With obesity a growing problem and concern, vegetable gardens are being rediscovered and promoted as back-to-nature sources of inexpensive, nutritious food and avocations that require exercise as well.
For Westerville residents Chuck and Sally Turner, who live on Walnut Street east of Hoover Reservoir, a vegetable garden is all of those things as well as a long-standing part of their lives. “We always had a garden,” Chuck says, while they raised two children on their one-acre home site since 1979.
Chuck handles most of the vegetable gardening while Sally, secretary of the Westerville Garden Club, is a flower planter and grower – and preparer of an ample supply of frozen food from their garden.
“We grow what we want to eat” in the 40-feet-by-16-feet plot that is somewhat smaller than it once was but, Chuck says, is plenty large enough.
They grow vegetable and flower seedlings in a 12-feet-by-16-feet greenhouse they installed a few years ago, replacing an unused hot tub that was removed.
They had tired of making bulk flower and vegetable plant selections in garden stores, Chuck says, and were also exasperated that “deer treated the garden like a smorgasbord.”
“We used to buy a lot of plants … plant them and hope for the best,” he says.
After he retired from his career as an industrial electrician, Chuck installed a 7-foot-high fence of decorative metal squares strung between poles he placed around the garden.
“I got tired of growing stuff for the deer,” he says. “It keeps them out.”
Chuck doesn’t do early spring outdoor planting, such as potatoes, onions and other cold ground vegetables. “Potatoes are cheap enough in the grocery store,” he says.
Later, though, the garden will have three kinds of tomatoes, acorn squash, zucchini, soy beans, peppers, two kinds of green beans, turnips and a “novelty plant,” which this year is spaghetti squash, Chuck says.
For years, Sally canned much of the produce that was harvested. That evolved into freezing – canning, she says, was much more time-consuming – and she’s still the designated food preserver.
“Veggies I can freeze, I do,” she says.
Usually, the preparation involves blanching the vegetables before putting them into plastic storage bags, which she seals by removing air and moisture with a “seal-a-meal” appliance, Sally explains. She pulverizes tomatoes and freezes juice in containers. Squash slices are separated with wax paper before freezing.
Sally freezes about two handfuls per bag of the soy beans, which are relatively new to the Turner crop. When they’re steamed, the shells crack open, exposing the meat that becomes part of a meal.
Last year, the garden had three “super steak tomato” plants that yielded tomatoes that were larger than softballs, Chuck says. He estimates they weighed 2.5 pounds each and had a combined weight “every bit of 100 pounds.”
Most of those tomatoes, the Turners gave away – which is what they do with much of their produce. Friends and neighbors often receive part of the bounty. The Turners’ daughter, Jill Hotchkiss, a mother of three who lives on the west side of Hoover in Westerville, is on the receiving end, too. Their son, Troy, father of two sons himself, gets a share when he and the family visit from Lafayette, La.
Chuck, meantime, is dealing with a couple of food-related do-overs. He’s a beekeeper, but all his bees inexplicably disappeared last year, apparently wiped out by colony collapse disorder, an affliction with no known cause or cure.
He has cleaned and repainted two hives and planned to add colonies in late April. The garden is bordered by sunflowers and raspberry and blackberry plants. Besides providing nectar, the fruit plants should provide some protection from wind, which Chuck says may have been a problem. He’s trying again because, “I just like messing with bees,” adding, “I’ll sit and watch them come and go” on nectar and pollen treks.
The hive, of course, provides honey. Chuck and a beekeeper friend have cooperatively produced two or three gallons. In his new hives, he’s trying a new kind of queen bee, which might combat the collapse disorder – though he acknowledges “it’s a crapshoot.”
In addition, Chuck removed a large grape arbor on one side of the garden when the 15 to 20 plants aged and died. Chuck concedes he probably should have replaced a few each year to keep the arbor young and alive.
Now he has started again with five plants and a wire, rather than wood, arbor. The intent is only a slight departure from food. “We used the grapes to make wine. Maybe we can make wine again,” he says, though he won’t know for at least three years.
And while he deals with those matters, Sally is planting another batch of home-grown annual flower seedlings of various kinds to add to perennials – likewise of a vast assortment – in beds around a pond and in other places as their generous yard springs back to life for yet another growing season.
Duane St. Clair is a contributing editor. Feedback welcome at email@example.com.