Wednesday, July 15, 2009 By: Uwharrie Heirlooms

Getting started - way too late

I've been interested in growing heirloom vegetables and plants for quite a few years, but it seems that life just kept getting in the way. I should have started this back in 2005, but circumstances got in the way then and have seemed to ever since,

For the past couple of years I've been writing for a local weekly newspaper, which is actually a 24/7 job if you want to cover the news the way it should be covered. I have really enjoyed the work. Unfortunately, it was not destined to last.

The economy in this part of the world really is suffering. If you don't work for the government or Wal-Mart you are lucky to have a job. Our little newspaper officially bit the dust yesterday after many heroic attempts on the part of the owners to keep it going. So now, six more people are unemployed, myself among them.

But, as I know and my family and friends keep reminding me, God never closes a door without opening another one.

So, now's my chance to get back to the point I was in 1976 - growing plants. I think the happiest time in my horticultural life was when I was sixteen years old with a small greenhouse in the back yard. I was growing plants for myself and others.

I guess it all started the summer I spent with my grandmother Martin (Memaw), I think it was either 1967 or 1968. We planted a small garden, probably 10 x 10, on the north side of her small house in Biscoe. I'm sure it was all done wrong, but it kept me busy which, looking back, was probably her intention anyway.

When I was older, around 1976, my dad and a neighbor built me a small 8 x 12 greenhouse. I remember two people in particular who took me under their wings as far as plants were concerned.

The first was Annie Butler, an elderly African-American lady who had a homemade wood and fiberglass greenhouse in her back yard on the outskirts of town. And. let me tell you, that greenhouse was bursting at the seams! Annie and her husband, Bud, were friends of my parents, and we went over to see them often. We never left their house without either a plant or a cutting to take with us.

Bud used to plow gardens around town for people, using a mule and an old turning plow. As a boy I loved to sit and watch him work that mule.

The other person was Guy Greene, who started a small greenhouse and nursery business after he reitired as a meat cutter at the local Piggly Wiggly store. Guy was generous, as most true plant lovers are. He gave me the best advice for growing plants that I ever received. On one of my visits I was complaining about the problems I was having with my plants, that they weren't growing the way I thought they should.

His advice was in the form of a comment. Guy told me, "You've been keeping your hand too far away from the fertilizer bucket!"

I never forgot that, but I still seem to have that problem from time to time. My philosophy on fertilizers have changed a bit since those days, but plants still need food if they're going to grow.

Annie and Guy both are gone. Guy passed away in the fall of 1978, and Annie moved up north to live with family around the early '80's after her husband wandered away from the house and was never found. I never heard what happened to Annie after that.

Since then there have been others. There was Mrs. Callicutt and her daughter, Joyce Atkins. Paul Lewis grew some plants and did landscaping, and Ethel Reynolds and Gladys Monroe kept me busy for several years. They taught me to never say "thank you" for a plant gift. They said if you do it will die. They said you're supposed to say, "I hope it grows."

In 1983 I strayed from my path. I took on some landscaping and then spent the next fourteen years growing farther and farther from my greenhouse work. My landscaping business grew larger than I could handle and I lost my work bit by bit. I still had a small greenhouse (14 x 22) that I used until the big snow of 2000 crushed it, but I had so many distractions I was unable to use it the way I wanted.

In 1997 I went to work in the Horticulture department of the North Carolina Zoo, spending the next eight years there.

This brings me back to today. I'm hoping that God has closed my door on the newspaper work so that I can see the opening he's made for me to get back to my "roots," pun intended.

I bought a used 20 x 50 greenhouse a couple of years ago, but it has just been a pile of wood and metal, since I've never had the opportunity to actually put it back up!

Well, the time has come. I've been working since July 2 (my last day at the newspaper) to get my area cleared of junk, briars and weeds. I still have a way to go, but I've been putting a lot of ideas in my head and researching in books and on the internet, and I'll be ready to go as soon as I get my gardenspot tilled up.

There's thirty-eight heirloom tomato plants in one-gallon containers sitting on the porch of my office, ready to go in the ground. I should be able to harvest a good amount of fruit before first frost, which is October 30 in my neck of the woods.

I hope to be able to keep everyone posted on my progress, and please say a prayer for me and my family as I venture into new old territory!

I hope it grows.


Joyce Lavene, Small Town Reporter said...

Hi Hugh!

Just wanted to say hello! I work for a weekly paper too and write a garden column for it. I hope it is growing for you!

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