And welcome to the first edition of my new feature, ‘GrowLove’. Basically an excuse for me to pick the brains of my favorite gardeners. First up, is my dad Randy.
My dad is the kind of gardener who shows up at family campouts with a cooler full of giant heads of cauliflower, enormous carrots and lush collard greens. His ability to grow healthy and beautiful plants is definitely one that any gardener might envy. He once espaliered an apple tree and a rose bush together on the side of our garage. It was one of the most gorgeous feats of pruning I’ve ever seen.
He’s been a big inspiration and influence on me as a gardener. So when I saw Gayla Trail’s latest ‘Grow Write Guild’ post, I knew he would be someone I’d have to interview. Luckily, I was home over the weekend, so I got to take a few pictures of his current vegetable garden.
Below is a rough transcript of our recent phone conversation, complete with tips for novice composters!
Hey Dad. How’s it growing? (tee-hee)
Hi Erin. I’m actually out in my garden right now. My beans are starting to do good so I’m babying those.
How are you babying them?
Leveling the soil, fertilizing with a solid organic fertilizer, watering and cultivating. I’m careful with that, you know the more you disturb the soil the more you’re disconnecting the mycorrhizae.
Why are you leveling the soil?
That makes it so that the water distributes evenly.
Okay, so what does your garden say about you?
It says I enjoy eating out of the garden. I like helping the environment, cutting down on transportation costs. Keeping things natural and organic. Simplifying. “Simplify, simplify” remember?
What early experiences led to you becoming a gardener?
Well, my dad forced me to weed the flower beds when I was a kid. Also, you know it was part of the hippie days to grow your own food. I was a little bit good at it and I liked it.
Why is it important to you to garden organically? [I had to ask him this question, because I know that gardening organically has always been one of his guiding principles over the years, and he always has such high-performing gardens.]
Because you cut back on using the oil based fertilizer and pesticides that have been linked to some diseases. They’ve only been around for a hundred years. I think of a garden as living with nature, which those synthetic things aren’t. So what’s the point of that? And nature’s so complicated…why slow it down?
What people have been your big gardening influences?
Probably Gene’s dad, a guy I worked with at the lumberyard. I made a delivery to his dad in Orting. His garden was amazing. It went alongside the house all the way from the alley to the street. He had about three fifty-foot rows of kohlrabi. I’d never even heard of a kohlrabi before. And I was like this is awesome.
And then every once in a while, I see an 80 year old with a huge garden, like they really know their stuff and it’s nice to see it in person, not just in a magazine.
I agree, older gardeners are definitely a great source of inspiration.
What got me going recently was taking a biology class and reestablishing my respect for the complexity of biological things.
Like at night, it’s pretty scary with the nightcrawlers.
Well they stick out their hole, half their body out, just flopped on the ground. When they see you, they slip back in their holes really fast.
That’s so cool! Why are you out in your garden at night?
Catching slugs. I checked for slugs and snails pretty often for the first two months of my garden, twice a day. I threw them across the creek, by the time I got them thinned out, I started using safe slug bait. Not the nasty stuff. But I still keep my eye out for them so I don’t have to kill them. I’ve also got lots of toads. They pop up in the weirdest places. There was one in my fire pit this morning.
Has being a father changed the way you garden?
Well you just try to plant things that your kids can eat right out of the garden. You guys used to go out and pick things when you were teensy kids.
Most of your vegetable gardens incorporate flowers, why?
At first it was because of companion planting, and I like edible flowers too. I like flowers in general. It’s nice if you’re working on the garden so much to have some flowers to look at. And it attracts bees and butterflies.
Any tips for novice composters? [My dad’s been composting for as long as I can remember, and always produces large amounts of beautiful black and rich compost that he uses generously on the garden. I think this might be one of the secrets to his giant vegetables.]
You know you can order a free pamphlet on composting from the government. I like ‘Compost’ by H.H. Koep. [This may be out of publication but here's a useful how-to guide that I found online] There’s different ways to make compost, you don’t want to have too much dirt. About 20% at most. I like to use lots of weeds, use those whenever possible, grass clippings are good. When you bring out your kitchen waste, mix it in good. It’s important to turn it. I move my compost and keep it watered all summer. Manure’s good, maybe 10% or so.
My compost piles are usually about seven feet wide, and six feet tall. It reduces down to about 5 feet tall. Make it as long as you want. I usually turn it in over the fall. Mainly I use stuff out of my goat pen, or from gardening customers. You might have to go out of your way to get good materials, if you’re working on your garden a lot, you may not have a lot of weeds. But it’s worth it.
Awesome. Dad thanks so much for talking with me today!
Thank you Erin. Good luck with your garden!