By WT Cox
That is a question that is commonly heard around these parts this time of year. Here in Southern Randolph County, almost every homeowner has a garden. Even “town folk” and people living in apartments will have some veggies growing in pots or in flower beds around the house. I am amazed at how well tomatoes, squash, peppers and herbs thrive in pots. This year, I planted some onion pods in a few unused flowerpots we had sitting around the house and almost all of them grew to golf ball size onions that I have used for salads and in recipes. The reason for the curiosity about one’s garden is two-fold. On one side, people may just be curious and wanting to start a conversation, but on the other side, more likely they try to give away some of the vegetables they have grown. People tend to be generous with the bounty of their gardens. Once you have planted and tended to one, you surely hate to see the fruit of your labor go to waste, so giving them away to someone to enjoy is a great option. I try to use everything I grow. That means cooking fresh grown produce at home or canning and freezing for future meals. It can also mean sharing with my neighbors and friends. Green beans are always welcome, but they are hard to pick, and when you acquire some, it means more work. Green beans have to be strung, washed, snapped and prepared… but the hard work is certainly worth it. If you are offered green beans from someone’s garden, then you have a good friend. More times than not, the offering will be for zucchini, squash or tomatoes, which are all good. Once these vegetables start coming in, they tend to do so rapidly. One can only eat so many zucchini before you run out of ways to fix them. Zucchini can be stewed, fried, sautéed, steamed or served raw… probably you will serve them several times a week during the peak harvest season and still have plenty to give away.
I am not a big gardener. My father was, and so was my grandfather, and I have a lot of memories working in their gardens during my youth. I used to grow green beans and corn and sell them along the roadside to make extra money when I was young, so I grew up knowing how to raise a garden. Now, I don’t have time to plant a big garden because my businesses take up most of my time, so I have opted for a nice raised bed garden. My wife Lisa is very understanding with me not having much free time and she helps me when she can. Our hectic schedule sometimes keeps us from spending the time required to have a “great” garden. A good garden requires a lot of work. Daily weeding and supervision is needed to keep critters and insects away and prevent weeds from taking over. This year I put up strands of red survey tape around my garden and that seemed to keep the deer away. I also use fake owls and a scarecrow along with marigolds all around the perimeter to deter insects. Last year I did not do the work that I should have and my garden did not do very well. I was determined not to let that happen again this year. This year, by the 10th of May, I had my garden planted and most of the items were coming up. My little 40’ x 50’ raised garden seemed to be thriving. Squash was the first to arrive. We took a weekend and went to the beach and when we came back, my three squash plants seemed to be dying. Squash bugs had taken their toll. I was disappointed that we only got a few squashes before the plants died, but the zucchini plants seemed to be thriving. I took some seeds from a spaghetti squash I purchased from Food Lion and planted them in two hills just for the heck of it. They came up and are growing like crazy; they now cover the south corner of my little garden. So far we have gotten at least a dozen of these tasty squash from those two vines and more to come.
My cucumbers began coming in several weeks ago. I planted six hills of pickling cukes, but only four survived … one I stepped on by mistake while pulling weeds and the other was stepped on by my dog Jasmine (she was helping)… but four vines survived and are doing well. I love cucumbers … I could eat them every day. I prefer small pickling cukes, not over 4 inches in length. This year I have been getting between 4 and 8 every day from my four little vines… just enough to keep me happy. My green beans did exceptionally well too. I planted two 30 ft rows of half runners and about 15 ft of bush beans. So far, we have gotten at least three bushels to can and have given away almost that much more. I like to fix green beans in my wok, with fresh garlic, olive oil, and salt… they make a great addition to almost any meal. My tomatoes are coming in too. Right now our kitchen counter is covered in tomatoes in various stages of ripening. I have learned to pull them off the vines before they get too ripe because squirrels will get them if I don’t. The produce drawer in our fridge is full of zucchini and we have cantaloupes that are just beginning to ripen. I planted my okra from seed, and probably should have thinned them more because the stalks are too close together now, but still are producing as much as we can eat. My dad used to pull the leaves off below the okra pods when they were harvested. He said it made the stalks grow taller and produce longer. That seems to work. Soon all of these veggies will be gone. My cucumber vines are already starting to turn brown around the edges, so they won’t be producing much longer. I will be glad when my friends ask me “How is your garden? Do you need any veggies?”.
It won’t be long before it will be time to pull up the old vines and plant new greens/broccoli and collards for the fall. That will be another story.
Here is a tasty treat that was told to me by my friend Roger Brown. If you are lucky enough to have an abundance of yellow squash, try this. Take a young “baby” squash, one that is only three to four inches long. Wash and slice in half. Place a chunk of real butter between the slices and lightly salt, then put into the microwave for 20 seconds. Yum!