Natchez siblings cultivate family tradition with gardening

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 22, 2009

Beth Dudley can still remember her father’s garden.

Spanning two acres in their backyard and full of a myriad of vegetables, the garden was a love of his, she said.

Dudley let the earth reclaim those two acres, but she hasn’t let gardening go.

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Five years ago, she moved back to Natchez to take care of her father, who had Alzheimer’s disease, and who recently died following this interview.

“My dad has always had a garden, and when I came back and started taking care of him, he wasn’t able to have one, so I started it again,” Dudley said.

Dudley’s brother, Kinney Carlton, said it was their father’s love of gardening that gave each of them a green thumb.

With Carlton and Dudley’s gardens combined, fresh vegetables are aplenty.

This winter alone, Dudley stuffed her garden with asparagus, broccoli, kale, brussels sprouts, mustard and turnip greens.

The butternut squash didn’t make it, but that’s OK.

“I think gardening is all about experiment,” Dudley said. “It’s fun to try new things.”

The vegetable plot in her backyard rotates its crops with the seasons and ensures a plateful of nutrition daily.

“The organic stuff you get in the grocery is so expensive,” she said.

And having fresh vegetables is important to her and was to her father, as well.

She said her father was also a borderline diabetic.

“I try to control that with the diet, eating healthy and eating lots of vegetables,” Dudley said. “The more natural fruits and vegetables you can have to watch the sugar — we do try to eat healthy.”

Aside from being healthy, Dudley said it’s downright delicious.

Dudley said she loves growing spinach for salads.

“There’s nothing better than picking your own salad,” she said.

The same goes for her tomatoes.

“There’s no better time of the year that tomatoes are as good as when they’re coming out of your garden,” Dudley said.

While Dudley provides most of the green vegetables, Carlton has starches covered.

Carlton said he focuses mainly on potatoes, and throws in some corn and okra, too.

And when it comes to his vegetables versus grocery vegetables, Carlton said there’s no turning back.

Carlton said he grows merit sweet corn, and most farmers grow silver queen.

“I think the merit is the better of the sweet corn,” he said.

He also prefers his fresh vegetables to organic vegetables sold in grocery stores.

“We’re not organic farmers,” he said. “I believe that in the current legal pesticides, there’s nothing in there that would be harmful to you. I like weed free and insect free gardens, I don’t like a bunch of stinkbug punctures in my food.”

He also said organic farming with manure fertilizer can expose growing plants to E. coli, so he said he likes to know where his vegetables are coming from.

Carlton’s garden is roughly a quarter of an acre, and when his crops come, they come.

“Okra is very prolific,” he said.

His potatoes and corn will spread like wildfire, Carlton said, and even with the deer munching on his corn, there’s still a lot of excess.

Dudley said she runs into that, as well with her garden.

So, they start sharing.

“It’s really nice to have a mound of stuff to take to church and share it,” Dudley said.

Carlton said that’s just the nature of the gardener.

“I think that’s generally what you see with folks that have gardens,” he said. “When they have excess, they get whatever they need for the deep freeze, and they start giving it away.”

Dudley said with the rising prices of fresh produce in the stores, she anticipates home gardening becoming a trend.

“Now with the price of everything, I think people more and more will be growing their own things,” she said.

She said keeping a garden can be relatively simple, but Carlton said as long as it reflects the amount of time an individual can spend tending to it.

“You just have to take the time,” he said. “We’ve got so much going on now, it’s getting harder and harder, so the garden gets smaller and smaller.”

“Weeds and insects in a very large garden is what keeps most people from having gardens too big.”

But Dudley said if controlled, a garden is simple thing to maintain.

“It’s so simple even a kid can do it,” Dudley said of gardening.

And that’s exactly what Dudley, the president of the Adams County Master Gardeners, is teaching to a younger generation of green thumbs.

To fourth grade classes at Cathedral Elementary have two 4-feet-by-4-feet plots planted with sugar snap peas, garlic, carrots, greens, cabbage, broccoli, spinach and brussels sprouts.

The children learned that even during the winter, vegetables can be planted.

Dudley had printed a list of winter vegetables off the Internet, and the children chose what they wanted to.

After the kids made their choices, they pulled up grass and weeds in their plots and tested the soil.

The next steps the children took were to plant the seeds, place mulch and then watch everything grow.

The Master Gardeners go back every other week to talk with the children about the plants and when Dudley addresses the children, they answer questions with knowledge and excitement.

“What they learn is everything about a garden,” Dudley said.

And when the children are asked if they think what they’re doing is work they say, “It’s been fun work.”

When it comes time for the vegetables to be collected, the teachers will cook up the vegetables for the children.

The empty plots will then be planted with strawberries for the spring, then to be replaced with pumpkins for the fall, Dudley said.