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Category Archives: Gardening Advice: For Newbies, and “Old Hands.

Here you’ll find tried and true methods (and failures) from my garden (the newbie) and Billy’s garden (the “Old Hand”) There will also be some tips from my Dad.

Dirt

He circled my table twice before approaching. He is a veteran vendor of the local farmer’s market, I a rookie, at least at selling.

I agreed to participate in the market because I wanted to get a feel of what customers want. Knowing better than to cause friction with the veterans, I left Dad’s eggs at home. Besides, I have established customers for Dad’s eggs with a waiting list of people wanting more. I only brought seedlings, Elderberry, and other medicinal plants I’d grown with my own two hands.

“You plan on coming back next week?” he asked.

“No sir. Today only.”

He nodded, almost happy that I wouldn’t be back.

Others had asked me if I was returning to the market, if I had plans on becoming a regular. I can’t determine why my plans mattered, especially since the items I offered did not compete with theirs.  I spend most Saturdays tending my garden or working at Dad’s. Weeding and working negates any need to make a profit on Saturday. Dad and I have a growing list of local customers who trust us to deliver tasty vegetables and organic eggs.

The morning passed quickly. I sold several items, but nothing to customers my age. It appears folk my age no longer touch the dirt. The seedlings found homes with customers in their mid-twenties whose excitement gave me hope. Packing my remaining items, I visited the man’s table where he boxed up a variety of herbs and spices.

“Are you growing lavender?” I asked excited to learn his secret. “I’ve been trying to coax some seeds to germinate, but I’m struggling.

“I don’t have dirt. I have soil.”

Puzzled, I asked how many acres he farmed.

“None.”

“Beg your pardon?”

“Buy all my lavender in 40 pound bags,” he boasted. “Buy all of this in bulk and then bag it up. I don’t have a garden. I do all my work in a greenhouse.” The man lifted his chin. “Yes ma’am. I buy a load of hybrid seeds, plant them in the soil . . . even have a made-up name for the tomato variety. I call them Mountain Beauties, or Mountain Jewels.” His Yankee accent bled through. “Around here, people will buy anything they think is tied to the mountains.”

I wanted to punch him square in his turned-up face. This man wasn’t a farmer, he wasn’t even honest! He wasn’t alone. The woman selling holistic remedies, hadn’t grown a single herb. She merely purchased oils from God knows where, grown in God knows what kind of environment. She had no interest in purchasing an Elderberry bush for $ 5.00 because she hadn’t any property.

Law-help !

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Friends, I have dirt. Dirt is my friend. I work the dirt. I pull weeds and beat dirt off the roots. Dirt gets in my boots, presses into the fibers of my socks. Dirt is in my hair and under my fingertips. I do not have soil. Soil is ground up trees bagged in plastic used by those intent on taking your money via dishonest methods.

This experience left me wondering, don’t consumers care where their food comes from? Or, do they naively believe the words of any old snake oil salesman?

The push to “buy local,” has created a culture of truck farming. We see a lot of social media posts with #BuyLocal #KnowYourFarmer #AppalachianGrown and #FarmersMarket, but is the produce offered at these stands really local? Take, for example, the roadside produce stand. There are two produce stands within three miles of my house. None of the produce offered for sale is grown locally, nothing offered is organic. Instead, someone drives a pickup truck to the Asheville Farmer’s Market where they purchase cases of produce that are (most often) not grown within one hundred miles of Asheville. They drive boxes on the back of pickup trucks to their stands where they offer items for sale. The same goes for Atlanta and other Farmer’s Markets. A prime example is the tomato. Last week (April 10, 2018) a friend posted, “just got some great tasting tomatoes at [name of local produce stand withheld].”

Friends, there’s no way under the sun ANY Western North Carolina Farm has homegrown tomatoes right now.

Strawberries: yes.

Tomatoes: don’t be ridiculous. Your mama raised you better than that.

It is foolish to place this kind of blind trust in someone whose sole purpose is making money.

I’ll admit, I wasn’t all that excited to help Dad sell his eggs. I’m allergic, so I am unable to tell you for true that his eggs taste better than store bought. Last year we sold beans, loads of beans, and tomatoes. When I tell customers our produce is superior to others I say those words sincerely. We pick only when we have a customer ready to purchase. We don’t spray. We plant every seed, from the seeds we’ve been hoarding for years. We weed. We cultivate. We love our vegetables and we will use them whether we have a single customer or not.

Which brings me back to the question, do people really care where their food comes from?

I know I do.

Renea Winchester is the author of Farming, Friends & Fried Bologna Sandwiches and In the Garden with Billy. She is winner of the Appalachian Heritage Award and writes a weekly gardening column for the Sylva Herald Newspaper. She is proudly represented by Mercer University Press.

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Seed Sewing Success

A quick follow-up about the seeds I started on 2/21/2015. As always I enjoyed tremendous success with my Botanical Interests Seeds.

If you are just joining me. follow this link to read my seed-starting tips, and how to convert items we discard into mini-greenhouses.

