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Seed to Supper
Generations of Appalachian families provided most of their food by growing and preserving it themselves. On this program naturalist Ila Hatter visits Inez and Marlon Johnson, of Graham County, who still do it the traditional way.
In their mountainside garden, Inez and Marlon grow an amazing variety of fruits and vegetables, many of them heirloom varieties that the family has grown for decades. Marlon devotes many long days to plowing, sowing, weeding, and harvesting the crops.
In her kitchen, Inez spends many days each summer cooking and canning beans, corn, tomatoes, squash, okra, pickles, several kinds of soups and sauces, and numerous jams and jellies.
These delicious treasures are stored in a 'can house' that Marlon built to keep a year-round supply of good things to eat.
Ila gets tips on how to prepare and can beans, several ways to dry them, and takes a tour of the garden and can house. It's an authentic look at a way of doing things that will amaze the current generation used to convenience foods, microwaves, and super markets.
Next Ila visits the demonstration homestead farm at Great Smoky Mountains National Park to see how sorghum is turned into molasses. It's a daylong process that starts with horse or mule power turning a grinder that squeezes the juice from the cane. Then it's taken to a nearby wood-fired cooker that slowly cooks the juice down into a syrup over many hours. At the end of the time it's poured into jars as delicious sorghum molasses. Ila helps some local children take the syrup and turn it into an old-fashioned "taffy pull".
Park Ranger Tom Robbins shows Ila how a homestead family would have grown and used corn. Each week a sack of dried and shucked corn would be taken to a nearby grist mill. The Park has two working grist mills run only by waterpower and we get a demonstration of how each one does its job. It's a fascinating look at a centuries old technology.
Back at the farm, Ila visits a 125 year-old log cabin to see that corn meal turned into delicious corn bread over an open-hearth fire.
"From Seed to Supper" shows a way of life still followed by many in the mountains. But for many more it's a glimpse into a way of life only our grandparents would have found familiar. It required methods and skills now almost lost to a generation raised on modern conveniences.
In a nutshell, sustainable gardening means gardening with the reserved use of fertilizer and pesticides. Probably the most important part of sustainable gardening is thorough research into what kind of climate and soil you have. For instance, if you live in the piedmont, where the summers are intense and clay soil abounds, you probably don't want to plant something that needs a maximum temperature of 70 degrees. However, if you have just fallen in love with a plant that has issues with bad drainage and attracts a variety of pests, there are several things you can do not only to allow yourself the freedom to buy that plant but to give that plant a healthy environment in which to live.
Azaleas and blueberries love coffee grounds, which usually find their way into the trash can. And some of your other food scraps make great compost for flowers that enjoy a more basic soil. Raked leaves and old pine straw doesn't need to be bagged-it provides brown material that adds nitrogen to your compost. And after you cut the grass, rake that into your compost bin as well. The Folkways Homestead Living site has directions for building your own compost pile.
Cover cropping involves growing certain plants for the purpose of protecting and fertilizing the soil. Cover crops attract beneficial bugs, many of whom eat the pests who destroy your plants. They also can prevent erosion and hold off weeds.
Also known as "double trenching," this is a soil cultivation process that involves digging parallel trenches more than a foot deep, adding compost and mulch, and replacing the soil from one trench to the other.
When you get your plants and begin planning your garden, consider which ones like a more shady environment and perhaps are shorter and which will grow to be tall. Some plants enrich the soil with nutrients that other plants need. Other plants repel insects that destroy others.
Urban Horticulture site, North Carolina Cooperative Extension
This site has a lot of good tips and information for the home gardener.
County Extension Centers
If you don't know how to contact your county extension center, this is a great resource.
North Carolina Cooperative Extension site
This site links to all of the departments within Cooperative Extension, including forestry, health and nutrition and home and family.
Folkways: Homestead Living
Learn more about Turtle Island.
Learn more about other people who live off of the land and rely on their own resources.