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The Voice of the Black Community

Life and Religion

No better time to dig in
Fall is the season for gardening
Published Thursday, September 5, 2013
by Michaela L. Duckett

clientuploads/v38n13photos/Robin Emmons_300.jpg
Robin Emmons, founder of Sow Much Good (center), extols the virtues of gardening for its health and economic benefits. Here, Emmons is pictured at the grand opening of her new market at 3400 Sunset Road.

One of the good things about Charlotte’s climate is that it is ideal for gardening year-round. However, many gardeners say fall is the best season of all for a green thumb.

“For starters, it’s cooler outside,” said Henry Owen, program director for Friendship Gardens. “The temperature is better for gardeners. Plus, there are less weeds and bugs to deal with. In general, it’s just a much better time to be in the garden.”

Another highlight of fall gardening, he said, is the produce. Fall gardens can grow the best cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower you’ve ever tasted.

“Fall plants are also more efficient,” said Owen, explaining that with fall produce, you can often eat the entire plant (from the leaves to the roots), unlike a summer tomato where only the fruit is good, but the vine and leaves will make you sick if ingested.

He adds that many fall crops can be eaten before they reach full maturation. “Baby” vegetables can be harvested early and are often more tender. Other produce, such as lettuce or greens, can be partially harvested. The outer leaves from a few heads can be cut for a dinner salad while the rest remains in the ground and continues to grow.

“There’s no way you can miss out on eating the food,” said Owen.

Another bonus of fall vegetable gardens is that they can often withstand the first frost and stay alive through winter months. In fact, Owen recommends waiting until after the first frost to harvest some crops, such as collards, because the cold temperature makes them more flavorful.

While crops like spinach, collard greens, cabbage and broccoli do not continue to grow during winter months, they will remain alive until they are harvested with some protection. An online search can turn up various methods of covering your vegetables during the winter from using cold frames or hoop covers to simply covering individual crops with plastic milk jugs.

Owen said another good thing about fall gardening is that it’s an ideal time for first-timers – whether you're planting your first garden or simply trying a new crop.

“The best way to learn is to just get out there and do it,” he said. “Kill some plants and try some things out.”

Go ahead, get dirty

The best way to get the freshest and most flavorful produce is to grow your own.

“It’s nutrient-rich because it’s coming directly from your garden to your table,” said Robin Emmons, owner of Sow Much Good. “It’s not being trucked state to state from God knows where… It’s picked at the peak of ripeness when it has the greatest nutritional value and adds the most health benefit to your physical self and your wellbeing.”

Not only is it good for your body, she said, it’s also good for your wallet.

“You’d be surprised at the cost savings you would enjoy if you are not having to give your dollars to a local grocery store,” she said.

Emmons adds that gardening is also therapeutic.

“In this crazy, dizzy, world that we live in, seldom times do we have the opportunity to have peace and quiet and connect with nature,” she said. “So it’s a gift to yourself.”

Want to start a garden, but unsure where to start? Emmons offers the following tips:

Take it easy

“Start small so that it’s manageable,” said Emmons. “A garden is something that does take time. I think that is the biggest challenge for most people is finding the time to steward the garden.”

Find a sunny spot

When deciding where to put your garden, lighting is one of the most important factors to consider. Vegetables need direct sunlight to grow. “Most things that grow require full sun six to eight hours a day,” said Emmons.

Sow in good soil

“The most important thing to do is to start with healthy soil,” said Emmons. “Plants grow. Like the human body, they are living organisms as well. They need specific nutrients and minerals that are in the soil so they can grow healthy.”

To increase the nutritional value or properly aerate your soil, compost or other materials may need to be added. Emmons recommends testing your soil by purchasing pH strips from a local hardware store or garden center and collecting a sample to send off to the state for a free analysis.

Good soil should absorb water readily, not form a crust upon drying and drain sufficiently so that it does not become waterlogged. Although you do not want to drench your roots, it is important to retain moisture in the soil at the level the seeds are planted. One way to preserve moisture is by adding a layer of mulch.

Decide what to plant

The fall season is all about planting plants we eat the roots and leaves of such as lettuce, greens, arugula, kale, cucumbers, onions, radishes, rutabagas and spinach. When decided what to plant, Emmons’ rule of thumb is to plant what your family likes to eat.

“Start with what you enjoy,” she said. “Make a list of items that you are buying at the grocery store that grow out of the ground and that your family enjoys. Research those things as a starting place, and you will be surprised at the financial benefit of growing your own.”

When it comes to selecting seeds, Emmons recommends non-GMO, open pollenated and heirloom varieties because of the quality of nutritional density they provide.

Beware of pests

Keep an eye out for insects and disease them and treat them at the first sign to prevent further damage. You can purchase minimal fencing like rabbit fencing, which looks like chicken wire, and place that around the space where you are growing your garden to keep animals out. You can also use coverings of muslin to place over your beds that will allow sunlight and water to get through while safeguarding against pests and animals.

“Also, explore the concept of companion planting," said Emmons. "There are things like marigolds that you can plant around tomatoes in the summer, for example, that will repel against deer and cut down on tobacco worms. There is a whole body of information out there on companion planting, which is the most natural [method].”

Emmons also recommends searching online for other chemical-free and organic repellants for bugs and other pests that can eat away your garden. She said the key is knowing what to look for and treating any sign of problems early – a lesson she learned the hard way. Squash bugs destroyed the first garden she ever planted because she had no idea what they were until it was too late.

Keep learning

“Go ahead and plant whatever it is that you like,” said Emmons. “If you don’t have this great success the first time out, do not be discouraged. Every time you plant something it isn’t always a success, but every apparent failure is a learning opportunity. Every season you will learn something new… So don’t be discouraged.”


A beautiful lady, doing beautiful things, for God people!!
Posted on September 13, 2013

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