Monday, March 7, 2011

Spring Gardening Part 1: planning a native heirloom garden

Spring is in the air, the ground has warmed enough for the daffodils to bloom and tulips to sprout, which means I better get to planning my vegetable garden!  After looking through seed catalogs, I began to think how cool it would be to plant a native heirloom garden--a selection of plantings not uncommon to what our ancestors one or two hundred years ago might have grown right here in North Carolina.  There are organizations out there devoted entirely to saving specific heirloom species. Archival sources such as period letters, diaries, daybooks, and botany texts provide excellent references for discovering just what plants would have been grown historically in an area. However, this research is very time consuming, and there may be a good publication available, such as, for my region, The Gardens of Salem by Darrell Spencer.

Google Earth image of our property in 2007
Unfortunately, we are somewhat limited in what we can grow due to our heavily wooded two acre lot and poor drainage in the back yard. I would guess that our biggest hindrance is lack of sun. Because of these circumstances, we have constructed a raised bed and I hope to grow herbs and some veggies in pots or planters. We only have space for so much and certainly there are some veggies that we simply prefer over others, so we won't be planting everything that might have appeared in an heirloom period garden. We most likely will not grow melons, potatoes, beets, turnips, parsnips, gourds, cabbage, corn and unfortunately several others simply for lack of suitable gardening space.  Perhaps another year...

I couldn't wait to put my plans down on paper, so I drew up a little sketch of what we are planning to plant (for now). The sketch shows an aerial view of only about half of our backyard, but you get the general idea of where the main vegetable bed will be. The chicken coop is located on the other (west) side of the back yard.

All of the plants I chose are heirloom varieties, most of which are of Southern origin. We are ordering from Southern Exposure and Seed Exchange located near Monticello in central Virginia (we are lucky to have a quality heirloom provider close to our region!). Their site also has some great books and DVDs that I'm mentally adding to my wishlist. They even have their own blog!

Do you have any experience with heirloom plants? Did you find it rewarding to save the seeds and exchange with others in your area?

I would love any advice you could give to a newbie :)


  1. Megan, it's going to be wonderful! When I read your post, I couldn't help but think of some pictures I'd seen recently. Thought you might like to see for some ideas...

    These pictures just made me think a bit of what you're doing and what you are working with in terms of limited space where there is sun, etc. I love the idea of heirloom plants and hope to move more ad more toward exclusively planting heirlooms.

    Thanks for linking up on the Barn Hop!

  2. Oh, and be sure when you visit Brooke's site to click on additional links of her vegetable garden after it filled out.

  3. Hi Amy! Thanks so much for the info and link for Brooke's site- I visited and loved her plans for a kitchen garden and I hope I can do something very similar here with heirlooms! Very cool.

  4. What an awesome sketch/plans! I understand your frustration with not having enough room or sun to grow everything on your wish list.. We have the space and the sun exposure, but the deer are my biggest challenge. Hopefully we will both have great, productive gardens this year!

  5. I just happened upon your blog and love the premise so I'm following. I to am starting some seeds. I love heirloom and had no idea there was an heirloom seed seller so close to me. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Rebecca- I hope so too! I heard that putting fishing line strung around your beds helps to deter the deer? Strangely, we have tons of deer in our area, but we don't have a problem with them in our garden.

    Jenny- Welcome and thanks for following! That's great that you are planting heirlooms too! I think the more local the strain of the species, the better. Keep me posted on how your heirloom gardening works out for you :)

  7. I planted a raised bed garden for the first time this past fall, and loved the ease of caring for it, compared to regular till-the-ground-and-make-rows gardening--so much so, that I'm adding a second bed for spring. Nothing planted for spring yet, I'm trying to figure out my "crop rotation" plan to change up what I plant where! Love your design!

  8. Hi Charlene! Yes I really like having the raised bed as well. I hope in the future to have multiple raised beds. Thanks for stopping by!

  9. What a great plan! I love drawing mine out, too. I have some favorite heirlooms I grow every year, but I only save seeds from the bigger things like beans and pumpkins. It will be fun to see how it grows!

    An Oregon Cottage

    PS- Love your blog, too- I'm going to be checking out your chicken posts, as I hope to finally be getting them this year. :-)

  10. Hi Jami! That's great you have some favorite heirlooms. We planted a few things this past weekend and I'm anxiously waiting to see some sprouts. Glad to hear you are getting some chickens! You will love them....they are so much fun!!