An Interview With My Grandfather, the Gardener

GrandfatherintheGardenLeonard da Vinci said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.”  The same hold true for the garden.  It is a constant work in progress.  The idea in your head may never be fully realized.  I have learned a lot already and the season isn’t over.  Given my lack of success with much of what I am growing, I decided to interview my hardworking grandfather to see what makes him such a great gardener.

When did you start gardening?

When I was six years old.  A farmer would come with his mule and hand plow.  I would ride on the sled as they broke up lumps of dirt.  My grandmother was a great gardener.  My grandfather wasn’t, he was a stone mason.  As the years passed, my dad was the gardener.  I am 86 years old and still garden.  The only time I didn’t garden was the four years I was in the Navy.

How did you learn to garden?

I worked on my dad’s garden, spading, etc.  I watched and learned.

What do you like the most about gardening?

I like harvesting the most.  I like tomatoes, potatoes, peas, lettuce, and spinach the best.

Which is your least favorite thing to plant?

I don’t like to plant carrots because of pests.

What’s something you should always grow in your garden?

Beans, they put nitrates in the ground.

What have you been least successful growing?

I never had much success starting tomatoes or peppers in the house.  My sense of humor has been greatly enhanced by buying plants.

What do you use to keep out the wildlife?

I have a fence and mesh surrounding the garden.  However, deer still manage to hop the 4’ fence.  I also keep a BB gun handy (just to scare the critters, not hurt them).

Have you ever had a bad year gardening?

Weather can make for a bad year.  I dislike early frosts and wet springs.

Do you save any of your seeds?

I save the bean seeds, but the rest I buy every year.  The Italian Pole Beans were brought here after WWI.  A woman snuck them in in her pocket.  She shared them with my grandmother who shared them with my dad who shared them with me.

What are some general tips you have for a new gardener?

Use hand tools, no mechanical devices.  That way you can appreciate the dirt and see what you’re doing.  Apply organic mulch when you’re spading and test the soil for acidity.  You should water any transplants bought in the store.  I only use Sevin for pests, no other chemicals.

Do you have any tips for dealing with hot weather?

In severe dry weather, water plants with a watering can between 6am-9am.

What tips do you have for harvesting vegetables?

Harvest them when they’re ready, don’t let them grow old on the vine.

Do you use mulch in your garden?

I mulch during the growing season with mushroom soil from a local nursery.  I spade it under in the fall.  It keeps the ground pliable.  I use lime and 10-10-10 fertilizer when planting.  I like to use bagged commercial manure.  You get a lot of weeds using fresh manure.

Do you compost?

I use compost bins.  Don’t put meat or bones in it.

Is there anything you don’t grow anymore?

I don’t grow corn anymore.  It gets too hot and dry in the summer.  I buy it from local produce stands.

Do you have anything else to add?

I love gardening because nobody bothers you for anything…They’re afraid I’ll put them to work.

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