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Published: Wednesday, 8/11/2010

Weed It & Reap: Jeff Malewski

BY TAHREE LANE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Jeff Malewski, six foot, three inches tall, standing next to "Mortgage Lifters" an heirloom tomato which he planted from seeds. Jeff Malewski, six foot, three inches tall, standing next to "Mortgage Lifters" an heirloom tomato which he planted from seeds.
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Name: Jeff Malewski, semi-retired plumber, living in the Reynolds Corners neighborhood of Toledo.

Garden specs: What started last year as a 16-foot-by-22-foot-garden plot in the back corner of the yard grew into a much larger garden squeezed into just about every space available this year. Most of this had been grass.

Seven beds with lengths up to 34 feet by 2 feet and 30 feet by 4 feet offer seven varieties of tomato, six varieties of pepper, and nine varieties of tobacco.

When did you start gardening?: Last year. It was my intent to help my friends who have a gardening business in Colorado gain some exposure in this area. Their great advice kept me out of a lot of trouble.

What do you grow?: I didn't want to grow something I could walk down to Monnette's Market and buy, so I tried to find a selection that would be unusual.

I've been rolling my own cigarettes for about 10 years. In April, 2009, my costs about tripled: a six-ounce bag of Gambler went up from $6.99 to about $18. When they hit me with the tobacco taxes I asked what my friend had in the way of tobacco and he sent me plants. Last year I had 32 tobacco plants and this year 73 plants are in the ground and more are in pots, grown from seed I've purchased or saved.

Last year I got about eight pounds of tobacco. That would have cost about $30 to $40 a pound. It wasn't the most pleasant-smelling in the world because it didn't cure properly; a big part of that was lack of ventilation. I'm building a framework to hang it. It's been an education.

I followed a lot of my friend's recommendations last year and came up with some really great tomatoes and peppers. The Mortgage Lifter heirloom beefsteak and Snow White cherry tomatoes grew to over six feet and produced some great tomatoes. I've added new varieties this year. Three varieties of chili pepper and two varieties of sweet pepper along with a mix of roma and Big Boy round out the tomatoes and peppers.

Nine celery plants are local-greenhouse starts along with the green peppers. Radish, carrots, and green onions are from seeds.

What do you get out of it?: I get the satisfaction of having done this mostly by myself along with the enjoyment of some great produce. I find a great deal of peace and serenity in tending to my plants. Then there is the wonder and amazement at watching my plants develop.

Hours spent gardening: I'm out in the garden nearly from sunrise to sunset daily.

Annual expense: I've had some start-up expenses with the construction of the greenhouse (from salvaged lumber and 4-mill plastic sheeting) and acquiring the seed and starter trays.

The greenhouse is a work in progress as it lacks a door and adequate ventilation, and there will be the expense of building a framework inside to hang my tobacco crop for curing. I'd guess that my costs are in the neighborhood of $200-250 so far, and I'm hoping I can complete it for another $100.

Challenges: My biggest challenge is that I'm sight-impaired and a lot of times I'm doing it by feel. My limited vision is classified as legally blind but I've been pushing the envelope ever since completing blind rehabilitation in 2001. My limited vision was cause for a couple of errors which Linda at the Smoke Shack and Brian at Roger's Barber Shop can attest to. I gave them plants early in the season, and discovered that what I had given them were weeds that had overrun my starter trays. I caught the mistake and replaced their weeds with good plants. I can smile and laugh about it now, but the fallout from that is an entire row of my peppers had to be replaced. No sweet banana peppers this year or habenero and Hungarian black peppers.

I may have inadvertently pulled up broccoli starts too. The romaine lettuce didn't sprout or maybe I pulled them out by mistake. And I didn't get the cucumbers and melons planted. Next year will be better.

Tobacco seedlings which Jeff Malewski will try to grow in his greenhouse. Tobacco seedlings which Jeff Malewski will try to grow in his greenhouse.
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I'm proud of: The fact that I've done this mostly by myself. And I'll be very pleased to take my excess harvest to the Little Flower Catholic Church food pantry for donation to help those in need.

Most-used tool: It would probably be my shovel, as I have turned everything by hand. My limited vision prevents me from doing an effective job with a garden tiller. Instead, I set stakes at each corner of the bed and tie twine from stake to stake; I can then turn the soil in the bed without getting too far outside my borders.

Words to the wise: Plan your garden before getting started, giving attention to sun exposure and drainage. What is sunny in early spring may not be as sunny once the trees have filled out.



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