Novice gardeners apply lessons of last year.

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – Last year was Misty Phillips’ first time to garden on her own. She had helped her dad a bit in his vegetable patch as a child, and the memory of that was enough to get her started.
Because she had recently been downsized at her job, the Oxford homemaker finally had time to read up about gardening, and then to dig and mix and plant and water. She also had two curious children, a sun-soaked backyard and the recession-driven compulsion to grow something to eat, even though her husband’s job kept the family comfortable.
There were several successes, including tomatoes, and this year she plans to build on those experiences. Her garden already has blooms on the strawberries and blueberries, and spinach and lettuce look inviting and neat in their raised beds.
“I’m not doing as much variety this year,” Phillips said. “I’m planning to do a lot of tomatoes to put up, along with peppers and herbs – things we’re sure to use. I’m going to do more of what was easiest and most productive.”
One big project for this year will be a small unheated greenhouse.
Another of last year’s successes was castor bean plants.
“They’re inedible, but they keep the moles out,” she said. Their growth – about 25 feet high in one year, she said – was not only a source of amazement to son Lucas and daughter Miriam, but the bean plants also provided a testimony to the power of horse manure.
And the uncomposted horse manure was a testimony to the power of Bermuda grass.
“Unfortunately, where I used the manure, I eventually had to give up and let nature have it back,” Phillips said. “The grass won.”
Allie West of Tupelo was another first-time gardener in 2009. With a raised bed in the one sunny spot at her house, she grew cherry tomatoes, multi-colored sweet peppers and more squash than she could give away.
“I love to cook, so we also had several herbs in pots,” she said.
One of the trees that kept the rest of the yard shaded has since died and was removed.
With the newly opened area, West will have a second bed that’ll allow her to add some jalapeno peppers and some sun-loving flowers.
“Zinnias are happy colors,” she said.
Barbara Robins of Tupelo had an enthusiastic but theoretical gardening start in 2009: As someone who’d never gardened at all, she spent the season taking a 40-hour Master Gardener training course without disturbing her own soil.
“There was a lot to learn, that’s for sure,” she said. “Before I started, I had no clue on how to garden. I wanted the basics – what’s a weed, for instance.”
What will Robins raise?
“Just the basics,” she said. “I want to do tomatoes and maybe some peppers and onions and cucumbers – things I know we’ll eat – not a lot of anything.”
Anticipating her first harvest, Robins reveled in the whole “wonderful experience” of gardening: “It’s just therapeutic, I think.”
Susan McGukin, a program associate with the MSU Extension Service, oversees gardener training in Lee County and has seen increased numbers of novice gardeners in 2009 and 2010.
“We’ve offered classes every month this calendar year, and we’ve usually had a waiting list, especially for vegetable gardening,” she said. “The Master Gardeners Hortline has been answering questions every day. There’s a definite interest.”

Contact Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or errol.castens@djournal.com.