Planting and harvesting take a lot of work, so be prepared to work up a sweat!
Take Care of the Garden.
Make sure to water the garden two to three times a week, eliminate dead vegetation as needed and pull weeds as they grow. Prune your plants but cutting overgrown leaves or branches. In container gardens, nutrients get washed out easily, so spray a liquid fertilizer weekly throughout the growing season. Lastly, check your garden once or twice a week for evidence of pests. Pest ID books such as Good Bug Bad Bug can help you identify what has been nibbling on your plants and how to safely remove them.
Enjoy Your Harvest.
You and your family worked hard on your garden, and now it’s time to reap the benefits! A colorful salad, vibrant salsa and hearty vegetable stew are a few of the endless possibilities you could create make with your home-grown vegetables. If you have more vegetables than your family can eat, preserve or can them for future use or share them with your neighbors! The Sprue has loads of tips on ways to preserve your vegetables. If you enjoyed gardening and want to keep it up, plant more seedlings after your first harvest!
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