A half-hour into the morning, Carol Larson has the gleaning operation smoothly underway at Skipper Russell’s farm in Bethel. A trio of tarps, topped with cardboard boxes neatly arranged in rows, sits on the grassy buffer between field and road. Beyond the tarps stretch rows — long, long rows — of cucumber plants.
Clad in his signature overalls, Joe Smiley leaned on his rake, taking in the tranquil late-summer scene: pie-pans strung among the corn stalks twisted in the breeze, daisies dipped ever so slightly under the weight of a welcome bee, a wheelbarrow gently rumbled its way down the garden path.
Sharing food can be a simple thing. Like passing a bag of trail mix to the hiking buddy who forgot to pack lunch, or ladling an extra bowl of chili for the neighbor who stopped by at dinnertime.
June Johnson’s foray into the world of gardening began in the dead of winter. A sunny January day last year inspired her to venture outside, and her walk brought her to the path behind Maggie Valley United Methodist Church and the grassy lawn surrounding it. The sight made her pause.
“Having grown up around farming, I thought, ‘Why don’t they have a church garden?’ and roamed into the back of the church,” recalled Johnson, a retired teacher and native of Haywood County.
Taking a walk with Ila Hatter is the outdoors equivalent of sitting beside a scrapbooker as she pages through the family photo album. Every step is a story, a meeting with a plant bearing its own history and its own place in the present.
“I think stories help you remember,” Hatter said. “They give you something to hold onto as you’re learning plants.”
This time of the year is perhaps the best time to enjoy flowering plants in a home garden. Many of the larger and showier species are just now coming into full bloom and will remain so into fall.
Several evenings ago, I came home tired and sat on the deck with a glass of iced tea, and the dogs and I just watched the plants. That was sort of therapeutic. Every once in a while, it seems the perfect thing to do. Just sit down and watch the plants.
This is a special time of the year for beekeepers in Western North Carolina. It is the time they prepare for the sourwood honey flow.
Beekeepers in this area collect two types of honey from their charges: a spring wildflower mix made up of nectar sources such as locust, blackberry, poplar, apple trees and more, and then the summer’s sourwood.
Sourwood comes from the sourwood tree, or Oxydendrum arboreum. This tree, in my opinion, is underutilized in landscapes. During the summer it has a lovely white bloom, followed in the autumn by flaming brick red or scarlet leaves, making it a very choice ornamental indeed. Besides, what could be better than planting a native tree that helps feed our honeybees?
By Shannan Mashburn • SMN Intern
Gardeners, wannabe-gardeners and those who simply appreciate a fine garden can catch a behind-the-scenes peak of some of the best gardens in Haywood County during the upcoming Haywood County Garden Tour from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. on Saturday, June 23.
The tour of six private gardens hosted by the Haywood County Master Gardener Volunteers will begin at the historic dairy barn at the Mountain Research Station at 265 Test Farm Road. The Research Station is located across Raccoon Road from the N.C. Cooperative Extension Center in Waynesville.
Some time back I wrote that at a future date I’d print seed-starting dates for the remainder of the growing year. I’ve had a couple people ask about that, so I thought now would be as good a time as any to fulfill that promise.
I put together this calendar while farming for a living. Gardening is an inexact science, but I found that as a general rule these dates worked out more often than not. Having a list or calendar at least provides a reminder and guide to get things in that otherwise might be forgotten.
One important note: if you live at elevations higher than 3,000 to 4,000 feet then you might want to add two or so weeks to these suggested planting dates.
• Plant leek transplants.
• Direct seed okra.
• Direct seed basil, can plant later as well to have with tomatoes.
• Succession soybeans, beets, onion sets, radish, podding radish.
• Direct seed summer squash, cucumbers, cantaloupe, watermelon, pumpkin.
• Transplant tomatoes, eggplants and peppers as weather permits.
• Direct seed beans.
• Direct seed winter squash, spaghetti and butternut (don’t hurry, remember these are for storage).
• Under row cover, grow succession plantings of summer ‘lettuce’ mix: suggest, mizuna, kale, collards, tatsoi, red giant mustard, arugula. Use as cut-and-come again, harvest immature for raw salads. Replant short row every two weeks or so for summer use.
• Plant sweet potato slips.
• Plant chard, if haven’t already, also Malabar spinach, dill.
• Start Brussels sprouts for fall transplants in shade or in shaded greenhouse.
• Succession soybeans, beets, onion sets, podding radish, summer lettuce mix.
• Plant more sweet corn, can keep planting up to July 4 and will make. Also, true for cucumbers, soybeans, summer squash.
• Sow in greenhouse or other shaded spot, broccoli and cabbage for fall planting.
• Direct seed rutabaga and beets in garden.
• Start fall lettuces for transplants.
• Transplant Brussels sprouts when ready to garden.
• Transplant broccoli and cabbage when ready to garden.
• Direct seed kale, collards.
• Direct seed turnips for roots, turnips for tops, rape, mustards.
• Direct seed black Spanish radish, daikon, Chinese cabbage, scallions, mizuna, tatsoi, beet (for tops), chard, spinach, arugula.
• Seed more lettuce for transplants, start in cool place.
