Thinking of growing a vegetable garden?
With food prices rising and the flavor of many mass-produced vegetables falling flat, now may be the time to stick a shovel in your backyard.
And in the South, two growing seasons means twice the tomatoes, cabbages and cucumbers.
Bonny Romberg, a master gardener in Iredell County, said the time to plant a new spring garden begins in late winter, usually around February or March. For new gardeners interested in planting for the autumn season, Romberg has a few simple steps to follow for getting your garden off to an ideal start.
Select your garden site carefully. It should see eight to 10 hours of sun.
"You can't get too much sun," said Romberg.
Try to arrange it close to the house so you are more apt to tend to it. Keep it near a water source as well, but away from trees, whose underlying roots could wreak havoc below.
"As far away from trees as you can get, it is better," said Romberg of Huntington Ridge Place in Mooresville.
Eliminate the weeds with an herbicide. You may have to apply it twice or even three times. Make sure to spread the application out by seven days.
Choose the type of garden you want. Traditional rectangular gardens are fine, but so are edible landscapes, vegetables mixed with an assortment of flowers and other greenery.
Many gardeners use raised beds, which can be ideal for those with arthritis. Beds may be set upon concrete blocks to limit bending over. "They don't have to be just eight inches high," said Romberg, 72. "If you have problems with mobility, you can make them much higher."
If you use your own soil, send a sample to the Agronomic Division of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture. Kits can be obtained through the cooperative extension office in Iredell County. The results you get back will give guidance on what kind of amendments you will need to make to your garden's soil.
Make sure to fertilize before you plant, and while your vegetables are growing. After you harvest, prepare your garden for next season by planting wheat or rye grass. "Let it grow to about knee-high in the spring, and that creates your green manure that you will till back into the soil and add nutrients."
Do your research when choosing vegetables. Make sure you have enough space.
"Corn takes up a lot of room. Pumpkin take up a lot of room. Melons, they take up a lot of room," said Romberg.
Other vegetables, like eggplant, tomatoes and peppers need more depth than most.
Different vegetables often have to deal with different pests and diseases. Romberg doesn't recommend using herbicides on vegetables. Instead, turn to the Internet for identifying and finding other ways to treat specific problems.
Many master gardeners consider the Internet one of their most important gardening tools.
Once planted, keep vegetables moist, not wet. "To keep them moist is going to keep your vegetables tastier and more productive."
Still unsure about starting a garden? Try growing just one vegetable, like leaf lettuce, first.
"Get potting soil and some leaf lettuce and do it that way," said Romberg. "It's a start and it's kind of exciting."
And as you become more proficient, think about planting an extra row for the local food pantry, said Romberg.
The varieties from snap beans, Brussels sprouts and carrots, to lettuce, radishes and spinach are endless.
"I don't think there's much that you can't grow in this area."