Hobby gardener turns swimming pool into veggie smorgasbord

August 5, 2009 11:00:00 AM

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


When Nick and Eleanor Hairston decided an in-ground pool installed behind their west Lowndes County home in 1974 had served its purpose, they opted for dramatic changes. Not many months after retiring from his post as Lowndes County administrator, Nick was ready to tackle a new project. With the help of savvy friends, family, the "Garden Tabloid" -- and even garden guru Felder Rushing -- he transformed the 34-by-17 foot pool into a bountiful backyard garden. 


The idea of trading in chlorine for cabbage really took root when Nick and longtime friend Billy Swedenburg put their heads together. Work began in earnest in October 2008 when Billy, of Swedenburg Trucking, tackled the fiberglass pool with heavy equipment. Surprisingly, the form came up quickly. 


"He just started ripping that fiberglass out; it didn''t take 30 minutes to get up," said Nick.  


The remaining crater, on the spot where children by the dozens had splashed and laughed for years, was ready for the next phase. 




Thinking it through 


Thought and detail went into establishing a good garden foundation, as well as a clever, "green" irrigation system.  


"We brought in three big 18-wheeler loads of washed gravel and built it up to about 22 to 24 inches from the top of the original pool," Nick said. Four loads of top soil -- sifted to remove debris and vegetation -- from a gravel pit west of Columbus Air Force Base were brought in and tilled with a substantial amount of seasoned horse manure. On the advice of a brother-in-law (a retired county extension agent), 30 pounds of lime was tilled in, too. Soil sampling by the Mississippi State University Extension Service also provided guidance. 




Water, water everywhere 


Inventive steps Nick took before all the trucks arrived have provided moisture to the lush tomatoes, eggplant, squash, okra, onion, cabbage, broccoli and more through the hot months.  


A sump pump buried in the washed gravel bed of the garden is hooked to the pool''s original circulating pump. With his self-styled irrigation system, Nick recycles rainfall collected in the deep rock formation, bringing it up to water the mini-crops, as well as marigolds planted throughout to deter insects, and a profuse, colorful palette of zinnias.  


"After rain we had last week, I currently have about 1,000 gallons of useable water in the rock bed," remarked Nick on Monday. "We only ran low once and had to use water from the water association. Otherwise, it''s all what falls out of the sky."  




Tapping resources 


"There''s no question that can''t be answered if you''ll just ask," the hobby gardener advised. 


As a boy growing up in a gardening family in Crawford, Nick had gained plenty of hands-on experience. He dusted that off and tapped into abundant Golden Triangle resources in establishing his first plot in more than 40 years.  


"The ''Garden Tabloid'' has been my bible," he stressed. The MSU Extension Service publication covers everything from transplanting and thinning to mulching and insect control. (Pick one up at the Lowndes County Extension office at 512 Third Ave. N., or access through the publications link at www.msucares.com.) 


"And I highly recommend people listen to Felder Rushing on Mississippi Public Broadcasting at 9 a.m. on Fridays and 10 a.m. on Saturdays," he grinned. Nick has made good use of the call-in radio show and the entertaining Gestalt Gardener''s expertise.  


He also credits the Oktibbeha County Co-op with helping get the Hairston garden off to such a tasty start.  


In fact, the pool-to-garden project has gone swimmingly well, as Nick''s large, extended family and friends who have feasted on plump tomatoes and delicious vegetables all summer can vouch.  


For would-be gardeners thinking of taking that first step toward fresh, homegrown produce, the advice is -- don''t be intimidated.  


"You don''t have to know a whole lot," Nick smiled. "You just have to know a lot of people, and you can learn a lot."  


Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.