• Direct seed regular radishes, carrots, transplant first round lettuces to garden.
• Plant mache, claytonia, minutina. Replant tatsoi, mizuna, etc. for cut-and-come again. Transplant lettuces to garden under row cover.
• Plant garlic bulbs. Keep planting Asian greens as spaces open.
• Plant Asian greens. Carrots. Spinach. Let-tuce transplants.
• First round cabbage, broccoli
• Second round cabbage, broccoli (can continue planting in greenhouse through Febru-ary as needed).
• Peppers (can continue into February as needed, helps germination to start on a heating mat. Must be transplanted into continually bigger containers in greenhouse).
• Head lettuces such as Buttercrunch, Tom Thumb.
• Chives, thyme, other herbs (continue planting through February, March as needed).
In garden toward end of February, first week March weather permitting. Be prepared to cover transplants when temps threaten to drop below 20 degrees.
• Transplant lettuce, broccoli and cabbage into garden.
• Direct seed leaf lettuce, snow peas, English peas, carrots, boc choi, onion sets, spinach, radishes, beets.
• Start tomatoes in greenhouse or house (must be transplanted into continually bigger containers).
• Start eggplant (in moist paper towels tucked into ventilated plastic sandwich bag in warm place in house, when germinated plant as usual in greenhouse or house).
• Plant potatoes in garden (these are for new potatoes).
• Direct seed kohlrabi.
• Succession plant beets, onion sets (for green onions), radishes, podding radish.
• Direct seed cilantro, pole or bush beans, first planting of soybeans for edamame, sweet corn when soil warms (old-timers planted early corn when the dogwood blooms).
With our average last frost date of May 10 or so it’s time to start planting the main garden. Corn and beans can go in, and over the next few weeks, so can summer staples such as tomatoes, squash and okra.
I would not rush to plant these latter plants — wait until the soil is good and warm. The tomatoes will sit and sulk otherwise, plus you’ll get poor germination of seeds planted too early.
One item that is plentiful in my garden now but will soon be a sweet spring memory is lettuce. As soon as the weather consistently grows warm lettuce will grow bitter and then bolt. There are things you can do to tide yourself over until cooler, lettuce-growing weather arrives again, however:
• You can place shade cloth over the lettuce bed, keep the lettuce cut back to prevent bolting and water two or three times a day. Field studies have shown that it’s not just heat that causes bolting — cumulative light levels and low moisture contribute as well.
This seems as good a place as any to define what I mean by bolting. This is simply a natural process of a plant going to bloom in an effort to produce seed to propagate itself. Lettuce, and spinach for that matter, is notorious for prematurely bolting. Lettuce has compounds that cause that distinctive and unpleasant bitter taste via substances called sesquiterpene lactones. The bitterness becomes increasingly pronounced during the growing season. You can minimize the taste by washing the lettuce in warm water.
• You can plant a lettuce selected for slow bolting qualities. My favorite is a loose leaf aptly named Slobolt. Some gardeners enjoy a French Batavian called Sierra, also genetically selected for being slow to bolt. You can find these varieties easily through various seed catalogue companies.
• You can plant a hot-weather “lettuce” mix. When I was a market gardener, I grew a mix that sold like gangbusters once the main lettuce crops had bolted. These I grew as cut-and-come-again crops. I’d seed heavily and then use scissors to shear the plants when they reached several inches in height. The plants would re-grow and I’d repeat the process. You might consider placing an insect barrier over the beds as well; this will eliminate the need to spray. What I mean by an insect barrier is that you use a manufactured lightweight fabric, also available from numerous seed catalogue companies, over your crops. Insect barrier is light enough that it can rest directly on the plants, but if you prefer you can use metal hoops to keep them up and off of them. I use 11-guage lengths of wire available from the fencing section of local feed and seed stores and cut them into four-foot hoops.
My beds were about 30-inches wide and seeded with a generous hand as noted already. The 30-inch width worked well because I could easily straddle the beds and harvest.
The mixes you can plant vary widely. I generally used baby collards, arugula, baby chard, baby kale and beet greens. I’d replant a new bed every three weeks or so trying to keep ahead of the competition from weeds. Other people also have grown kommatsuna (an Asian green), vitamin green, Tokyo bekana, cutting celery and tetragonia.
Do not make the mistake I made one year and seed them all together. My thought was to mix in the field so I would not have to mix later, but this didn’t work well because the plants grow at wildly different rates. Arugula, for instance, grows very fast indeed whereas the beets grow more slowly. It’s nice to keep them separate so you can harvest according to the growth rate of a given plant.
One nifty idea that I read online in a gardening forum which I might get around to doing this year: A fellow who was selling a variation of this mix (which can be cooked or eaten raw) grew his on salad “tables” made of rows of side-by-side hay bales with three inches of mushroom compost piled on top. The tables are weed free and, over time, compost themselves and can be used to regenerate the garden. He noted that it’s important to use hay bales that are bound with synthetic twine to keep them from breaking apart prematurely. For those of us without a lot of space, or who don’t want to engage in a losing battle with weeds, this sounds like a terrific way to grow plenty of green stuff.