New Ground for Gardening

new garden by greenhouse

The Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English offers the following definition for patch farming:

1972 Graham County 50 With the first stages of early clearing, the farmer did “patch” farming near the cabin. Many farmers today still speak of a “patch” of corn or other crops. The farmer gradually and systematically extended the patches into wider fields by each year extending his farming into a new area known as a “new ground.”

Back in the day when I first started gardening I read all sorts of books and magazines on the subject. I was fascinated by the articles which showed how much food could be produced in small raised beds.

I remember telling Pap about what I had been reading and he got this smile on his face. I said “What?” He said “Why Tip people around here have been growing gardens like that since I was a boy, only nobody called them raised beds. But every wife would have her a little garden patch right close to the house where it’d be handy for her to tend it and for them to eat from it too.”

Then Pap showed me, you don’t have to break the bank to build those little garden patches aka raised beds.

We found some tree branches The Deer Hunter had cut and thrown in the woods and formed the beds. Pap showed me how to fill the bottom portion of the new patch with leaves, then dig a few buckets full of dark loamy soil from the edge of the woods to put on top.

In the years since Pap first showed me how to form little garden patches I’ve made them all over the yard, one here and one there, gradually increasing their size and building up the soil all at the same time.

I’ve used all sorts of logs, branches, and rocks to form the sides basically anything I could find that was handy. And I’ve discovered: if you’re able to fill the patch with 12 inches of good loose dark rich soil like the gardening books tell you to that is wonderful. But if you’re like me and you’re really doing good to end up with 3 or 4 inches of so so soil it still works better than trying to grow vegetables on top of hard packed dirt.

We’ve about run out of room for new patches, but this year we managed to enlarge our biggest garden patch by moving the rock border over about a foot and a half and we’re planning to make a long narrow patch behind the greenhouse.

Those little patches here and there and can boost your vegetable production in an amazing way.


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  • Reply
    April 24, 2021 at 11:58 am

    Such helpful insights and information thank you for the sharing .:)

  • Reply
    April 22, 2021 at 12:44 pm

    My parents and grandparents always raised gardens. NE MS ground is sand and clay. N ILL has rich black dirt and we raised beautiful gardens there. SC PA has red dirt that is as hard as cement, probably because the good ground had been removed when they built the house, but I must say those Amish farmers in Lancaster, PA have fantastic gardens and expansive fields of corn. Love to see those farmers out plowing with their horses.
    Tipper, I love the cow panels, you started using I think last year and the video where you took us on a tour of it into the growing season.

  • Reply
    April 22, 2021 at 10:58 am

    I remember plowing new ground with tiller. Whatever was under the soil made my eyes water so much I coud barely see. Those were the days when I wuld tackle almost anything. I recall most homes we visited were not in the city, and just about al of them had something sometimes called a kitchen garden. The kitchen garden got more dishwater and more attentin and usually thrived. One of my favotite times was when Mom picked the early what she called “leaf lettuce” and spring onions. Spring feast was always wilted lettuce wilted with bacon grease. The soups, stews, and canned goods had become boring by then.
    Life was not complicated, and the only political memory I have is when I wanted Eisenhower to win because he had a nice smile. They featured him and his opponent in our weekly reader. Otherwise it was all about gardens and the simple things of life. We planted bare rooted tomatoes without checking the weather, and they seemed to do fine until one year we had a big blight. Lots of patches here and there.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    April 22, 2021 at 10:12 am

    My garden here was once a newground. Before that is was a thicket of briars, roots, poison ivy, rocks and old trash that had been pushed up in a pile. Oh, and scrubby little trees. I have picked at it until I’ve turned it into a fairly decent little garden. This year I got a little tractor with a backhoe attachment and am in the process of digging a trench around my little patch. I fill the trench back in as I dig it. The reason I’m doing it is to cut all the roots that have grown into my garden. Somehow trees and briars sense the presence of more nutritious soil and send roots into it.
    My garden patch is only about 30 by 48 feet. How can I justify buying a tractor for such a tiny garden? I can’t. My son’s father in law has been in a year long struggle with cancer. He and his son had bought a brand new subcompact tractor with a bucket and a backhoe for their landscaping business. In less than a year they had to sell it all. They owed more on the tractor than they could have gotten out of it. So instead of giving a little money to help them out I took a $15,000 burden off their back.
    Mike Pennell is his name. He is in Chapel Hill as we speak. It all began with cancer in his spleen. He then suffered through radiation and chemo treatments that almost killed him before his doctors could remove his spleen. The splenectomy was a success but left him with lymphoma. He next went to UNC Medical Center at Chapel Hill where they removed some of his white blood cells and sent him home to undergo more radiation and chemo which to my understanding killed off all his remaining white blood cells. He then went back to UNC where they had cleaned and cultured a the white blood cells they had taken and were planning on putting them back into him. But they said he was to weak to undergo the therapy and sent him back home again. We assumed this time it was to die but he started getting better and now is back at Chapel Hill and has survived the infusion. He seems to be getting better every day but this treatment is radical and experimental so who know what the future holds. God knows! When next you talk to God mention Brother Mike and explain how his family and his church need him for a little while longer.

