Pots offer way to grow vegetables in areas with limited sunlight|IN THE GARDEN

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 30, 2008

Southerners enjoy fresh vegetables.

Just a few decades ago, everyone had a vegetable garden.  There was no such thing as buying the fresh, frozen or canned vegetable and fruit products that are available today. If you did not grow it and can it, you did not have it to eat during the winter months. A vegetable garden may be the solution for many who now feel the money crunch as food prices increase.

Jack Stamm has been growing vegetables for about 30 years. He started with tomatoes, peppers and onions, most of which were grown in 5-gallon buckets. The Stamm property is quite shady, and he could place the buckets where they got enough sun to produce fruit. He still grows a few things in 5-gallon buckets but uses numerous containers, raised beds and several old Styrofoam ice chests.

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Peppers and herbs occupy most of the 40-plus pots on the patio. I did not realize that peppers grew so well in pots. He has jalapeno, chili, tabasco, ancho poblano and a large Zavoy Hot Pepper which he says tastes like a habanero but with 10 times less heat. These produce small peppers. The larger varieties are grown in raised beds located in a sunny plot he bought from neighbors a few years ago. Sweet bananas, bell peppers and baby bells thrive in the raised beds. The baby bells are similar to the regular large bell peppers, but they don’t get very big. Stamm said they make delicious, little hors d’oeuvres when halved and filled with pimento or cream cheese.

Variegated Mexican oregano and a dozen pots of basil, lemon basil, thyme, sage, parsley, rosemary and mint are the culinary herbs that grow on the patio. Stamm started the herbs at the request of his wife, Laurin. Close to the house, she and daughter Story Ebersole can snip a bit whenever they need some. A 3 1/2-foot tall bay laurel bush supplies bay leaves. He moves it into his greenhouse each winter. Bay laurel grows into a very large shrub when planted in the ground, but Stamm controls the size by growing it in a pot.

Strawberries, hibiscus, ivy, aloe and Christmas cactus grow alongside the peppers and herb pots. Variegated airplane plants, asparagus fern and wandering Jew fill hanging baskets near the patio. Stamm told me the old-timers did not like to mix vegetables and ornamentals, but they do well together on his patio and he just enjoys seeing things growing well — no matter what their location. The aloe plants are great to have near a garden, he explained. The Indians used to grow them to treat the stings from wasps and ants — plus all types of burns.

Tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, eggplants, okra, onions, blueberries and blackberries grow in the raised beds he has constructed in a sunny plot of land to the back of his property. Baby Bubba is the dwarf okra he is growing this year. It will not get any taller than 3 1/2 feet and has produced quite well. A recommendation from Charley Watkins, 444 tomatoes, did well this summer and Stamm has cut them back hoping to extend their harvest into fall. His cucumbers have about dried up, but a new crop is coming up and he will transplant the seedlings into the back garden soon. The rain has put dozens of blooms on the eggplants, promising a bountiful harvest in a matter of weeks.

Old Styrofoam ice chests have proved to be excellent containers in which to grow onions according to Stamm. He pokes holes in the bottom of the chests and fills them with potting soil complete with time-release fertilizer. He grew green, yellow and red onions this spring. Chives and multiplying onions are excellent when planted this way for fall.

Composting is an activity most vegetable gardeners embrace, and Stamm has a novel way to increase the amount of compost that he produces. He has two compost cylinder bins that he turns every couple of days and a small compost pile near his raised beds. The technique I found most interesting was a group of heavy, black plastic bags filled with chopped leaves that were composting right in the bags. Stamm said he places his hose so that some water runs into the bags every few days to keep the leaves moist. They compost in two to three months. The bags produce as much or more compost than the other traditional methods and are simple to do.

“The smartest thing I ever did was give up golf for gardening,”  Stamm said. He took the Master Gardener course a couple of years ago and says that he spends many happy hours in his garden.

Miriam Jabour, a Master Gardener and master flower show judge, has been active with the Vicksburg Council of Garden Clubs for more than 20 years. Write to her at 1114 Windy Lake Drive, Vicksburg, MS 39183.