From the Vine – Vegetable Gardening

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Growing up in rural Sampson County meant that most summertime meals came from your own vegetable garden. Fresh tomato sandwiches, fried zucchini, roasted corn, fresh peas, and a host of other menu items were usually harvested on the same day they were eaten. The bounty that couldn’t be freshly eaten was either canned or frozen, and put up for future meals to be enjoyed the rest of the year.

Growing fresh vegetables and herbs provides a great sense of joy and accomplishment to many people, while providing many unseen health benefits. Gardening is reported to burn 200-400 calories per hour of work, depending on the intensity of the work you are doing. It helps to build muscle mass, tone muscles, and relieve stress. It can provide you with a fresher, tastier, higher quality product than you can purchase at the grocery store that is packed with all the vitamins and minerals nature intended. You also have the peace of mind knowing they were grown following best management practices.

When selecting a garden site there are five factors you should consider: soil, sunlight, water, air drainage, and nearness to the home. A loose well-drained soil is ideal for a vegetable garden. Collect soil samples and have them analyzed for proper pH and fertility requirements. All vegetables need a minimum of 6 hours of sunlight daily; 8-10 is optimal, so select a site that receives plenty of sun. Vegetables need a minimum of 1 inch of water per week. During the summer, irrigation will most likely need to be implemented, therefore select a site close to a water source. In our sandy loam and loamy sand type soils, it is best to split your irrigation into two applications 3-4 days apart. Select a site that is on a higher elevation. Cold air sinks, and if your garden is in a low-lying area, you will increase the chances of frost damage from poor air drainage. Lastly, pick a site near the home. Research has proven that “out of sight, out of mind” is a true statement. The closer the garden site is to the home, the more often you will notice weeds, wilting plants, or fruit ready to harvest.

Select high quality seeds or transplants to purchase when planting your garden. Old seeds have lost vigor and germination ability, and will produce a weaker plant. Ensure that you inspect the seed packet for the date they were packed and buy only those produced for the current gardening year. When purchasing transplants, check the root ball for a white healthy root system that isn’t root bound. Look for short more compact and bushy transplants. Inspect transplants for insects, diseases, and nutrient deficiencies. Pass on plants that are wilted, yellowing, leggy, flowering, or have a poor root system.

Begin your summertime garden after April 15 to avoid the average last frost dates. To determine planting dates, depths, and spacing, check out the NC State vegetable planting guide for eastern North Carolina. With a little hard work now, you will be enjoying many health benefits, and a fresh, homegrown tomato sandwich this summer.

If you would like to learn more about gardening and/or landscaping, contact the  N.C. Cooperative Extension, Sampson County Center and ask to join the Sampson County Friends of Horticulture. Currently, classes are still being held online and you can learn more about gardening from the safety of your own home.