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Use it or lose it — Garden Mama inspires gardeners at Expo

March 6, 2011

By Gwen Sisson

She said she hated to say, “use it or lose it,” but gardeners must walk the garden every day.
The popular radio talk show host “Garden Mama” Nellie Neal told audiences at Sunday’s Everything Garden Expo that walking in the garden every day is the best way to keep up with what is happening.
She said walking the garden will help the gardener see things develop and catch problems early. Neal shared numerous ideas and stories from a lifetime passion for gardening in Sunday’s educational seminar at the Expo.
Growing up, Neal said her mom would encourage her to expand her tastes for new vegetables from the garden.
“She would say ‘close your eyes and taste this,’” Neal said.
Some of her tips from today’s event include:
• Corn needs to be in the ground in Mississippi on March 21. Neal said she likes to start her seeds in a peat pot two weeks before, in order to put plants in the ground instead of seeds. She said the cold ground is as problematic as cold air.
• Root crops need six to eight inches of soil that “crumbles” in the hand. The right soil is vital to root crops and hard ground makes for crooked carrots. She also suggested planting root crops in containers for optimum space.
• April 4 is “the” day to plant beans in this area. Neal said her goal every year is to have homegrown beans by Mother’s Day. She is passionate about heirloom plants of all types, and brought heirloom Lynch beans as a “door prize.”
• Neal said the soil and the air are too cold right now for tomatoes and peppers in Mississippi. She suggested any plants purchased at the Expo be used as houseplants until mid-to-late April.
• Squash needs to be fertilized every 10 to 12 days. She said squash needs to be pushed, but it is not a plant typically associated with “pushing.”
• Use a paper towel roll to protect cucumber plants from cut worms. Neal said by the time the plant has outgrown the protective paper towel roll, it will not need it.
• All melons need a reservoir for water and fertilizer. She said gardeners think about giving pumpkins all the water and fertilizer they need in the heat of summer, but melons need the reservoir just as much in the spring.
• Neal said when planting tomatoes in the ground in mid-to-late April, bury half of the stem in order to establish a solid root system.
“Whatever system you create, make it your own and make it work for you,” Neal said.
A question and answer period followed.
Everything Garden Expo Director Emily Jones said they are “extremely pleased” with this year’s event.
“I have learned so much from the speakers, I think I can become a gardener now,” Jones said.
Jones said the event has been a community effort, with over 300 volunteers working over the weekend to help visitors and 54 vendors have a wonderful time at the event.
“It is so gratifying to see this event in its third year, continue to grow,” Jones said. “We want this event to be a driving force to bring people to Starkville each year.”
Jones said organizers have set March 3-4, 2012 as the date for next year’s event.

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