Prior to last year, the only remarkable aspects of my gardening were the diversity of flowers I killed and the speed with which I killed them. Out of a desire to go green, I attempted a vegetable and herb garden last year despite this less-than-stellar track record.
It worked! Having a steady source of fresh herbs and veggies at my door was all the incentive my green thumb needed. I ate more tomatoes and peppers last summer than all my previous years combined, and I couldn’t believe how much better they tasted than their grocery store counterparts. I loved knowing that no pesticides touched my food, that I controlled the process. And the biggest perk? Making great food was never so easy and inexpensive. Fresh herbs + olive oil + pasta = Heaven on a plate in 15 minutes. My homemade salsa? Mmm! My bruschetta? To die! I’m psyched to start the process again this year.
If you’ve never attempted a veggie or herb garden, give it a shot. Mid- to late-April is prime season for planting your summer garden in Charlotte, so get to it. Wow your neighbors this summer with dishes flavored with your own herbs. Make fast friends by giving away extra squash or tomatoes. If you’re new to gardening, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Location, Location, Location: You’ll need a patch of yard with at least 6 hours of sun each day. Lack the green space? Try container gardening, an Aero Garden , or upside-down gardening.
- Good Dirt: Our Carolina clay needs help, so test your soil to see what it needs. You’ll need to add organic material and probably some lime. You can have more control over your soil with a raised bed – and raised beds mean less weeding and back-breaking work.
- Spacing: Take it from someone who learned the hard way: Follow instructions on spacing, no matter how crazy they seem now. Those squash and tomato seedlings will not be so tiny in a couple months, and they’ll need every inch of that room.
- Buddy System: Learn what plants work well together, and make them neighbors in your garden. My favorite companion plant this year? Marigolds. I planted some along my tomatoes and basil, and the flower’s known to act as a natural way to detract pests — everything from nematodes to those wascally wabbits. As a bonus, they’re a nice splash of color.
- Water: Don’t neglect your seedlings once they’re planted. It’s best, however, to water deeply rather than more often to ensure deep root growth.
- Support: Through the season, find a gardening Yoda to field questions and provide advice. My favorite: the staff at Blackhawk Gardens. Another Charlotte favorite is Renfrow’s.
County Services: Don’t forget that Meck County offers free gardening help!
- Free Soil Tests: The NC Department of Agriculture will test your soil for no charge, just pick up a sample box from the Mecklenburg County Extension Service. (The turn-around time can be up to five weeks, so you’re too late for your summer garden. Remember this, though, for next season.)
- Compost: Mecklenburg’s PLANT Program offers workshops and brochures on the basics of composting. If you’re not up for making your own compost, the county also sells it.
- Charlotte Master Gardener Hotline: 704-336-4011
A wise man once told me that the best food you’ll ever eat is the first tomato you grow yourself. He was right. So plant those tomatoes, have the white bread and mayo ready, and prepare to feast.
What are you planting in your garden this year, and what have you had most luck with in the past? What are your favorite Charlotte-area stores for gardening products and help?