Brittney Lofthouse – Contributing Writer
With the kids home from school and some extra time on her hands, local realtor Rachaune De La Cruz and her family are starting their first garden.
“We wanted to grow fresh veggies and fruit, especially now that the kids are interested in helping and watching it grow,” she said. “We started a little herb garden inside and they loved that, so we thought let’s try fruit and veggies outside.”
Whether it be because North Carolina’s Stay-at-Home order provides people with more time at home, or because of necessity to provide for their families during a time of uncertainty, one thing is for sure, more people are spending time outside in their gardens.
De La Cruz’s kids, who are seven and almost three, are getting hands-on experience and taking their learning outside.
“We are just going to have fun with it and let the kids germinate the seeds and follow that process,” she said.
The family is planting red peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, heirloom tomatoes, strawberries, several different basils, parsley, mint, thyme, cilantro, onions, and cantaloupe. De La Cruz said that with this being the first garden she has planted all alone, she wanted to start small.
For the first time in three years, Janine Magstadt and her family are getting back into the garden.
“With the extra time home we felt it would be the perfect time to start again,” said Magstadt. “With everything that is going on right now, this is also a great time to learn to be a little more self sufficient.
Magstadt, who works for Macon County Schools, and her family plan to keep it simple in the garden this year and will be planting green beans, squash, zucchini, tomatoes, and snap peas.
According to William (Bill) Messina, who runs the Garden Center at Appalachian Ace Hardware, more people are coming in and asking about seeds and planting patterns. Messina has a lifetime of knowledge in horticulture, and is excited to continue sharing his expertise with the community.
“If someone is starting for the first time, the first thing you want to do is get your ground prepped — really worked and turned over,” said Messina. “Our ground is not easy digging; it’s all clay, rocks and roots, so getting your ground prepped is very important. If your ground is too tough, you may need to do a raised bed and put new soil above the old soil.”
Messina said he is seeing people come into the store looking for vegetables, with tomatoes and traditional lettuces being the most popular. Messina said he believes people just have more time to devote to their gardens.
“I had a lady come in and said she used to work six days a week, but what she did for a living wasn’t considered an essential business so now that she has free time at home, she said she had always wanted to do an herb garden,” he said. “So we set her up with what she needed to do an herb garden. She is using pots, which is a great option for people wanting to garden who may not have a lot of room.”
Flowers are a popular item, too, according to Messina, with many perennials and annuals like bleeding hearts and petunias being purchased to plant.
While this is the ideal time to begin, Messina cautioned that the mountain weather is always unpredictable.
“Keep a close eye on weather. If a frost is coming, you need to be careful,” he said. “The two things to watch for is how cold it is going to be and how long it’s going to stay that cold. If it’s going to stay cold that can be a major problem.”
Messina said in the event of another prolonged frost, the best practice is to dig recently planted items back up until the cold passes and then replant them.
To meet an increase in demand and to implore social distancing, Appalachian Ace is launching a virtual plant department so people can call in what they need and pick it up or have it delivered to keep everyone as safe as possible.