  • Reply
    Kat Swanson
    April 22, 2021 at 9:54 am

    My daddy never thought of himself as poor because he had a place of his own….mountain land he had cleared first for our four room house in 1946 , then finding a way to clear up this newground, some on a slope so steep you could hardly stand on it , but made farmable. He used a borrowed mule on the hillside he had cleared with hand saws , scythe and his hoe….Mom raised lettuce beds and rows of onions and flowers in the rare flat part of our yard behind the house. My favorite crop was the Tommy toes. …I ate them straight from the vines. Holing up cabbages was common. Apple TREES were cherished. They did what they had to do to raise enough beans and taters to feed five kids….Mom canned everything til her 600 or so jars were full…put up crocks of pickled corn and beans. I hated that smell. Mom canned green beans in jars , separated by strips of old rags, sitting in a bushel galvanized wash tub…keep simmering for 8 hours over a wood fire my brother and I were responsible for. ….. Looking back , I am amazed at all the hard work it took just to get by. No one farms there on my mountain now. But when I go home to cut the grass, trying still to keep the wilderness away, I can almost hear the sounds ….the voices of our working family….in a time in the mountains when work from everyone was expected, land was cherished, and life was good.

  • Reply
    April 22, 2021 at 9:47 am

    Our yard in the suburbs has too many big trees with their roots to dig a garden. But I have had great success growing in kids’ plastic wading pools. I use the 5 ft ones. They are much more economical than raised boxes and mine have lasted 4 yrs with no sign of breaking down. Last year I made 21 pts of pickles from cucumbers grown in one pool and we had all the green beans we could eat.

  • Reply
    Carol Roy
    April 22, 2021 at 9:40 am

    Hi Tipper… your posts ….and so glad to know that not just me has about 5 or 6 inches of soil when I strive for double that it just seems to not happen… however I keep plodding along enjoying every moment. Happy Gardening!

  • Reply
    Gerald Brinson
    April 22, 2021 at 8:43 am

    I remember spending a lot of time helping Dad work in his ‘Backer (Tobacco) Patch’.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    April 22, 2021 at 8:23 am

    I have done here about what you describe. Twenty-nine years ago there were two narrow terrace beds in the side yard. I widened and extended them. Then a ade two more beds, one below and one above. Then I went further up the slope again until I reached the shade of the apple tree. Now I have nearly all of the area in garden that gets enough sun for it to work.

    Every year I haul up composted leaves to build various hills such as for squash, cucumber, watermelon, etc. First I blow the leaves down the hill each fall, then each spring I haul some of them back.

    It would be nice to have a perfect garden I guess. I’ll never know. But it is still nice to have an imperfect one.

  • Reply
    Sharon Schuster
    April 22, 2021 at 8:22 am

    When my mother recollected her childhood in rural Ohio and Kentucky, references to the “new ground” served as setting for of some her colorful stories. I have been gardening in raised beds and patches for years, mostly to establish manageable plantings amid rough terrain, nearby the house, or as a beautifying feature around an unsightly or unmovable object or land feature. Smaller contained gardens seem less overwhelming when it comes to weeding, tilling, watering, harvesting. A big garden with unending rows can be difficult to weed and water, though I have done everything from pots to 15 acre fields. No motorized equipment needed for small garden patches. Small area gardening can be relaxing and fun.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    April 22, 2021 at 8:14 am

    I can remember my grandmothers garden and it had those boxed in areas. They we mostly along the front edge of the big garden, the edge closest to the house. My child’s mind registered those spots as something special. Things Grannie liked best or thought they needed more care. Come the end of the planting season she used that area to bury any cabbage left growing in the garden. She dug the cabbage up, roots and all. then she dug a hole big enough for each cabbage and I think she put some straw in it. Then she put the cabbage head in the hole upside down, with the root sticking straight up. Then she filled the area with straw and dirt. This preserved the cabbage heads till well into the winter. When they wanted to have cabbage she just went pulled up one of those buried heads by the root. She pealed of the outside leaves and she had a beautiful white head of cabbage to cook!
    They found a way to have fresh greens in the winter and never wasted anything from the garden even at the end of the season. They didn’t run to the grocery like we do.

  • Reply
    Margie G and bad dirt
    April 22, 2021 at 8:08 am

    “Dark, loamy soil from the edge of the woods” is a DREAM COME TRUE!!!! I got clay colored clay you could drown a turtle in and it literally sucks for growing anything but weeds and standing water. You are in some if not the MOST PRIME AND RICH DIRT in the country. You’re a lucky bunch, I’ll say!!! In an hour or so I shall pull off the plastic from my big pots and see who’s dead or alive. Wish me luck and some warm sunshine. Lol

  • Reply
    April 22, 2021 at 8:04 am

    New ground always meant a lot of rocks around here in the mountains of East TN, when I grew up.
    Your raised beds showed mountain common sense approach to the job at hand. I’m always amazed at the price of raised beds and chicken coops at the local big box farm store.

  • Reply
    Charles Steven Rasmussen Sr
    April 22, 2021 at 7:13 am

    Thank you and your family for all you do. I start my day, every day with your kind wisdom…

  • Reply
    Don Byers
    April 22, 2021 at 6:08 am

    I remember my Granddad Nick Byers referring to his “new ground up yonder”.

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