There have been many parts of my life that have influenced me to become a gardener. At the most basic level, it’s the desire to provide food for myself and neighbors, but it’s much more than that. It’s also the desire to learn and keep millennia-old knowledge of how to care for our soil.
After learning about sustainable agriculture for semesters at UNC, my neighbor and I drafted up plans to create a small garden plot in her backyard.
In my quest to begin a backyard garden, here’s a list (indicative of how much I have to learn) I drafted with my neighbors:
1) Can we (as novice gardeners) keep a 15×15 foot garden?
2) What kind of compost and fertilizer do we need?
3) What kind of vegetables grow well in the Piedmont area of North Carolina?
4) What will our garden look like?
5) How much will the initial investment be?
Luckily for us, there are many neighborhood gardens for us to peruse, and even an annual “Urban Garden Tour”. After replicating as best we can a local Carrboro garden, my mother (a certified Master Gardener herself) came to town and praised our work. I’m not sure how the garden would have looked if we weren’t able to replicate another’s hard work.
A few weeks after constructing our plot, we had asparagus (it was already growing from the person who used the garden before us), peas, garlic, lettuce varieties, and a plethora of onions (see the cebolla sign). We also have chickens (Princess Turtle, Jefe, Lovely Cow, and Ruby) that will supposedly lay eggs in three to four months.
Well, the first piece of this article was written about four months ago. In that time, I’ve graduated UNC, spent my summer as an intern at the North Carolina Botanical Gardens (NCBG), eaten many meals from our backyard garden, and answered much about our initial five questions.
In retrospect, I wish I could have started my garden AFTER learning from the wonderful, extremely experienced people at NCBG. Since working there, with people from an a sundry of backgrounds (ranging from M.A.s in Forestry to a B.A.s in Political Science and Creative Writing), I’ve learned the names of many native plants, as well as the names of an equal number of invasive exotic species. I’ve learned how to make soil, weed, water, and prune plants, and a variety of other labor-intensive tasks that keep the garden operating.
The mission of the garden is to “inspire understanding, appreciation, and conservation of plants in gardens and natural areas and to advance a sustainable relationship between people and nature.” This mission is carried out in many ways–through applied conservation, creating native habitat gardens, vegetable gardening, and the teaching of all of these subjects at the education center.
As for our own backyard garden–three out of the four chicks turned out to be roosters, so we had to exchange them for hens. Our hens started laying last week in late July, which is very exciting. Our lettuce has gone to seed, but now the tomatoes that have survived the extreme heat conditions in Chapel Hill are ripening. Most importantly, we’ve learned we can produce food for ourselves (even though we still have a lot of learning left to do).
Laura Stephenson is an environmental science major at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, focusing in environmental and community health.