Grow Your Own Vegetables
Grow Your Own Vegetables
There are many good reasons for growing a vegetable garden in Mississippi. A garden offers the opportunity to enjoy vegetables at their freshest. Sometimes only minutes elapse between harvest, preparation, and eating. On the other hand, most fresh vegetables available at the grocery store travel about 1,800 miles between producer and consumer, and this travel often occurs over a period of several days. There’s a lot to be said for “homegrown” freshness.
Vegetable gardens are traditional in Mississippi. When the state was more rural, most of the family’s food was grown at home. Today, vegetable gardens are often thought of as a form of family recreation. Many older Mississippians grow gardens that are much too large for their own use just to have fresh vegetables for family, friends, and others who are unable to garden.
Here is what some of today’s Mississippi gardeners have to say about their gardens and why they garden:
“We have enough for our family, plus some to share; what more could you ask?”
“There’s no way to keep count of the people who stop to visit my garden and talk awhile since it is on the side of a field road that leads to a catfish pond. I was so proud when I was told it was the prettiest garden they had seen. I have filled three freezers and canned more than 300 jars of vegetables.”
“I have always had a love for gardening. I have helped in caring for the family garden ever since I was large enough to help plant and work in a garden.”
“I enjoy giving vegetables to the elderly, shut-ins, neighbors, and friends.”
“I enjoy people visiting my garden. Some come just to enjoy seeing it, others to learn better ways to garden.”
“I have gardened over 50 years and still do my own work. The hard work and good food keep me healthy. I save some money, but I receive other benefits that are greater and that cannot be bought.”
“We give more vegetables away than we keep. We have a large family, five children, 13 grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren, so you see we really enjoy a garden.”
“There is a great difference in cooking fresh food from that which has been picked for several days. Watching your food grow gives you something to look forward to each week.”
Decide What You Want to Plant
Select vegetables and the amount to plant by looking forward to harvest and how you will use the vegetables. There’s no sense in planting something that won’t be used.
When selecting vegetables to grow, consider your available garden space. Some vegetables take a lot of garden space for a long time, while others are planted and harvested in a short time period, producing a lot in a little space. Melons, pumpkins, vining types of squash, and sweet potatoes are in the garden for a long time, yet the harvest period is relatively short. Okra, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and pole beans are also in the garden a long time, but these produce a continuous supply of food.
Sweet corn is one of those vegetables you just have to plant despite how much space it takes (expect to harvest one ear per plant) because it is so good.
Vegetables to consider for small gardens (because of the space they need and the amount they produce) are bush snap and lima beans; leafy greens like lettuce, spinach, mustard, and turnips; green onions; tomatoes; sweet peppers; and eggplant. As space permits, add broccoli, cabbage, hot peppers, okra, summer squash, southern peas, and pole beans. Cucumbers, which normally take a lot of ground space, can be trellised.
Irish and sweet potatoes are productive for the amount of garden space required but present a storage problem when harvested.
Plant varieties recommended for growing in Mississippi. Don’t continue to use old vegetable varieties when there are new varieties available that resist disease and give higher yields and quality. For example, fusarium wilt is still a major disease problem on tomatoes in some Mississippi gardens where the older varieties are planted. All recommended tomato varieties are resistant to this disease.
The amount of sunlight the garden receives can help you determine which vegetables to grow. Ideally, the garden site should receive full sun all day. This is not always possible, especially when the garden is located on a small residential lot where shade trees block the sun for part of the day.
Where there is no full sun space, plant vegetables in various spots around the house. All vegetables grown for their fruits or seeds, such as corn, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, beans, and peas, should have the sunniest spots.
Vegetables grown for their leaves or roots, such as beets, cabbage, lettuce, mustard, chard, spinach, and turnips, can grow in partial shade but do better in direct sunlight.
Choose a Great Location for Your Garden
The ideal garden site is close to the house but out in the open where it receives full sun and is not shaded by trees or buildings. Choose a place that is near a water supply and has loose, fertile, well-drained soil.
Few gardeners are fortunate enough to have the ideal garden site or soil. This does not mean growing a successful garden is impossible. If you select the right vegetables and carefully manage the soil, some vegetables can be produced in almost any location.
Select a site free of serious weed problems. Nutsedge, torpedograss, bermudagrass, cocklebur, and morningglory are just a few of the weeds that are difficult to control in a garden.
Fence the garden site to keep out children and animals. A two-strand, low-voltage electric fence may be the only way to keep small animals like rabbits and raccoons out of the garden.
Remove low tree limbs that hang over the garden and give animals access.
Decide What Size Garden You Need
To determine what size garden you need, consider your family size, the amount of vegetables you need, and whether you will preserve or use the vegetables fresh.
Most important in determining garden size are the gardener’s physical ability, available time and equipment, and genuine interest in gardening. Even though the rewards of gardening are great, the work is hard.
It is better to start small and build on success than to become discouraged and abandon the garden because it was too large or too much work. See the Planting Guide.
If you love home-grown tomatoes, you can enjoy them into fall. Get your plants into the ground from July to early August, depending on where you live in the state, and you can harvest into October or November.
When you visit your community farmers market, you know you're purchasing local produce in its peak season. Fruits and vegetables have more flavor and are typically less expensive when they’re in season. So, when you go to the farmers market, how do you make the most out of in-season produce? (Photo by Michaela Parker)
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