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  • Writer's pictureEllen Harris

Grateful for the Best and Worst of Garden 2019

Three years ago, I moved to the Mississippi Delta for work. One of my first naïve thoughts was “Wow, I’m moving back to the South and going to get fresh fruits and vegetables all the time!” Needless to say that hope was quickly dashed by reality. I moved to row crop country where soybeans, corn and cotton are king. Consequently, I’m modestly growing some of my own food; three years in two raised beds and two years in a melon patch.

This post is all about the challenges and victories of growing my garden this year. First, a little background. I’m a gardener in training. It’s all about trial and error; gladly taking advise from others; and truly being in the moment. My garden is el naturelle and all produce represents survivor of the fittest. I’m in Zone 7/8 and goodness much of January – March it rains a lot. This year was no exception which meant I couldn’t cleanup my raised beds until late March. On March 17, I also sent my intrepid 2-yr old flowering cabbage collard and kale to plant heaven.

Taking a moment of reflection, there have been times when I wonder why I’m in Mississippi. Poet Nikki Giovanni was in the state on April 16 and I heard her on MPB, the local public radio station, that morning. Her words touched me profoundly because lately I’ve also been thinking about my life’s purpose. She basically said being in Mississippi was like being on hallowed, sacred ground because of Black people’s blood, sweat and tears deep in the soil of this land. I took that as a message to my spirit - grow food and share whatever wise woman attributes you have to offer.

Back to my garden and a little bit of a chronology:

  • April 28 - April 29: My mint is back from last year. Planted cabbage, collards, Thai hot pepper, Sante Fe Grande hot pepper, Thai basil, Yellow Canary cherry tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, squash and cucumber. Left one half-bed empty because ants have invaded! Let’s see who wins the battle; mind you not the war because the whole Mississippi underbelly is probably one gargantuan ant bed!

  • May 5 – May 29: Garden looked good after an all-day May 5 rain, except there’s something munching on my eggplant, collards & cabbage. Found deadly mushroom patch and mothership ant hill in the yard! Mid-May torrential rainstorms while away for 5 days helped garden to continue to look good. Put my feet up one Saturday afternoon after gentle yoga class was taught, jalapeños and more tomatoes were planted, cantaloupe/watermelon plants waited to be planted, and patio flowers with my favorite Nandina were set in pots. One glorious morning saw my first squash and cucumber blossoms. Planted a few sweet potato slips in pots. Netted one raised bed to keep critters away one day; only to discover a few days later that it didn’t work. Sometimes I feel like the critters are laughing at me when I see tomatoes here in the morning and gone by the time I get home from work.

  • June 2 – 30: Traveling and gardening are challenging. Got my drip hose system set up. Looks like I’ll be weeding my melon patch a lot. Throughout the month nature’s rain and drip system have garden growing well; squash, zucchini, cucumber & eggplant blossoming; collards, cabbage, peppers & tomatoes looking nice. Always fascinated by the first showings; this year, tomatoes, peppers and cucumber. Tried netting tomatoes again. By mid-June, Coltrane’s Lush Life is the theme of my garden. Then a week later I realize I can get carried away; planted too much & too close. Zucchini, peppers, cucumber bud. Collards and cabbage were picked & cooked the evening of June 20. It’s a jungle out there but all is well, except critters plucking tomatoes like feathers from a chicken. Distressed over that but keep saying - Joy in the morning! On June 29, got home from teaching yoga class and found that yard guy’s help had tried to move drip hose and messed up melon patch! Yogic spirit left me until I saw first beautiful baby melons. Next day, I was sad all over again seeing my messed-up melon patch & squash BUT joy in the morning to see first eggplant, baby melons, jalapeño/Sante Fe Grande pepper harvest!

  • July 2 – 31: Picked first zucchini on July 2 and left one on the vine. Couple of days later, harvested my first cucumbers. Ants have gotten to my eggplant and Neem oil isn’t working. Lost my first two watermelons. Tried rotating another watermelon and it broke off vine. It wasn’t quite ripe, but nothing goes to waste! New juice recipe was delish. Critters bent down vine laden with tomatoes waiting to strike but picked one ripe one, thinking it might be the only one I get to eat! Even with all the challenges and work travel, July was a good harvest month. Need to create recipe for bumper pepper crop. Told my neighbor to be on the lookout for ripening melons while I was away on work travel. He got the first cantaloupe, but the second one I ripened on the kitchen counter. July 30, cut it in not the most delicate fashion but it was juicy and a little sweet.

  • August 3 – 29: Beginning of the month I prepared light fare - a medley of summer salads with my tomatoes, cucumbers, cantaloupe and gifted blueberries or avocado toast with tomatoes; always with a little vino for dinner. After picking last harvest at the end of the first week, I cleaned up the raised beds & loved on my hot mess of a melon patch. Went on vacation. By August 25, I was home safe and sound after two weeks of Road Trippin’ Sistahs (RV adventure out west with 3 sister friends), Gee’s Bend Quilting Retreat in Canton, MS, and teaching two yoga classes at the ABFE Women in Philanthropy Leadership Retreat in Palm Coast, FL. What do I find upon my return - an overgrown hot mess of a melon patch with melons and I’d left the drip hose turned off! Last week of the month spent consuming melons. Mini melons were actually pretty good; cantaloupe was the best!

  • September 3 – 8: Cut the first of my last 5 watermelons from last week. It was small, but firm, sweet and delicious! Not quite ready to call myself the “Melon Whisperer,” but #2 & itty bitty #3 were really sweet! #4 was firm and tasty but not as sweet as the round Sugar Baby variety. Juiced #5.

This year’s garden season ended August 31, when I had yard man mow over the melon patch. After three years, I’ve learned to not freak out over fire ants, other critters, rain, heat, and all the elements that go with gardening in the Mississippi Delta. And I’m still learning. Hashtags throughout the season were #grateful #mississippigarden #eathealthy #growyourownfood #eatlocal #cooksomething #greenthumb #growfood #lovegardening #growsomething.

Photo credits: @ThirdWardZen, all rights reserved.

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Benita Rivera
Benita Rivera

I love your written voice... not that the Houston grown audio one isn't pleasant, but how you frame a sentence makes me really smile. Thanks for sharing!

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