Since Memphis is a hub of Southern cooking, this spring I wanted to try my hand at putting in a kitchen garden.
Since Memphis is a hub of Southern cooking, this spring I wanted to try my hand at putting in a kitchen garden. Fried green tomatoes, roasted okra, steamed yellow squash and zucchini bread are things every cook boasts about around here, and having them on hand would be a great way to experiment with different recipes and find ones my family would love. My biggest fear before starting was that I’d never planted a vegetable garden, so I really was starting from the ground up! I decided the best place to begin was by contacting the Memphis Area Master Gardeners.
The Memphis Area Master Gardeners are a group of trained volunteers that help the local extension share gardening information with the community. Many of their programs and classes take place at the Memphis Botanic Gardens, but they also sponsor gardens and projects all over town at historic sites and community venues.
I talked my best friend into attending their annual Dixon Gardening School with me back in February. Held at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens on Park Avenue, this eight-week gardening school taught us everything we needed to know to get started. The experts helped us learn things like which plants to use, where to locate the garden, how much water the plants need and when to get started. I know we both suffered from a little bit of information overload, but with our notes and pamphlets in hand and the number of the Memphis Master Gardener hotline programmed into my phone, we were ready.
The first thing we had to do was locate the right place for the garden. Most vegetable plants require several hours of full sun to do well, so we found a plot on the east side of my house that was just right. Instead of planting two separate gardens, my friend and I decided that for this first time out, we would work our garden together. That way we could learn together and share the load. We decided to go with raised beds instead of digging up the grass to save work now and our backs later.
We had our husbands join in by building us some box garden frames. After laying down black plastic barrier material, we positioned the boxes, stapled the outside edges of the material to the frames and poked several drainage holes. Then we filled each box with garden soil. We started to buy bags of soil, but decided a better idea was to have a load of garden soil brought in by truck that we could move ourselves with shovels and a wheelbarrow. This saved lots of time and money.
Before we started building the garden, we planned out what vegetables we wanted. So when the boxes were filled and settled, we went to the garden store right away to buy the plants and seeds. Some seeds get planted directly in the soil, like squash, zucchini cucumbers, lettuce and radishes. Other plants, like tomatoes and cabbage, do better as seedlings. Our lettuce and radishes are already coming up and looking healthy, and the seedlings we planted are growing fast.
Maybe next year we’ll get more adventurous and plant some potatoes and corn, but for this year, I think our vegetable garden will give us just what we need.
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