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All Things Spring

By Lacy Hilliard
Tomahawk Writer/Photographer

The melodramatic mountain weather Johnson County residents have experienced this past season makes sightings of spring a welcome vision for many. Proud mares, cows and ewes tending to their newborn young and the appearance of gentle sprays of pale pink, soft white and bright yellow set against the barren hardwoods that line every ridge, warms the winter soul and it isn’t long before everyone is outdoors, enjoying the warm spring sun.
For gardeners, spring is an awakening. Blooms that haven’t manifested in what may seem like ages, begin their long push to the soil’s surface; inspiring a sense of wonder in those that live to cultivate. With a growing awareness of the dangers of pesticides and the challenged world food system, even those that wouldn’t normally consider themselves worthy of the title ‘gardener’ are beginning to try their hand at the art of propagation. The developing awareness of the benefits of growing your own food has given way to a new culture of gardening and is paving the way toward increased creativity and accessibility. Though Johnson County residents are fortunate to be surrounded by acres upon acres of lush farmland, not everyone (even in Johnson County) has access to unlimited resources for growing their own food. If you’re a renter or you dwell in the more suburban areas of Mountain City, you might think that raising your own food is out of reach; the good news is, it doesn’t take much space to supplement or even completely maintain your diet with a hearty supply of fresh fruits and vegetables or in the winter months home canned goods that remind you of spring.
The use of raised beds can be an excellent way to maximize your harvest in a small space. Most often built out of concrete block or wood, raised beds are cited as an easy to maintain and effective means of growing vegetables and herbs in a small space. When planting in a raised bed, it’s important to remember that due to the confinement of the space, the soil heats up more quickly which can be beneficial in cold climates as it can allow for an earlier planting date. Soil compaction can become an issue in raised beds and therefore it is important to keep size in mind when constructing them. The more narrow the bed, the less likely compaction will become an issue. By creating a series of several small raised beds you can maximize control over growing conditions by organizing each bed in accordance to the needs of the each plant.
Edible landscaping is also growing in popularity. The philosophy is that rather than filling flowerbeds with ornamental plants, to instead utilize every square inch of lawn and garden space to grow edibles. By taking advantage of all available ground space and thinking vertically with the addition of grape arbors and various trellises for climbing plants such as beans, you can create a landscape that is not only beautiful, but also functional. Vertical garden boxes are also gaining regard and they can be built on the cheap by repurposing pallets or similar wooden structures. Many agricultural groundbreakers have stated that a family of four can completely maintain their food supply with just two acres of land by utilizing edible landscaping practices. Johnson County is in the prescribed USDA Plant Hardiness Zone, 6A. By growing plants that will thrive in zone 6A, you will maximize your harvest and increase your potential for self-sufficiency. The cost of food is rising and there’s no end in sight. The environmental impact of shipping food overseas and cross-country is becoming more apparent and as the population grows, so does the environmental detriments.
Food isn’t the only thing that can be grown at home. Medicinal plants and herbs can also be a beneficial and easy to grow crop. The number of seasonal allergy sufferers is growing according to recent studies but there are several ways to combat the uncomfortable symptoms before you reach for over-the-counter medications. Stinging nettle has proven antihistamine properties. In fact, research has shown that the plant behaves almost identically to over-the-counter antihistamines. Stinging nettle is a common weed in the United States but if handling the stinging plant doesn’t sound attractive, the freeze-dried extract is available for purchase from most health food stores. The recommended dose is about 300 milligrams per day but for those that plan to gather the plant in nature, some have reported success by using the leaves to brew an antihistamine rich tea.

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