Vegetable Gardening in WNC

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In my opinion, vegetable gardening is the most rewarding form of gardening there is. I have not always held this opinion. When I was a kid, my grandmother would make me pull weeds in the garden every day after school until it got too dark to see. Needless to say, I did not think much of vegetable gardening as a teenager or as a younger man. Today however, I realize the very real connection one can have with the land if one is in the right frame of mind to enjoy vegetable gardening. I look forward every year to my first tomatoes in June and dread the winter day when I run out of frozen tomatoes that I put up earlier that year from my garden. The tomato-less interim is nearly unbearable!

Tips for starting your own home vegetable garden in Western North Carolina:

  • Consider where to put your garden. How much space is available? Make sure the garden will get at least eight hours of direct sunlight each day. Direct means that sunlight touches the ground for eight hours a day. Six hours of direct sunlight would be a minimum.
  • Plan the garden on paper. Draw yourself a map. Hang on to the map until next year so that you can rotate your crop locations to help avoid diseases.
  • Remember to plant tall plants on the north side of the garden to avoid shading other plants.
  • Arrange plants so that whole rows or beds may be harvested at the same time so new plants can be planted. This extends your harvest season.
  • Add soil amendments to the garden such as mushroom compost (my favorite) or decomposed leaves to build organic matter.
  • Wait to till your soil if the soil is too wet. Test this by digging with a shovel and get a handful of soil. Squeeze the soil. If it crumbles it is just right to till. If it sticks together, then wait for the soil to dry out. Tilling when wet will cause clods to form and will prevent you from having a nice uniform seed bed.
  • If you like to grow your own vegetables from seed, plant them 6-8 weeks prior to your projected planting date. Usually, cool season spring planting occurs in early April so start seeds at the end of February indoors. Summer veggies are planted in late May so start your seedlings indoors at the beginning of April. Fall cool season veggies are planted in late August so start seedlings in late July.
  • Monitor soil temperatures for the best time to plant summer veggies. When soil temperatures get above 65 degrees for several days, then summer veggies such as tomatoes and peppers can be planted. Where can you find environmental data? You can monitor this kind of information using the NC State’s weather website. NC State provides a free weather monitoring system via the Internet that allows you to track environmental conditions such as soil temperature at many monitoring sites across the state. The website is a valuable tool for anyone involved in growing plants for a living or for pleasure.
  • Build raised beds for gardening in tight spaces. Designing a raised bed garden begins by measuring the garden area and making a sketch showing existing structures and plants. Draw in the raised beds, irrigation, and other structures. Finally, build the beds using durable landscape material and fill with native soil. Add amendments if necessary.
  • Mulch your vegetables with 2 to 3 inches of clean seed-free wheat straw.

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