You could set a clock, or at least a calendar, by the Clayton community garden on Amelia Church Road.
In these late-April days, the strawberries betray themselves in the bushes, shining a bright, ripe red; the asparagus climbs out of the earth, pointing straight up; and the tips of pea plants curl like a pig’s tail. Clayton master gardener Roy Lewis snaps off one of the pea tendrils and pops it in his mouth.
“This is the key to those $35 salads in restaurants,” Lewis said. “It tastes just like a sweet pea.”
On a few thousand square feet of land behind the Clayton Community Center, Johnston County’s master gardeners have carved out a lush and diverse garden. Thousands of those plants will be for sale from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. this Saturday, April 30, at the community center.
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Traditionally held at the Johnston County Agricultural Center near Smithfield, the annual sale is being held in Clayton for the first time. It will offer vegetables, herbs and flowers to the public, along with gardening demonstrations and free advice on getting things to grow.
Operating through the Johnston County Cooperative Extension Service, the master gardeners are an all-volunteer force of botanical expertise, Lewis said. Once trained and certified, the master gardeners teach others through a variety of classes and lead projects in schools and around the community. The plant sale, made up entirely of plants propagated from seeds by Johnston gardeners, is one of the group’s biggest fundraisers of the year.
“This year is a little bit heavy hog,” Lewis said. Last year, the group sold 3,000 plants, and Lewis said that didn’t include vegetables, which are making their debut this year. He said the fundraising goal is around $5,000.
The proceeds, he said, buy seeds, pay for further training for master gardeners and help support the group’s programs and school outreach. The fruits of the master gardeners’ labors primarily go to the Clayton Area Ministries food bank, 2,800 pounds last year.
“We’re trying to teach kids where food comes from,” Lewis said. “It doesn’t come from the grocery store. ... A 3-year-old today can fix a computer, but jobs like farmer, contractor, plumber, they’re dying out. If I could get 10 people to grow a garden in their backyard, it doesn’t matter how big, that they can have quality fruits and vegetables from their garden, they’re likely to pass that on to others. Then it creates a snowball effect.”
Common struggles, Lewis said, include developing the right soil and growing the right crops for the eastern North Carolina climate.
“It all depends on your soil; soil is gold, and water is silver,” Lewis said. “Getting those two things right first makes all the difference in the world. ... Tomatoes can be a struggle, but peppers do really well; petunias, celosias, they do well. The whole thing is teaching people what to do in the environment they have. Some things do well in the shade. Some things absolutely need six hours of sunlight to survive.”
Lewis said the sale will also include demonstrations on raised gardens and basic greenhouses. At the community garden, the master gardeners have one greenhouse made of glass and steel and paid for with a $9,000 grant. Next to it is a larger one made out of wood and a plastic sheeting, built for $250.
“Not bad, right?” Lewis said.
Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson