Gardening in the Mountains

This time of year is one of my favorites and also rates as one of the most frustrating as well. This is due in large part to the fact that the transition from winter to spring and spring into summer is never a process (in the mountains) which can be easily understood or delineated with a simple wall calendar which notes that spring begins on March 21st. Most people in North Carolina will fall into planting zone 6 or 7 but because we are so much higher we find ourselves in zone 5—which in essence reaches from the middle of Michigan down to the tip of the southern Appalachian range. Logistically, there are parts of Washington state that rest in zone 7 even though they are located just below Canada.

So, we always get a few nice days in late February or early March that begin the gardening fever process. It is at this point I unwrap the tiller and see if it will start without a new plug—if it does I move onto the next project which is to rake up all the stalks, stems and other organic debris from fall into big piles that I will eventually get around to burning—no easy task in the windy climate that surrounds us.

I then try and find the seeds from last year that might still be good and look through the garden catalogs that have been laying around since after Christmas. Every year i tell myself that I will order all my seeds early and every year I fall behind or get caught unawares as the ordering deadlines come and go.

This year, most seed catalogs offered a $25 discount on every order of $50 or more. That gives me an idea of the incredible markup that gardening stuff must have attached to it. But the ploy works and I ordered my deer fencing from two separate catalogs in order to take advantage of the free $25 offers.

From one catalog I not only got the deer netting but also received 25 free strawberry plants when ordering another 25. The other cataloger offered me an additional 10 asparagus plants when I purchased 10 at regular price. Plus I got some other stuff but still was not quite ready to order seeds.

It turns out that I had a lot from last year and I hit the local stores that sell seeds and picked up what I thought i might need for early and late planting as well.

Actually, one of the most frustrating aspects of gardening is the fact that the “mom and pop” supply store where I used to go to buy my seeds and plants and fertilizer, went out of business several years ago leaving only Lowes and Walmart and Southern States where purchases can be made. I don’t think I have ever recovered from the loss of that old fashioned, super-customer friendly, garden supply shop—and this is why.

To Walmart and the other “big box” stores, gardening stuff is a commodity that is inventoried early, based on stores that are not even close to our growing season. Because this stuff is a profit center in and of itself, the goal is to sell it as fast as possible and then use the space this inventory took up to sell something else. What I am saying is this: if you don’t buy the seeds and plants weeks before they are ready  to plant, you run the risk of not being able to find any left by the time you are really ready and able to plant a garden.

Whereas the proprietor of the “local” feed and seed store always warned you about buying plants to early to survive in our mountain climate. Plus, when you ran out of lettuce seeds, etc. in the middle of the summer you could always count on them to have a supply left. Yes they did run out of stuff but it wasn’t because they planned it that way. Also, they didn’t sell packages with more seeds than you really needed—but only weighed them out according to what you told them “you” wanted.

When I asked them why they went out of business I was told that it was because they had gotten tired of making money only from March through July and then losing the rest of the year. And I guess I can understand their point of view even though I consider their passing a major event in my life and the lives of many others I know. They were a part of a culture that is dying off in America—customer-centric service and sales with a down home attitude and appreciation of each customer as they pass through the open doors of free enterprise.

Am I making more of this than it deserves—hardly I think. A book could be written about this trend and probably already has been. It is a loss that I live with every time I walk into a Lowe’s or Walmart and see people frantically buying garden stuff way before it is time to plant because they know if they don’t get it now it will be gone in a week or two. To these corporate centers I am just another statistic who may or may not show up on their profit and loss sheet at the end of the year. Once the inventory is gone, I am out of luck until the next year when the cycle starts all over again.

Anyway—I guess I have said enough. I have more than enough seeds to get me through this year and when the rains that have been pouring for the better part of two weeks stop, I will get into the garden and try to do in several days what I would have liked to do in several weeks—the potatoes and beans and zinnias still need to be planted.

Next year I plan on ordering my seeds from a catalog or two—I will see how that goes when the time comes.

In the meantime, enjoy your ride!

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3 Responses to Gardening in the Mountains

  1. Carey says:

    hey longridemanI hear what you’re saying about the “dying culture,” and the loss of down-home customer service. But you know what? It just might be that this whole economic turmoil that has blown by us like a maelstrom typhoon may leave behind some unforeseen opportunities. I don’ know but I been told that if a feller was to think about his crop a little differently maybe he could make a few adjustments in the way he tends his back .40 acre, and then come out the other end of it long about October with some old-fashioned fertile seeds–not like the newfangled ones that they say can’t generate second generation crops– but good God-fearin’ fertile seeds like Yosef used to plant– for the next year (’10) and thereby fill the niche, in some small way that had previously been occupied by goodnight brothers or whomever it might have been that would have been providin those real good seeds not the ones like you get at the big box stores. I guess what I’m a tryin to say is that if there’s a hole in the system maybe we (or you) can fill it locally and maybe even make a little mucho denaro in the process while doin the world a favor by gettin us back to some basic agricultural co-op or business before it became agribiz. Or maybe not. I know you’re a bizzy man. Anyway, if you got more than you can handle let me know and I’ll lend a hand. If not, I’ll pay cold hard depression-era greenbacks for any surplus taters and beans you might generate long about October.Y’all come back now. CR, author of Glass half-Full

  2. Terry Henry says:

    Heirloom seeds are definitely the key to the success of future family farmers…..that is the seed catalog that I didn’t end up ordering from. Don’t cha know!

  3. Jodi says:

    Snodus great to me BWTHDIK

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