Tuesday, Apr 24, 2018
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Weed it & Reap

Dave Clarke and Jody Smith: Saving money, having fun


Dave Clarke and Jody Smith kneel with their pet pugs next to the garden.


Name: Dave Clarke and Jody Smith, both employed by Wood County Juvenile Court, living just outside Grand Rapids in McClure.

Garden specs: 30-feet-by-36-feet with room for expansion. We have two acres.

When did you start gardening? In 2008 when we moved to the property. We noticed there was a patch from the previous owners, and the lady who lived here left a tiller, so we figured we’d make a garden. Also, both my sons have gardens and they helped with suggestions.

What do you grow? Two-thirds of it is corn (two varieties), tomatoes, several kinds of lettuces, peppers (hot, mild, and green), musk and watermelons, asparagus, carrots, cucumbers, broccoli. Next year we’ll add onions and garlic. We also have a tart cherry tree, two pear trees (we can some), two apple trees (my next project is to learn about them), and wild blackberries.

Favorite plant: Definitely tomatoes. We make a lot of salsa.

Give us a gardening tip: No matter how large or small the plot, give gardening a try and learn how to can what you grow. Buy the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving for excellent tips to get started and just have fun with it.

And I couldn’t be happier with my irrigation system. My son gave us a two old fiberglass water tanks, 300 and 100 gallons. I didn’t know what to do with them but didn’t want to turn them down because he was very excited about it. I finally decided to put them in back of the garage to collect rain water from the roof, and plumbed them together with PVC pipes and valves.

We installed the Drip Depot watering system in about 2½ hours and hooked it up to the water tanks. The system has a small, adjustable dripper at each of my 24 vegetables, and in one hour will deliver a half-gallon of water to each plant. I use exactly 12 gallons of water each time I turn it on, and have plenty of water left for all of our other needs.

Hours spent gardening: Tilling and planting take about two to three hours, and after that it’s one and a half to two hours a week to weed. My whole goal is a garden with the least amount of work: I want to figure out ways to save us labor and still have good yields. I don’t want to go out and fool around with the garden all the time.

Annual expense: Approximately $65 which includes seeds, plants, compost, etc. — truly minimal compared to what you would pay at the store for these vegetables. And this year, I spent $57 for the watering system.

Challenges: Keeping up with the weeds in the lawn and garden, mostly crabgrass which is rampant where we live, and the occasional tomato worm. We pull off the tomato worms and feed them to the bluegill in our pond. If you’ve never seen this, it is a real thrill to watch. The bluegill look like little piranhas, they attack the worm and rip it to shreds.

Another challenge is trying to keep our pug, Minigoat, out of the cherry tomatoes which she absolutely loves. She will trot out to the garden and pick one at a time right off the plant and eat them.

I’m proud of: Being able to pass along the knowledge of gardening and canning to others, and supplying family and friends with the best salsa ever (plenty of garlic and everything is fresh). And continuing to learn as we “grow.”

What I’ve learned gardening: Gardening is more of a pleasure for us than work because it gives us satisfaction knowing our food is safe, healthy, and right out of our backyard. We’ve also learned that in order to achieve our canning needs we must have at least 500 tomatoes, which is the yield of approximately ten tomato plants. We’ve also been able to get a better estimate on our corn crop, which we’ll bag and freeze. And we’ve learned the difference between cold-weather veggies and warm-weather veggies; with that knowledge we’re able to keep our garden producing all season long. This year, we’re learning the meaning of patience in regard to our corn crop which has struggled due to all the rain. But in the end, we’re able to sit down and enjoy our sweet corn in the dead of winter or have a spaghetti dinner with homemade sauce or snack on nachos and salsa while saving money at the same time.

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