Adventures of an Amateur Gardener

— Written By Jen Hill and last updated by

Our Young Explorers 4-H Club has planted a vegetable garden. As the warm weather turns to hot weather, I find myself full of anticipation and excitement over our garden.

I should start by being honest with you, I am not a gardener. Before this adventure, if you would have asked me, I would openly tell you that I have 2 black thumbs. I’ve never had very good outcomes growing anything in soil. So when the discussions about starting a gardening project began, I wasn’t certain that I should be the one to take it on, seriously, I am a level zero.

But, I am a 4-Her so I gave it a shot and started reaching out to those who knew things far better than I. As I was at ease calling this a “learning garden”, I still needed someone to teach me the basic concepts of growing things so that I could pass that on to our Young Explorers.

Christy Bredenkamp, the Horticulture Agent here at the Extension Office, was essential in teaching us how to start a garden and layout our timeline for planting.

In March, youth started some seeds in some recycled yogurt cups (donated to us by Swain resident Mrs. Betty Jean Hartsell). We sowed Cherokee Purple tomatoes, Yellow Pear Tomatoes, Sweet Snacking Peppers and Basil seeds. This was a great club meeting – we learned about planting depth and the importance of sun and water and got our hands dirty in the process.

Ms. Jennie Ashlock, Enrollment Services Assistant at SCC, helped us locate the perfect garden spot on campus and a friend of extension, Mr. John Worstel came with his tractor and tilled up our soil and mixed in the lime and soil amendments.

Once the danger of frost was gone, it was planting time. Our seedlings sprouted, but they had not grown enough to survive transplant. They were not so tall with dainty leaves and scrawny stems. Christy did not advise planting them.

So at the last minute, I started calling area nurseries trying to find plants to replace our seedlings. I hit the tomato jackpot at Spring Valley Nursery in Franklin. They had both variety of tomatoes I needed but I couldn’t find anyone who carried the specific pepper I needed, so we took what they had.

County Extension Director, Rob Hawk, helped us orient our garden and assign plants to rows. We have 4 rows on each side with a walking path in the middle.

The youth arrived to plant on May 8th. We planted potato seed, pole bean seeds, pepper seedlings, carrot seeds, corn seed, bush bean seed, tomato seedlings and zucchini seeds.

The kids and I had a great time. Shortly after that, SCC Fine Arts Department Chair, Brian Kane had placed a giant yellow metal Bee sculpture in our garden spot that student and Swain County resident, Jasmine Spencer, had created for us as a trellis for our pole beans.

That’s when I noticed that our tomatoes and beans looked a little rough. Fertilizer I thought would help, so I got some 10-10-10 from Clampitt’s and read the directions carefully, sprinkled it and watered it in.

That was on a Friday, by Monday, almost all of the tomatoes and peppers were brown and withered. Christy comes to our rescue once again and quickly identifies what is wrong. Apparently those little clay pots the seedlings came in was supposed to be removed before planting.. oops.

All the peppers were beyond saving but I did manage to save 2 of the Cherokee Purple tomato plants. At this point I didn’t have anything to loose so we tried to plant our original seedlings as replacements (they also died but this is a “learning garden” so they didn’t die for nothing, we now are certain little dainty plants cannot survive transplant, just as Christy told us).

Everything else in the garden was thriving but for some reason, we were in the market for our 3rd set of replacement plants of peppers and tomatoes. Thankfully, Patrick Breedlove with the EBCI Office of Natural Resources, Water Shed Management/Horticulture Program, had an excess of tomato and pepper plants and sent some over to Swain County.

So far so good. Learning is always best when you have fun doing it especially when friends and 4-Hers are learning with you. It was a long road to get this garden up and growing, but we have done it and I am so proud of our 4-Hers and their families and our community for lending a hand to make it happen. With this particular situation, it really did take a village to grow a tomato.

If you are in the area, come by and check out our garden. We think it’s pretty awesome. Please join our 4-H Garden Program anytime, as we will be working on the garden throughout the year. Volunteers are appreciated.

Contact the Swain County Cooperative Extension located at 60 Almond School Road, or call 488-3848 to enroll in 4-H or to register for Summer Fun activities.

All 4-H activity dates and times are posted and updated on our Facebook page, so make sure to “Like” and follow Swain County 4-H on Facebook so you don’t miss out or check out Swain County Cooperative Extension’s website at:

For more information about 4-H opportunities e-mail Jennifer Hill, 4-H Agent at