Natchez gardener overcomes lack of rain with TLC

Published 12:08 am Wednesday, May 12, 2010

If James Huff was the super hero of gardening his secret weapon would be simple TLC.

Huff, a 60-year veteran gardener, has started picking vegetables from his backyard garden, but the work this year hasn’t been easy.

The extra dry spring has put up a tough fight, but Huff said he doesn’t back down to weather very easily. Instead, almost like clockwork, Huff meticulously tends to weeds, bug infestations, pesky birds and, of course, watering.

“We haven’t had a bit of rain,” Huff said Tuesday morning. “The dirt clots are from when I broke up the garden back in March, and they haven’t melted at all. I can’t remember a spring that has ever been this dry.”

Huff planted tomatoes, squash, butter beans, okra, watermelons, cantaloupes and corn in his spring vegetable garden and has picked squash and tomatoes already. He has watermelons and cantaloupes just beginning to sprout fruit.

Adams County Extension Service Director David Carter said Huff isn’t in the dry boat alone. He said there are parts of the county that have seen less than a half inch of rain since the beginning of April.

“We’ve been in droughts plenty of times,” Carter said. “But, we aren’t even in summer time yet and for it to already be this bad in spring isn’t a good sign for what the summer might bring.

“It is looking like we might have a good chance for rain this weekend, but we said that last weekend, too.”

Huff said almost daily watering is what has been successful for him and it is that kind of attention that, he believes, has his plants producing so well under the dry circumstances.

At 79, Huff said he’s been planting, tending to and eating fresh, home-grown vegetables since his childhood growing up in Amite County. He said gardening was a way of survival during the hard days of the Great Depression.

“When I grew up we were poor, but we weren’t the only family that was poor,” Huff said. “We raised everything to have it to eat. If you didn’t grow it, you didn’t have it.”

Huff said while times have changed, he has never lost the desire to grow his own vegetables and often is fortunate enough to have plenty of produce to share.

“We’ve already eaten squash once this year,” he said. “Growing it yourself beats anything you can get in the grocery store.”

Right now, Huff said he’s hoping for three days of steady rainfall, but is prepared to keep up his maintenance routine if Mother Nature doesn’t comply.

“Its been a long time since we’ve had any rain in that gauge,” Huff said pointing to the plastic collection gauge attached to the fence entering his garden. “It may have some rain in it very early in the spring, but nothing recently.”

Carter said, if rain doesn’t fall, a heavy watering several times a week is typically more beneficial than daily, light watering.

“It is always better to have deep root saturation with a heavy watering,” Carter said. “A lot of times plants will have root problems that can be caused by over watering, but there are also obvious problems with under watering.

“When plants start to put out, the demand for water does go up a little bit.”

When they start producing fruit, Huff said, that is the best time for him.

“Not much beats fresh garden-grown vegetables,” Huff said. “I do the growing and my wife does the cooking, and however she cooks them, that is the way I like them.”