Raise Your Own Veggies
“Test your interest, and then add on as your needs grow,” says Gene. The couple’s first garden at their Laurel, Mississippi, home measured 7 x 16 feet and included eight tomatoes, an assortment of peppers, and herbs for cooking. Now their backyard serves as the nucleus for the much-expanded garden that this family of five cooks from today.
Good soil can be made even better and bad soil can be improved when you add organic matter. Make your own compost, or purchase it by the bag, as Gene often does. Surprisingly, he’s not picky about what he adds. “Decomposed chicken manure gave me some of the best tomatoes and lettuces I’ve ever had,” he professes.
To keep your garden pretty year-round, Gene offers these helpful tips.
- Make beds no wider than 3½ to 4 feet. They’ll be easier to work from all sides.
- Separate planting areas with paths of mulch or grass. Gene initially digs out the edge with a narrow, flat-end shovel and then edges with a string trimmer after mowing.
- Add height. Trellises, sculpture, and even bird houses inject interest into a flat site.
- Mulch to maintain moisture and keep weeds at bay. If using pine straw, rake it aside prior to tilling.
- Develop a year-round attitude. There’s something to do in all four seasons. In late winter, when weather allows, break soil and get rid of weeds. Snow peas and ‘Sugar Snap’ peas can often be planted in late fall or very early spring in the Deep South.
- Stay on top of chores. Pull weeds when you see them. Tie up that tomato on your way to the car. It may sound like a lot of work, but the rewards are not only tasty, they’re good for the soul.
** denotes determinate selections