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Most folks with country roots know how imperative the family garden was to filling the dining room table with vittles at mealtime.
Summer country gardens had corn, tomatoes, peas, butter beans, green peppers, onions, sweet potatoes, Irish potatoes, cantaloupes and watermelons. Turnip greens and collards grew in the fall.
Earl Boykin, who grew up in Rock Ridge, remembers just such a garden. Elaine Saunders of Saratoga does too.
But time, space limitations and energy level have caused both to grow more modest plots this year.
“I grew up on a farm, so I enjoy watching things grow,” said Boykin, who now lives in the city of Wilson.
“We had a garden and a mule to tend the garden with. We ate a lot of the stuff that came out of the garden. That’s what you did. When you lived in the country, you grew what you ate.”
Boykin, whose nickname is actually “Country,” wanted another garden, so he took area in the backyard near the house and created a raised bed out of salt-treated lumber. He filled it with dirt, added in some Black Cow manure and covered it with landscape fabric to keep the weeds down.
Boykin then went to work planting tomatoes. His wife, Faye, got him a wagon for Christmas, and he used it to sit on, making it easier to bend his 80-year-old frame and play in the dirt.
“I’ve got six German Johnsons, a couple of Early Girls, a couple of Better Boys and one Beefmaster. I planted that late.”
He also has Silver Queen corn, running butter beans, cucumbers, snaps and green peppers.
“I think it’s great. For me, it gives me something to do. It’s not so big that it overwhelms me. I can take care of this garden, all the garden needs. It’s small enough. I can water any time I get ready.”
His tomatoes are staked up and tied with twine and Faye’s old pantyhose, which are gentle on the vines.
This fall, he plans to use the same small box to plant turnips and mustard greens and maybe some collards.
His advice to anyone who wants to plant a garden is to be willing to work a little bit and not just sit in the house.
“It’s not going to grow by itself,” Boykin said.
The reward is “in the satisfaction of seeing them grow and produce something that’s worthwhile,” Boykin said. “I am really pleased with it. It is beyond my expectations really. First thing in the morning I come to see what’s ripe.”
All across Wilson County, residents are bringing in baskets of produce they’ve grown.
In Saratoga, Elaine Saunders has taken a slightly different approach to gardening.
Saunders has 40 5-gallon buckets along the fence in her backyard with her favorite vegetable plants growing out of each one.
“I have 11 Big Boys and six cherries, and then I have some cherry tomatoes over here, some volunteers that a friend gave me that came up in their yard,” Saunders said.
“I started out having a really big garden, which was way more than I really needed and could handle,” Saunders said. “Last year I put them over here on the deck, and that was too close to the sun. So this is my first experience with doing everything in pots, and it has been a much better success than last year. The tomatoes need sun, but they also have to have some shade, and luckily this gets afternoon shade.”
“My cucumbers did a lot better growing on the fence than anywhere else,” Saunders said. “The best thing I have found about these pots is you don’t have to worry about weeds, so that takes that whole element out of the gardening. It is a matter of just looking after the plants and keeping them picked so they can keep producing.”
She waters every day and sometimes twice a day when the temperature is around 100 degrees.
“It has been very manageable,” Saunders said. “The last week or so the tomatoes have really kicked in. The cherries have done really awesome. The cucumbers I have picked enough daily to have for that day, which is really perfect. The peppers, they are coming off slow. The cayennes are doing really well. The bell peppers, I have a ton of them that are not ready to pick yet, and the jalapeños, I have picked some, but they are coming along well too.
“It is very manageable. Initially it is a lot of work because you are filling the buckets up with dirt and getting them to where you want them and putting the plants in. I have tomato cages on everything so it doesn’t droop over. After that, when you get them in, it is just a matter of watering them and fertilizing them, but I have not had to put any kind of insecticide on any of these.
“They have done really well. In the garden you would have had to do it several times by this point.”
Saunders said the joy in her garden is being able to grow enough to give away to friends.
“I grow way more than I could ever eat, Dad and I, so I pack a package up and give them away, and I always get a smile,” Saunders said.