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Check out the seed clinging to the tender leaf.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Aerial view

 

 

I hope you will give my suggestions a try. I enjoy a high germination rate due in part to these techniques and ordering awesome seeds.

Now it is time to begin the process called “hardening off,” which means I will place the seedlings outdoors on a sunny day when there is some wind. They will NOT go in direct sunlight as that will burn the tender leaves, but slowly work their way into the sun. This process strengthens the seedlings and prepares them for the growing season.

If you haven’t visited the Botanical Interests website, or ordered a catalog, please do so today.

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Amazon readers: Please remember that I receive no compensation from used books purchased on Amazon. Please follow the links highlighted and underlined on this page to order, or contact a local Bookseller for copies.

Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of Farming, Friends, and Fried Bologna Sandwiches; Mountain Memories: True Stories and Half-Truths from Appalachia. A Hardscrabble Christmas. Her first book, In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes earned her a SIBA and GAYA nomination. Order signed copies or, email her through her website at www.reneawinchester.com. She welcomes new friends on Facebook. Follow her on Twitter Here.

 

 

 

Seed-starting Success #SeedSaturday

Gardeners can’t wait any longer. Though the ground be covered with snow and ice, we know these days will soon be gone. It is time to start seeds indoors. Hence the hash tag #SeedSaturday.

Peppers particularly.

Peppers take longer to germinate, and have a longer time from plant to harvest. For that reason we should start them now. Today I share a quick post about what works, and what doesn’t when it comes to seed starting.

What doesn’t work:

Starting seeds in egg shells

Start seeds in egg cartons

Why? Seeds contain most everything they need to germinate. For that reason they will germinate in egg shells, egg cartons, even a plastic bag. However, the seedlings will not survive in a shallow-rooted environment. So step away from Pinterest unless you can plant seedlings days after they sprout (which most of us can not).

Containers that work:20150221_121333
Milk Jugs
Tupperware containers
Plastic bottles
Bakery Department containers

Why? Plastic containers serve as mini-greenhouses for seeds. The environment is warm and cozy. Start saving things you would normally toss in the recycling bin.

The Dirt: I do not purchase “name-brand” dirt infused with fertilizer. Instead, I use topsoil.

Why? I have a terrible habit of over watering. Potting soil compacts when wet and becomes a perfect environment for mold. If you know you won’t over water, use potting soil. But, topsoil works for me, and is far cheaper.

Another tip: 

Heat the dirt. Yes, my friends. I place a bowl of dirt into the microwave for approximately two minutes (or until it is warm to the touch). Doing so gives your greenhouse the added boost of pre-heating, kills most diseases and even some weed seeds. Warming the dirt also shaves a day off the germination process because the dirt doesn’t take a day to warm to room temperature.

abpostIf you use water bottles, or milk jugs, do not cut the top off. Instead, open a door. This allows you to tape the door shut, cap a lid on the top and keep the seeds nice and toasty.

Seed-Soaking: 

I prefer to soak all of my seeds for at least a few minutes prior to planting. This gives the seeds an instant drink, and I also believe it helps in germination.

As you can see I add approximately two inches of dirt in each container.

Then I water the dirt.

Before adding seeds.

Why? Because if I plant the seeds, then add the dirt and water the force and weight of the water scatters the seeds. Moistening the dirt first keeps seeds in place.

Seeds scattered in pre-moistened topsoil

Seeds scattered in pre-moistened topsoil

Finally, don’t forget to label the containers. We all want to think that we will remember the contents of our containers. However, once seedlings emerge I have forgotten.

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Don’t forget the labels

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I hope you will give my suggestions a try. I enjoy a high germination rate due in part to these techniques and ordering awesome seeds. If you haven’t visited the Botanical Interest website, or ordered a catalog please do so today.

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Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of Farming, Friends, and Fried Bologna Sandwiches; Mountain Memories: True Stories and Half-Truths from Appalachia. A Hardscrabble Christmas. Her first book, In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes earned her a SIBA and GAYA nomination. Order signed copies or, email her through her website at www.reneawinchester.com. She welcomes new friends on Facebook. Follow her on Twitter Here.

 
 

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Spring Fever Free Seed Giveaway

Spring Fever Free Seed Giveaway

It is #Gardengiveaway time. I’m talking FREE SEEDS. I know that I probably speak for a few of my Northern friends when I say, “We need the sun!” We’re not exactly happy with the groundhog right now either.

Here in the Southern zone  of 7A, we can see the lackluster-colored ground. We have no snow. No ice. We aren’t experiencing anything like our Northern friends who are blanketed with both. Who shovel snow, and have to walk to work.

Still we grow weary of winter.

Our fingers itch to scratch the dirt; we long to watch our little seeds emerge from the soil.

The mailbox bulges with seed catalogs.

