Katie McCarthy: We can’t all be Master Gardeners

kmccarthy@ledger-enquirer.comAugust 12, 2011 

Growing up in the Midwest, I was surrounded by lush green grass, rich black soil and flourishing backyard gardens.

My grandfather, my mother and my father have all gardened at various points in my life. Summers always meant fresh-picked green beans, sun-warmed tomatoes (which I remember eating over the sink, fruit in one hand and a salt shaker in the other, juices running down my chin) and spicy peppers for making salsa.

When I moved south and into my first home, having a garden was one of the first things on my must-do list for summer.

With drought conditions and sand and clay-filled soil, I shouldn’t have expected my garden to look like those I remember from my youth. But I was still disappointed when my beans burned up and my tomatoes got bottom-rot and my lettuce shot straight up to seed, rendering it inedible.

I blamed it on the climate, on the lack of nutrients in the soil, on the too-long Southern growing season.

But it wasn’t all external factors.

My gardening skills and attention have an inverse correlation to the heat index.

I start out attentive and excited. At the beginning of the growing season, usually in March or April, I plan out my garden, supplement the soil, buy plants and seeds and water it regularly.

But as June and July inch closer, and the heat indexes steadily creep higher, I barely want to leave the house let alone tend a garden.

So it gets neglected and I complain about how difficult it is to garden in the South.

All the while knowing that there are plenty of more dedicated (and knowledgeable) gardeners who are reaping the benefits of their hard work (read: Master Gardeners).

It never seemed like much effort went into maintaining the gardens of my youth. But then again, I was probably too busy running around the block with my neighborhood friends or listening to New Kids on the Block and Paula Abdul cassette tapes to notice the work my mother put in.

In my defense, the Midwest has some of the richest soil in the country. There’s a reason it’s an agricultural hub. But it’s my ignorance of Southern gardening that has put a cramp in my garden’s style.

So, despite my stubbornness, I’ve tried to adjust. Lettuce is not going to grow properly in June (it needs a cooler climate) and neither will carrots (they’re more of a fall vegetable). But jalapeños flourish in the heat.

The Master Gardeners would probably be disappointed that I’ve not had my soil tested, which is one of the first things they advise. It’s on my list of things to do next year. Before it gets too hot, of course.

Katie McCarthy can be contacted at kmccarthy@ledger-enquirer.com or 706-571-8515. Read her Intellectual Junk Food blog at ledger-enquirer.com/junkfood

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