Bringing in the first harvest from your home vegetable garden can give you a real sense of satisfaction and achievement. Located along the Eastern seaboard, most of North Carolina enjoys a mild, humid climate that provides a long growing season. Gardeners living in the coastal plains and the Piedmont Plateau enjoy 200 frost free days per year on average, although areas near the coast can experience 275 days or more. And water for vegetables is not a problem as North Carolina receives between 40 and 55 inches of rain annually.
Select a good location for your vegetable garden. Your garden will need at least six hours of sunlight per day and should preferably be located close to the house for easier access and maintenance. First-time gardeners should start with a small plot until experience and confidence are gained. You will also need access to a water supply for irrigation.
Outline the perimeter of the plot by cutting in with the spade. Completely clear the site of turf, plants and other material so that you are down to bare soil. Spread 4 to 6 inches of well-aged compost or manure over the plot, dig in lightly and allow this to sit for three to four days before planting. North Carolina is home to a wide variety of clay and sand soils. The best amendment for these soils is to add plenty of organic material with aged compost being the best choice.
Plan your garden on paper before you plant. Virtually any type of vegetable can be grown in the mild climate of North Carolina. However, varieties such as pumpkins, asparagus and okra need a lot of room to spread and may be unsuitable for a small garden. Lay out the rows north-south to give plants the best sun exposure. Keep tall plants like pole beans on the north side of the garden to prevent overshadowing of smaller varieties.
Rake the plot to even the ground and use wooden stakes and string to mark the rows according to your drawing. Hoe the soil into a mound roughly 6 inches high along the length of each row.
Read the planting instruction on the seed packets you have purchased. Sow the seeds at the correct spacing and depth. Cool season crops including onions, cabbage, radishes and turnips should be planted by Feb. 1 in North Carolina. Plant potatoes, spinach and lettuce two weeks later.
Water your garden when rainfall is less than an inch per week. You can easily keep track of rainfall by placing several empty coffee tins in the garden and measuring the water depth after each rainfall. Hand water early in the day when it is cool and keep the foliage as dry as possible.
Weed your garden every day if possible. Use the hoe to loosen soil around weeds and remove them with the roots intact. Check your vegetable plants as they grow for signs of insect or disease damage.