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We just can’t wait much longer for spring to arrive. (At least I can’t). That is why I am tickled to giveaway FREE SEEDS courtesy of Botanical Interests. Botanical Interests is the brainchild of Judy Seaborn and Curtis Jones.  Judy at an early age could be found in the garden, her hands touching the dirt. Twenty years ago, Judy wanted to create a company that both provided high-quality seeds for veteran gardeners, and, educated newbies who were planting for the first time. When Curtis offered their glorious seeds to you-my readers- I snatched up that offer snappy quick.

An EXAMPLE of seeds available. Seeds awarded will vary from picture.

An EXAMPLE of seeds available. Seeds awarded will vary from picture.

Because for a gardener nothing could be better than FREE Seeds. (except maybe free beans and tomatoes).

What’s the catch?

Well, really the only way I can give away the free seeds is to ask y’all to leave a comment on my blog. I’ll ask my daughter to pick a random number and whoever left that particular comment will receive the seeds. So please, leave a comment, any ole comment. Your words are your registration.

I will contact the winner and ship the seeds.

It really is that easy. Oh, and you might want to consider subscribing to my blog. One never knows what I might give away next .

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This is what community looks like my friends. Happy growing from the staff at Botanical Interests, Inc

Note: The winner is expected to take a photo of their winning so that Botanical Interests and others know that I am awarding the seeds. Please note that I ship at my own expense directly from my home. All comments left here and in future posts are considered entries. I will pull a name each weekend thru the end of February.

I also encourage you to order a catalog from Curtis and Judy. They do more than sell seeds, they support the local food bank. Follow this link to place an order.

 

Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of Farming, Friends, and Fried Bologna Sandwiches; Mountain Memories: True Stories and Half-Truths from Appalachia. A Hardscrabble Christmas. Her first book, In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes earned her a SIBA and GAYA nomination. Email her through her website at www.reneawinchester.com. She welcomes new friends on Facebook. Follow her on Twitter Here.

 

 

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Do you see what I see? Why I do not add pesticides . . . ever!

Another #Wordless Wednesday glimpse at my garden.

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Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of Farming, Friends and Fried Bologna Sandwiches (available through all booksellers);  and Mountain Memories: True Stories and Half-Truths from Appalachia. Her first book, In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes earned her a SIBA and GAYA nomination. 

Order Copies of Farming directly through Mercer. Call for 20% discount and free shipping.

Email her through her website at www.reneawinchester.com 

 

When Tomatoes Take Selfies

When Tomatoes Take Selfies

What happens when our Botanical Interests Tomatoes decide to take Selfies:

Click the links to order your own Botanical Interests Seeds

Pictured: Cherokee Purple; Beefsteak; Romas; Indigo Rose

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Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of Mountain Memories: True Stories and Half-Truths from Appalachia. Her first book, In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes earned her a SIBA and GAYA nomination. In September of 2014, Mercer University Press will release her next book titled Farming, Friends, & Fried Bologna Sandwiches. Email her through her website at www.reneawinchester.com. She welcomes new friends on Facebook. Follow her on Twitter Here.

 

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Extending The Growing Season

Extending The Growing Season

After July 4, a panic fills my soul; fear that the growing season will soon come to a close. Admittedly, this year I have yet to put up the first jar of tomatoes as – again – the gardening began late due to cold weather. Last year it was too wet to plow. . . this year, too cold to start early.

Still, I can do the math. 30-60-90 means frost will be here before you know it.

Thankfully, Southerners experience two growing seasons.

Now is the time to plant late beans and squash, but most important, it is time to root tomatoes for an extended harvest.

Simply snip off a section of the plant (preferably one that already has blooms), and place the cutting in water. Seven to ten days later you have this. 

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After strong roots have developed dig a very deep hole.
Then add shredded newspaper and egg shells. Do not add fertilizer at this point. You will kill the plant.20140707_202512

Water well until the newspapers are a mushy mess and add tomato.

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Add Dirt. Add MORE water. I mean enough to make a puddle. Then wait a moment and let the newspapers absorb the water.

After that, water a bit more. Think of this as the mud-pie phase. 

 

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Then walk away. There is nothing more to do. Just walk away and let the tomato do its thing. This week is the perfect time to plant tomatoes. We’re getting a bit of daily rain and the plant shouldn’t even wilt. n the beginning you may have to water every other day, but please, for love of your tomatoes, do not water tomatoes every day. Why you ask? Because they will taste like water, of course, instead of having that rich flavor we all enjoy.

 

 

 

 

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 Two weeks after planting your rootlings, sprinkle a bit of fertilizer around the plant, FAR away from the stalk so that you do not burn the plant. Remember, most tomatoes fail and get blossom end rot because they are receiving too much water and too little calcium. Egg shells=calcium. Too much water=unhappy gardeners.

Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of Mountain Memories: True Stories and Half-Truths from Appalachia. Her first book, In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes earned her a SIBA and GAYA nomination. In September of 2014, Mercer University Press will release her next book titled Farming, Friends, & Fried Bologna Sandwiches. Email her through her website at www.reneawinchester.com. She welcomes new friends on Facebook. Follow her on Twitter Here.