Green thumb grows

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May 19, 2011 - 12:00 AM

GAS — The concept of organic gardening has been around for centuries.
“Our forefathers didn’t use chemicals in their fields, and Native Americans knew that if they combined the planting of corn and beans the crops would replenish the nitrogen in the soil,” said gardener Bruce Jacobs.
Jacobs proclaims to be obsessed with gardening.
“I read every book that I can find about gardening. I like to experiment with my crops to produce healthier and more tasty vegetables without the use of chemicals or at least minimize the amount of chemicals that I might use,” he said.
Jacobs didn’t always enjoy gardening. As a youth his family moved frequently. By the time he was in eighth grade he had lived in six states and attended 16 different schools. His father was in construction and the family moved to wherever his father could find work.
“We always had a big garden. In the beginning the garden was a family project, but after about five weeks what we kids heard was get out and weed the garden. It wasn’t fun,” he said.
It was in the 1990s that Jacobs caught gardening fever and has been going strong since.
Jacobs and his family moved to Gas in 2004 when he was hired as a technology teacher at Iola Middle School. He said he chose his home in Gas because it had plenty of land to put in a garden and the enclosed back porch provided room to start and store plants for the garden.
When most people envision a garden they see a pristine area with straight rows that are weed-free.
“It took me a long time to get past the notion that a garden should be picture-perfect,” he said.
A few weeds don’t harm a garden. It is also a good idea to mix up the crops.
“I like to plant six-feet rows of green beans, then maybe I’ll add an eggplant or two and then continue with the beans. The same is true with my potatoes. I plant a few hills of potatoes and then a couple of eggplant before going back to my potatoes,” he said.
The reasoning behind the rotation of plants in the garden is simple. The perfume of the eggplants will draw potato bugs causing them to leave the potatoes alone, he said.
Traditional row by row planting can be overwhelming for the novice gardener. Jacobs suggests a person start with a small garden. Perhaps only a couple of tomato plants and maybe a zucchini plant or two.
For the person with limited space container gardening is an option to grow fresh vegetables. The container can be placed along a driveway or by a patio.
If a person isn’t sure about plowing up their yard for a garden, he can buy a bag of potting soil, cut a slit in the top and plant some tomatoes and pepper plants. At the end of the growing season the potting soil can be dumped in the yard.
“I would also tell people not to get in a hurry to plant their tomatoes. I would wait until the middle of May unless they plan to cover them in case of a late frost,” he said.
Jacobs plants two to three wild sunflowers in his garden each season to lure bugs away from his vegetables. The sunflower sap attracts June bugs and beetles, he said.
Bugs that Jacobs wants to see in his garden are ladybugs and praying mantises which eat bugs that are harmful to plants such as aphids.
Aphids are tiny, soft-bodied insects that attach themselves to tender plant parts and suck out the plant fluids. Two aphids can become 10,000 in a week if not controlled. Ladybugs will eat the aphids without harming the plant, Jacobs said.
“People need to stop and think that not all bugs and spiders are harmful to a garden. The same can be said for a toad which will help keep the bug population down in a garden,” he said.
Home gardening has had a resurgence in the past few years with the high cost of fuel. Food grown locally or within a couple hundred miles is more nutritious than food that is shipped from across the country.
“If you buy food grown in another state that has to be shipped it is picked before it ripens on the vine. When a tomato is picked green the tomato loses its sweetness and is oftentimes hard and tasteless,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs takes advantage of the weekly farmers market on the Iola square to sell the fruits of his labor. Jacobs has had lettuce, spinach and asparagus at the farmers market and potted Christmas light peppers. The ornamental peppers form a crown about the size of a basketball and turn from purple to red, orange and yellow.
In the coming weeks Jacobs will have fresh raspberries followed by zucchini and tomatoes.
Jacobs welcome any questions about gardening. People may stop by his booth at the farmers market or call him at 365-8115.

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