Hard times punch up vegetable gardening|In the Garden with Miriam Jabour

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 11, 2009

A vegetable garden used to be a typical component for most Mississippi homes. Much of what a family consumed was grown during the warm summer months and canned or frozen for use during the winter — with the exception of greens, which could be grown most of the winter.

Vegetable gardens have lost popularity over the years because the public has had access to fruits and vegetables at grocery stores. The tide seems to be turning during our present economic downturn, and the experts are telling us that 6 million more Americans will grow vegetables this year than last.

Andy Freeny has had a vegetable garden for the past 20 years next to his house in Lake Forest subdivision. It’s not a very big garden, but is large enough to grow enough vegetables to feed his family and put some up for later.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

He learned about vegetable gardening at a young age. He helped his grandfather tend his garden on South Street. When Freeny wanted to start one of his own, his grandfather helped him break up the soil and set off on a good start.

His grandfather usually had an almanac around, and he planted according to the moon and the recommended dates for Zone 8. According to the almanac, vegetables and flowers that bear crops above ground are supposed to be planted by the light of the moon or the day before the moon is new to when it is full. Root vegetables are planted by the dark of the moon or the day after it is full until the day before it is new again.

Previous generations believed failure to follow the almanac’s advice could lead to poor yields. Andy is not absolutely sold on this philosophy, but was disappointed with a crop of pak choy greens this spring that bolted before producing edible produce. He wonders if the outcome might have been different if he had checked the almanac.

The Old Farmers Almanac is predicting above-normal temperatures and rainfall for April and May, and, for summer, temperatures of 2 degrees above normal and below-normal rainfall. This information encouraged Freeny to get out and plant earlier than he did last year. His potatoes are already up, and he is mounding soil around the stems. Rows of romaine lettuce, red-leaf lettuce, head lettuce, Swiss chard, green onions, radishes and asparagus are ready or near ready for harvest. Broccoli, cauliflower, garlic and red cabbages are also growing well. Corn, butter peas and butter beans are coming up, as well as a row of carrots. Freeny set out cherry tomatoes and a few peppers, but will add more plants to the garden later when the lettuce and other early vegetables are gone. He always plants cucumbers on a big wire frame and plans to add yellow and zucchini squash, cantaloupes and watermelons. 

Bagged compost is tilled into his soil annually to increase the organic content of the dirt. He composts vegetable scraps, coffee grounds and grass clipping right in the garden. He keeps weeds out between the rows and around plants using his tiller and hoe because they will suck up the fertilizer he adds around each vegetable plant during the growing season.

Information about home vegetable gardens are popping up everywhere. The March 2009 edition of Southern Living magazine did a special section highlighting successful vegetable and herb gardeners. Organic Gardening features articles in every edition about vegetable gardening. Gardening sections in newspaper throughout the United States are devoting space to “recession gardening.” Interest is greater today than it has been in decades. Some mail order sources are saying they are running low or even out of some of the most popular and basic vegetable seeds.

The National Gardening Association estimates that a well-maintained vegetable garden can yield a $500 average return per year. A study by Burpee Seeds claims that $50 spent on gardening supplies can multiply into $1,250 in produce annually.

Gardeners such as Freeny are not motivated to spend countless hours tending their vegetable garden just because of the economic impact. He and others like him relish the taste of every delicious bite of the fresh vegetables they grow. Maybe others will experience the exceptional flavor and pride that comes from growing their own vegetables.

The “recession garden” hopefully will not be just a trend. Gardening is excellent exercise. And, tending a vegetable garden with your children and gradnchildren may lead them to adopt a beneficial lifetime hobby — just as it did with Andy Freeny.   

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.