Monday, March 7, 2011

Spring Gardening Part 1: planning a native heirloom garden

Spring is in the air, the ground has warmed enough for the daffodils to bloom and tulips to sprout, which means I better get to planning my vegetable garden!  After looking through seed catalogs, I began to think how cool it would be to plant a native heirloom garden--a selection of plantings not uncommon to what our ancestors one or two hundred years ago might have grown right here in North Carolina.  There are organizations out there devoted entirely to saving specific heirloom species. Archival sources such as period letters, diaries, daybooks, and botany texts provide excellent references for discovering just what plants would have been grown historically in an area. However, this research is very time consuming, and there may be a good publication available, such as, for my region, The Gardens of Salem by Darrell Spencer.

Google Earth image of our property in 2007
Unfortunately, we are somewhat limited in what we can grow due to our heavily wooded two acre lot and poor drainage in the back yard. I would guess that our biggest hindrance is lack of sun. Because of these circumstances, we have constructed a raised bed and I hope to grow herbs and some veggies in pots or planters. We only have space for so much and certainly there are some veggies that we simply prefer over others, so we won't be planting everything that might have appeared in an heirloom period garden. We most likely will not grow melons, potatoes, beets, turnips, parsnips, gourds, cabbage, corn and unfortunately several others simply for lack of suitable gardening space.  Perhaps another year...

I couldn't wait to put my plans down on paper, so I drew up a little sketch of what we are planning to plant (for now). The sketch shows an aerial view of only about half of our backyard, but you get the general idea of where the main vegetable bed will be. The chicken coop is located on the other (west) side of the back yard.

All of the plants I chose are heirloom varieties, most of which are of Southern origin. We are ordering from Southern Exposure and Seed Exchange located near Monticello in central Virginia (we are lucky to have a quality heirloom provider close to our region!). Their site also has some great books and DVDs that I'm mentally adding to my wishlist. They even have their own blog!

Do you have any experience with heirloom plants? Did you find it rewarding to save the seeds and exchange with others in your area?

I would love any advice you could give to a newbie :)