I always had big dreams. Some of them were definitely more attainable than others. Being one of Janet Jackson’s back-up dancers I will admit was one of the loftier ones, but a girl’s got to dream!
One of my more attainable dreams started back in California. I had always dreamed of having a big garden where every summer I could go out and harvest everything I needed to make a fresh garden salad; crisp lettuce, juicy tomatoes, zesty radishes, and crunchy cucumber. I also envisioned picking plump, sweet berries off a bush to make homemade jam or pie. More than anything though, I had always wanted a cut flower garden so I could make my own fresh flower bouquets for inside the house.Sadly, with the postage-stamp-sized backyard we had in California and the state-wide water restrictions due to drought, that dream was just that, a dream. We hardly had enough space in our backyard to have a few tomato plants growing in pots, nonetheless, flowers to cut for displaying in the house. (In case you were wondering… no, the tomatoes did not thrive.)
Then, we moved to North Carolina. We now had acres of land which meant that my gardening dreams could become a reality. Let the planning begin!We decided to start small the first year. Get our feet wet, so to speak. Although, both my husband and I had big dreams of being Master Gardeners, we wanted to keep our expectations within reason for the first year. We knew we had lots to learn. For our entire lives together, we have been the king and queen of a “live and learn” philosophy and gardening was no different.
In January, I bought some books about gardening in North Carolina and started Googling. I learned all about gardening zones and discovered that coastal North Carolina is in Zone 8. I got my notebook out and started jotting down all the things that grow best in zone 8 and when you plant them throughout the year.
I’ll never forget our first year, we were such rookies! It was late February, early March, when we woke up one weekend so pleased because the chill in the air seemed to have disappeared. The sun was out, the birds were singing, and we opened all the windows in the farmhouse. At that moment, the gardening bug hit us both.
On Saturday, we went out and got the garden beds all turned over. We thought for sure that the moment we had been waiting for all winter had finally arrived. It was time to start our first garden. I could feel my thumb getting greener already!
On Sunday, we headed to the nursery and stocked up on plants, seeds, and a seed growing kit. We planted our plants in the garden beds and started our seeds in the house. Midweek, the following week, we had a frost. All the plants outside died. Okay, so maybe we were a little overzealous about starting our first garden in North Carolina. Live and learn!We later learned that we were about a month ahead of schedule of the planting season. Yes, we were eager little beavers. Needless to say, we now wait until late April/early May before we begin planting.
May and June are our first round of summer growing. We have the most success with lettuce, tomatoes, kale, green beans, eggplant, cucumbers, radishes, eggplant, and sweet potatoes. We harvest just about everything except the sweet potatoes by the first week of July. Come July and August in the south, it’s hard enough to keep ourselves from burning up in ninety degrees and ninety percent humidity, nonetheless the plants in the garden.During early summer, we also plant assorted cut flowers: Zinnias, Dahlias, Black-eyed Susan, Sunflowers, and Cosmos. I cannot tell you how fun it is to go out every day to cut my own flowers and arrange them to enjoy in the farmhouse. Trader Joe’s who?? In the summertime, I get my flowers from Hidden Acres Farm gardens. It’s the best! Late August is when we begin to plant our second round of plants for the late summer/early fall harvest. We plant more lettuce, kale, radishes, spinach, and carrots. We harvest it all in October, including the sweet potatoes.I was told by a friend in Florida long ago, who is a much better gardener than I am, to try sweet potatoes. She said they were fun and easy to grow and she couldn’t have been more right. They don’t need a lot of care or water. When it comes time to harvest them, it’s a family affair. We all have so much fun digging in the dirt trying to find sweet potatoes. Of course, there is always a prize for the person who finds the biggest one!
In the late fall and early winter, we clean out the garden beds and spread the manure we’ve composted over the summer. This has been our gardening secret weapon. We cover the beds with landscape paper and let the magic happen while we stay warm and cozy inside through the winter.
Early in the spring, we go out to the beds and turn them over to get them ready for the next planting season. Not only do our animals give us great joy, but they have done wonders to the success of our garden. Each year our crops get stronger and produce more. It’s been such a fun learning process! If you have considered starting your own garden, but have been afraid to because you lack experience… please don’t let that stop you. I am here to tell you that if we can do it, you can too. It is so fun to try new things and learn what works and what doesn’t.
This summer we are enjoying garden fresh salads, fresh berry and tomato pies, and the farmhouse looks like a florist shop. The sense of fulfillment and satisfaction you get from growing your own vegetables, fruits, and flowers is wonderful. I will be sharing more of our gardening tips with you later this summer. Until then, if you have any specific questions, feel free to ask. Happy planting!