The email from Truett McGee of Wendell piqued my interest.
My friend Geoff Gorham has taken an otherwise weed-infested hill of clay in my backyard and transformed it into something amazing, he said.
Just how amazing? To find out, I made the 30-minute trip to McGees home on part of his familys 65-acre farm. I turned off the main road onto a new, private road. Following the tire tracks, I wound my way past a pond and a stand of pine trees. McGee stood in the distance, waving. I was in the right place.
McGee and Gorham led a tour of their garden. It was difficult to believe that about four months ago, this verdant patch of earth was just dirt and weeds. The men, both vegetarians, have been cooking and eating mainly from this garden.
The day I visited, the vines held zucchini, butternut, acorn, yellow and spaghetti squash; eggplant; watermelons and cantaloupes; heirloom and cherry tomatoes; yellow, green and red bell peppers; crowder peas, butterbeans and string beans; rosemary and other herbs; okra; broccoli; and cabbage.
Tall, bright sunflowers stood guard at the front of the garden, and a long, multicolored row of zinnias decorated the back. Oh, and loofah plants climb a tuteur, a trellis-like structure that Gorham built. (Yes, this member of the gourd family is where loofah sponges come from.) Yellow finches, bluebirds, bees and butterflies are frequent visitors.
Throughout the tour, salvage and reuse was a recurring theme. To start, McGees 3,200-square-foot garden is on the land where he grew up and where his family had a huge garden.
After about 30 years in Florida, where he worked as a hairstylist and also in home construction, McGee, 51, returned to North Carolina earlier this year to get back to his roots. He bought a house, which he moved from about a mile away to its current spot, and got to work.
Most all of my landscaping around my house is what (my mother) started from rooting something she broke off, McGee said.
Gorham, 42, grew up in Nashville, N.C., where he worked with his father on the family farm raising tobacco and corn. He also learned a lot from his mother, who maintained a garden for the family as well as working a full-time job. She is a master gardener.
Gorham said he remembers always loving when we had a big harvest of corn or peas and beans, and wed have family friends over for a shucking and shelling party.
My parents instilled in me a love of nature and growing things and caring for things, and the value one gets from hard work and the fruits of your labor in whatever form.
McGee and Gorham have not spent a lot of money on this garden just over $200. Those costs include about $150 for fencing, $40 for two loads of mulch and $30 for seeds. Theyve grown most of the plants from seeds that were given to them.
A friend was eating cantaloupe, McGee said, and I asked what he was going to do with the seeds. McGee took them, dried them and later planted them.
The spaghetti squash came from a bag of unidentified seeds from his mother.
They use tobacco sticks to stake up the tomato plants and strips from plastic grocery bags to tie the plants to the stakes. Gorham built two tuteurs one for the loofah and another for the string beans from tree limbs saved when clearing out the land.
They built raised beds from old barn boards. Those beds hold cilantro, parsley, basil, marjoram and oregano.
They are also making their own compost. We use grass clippings and veggie scraps, and the plants when they stop producing. The compost box was made from old pallets.
They spend 15 to 18 hours a week in the garden. Vegetables must be picked regularly. You want to get them at the height of freshness and flavor, and if you stop picking, the plants will stop producing.
Theyve had some competition for their gardens bounty, including squash bugs, squash borers and Japanese beetles, Gorham said. The gardeners are trying to limit use of insecticides. They have used a little Sevin dust and some products containing permethrin. An organic product with neem oil, which is an extract from an evergreen tree native to India, seems to help, Gorham said. But it takes a lot to be effective.
McGee and Gorham dont plan to put away the gardening tools at summers end. Plans for fall and winter include Brussels sprouts, rutabagas, beets and broccoli, carrots, lettuces and greens arugula, spinach, kale and likely some fall and winter squash varieties.
I am going to make a few more raised beds of different sizes from the barn boards for the fall, Gorham said. Truett has a terrific idea to reuse the old tubs from the house he renovated as raised flower beds as well.
Overall, we want to have the feel of a kind of English country garden, but when creating or designing things, we both like to let the space speak to us. So who knows what we will end up with!
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