Suburban Homesteading in North Carolina

Greetings fellow Gardenauts from Raleigh, NC. My wife, son, and I live on three acres in the city limits that we affectionately call, “Sourwood Farm.” We group our activities here under the heading “Suburban Homesteading” and producing some of the food we eat is central to the homesteading lifestyle that we like to cultivate.

Gardening in central North Carolina is probably not as difficult as it is in many other places but it's not without its challenges. For one our weather is notoriously capricious. Despite the fact that we've already had 80 degree days this year there is a frost warning for tonight, which also happens to be our supposed frost-free date. Go figure. The natural soil here is also a challenge because it isn't soil - it's hard, heavy, practically impenetrable red clay. Another issue for us is water. For about a year now we've been enduring our worst drought on record. According to the local newspaper we've past the extreme drought stage and have moved into the "exceptional" drought stage, which doesn't really capture the severity of the situation for me. It sounds more like, "Hey - great drought!"

Despite these challenges we can't wait to get started on another year's vegetable garden. We actually got some seedlings this weekend and were going to put them in but decided to wait. Given tonight's forecast I'm glad we did. Here's a look at what's likely to be growing in the garden once the weather settles just a bit.

I always grow a lot of tomatoes but I have to admit that I haven’t been as daring in my variety selection as I could be. I usually stick with what works – German Johnsons, Sweet 100s, Homesteads, etc. – nothing fancy really. This year is going to be different. This year a friend of mine has started all kinds of crazy heirloom tomatoes and has promised me a baker’s dozen seedlings from this group. Check out some of these names and descriptions:

  • Aussie Tomato: "Large Australian heirloom plant producing big yields of 1-2 lb. red, meaty, beefsteak tomatoes that are somewhat ribbed." Now that's a tomato, mate! I'm hoping Paul Hogan will read this and agree to autograph some of my fruits.
  • Dagma's Perfection Tomato: "Deliciously flavorful with overtones of tropical fruit. Firm, juicy and elegant in the mouth, and jewel-like in appearance." These should go well with my gold tooth! I've actually never heard of anything described as "elegant in the mouth." I'll let you know how that turns out.
  • Flamme Tomato: "A delicious full-bodied flavor that literally bursts in your mouth." As long as it doesn't burst into flames in my mouth we'll be in business; that would be very inelegant.
  • Kellogg's Breakfast Tomato: "Juice and inside flesh have the same bright orange color as orange juice." Plus each fruit comes with a flimsy kids' toy inside that is a serious choking hazard!

I'm also excited to grow bell peppers – big meaty ones that actually have flavor to them unlike the pricey ones we've been getting at the grocery store all winter that taste like water strained through grass clippings. Every year our peppers have been getting bigger, thicker and more productive. Hopefully this year that trend will continue.

A Lovely Pumpkin Blossom from 2007 that Never Became a Pumpkin

Beans and cucumbers of some sort will no doubt find their way into the garden this year. Last year we grew yard-long beans and boy did they go nuts. We also grew Kirby cukes and ended up making pickles out of some at the end of the season. The pickles were OK initially, but got soggy after a while. I think some of the cukes were not as fresh as they could’ve been and our pickling method was also probably not the best – we'll be on the lookout for a better recipe this year.

Mr. O. Hauling a Load of Cukes and Zucchini from 2007

A big item on the to-do list this year is to start a new, smaller veggie patch next to our existing one. We're planning to experiment with watermelons and cantaloupes in there. My inspiration for the new patch was a volunteer cantaloupe plant we had in a flower bed last year. I had never grown cantaloupe but when I saw this one taking off with virtually no encouragement from us I thought why not try to actually grow more of these? To be honest I don't even like cantaloupe, but my son and my wife do and I found it terribly satisfying to watch my 2.5 year old son scarf down big wedges of juicy cantaloupe that was grown on our property.

We're looking forward to sharing our gardening adventures from NC's piedmont with the Gardenaut community and hope to learn a bunch from all the contributing gardeners and Gardenaut readers.


Melani said...

Your garden from last summer looks beautiful. Oh to be able to do such a good job of keeping weeds out.

Great description of your tomatoes! Thanks.

MamaBird said...

Oh, Mr O and the haul, I would grow him anything he'd eat, too! Thanks for sharing your gardening wisdom with us.