With a long growing season, moderate temperatures and good soil, North Carolina is a wonderful place to garden. Because the state has rolling hills, mountains and seashores, growing conditions vary, but generally you can expect frost anytime after mid-October and anytime before mid-April. Beginners can start small by choosing three basic vegetables that will take them through the gardening season and produce a generous harvest in spring, summer and fall.
In North Carolina, look for a heat-tolerant variety like "Wando," and plant early in March. Peas are planted before the insect population builds up and thrive with no special care. Plant seeds 1 inch deep in the rows. Plant an inch apart, and thin by pulling up weaker seedlings if the early plants appear too crowded. Water if there is no rain for a week. Control weeds by hand pulling around the young shoots, and later with a garden hoe. You will enjoy peas from early May until the peas stop bearing in the late-June heat. Harvest daily as peas grow fat in the pods.
It is simpler to buy tomato plants from a reputable garden center than starting them from seed, and you will find tomato plants everywhere in North Carolina at planting time. Set out tomatoes as soon as the last frost date has passed, usually April 15 to May 1. Look for varieties such as "Better Boy" tomatoes. Plant them at the same depth in the garden as they were in their pots, spacing them 2 feet apart in the rows, and water very well each day for a week until they become accustomed to the heat and summer sun; then water thoroughly once a week if there is no rain. For a better yield, stake tomatoes while they are still very small so the stake doesn't interfere with the roots, and tie the stalks to the stakes with rags or old stockings. Tomatoes are heavy feeders, so feed them every other week with a good garden fertilizer (look for 10-10-10), or work organic matter like compost or well-rotted manure along the rows, about 6 inches from the plants. Few pests bother tomatoes, and the large worms that sometimes attack them are quickly spotted and can be controlled by hand-picking. Control weeds with a garden hoe until the tomato plant provides enough shade to prevent their growth. Harvest daily during the bearing season, from early July through frost.
Look for Vates or Carolina varieties and plant seeds directly in the garden in mid-August. Fertilize before planting with 10-10-10 fertilizer, or work in an inch of organic matter. Plant the tiny seeds in shallow trenches, cover lightly, and water well. Thin as seedlings appear and repeat frequently during the first few weeks, by pulling up weaker plants. Cultivate carefully with a garden hoe to keep weeds down. Plants will begin to mature during late September and grow through November and even December in the coastal regions. Harvest several times weekly while leaves are bright green and fresh-looking. If you leave part of the collard plant, it will continue to grow new leaves.