February 16, 2011 11:50:00 AM
You've thought about it, but weren't quite sure where to start. You know about the benefits -- the freshness, higher nutrient levels, the money to be saved. But growing your own vegetables was always something you might try "someday."
Or, maybe you already have a green veggie thumb and have wondered how to turn your efforts into an income-producing enterprise.
Well, "someday" is here.
The Hitching Lot Farmers' Market and Mississippi State University Extension Service are teaming up to offer two free workshops: "Basic Vegetable Gardening" Thursday, Feb. 24, from 5:30-7 p.m., and "Marketing and Selling Your Produce" Thursday, March 3, 5:30-7:30 p.m. Both will be conducted in the St. Paul's Episcopal Church Parish Hall, 318 College St., in downtown Columbus.
Extension Area Horticulture Agent Jeff Wilson will share information to help get your basic plan going in the gardening workshop. In the marketing workshop, he'll be joined by the Extension Service's state vegetable specialist Dr. David Nagel, and agricultural economist Dr. Ken Hood.
"One thing I've personally found, with the economy, is more people growing their own," observed Wilson. "Another trend is more people want to know exactly what's going into their food, what it's been fertilized with, how it's been sprayed; they want to have more control over what they're eating. ... For anyone who's thought about starting to grow vegetables, or selling the vegetables they grow, these will be useful workshops."
The sessions are designed to provide continued education to the public on the benefits of growing locally, to keep current growers "in the know" about new and existing trends and practices, and to encourage more regular growers to participate in the market, which will be active from April through October, said Amber Brislin of Main Street Columbus, which oversees market operations.
The Hitching Lot Farmers' Market mission is to serve as a community gathering place, providing an opportunity for local farmers, gardeners and vendors to sell fresh produce, agricultural products and homemade food items, crafts and live plants to the public.
How does your garden grow?
With spring knocking at the door, the workshops are well-timed.
"It's all weather-related," said Wilson. "Generally speaking, (planting) your garden is based around the last frost date." April 10 is usually considered the safe date in this region, but it can be a "stab in the dark" the agent chuckled. "If early April looks like it'll be really cold, wait. People who like to plant things early usually get to plant things twice." he cautioned.
While some eager souls may have already started tomatoes or peas in greenhouses, Wilson acknowledged, there's not a lot of physical work to be done outside yet for vegetable gardens.
"But, if you have clay soil, you could mix compost and organic matter in it and till it, when it's dry enough to do so," the horticulturist said. Those with sandy soil may have planted fall crops like peas or vetch to help build up the soil and provide more nutrients. "If they've done that, it's a good time now to start plowing it under," he recommended.
Contrary to what some think, a successful garden doesn't require a lot of space.
"You can grow a large amount of vegetables in a very small area. A 10-by-10-foot raised bed will produce enough vegetables for a family of two," the agent noted. "Even for those who want to grow to sell, you don't have to have acres. A half-acre garden is a massive garden for someone who's not used to working (in one) that much."
Favorite crops among Golden Triangle homeowners seem to be tomatoes, okra, squash, peas and sweet corn, according to Wilson.
"Most any backyard garden will grow those things, especially okra, squash and peas. You can put okra out there and walk away, and in 90 days come back and there'll be okra," he said.
But a forgiving okra does not a garden make. Wilson was careful to avoid sugar-coating the commitment a good garden takes. "Once a garden is in the production phase, you're in it every day; there's always something to do -- hoeing, picking, weeding."
The rewards, however, can be great. Growing your own is one of the best things we can do for the environment, and the pocketbook. A packet of lettuce seeds, for example, generally costs less than a half a head of lettuce. A tomato plant that can produce all season costs less than two tomatoes. And don't discount the earthy connection to nature. That in itself can provide a deep root system for a personal sense of well being.
The Hitching Lot Farmers' Market grand opening is Saturday, May 14. But, new this year, organizers and growers are offering a spring teaser, a "soft opening" each Saturday in April (except April 16, which is the Giant Possum Town Yard Sale).
"After the grand opening in May, the market will be open every Tuesday and Thursday from 6 a.m.-10 a.m., and every Saturday from 7 a.m.-10 a.m.," said Brislin. Saturday markets will feature live music and free children's activities.
Annual vendor spaces can be reserved for $100, which includes each day of operation. Daily spaces are $3 and can be reserved 30 minutes prior to opening each day of operation. To apply, or to donate to the market or offer ideas for future workshops, contact Main Street Columbus at 662-328-6305, or visit columbusmainstreet.com. Go there today to take a survey about what you'd most like to see at the market.
Enjoy the veggie recipes included. Just think how great they'll taste when fresh vegetables from your own garden, or your local farmers' market, arrive for their starring role.
BROCCOLI CHEESE CASSEROLE
Serves five as main course; 10 as a side dish
2 pounds broccoli, stems removed (can use vegetable peeler to peel, then slice and eat like celery), large florets cut, yielding about 8 cups of broccoli florets
Salt for blanching water
Two strips thick-cut bacon (about 2 ounces), cut crosswise into 1/4-inch wide strips
1/3 cup all purpose flour
Five eggs, beaten
1/2 cup cream
1 cup whole milk
2 to 3 teaspoons freshly-cracked black pepper (1 to 2 teaspoons if using fine ground black pepper)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
8 ounces cheddar cheese, grated
GREEN BEANS WITH ALMONDS AND THYME
2 pounds (fresh or frozen) green beans, trimmed
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon garlic salt
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
1/3 cup slivered almonds, lightly toasted