Earl’s Garden – May

I made it back to Earl’s garden this weekend and what a difference 5 or 6 weeks and a little rain makes. Earl and his wife are eating chard and about to be eating tomatoes and green beens. He still has plenty of onions and his okra is just coming up.

Earl’s green beans are truly a testimony to saving seeds. Linda did a great job of describing his process in her blog so I’ll just provide a few highlights here. It started with Earl’s search to find a green bean that his wife likes. After experimenting unsuccessfully with several varieties, Earl’s sister in North Carolina sent him seeds from an old variety that farmers had brought into the feed store over the years. Earl planted his first row strictly for saving seeds 30 years ago. He pulled the plants, roots and all, once they were fully mature. He only kept the plants that had a lot of beans and the size and shape he wanted. Some of them were 4 inches long and flat, others were 6 inches long and round, and still others were 6 inches long and, as he said, boxy – not flat or round. The later are the ones he kept.

He tied strings around the plants and hung them in his garage to fully dry – from mid-summer to the first cold day of winter. He then laid the plants out on the ground and once again selected only the best beans to keep for seeds. The seeds he saved, he put in jars with tight lids, dated them, and stored them in his freezer until spring. Every year since, Earl dedicates a row or 2 to seeds. Earl gave some sees to Roger at The Natural Gardener a couple of years ago. I visited with Roger after leaving Earl’s and he’s now a believer as well. Roger said that Earl’s beans continue to produce excellent beans well into our hot summers after other varieties give up. Roger has several square foot beds devoted to Earl’s beans – some for eating and some for seed saving.
The rest of Earl’s garden is doing equally well. He has a unique system for supporting his tomatoes that involves concentric rings of cages. He said he’s tried about every wrong way possible to grow tomatoes and has now settled on this one. Earl said that strong support, plenty of room for light and air, and food, food, food is his secret. He puts about 3 bags of good compost (from either The Natural Gardener or Geo Growers) in a mound circling each plant about 8 inches to a foot from the stem. This makes a well that when he waters, he fills with his water wand and then just let’s the “compost tea” soak into the ground. This maximizes the effect of his water and thereby reduces the amount of water needed. When the tomatoes are done, he just works the compost into the soil. Compost is the only mulch he considers – he tried others unsuccessfully in the past.
At our last club meeting, Earl said that with our drought, his chard is much smaller than it would if we had some rain. I have to say that I’d love to see his chard in a year with normal rainfall because his chard in a dry year is about twice the size of mine. He digs 2 parallel trenches about 6 inches deep 12 to 18 inches apart and plants in the trenches. He fills them in as the plants grow until they’re level with the ground. He then digs a trench about the same depth between the 2 rows and waters down this center trench getting moister to the roots. The center trench has filled in now as you can see from the photos – he must be doing something right to have such beautiful chard.
One other trick that Earl shared with me that you can see in the pictures, is that he drives PVC pipe at the head of each row angling away from the plants. PVC is gentler on his hose than re-bar and protects his plants from his hose.

It’s been a pleasure to visit with someone as passionate and thoughtful about his garden as Earl. I hope to continue sharing his progress and tips as well as visit some of the other fine gardeners in AOG.

David –


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