Home grown: Taste the difference backyard veggies make

HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - People who grow their own fruits and vegetables say there's nothing that compares to the taste of a vine ripened tomato, or a fresh squash plucked straight from the garden.  And believe it or not, gardening at home doesn't have to be complicated.

"I'm sort of a laissez fare gardener.  You live or you die," says Diane Field.

Even when she was a little girl, Field says she loved to garden.  Now she tends two raised gardens, filled with a variety of fruits and vegetables, tucked away behind her Bayou Oaks home in Gulfport.

"We have peppers and herbs, cantaloupe, cucumbers.  Lots of cucumbers, and squash," explains Field. "We have fun because we can eat it, and it's fun for kids you know, to come and pick and see how it grows."

Field is a neurologist by trade, so she knows the nutritional value of eating fresh food.   And she says you just can't beat the taste of fresh-picked veggies.

"I won't buy grocery store tomatoes. They don't taste good.  I love my summer tomatoes, and I have like five or six different kinds." Field goes on to say, "Same thing with the peppers and the squash. Everything just tastes different because you know in the grocery store, it's been there a while."

There's a lot to be said for that homegrown freshness.

"We're really getting more in touch with the health of our planet, as well as the health of our bodies," explains Dr. Christine Coker.

Dr. Coker has worked as a vegetable researcher for Mississippi State University for 11 years.  She says in that time, she's seen an explosion in home gardening.

"What I think we're seeing now in terms of gardening trend, is people are looking at it from a nutritional and economic standpoint. South Mississippi is covered up in food deserts," says Dr. Coker.  "And a food desert basically means that there's not ready access to fresh, nutritious, healthy safe food."

So if you are one of the many people considering starting your own garden, here's some advice from the self proclaimed, "Veggie-doctor:"

First, start with a soil test.

"The kind of soil you have isn't as important as the health of your soil," she says.  "What a soil test will tell you is the Ph of your soil. And we can give you recommendations on how much nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium that your garden needs."

If you're interested in getting your soil tested you can pick up a soil test kit at your local county extension service office.  That's also where you can get some great tips for starting your own garden.

Second on the list, water.  Dr. Coker says any vegetable garden really needs a steady source of water.

"You can do that with a garden hose, a soaker hose, a sprinkler, there are all kinds of ways to water a garden."

And don't forget full sun.  Gardens need about six to eight hours of good sun to thrive.

Dr. Coker also says raised beds like the ones Diane Field uses in her back yard, are a great way to garden.  They cut down on weeds, tend to drain better, and keep everything contained.

And a final reminder, in order to truly enjoy the fruits of your labor, be sure and plant food that you and your family will enjoy cooking and eating.

"You can invest as much time, money and energy as you want to in it," says Dr. Coker.  "But if it becomes such a stressful burden, then you're missing the point. Gardening is fun."

Some more food for thought - According to the MSU Extension office, most of the fruits and veggies you find at the grocery store travel about 1,800 miles from producer to consumer, which usually takes several days, which can take a few days.

Some people like to take gardening a step further, and grow 100% USDA certified organic fruits and vegetables.  That's the case with Jeff and Pat Scrimsher.  The chickens, eggs, okra, sweet peppers and corn found on their Saucier farm is all certified organic.

"We do our own verma composting.  We incorporate our own bees for pollination," explains Pat Scrimsher. "We do not buy anything in bags or chemicals, or insecticides. No pesticides. No herbicides."

Yes, everything is natural.  From the wood-chip mulch, to the rich compost used for soil. The Scrimshers have spent two years creating this fertile oasis, a cornucopia of fresh fruits and veggies, readily available in their own back yard.

"I think we've grown over 138 varieties of different things totally," recalls Pat.

"More than 50% of our food that we actually eat right now comes from off this farm.  And some days when we eat, you know, our dinner, 100% of that food came from here," explains her husband, Jeff.  "It's all certified. It was all ripened. It wasn't trucked anywhere."

What you see in the Scrimsher's organic garden is the product of a lot of hard work.  Being USDA certified means you have to meet certain criteria. The biggest one  - your land has to be completely chemical free for several years.

Jeff says, "Anybody can transition a property that they're currently using synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. They can transition that into an organic, fully certified organic farm if they like.  But it takes a three year process to uh completely clear the land of synthetics."

"We follow all the rules," says Pat. "We have to do a lot of paperwork.  Have to keep a lot of, I think like 26 reports."

Despite all that work, Jeff and Pat say the love the challenge and are constantly rewarded with their harvest.

"The food tastes so much better," according to Pat.  "It's a much higher rate of nutrition in it because the food is allowed to grow at its own rate and it's not forced to grow too fast, and it has much more nutrition and vitamins and the taste is just incredible."

And to think, all it takes is a little dirt, some water, and lots of sunshine.

"I'm actually working inside mother nature's system, and I really enjoy that," says Jeff.

As for bugs, well the Scrimshers admit they have a few. But they say not all bugs are bad.  And any that are, usually are eaten by their natural predators.

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