The Times West Virginian

May 2, 2012

Turns out fine

By Debra Minor Wilson
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — Even though Ed Cheslock grew up on a 75-acre farm near Laurel Point, he didn’t exactly love gardening.

“Because we had to do it,” he said.

So later, when he saw neighbors tilling and planting in their own gardens, he’d think, “Boy, I’m glad I don’t have to do that anymore.”

Then, after he tasted the delicious produce they’d grown, he’d think, “Boy, I wish I’d put in a garden.”

So he did.

Over time, he’s had large gardens from Barrackville to Bellview to White Hall to his current 85-by-65 garden in Westchester.

They’re almost like mini-farms.

He already started some veggies in February as seedlings. He later transplanted them into six-pack groups. And when the time is right, he’ll plant them in his garden.

He’s cultivated a few tricks of the trade over the years.

First of all, he hates weeds. Can’t stand them. So why give them a fighting chance? Weeds don’t grow in loose soil, he said, so before they even start growing, he tills the earth.

“I never let them go to seed,” he said.

Last year he had 310 tomato plants and 685 pepper plants.

That’s in addition to the broccoli, cauliflower, corn, cucumbers, cabbage, zucchini and berries.

But no eggplant (too purple) or Brussels sprouts or asparagus (too strong). He doesn’t like them, so he doesn’t grow them.

Corn was planted April 14. Cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower — customarily planted way before this — go in when he plants the other stuff.

“That’s how I’ve always done it and it’s turned out fine,” he said.

He learned to grow tomatoes from seeds from a woman who had given him one of the best tasting tomatoes he’s ever eaten, he said.

His wife Miriam laughingly calls his mini-farm “The Little Red Hen Garden.”

Nobody wants to help him plant the food, but “people come from everywhere” when it’s time to sample the harvest.

“If we’re going to have a frost in May, it will be the night the moon is full. It seems like there are no clouds when the moon is full. And when there are no clouds, there is danger of frost. So if it’s a full moon on May 18 or 19, I wait. If there is a full moon before the 15th, then I plant if the ground is dry. Frost breaks up the soil. If you pack it down after that, it doesn’t get loose again until it frosts again.

“People tell me if you plant onions in certain times of the moon, they’ll grow upside down. I tell them, bring them to me. I don’t believe in that. I was raised on a farm. When there was nothing else to be done and the ground was right, you planted.”

He mulches with a mixture of sawdust and horse manure. This also keeps weeds away. But he’s learned to not put the sawdust up close to the plants.

“The sawdust will steal the nitrogen out of the soil,” he said.

Don’t worry, neighbors. The manure smells for just a brief time.

“The next day, you won’t even know it’s there,” Cheslock said.

“A plant will tell you how much fertilizer it needs,” he said. “If it’s not dark green, it needs fertilizer. If it’s what I call black green, you’ll want to ease up with the fertilizer. You want something in between.”

And he waters his produce just once after it’s planted.

“If you water, the roots come up to where the water is. If you don’t water, they go down to where the moisture is,” he said.

His biggest pests are deer, rabbits and chipmunks. The bunnies he can’t do much about, except plant their favorite munchies in a garden they can’t get to. But he’s thwarted the hungry Bambis who come with snacking on their minds with a knee-high electric fence.

“Most people build these high fences and put electric on them to keep the deer out. Well, a deer sees that fence and just jumps over it.

“This fence is just high enough for me to step over it. A deer comes moseying over and it doesn’t know that’s an electric fence there, gets shocked and is gone.”

He had just set out his third planting of corn when he noticed the next day each and every kernel had been dug up and eaten. The chipmunks had struck.

“That night, I planted more and put grass clippings on them. The corn came up in four days, a combination of the moisture from the grass and heat from the sun.”

And absence of chipmunks.

For bugs, he uses pesticide or fungicide disease control sprays.

He won a $50 prize for largest tomato at last summer’s Tomato Tasting hosted by the Marion County Master Gardeners.

For all his hard work, he doesn’t sell his produce. Instead, he and Miriam (and as many other family members as they can convince) can salsa ande sauce, and they give much of it away.

They make sauces and salsa from these ingredients, can it and give it away, one year giving away 550 quart jars.

But for him, it’s not hard work.

“Not if you like it,” he said. “If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t do it. Gardening gives me something to do. I’d rather have something to do than nothing. I’d be out there, working right now. I’ve gotta get my blackberries weeded and get sawdust and manure around them.”

Every Wednesday through June, Take 5 will be strolling through our readers’ lush gardens. To have yours featured, contact Debbie Wilson at 394-367-2549 or dwilson@timeswv.com.

Email Debra Minor Wilson at dwilson@timeswv.com.