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He pushes the stake through the trellis, preparing for when the vines of his tomato plants climb their way to the top. Once the tomatoes mature, the stake will give them support to keep them from toppling over onto the ground.
Local gardener Maurice Pickett is growing five varieties of tomatoes this year, including an heirloom variety called the German Pink tomato. He said heirloom tomatoes can be traced back more than 100 years, grown generation after generation because of their productivity and resistance to disease.
Also popping up throughout his otherwise orderly garden are a few “volunteer” cherry tomato plants from four years ago. Some of the tomatoes weren’t picked and fell off the vine to decay.
“And a lot of that seed goes into the ground so the next year you didn’t plant it, but it volunteers and comes up,” Pickett said.
For beginning gardeners, Pickett said tomatoes are a great place to start. With several decades of experience working in a garden, Pickett said much of what he learns is from mistakes he made in previous years. While he has had the most success with gardening at his home on Lebanon Avenue, where he has lived since 1977, Pickett isn’t predicting this growing season to be a bountiful one.
“I’m not sure how the hail storm affected everybody, but it did affect me,” Pickett said. “I had quite a bit of damage to my fruit crop.”
Pickett said his apple and plum trees as well as his blackberry and grape plants were damaged in the hailstorm that came through Campbellsville on May 22. His success in 2012 and last year also mean his fruit trees will likely produce lighter than usual harvests.
“Sometimes, especially on apple production, if a tree really produces heavily one year, it seems like the following year it falls off considerably,” Pickett said. “Some of the energy that went into producing those apples in that good year, you just don’t have that available to you the following year.”
A harsh winter with several days of continuous freezing temperatures followed by an early wet season also caused many gardeners to get off to a late start this year, according to Taylor County Extension Agent for Agriculture & Natural Resources Pat Hardesty. But since then, conditions have improved and are now favorable for a healthy growing season.
“Our summer crops have really started growing since we’ve been having these warm night temperatures,” Hardesty said. “It seems like the last couple of weeks have been great growing conditions.”
He said this has been especially helpful for corn, beans and squash. So far, Hardesty said there have been few problems with plant diseases with the exception of root diseases on beans and cabbage. Because of frequent rainfall, weeds seem to be biggest challenge facing gardeners.
“Many parts of the state are dry, so we’ve been fortunate with the rain we’ve had,” Hardesty said.
Pickett said he has noticed there are a lot of urban gardeners in the area who have impressive gardens, especially those who are retired and can devote a lot of time to tending their gardens. Unfortunately for Pickett, the growing season is also one of the busiest times of the year for his heating and cooling business. Therefore, he said he only gets to work three or four hours in his garden each week.
But he doesn’t let that prevent him from enjoying his favorite varieties of vegetables, even if his Mountain Half Runner green beans are considered too labor-intensive for some. “That’s kind of an old-timey tried and true bean,” Pickett said. “It’s a string bean and a lot of people don’t want to go through the trouble of stringing the bean,” Pickett. “But really I think they have the best flavor.”
The winter months also resulted in some disappointment for Jane Horn, who lost some tea rose plants when the temperatures dropped. She still has some that are weak and isn’t sure if they will last the year. “Roses are an investment and they take a lot of care,” Horn said.
In addition to her flowers, Horn also grows some tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, green beans and corn at her farm on Saloma Road. She has lived on a farm her entire life and has helped work a garden as long as she can remember. But her passion is for her tea roses.
Unlike her knockout roses, which are very low-maintenance, Horn said tea roses require a lot of commitment. As soon as the leaves start growing, Horn said that’s when the work begins. If roses aren’t sprayed with fungicide early enough, she said they will develop black spot. And they must be sprayed again every week.
“The first time I fertilize them, I give them a dose of Epsom salt - it’s a mineral - to give them a little extra boost,” Horn said. Then about every 30 to 45 days, she fertilizes them again.
“Right now, they’re kind of in a lull and then they’ll come again,” Horn said. “Roses will do their very best in the spring and very best in the fall. Real hot weather doesn’t work very well for tea roses.”
She suggests having plants such as lilies that grow well in hotter temperatures so the garden will look nice all summer. Horn, a retired family and consumer sciences teacher, said she is thankful she can go outside and work because she knows a lot of people can’t at her age.
“It keeps you active,” Horn said. “At my age, you have to do some things to stay active. I enjoy getting out there, I love seeing them bloom, I like taking bouquets to people. And it’s good physical exercise.”
Horn is also a member of the Busy Bloomers gardening club. The group meets the second Monday at 1 p.m. every month at the Taylor County Cooperative Extension office. All gardeners are welcome. For more information, call Horn at (270) 465-5605.