By Adam Dozier
As we at Potters Market Farms, and all the growers at the Waxhaw Farmer’s Market prepare for the upcoming year, home gardeners can begin to plan for next spring as well. In our first couple months at the market, we have talked to people that are new to the area and aren’t sure how and when to plant in our region. Living in the North Carolina Piedmont allows for vegetable gardening during most of the year with three distinct planting seasons. However, this means that each season is relatively short, so timing and preparation are critical.
In the spring, the goal is to grow and harvest cool season crops such as lettuce, root vegetables, onions, broccoli, cabbage, and kale before the summer heat arrives in June. This usually means planting in late February and March.
In the summer, planting should be done after the last frost, in April, May, and June. These are the warm season vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash, corn, and green beans. The harvest for many of these can continue well into the fall.
In the fall, plan to grow and harvest cool season crops again before the weather becomes too cold and the days become too short. This means planting the crops in August and September for harvesting into December. It can be a challenge to start these in the summer heat, but the fall crop is often better than the spring crop because the weather is getting cooler rather than warmer as they mature.
In each season, many of the longer crops like tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, and cabbage should often be started early, indoors, and then transplanted outside in order for them to reach maturity in the short seasons. Home gardeners may find it easier to purchase plants that are ready to be transplanted. During any of the three seasons, many of the shorter crops can be planted more than once to provide a longer harvest period. If planning to garden naturally, make sure to add compost, nutrients, and other soil amendments well before planting so they have time to take effect. Also, take advantage of the free soil testing provided by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture from April through November. The typical clay soil in our area is usually too acidic and needs to be adjusted with lime to provide optimal growing conditions.
Vegetable gardening is possible for most of the year for home gardeners without much investment. Many of the farmers at the Waxhaw Farmer’s Market are able to grow throughout the winter with crop covering, supplemental heat, and light, so make sure to come visit the market during the winter session which runs every other Saturday from January through March.