Thursday, July 8, 2010

The secret is in the soil

I first encountered Herman when I stopped to ask him about his garden in North Tonawanda, N.Y. I was working as a newspaper reporter and saw his bountiful half-acre patch as incredible.

A few times I had stopped and purchased gladiolas or sunflowers for my wife from his roadside table, with the “honor can” screwed down tightly.

“I don’t know why you want to talk to me,” he said frostily. “I’m just an old man with nothing better to do.”

I looked across his patch. It was just before 5 p.m. on a Wednesday “You have the nicest garden in the city and I want to do a story about it for the newspaper,” I told him.

“There’s nothing special about my garden but I guess I could show you around,” he said. Chickens clucked in the background.

Garlic. Glads. Strawberries. Not a weed anywhere. Tomatoes. On the far end of the garden piled three feet high were stacks of leaves.

A network of paths divided connected all his different patches.

“You said your name was Genco,” he said. “That sounds Italian. I’ve got something for you. I grow these black radishes for the Renaissance Club on Vandervoort Street. They love them.”

He pulled me a radish the size of a baseball.

It was the first of many visits. I asked him about his soil and his rototiller.

“I don’t have anything but this shovel,” he said. He used the spade half as a cane, leaning on it as he walked.

“As for the soil, the secret is your newspaper, chicken poop and sawdust, in layers. I lay down new paths every year and turn the old paths under. Mixing in some of those leaves from over there.

“When I started, this land was all swampy. I’ve built it up with leaves and such.” I headed for home with my radish and my lessons from Herman.

Be good to your soil.

Organic matter is everything. Newspapers. Sawdust. Chicken crap.

Black radishes are tasty.

A $10 shovel and patience are all you need.

And he might have been politically incorrect, but the folks at the renaissance Club really did love his radishes.

About the Author
Joe Genco,a struggling gardener and recovering journalist who works as a financial advisor in Clarence, NY, is also a contributing writer for Mike the Gardener Enterprises, LLC the exclusive home for the Seeds of the Month Club. Joe can be reached at

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