Last night, the local Master Gardener group met at The Garden, as the sign above the entrance proclaims it, of Mr. Hankerson and Mr. Kastner. The word “garden” seemed like a massive understatement, though.
The first little building I saw driving in was a very cute chicken house.
The Garden is also home to some burros. These compete in shows, dressed up in “outfits,” but the ones we saw were just out standing in their field.
Apparently, Mr. Hankerson and Mr. Kastner have been friends for many years. They used to talk about working a garden together, then one day Mr. Kastner’s wife heard them talking about it and started laughing. She didn’t take them seriously at all, so they got serious about it, and started. Now they have a huge garden, and they give the produce away—to fire stations, children’s homes, senior homes, church pantries, etc.
The primary presentation for the evening was by Mr. Hankerson, who is County Manager for my county. He grew up on a farm in Tennessee, and he earned his undergraduate degree in Agronomy, so he had a lot to share with the rest of us gardeners.
One of the great things that he said was that “the soil test is the best fertilizer there is.” This is so true. Knowledge about the soil’s pH and fertility levels is what the gardener needs most in order to be successful.
The garden’s soil looks like the same red clay that is in my yard, but it has been amended almost yearly with mixed stable-bedding and manure (horse). One year the soil test showed that the pH had gone up over 7, an effect of the horse manure, so they had to skip the manure for a couple of years, but the gardeners are sure that the bedding and manure has made a big improvement in the texture of the soil.
The Garden is large enough that tractors provide a lot of the “muscle” on the property, but not all of it. Most of the weeding is by hand (hoe or rake, actually), in spite of the size of the garden, so some areas had some weeds, but others were pretty much weed free.
Among the many crops in the garden is a big patch of straightneck squash. Some have been felled by the squash vine borers, but plenty of plants here are still alive. This (above) is the second planting of summer squash this season.
I took a picture of a tomato plant, in spite of the weeds, because I am so impressed by the sturdy staking of the cages. I’ve seen the cages of heavy wire (concrete reinforcing wire?) before–that’s what Grandpa Bill uses back in Choctaw, Okla., and we have some cages like that at the Plant-a-Row garden, but these were staked with those steel T-bar fence posts. No matter how top-heavy the plants get, or what kind of storm blows through, those cages are staying upright!
The trick is getting those posts back out of the ground at the end of the season. These guys have a machine to do that, but if I used these at home, they might be in place permanently.
These two gardeners are great at succession planting, too. In the picture below, some kind of Southern peas is nearing maturity on the right, but the just-planted soybeans have a long way to go. The gardeners planted these for edamame, which is pretty popular and high in protein.
I have no idea how many pounds of sweet potatoes this wide row (below) is going to produce, but it’s going to be a lot. Looking down these rows made my garden at home seem pretty puny. Keeping this up has to be a lot of work, and the two men admitted to working hard, but they also said it’s their relaxation after a day at work, or on the weekend.
They’ve planted lots of different kinds of peppers, and they were all beautiful.
The peppers, though, are all in raised beds. The two men said that they were going to be planting more in raised beds to help drainage. Some parts of the property stay wet too long after a rain, and they are thinking that raised beds are the way to go, to eliminate this problem. For irrigation now, the garden uses well water that flows through pipes the men laid themselves, to overhead sprinklers they set up themselves.
My pictures of the okra didn’t turn out well enough to post (it was getting dark…), but the okra was amazing. The variety was Clemson spineless, the same variety we use at the Plant-a-Row garden, but theirs was bushy and less than four feet tall, even though it was obvious from the thickness of the stems that the plants were very mature.
At the Plant-a-Row garden, our big problem with Clemson spineless is that it gets way up over eight feet tall and is hard to harvest, as a result.
I asked about the short okra, and Mr. Hankerson said they prune it early in the season. This makes it short and bushy. The bushiness makes it even more productive, because pods form on every branch. It really was amazing.
Corn was growing in a big raised bed, and the men said that cucumbers had already finished and been pulled out. I don’t remember right now what else I saw, but there was a lot.
The book that the two men have relied on over the years for gardening advice is Garden Way’s Joy of Gardening by Dick Raymond. It seems to have worked well for them.