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Fruits of hard summer labor ready for pickin

In the journey to discover local vegetable gardens to complete our summer garden series, we found a host of farmers in the county, from novice to experts and many who landed somewhere in between. With the old adage in mind, “waste not, want not,” local farmers not only grow much of their own produce, but what is not quickly eaten will be canned, frozen, sold or shared among friends and neighbors.
Novice gardener Jake Dorman relied upon the advice of many experienced gardeners this year as he delved into growing produce with his wife, Brittany, and their two sons. He sought their guidance on soil preparation, when to plant and when to harvest his crops. “It's the first garden I've ever planted,” said Dorman. According to Dorman, he had the land and wanted to see if he could get anything to grow. “It did way better than I expected,” said Dorman.
Dorman explained that his mother was the inspiration for the family vegetable garden. Just prior to passing away, Leta Dorman asked her son what his plans were for the summer. He told his mother he thought that he just might plant a vegetable garden this year. For Dorman, watching his vegetables grow and working the soil in his garden has become a time and place of remembrance.
The Dormans have planted corn, potatoes, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, cantaloupe, watermelon, green bell peppers and several varieties of cabbage. The cabbage has done so well he is now on his second crop and was able to share it with others. Growing several types of heirloom tomatoes, he plans on attempting to dry out the seeds to use for future crops. With a season of vegetable gardening under his belt, Dorman freely shared his farming experiences and lessons learned. He explained to this city girl that he has discovered that potatoes planted in hills produce bigger potatoes than those planted flat in the ground. Dorman's potato crop yields approximately 10 to 15 potatoes per plant.
For a rookie gardener, Dorman has had a large crop, enough to share and plenty to keep him and his wife busy with freezing and canning. He believes they have already canned 25 quarts of beans and frozen 64 quarts of corn. “The fun part is picking it all,” Dorman added. He had plenty of help from his four year-old son, Nathaniel, who helped plant the corn, beans and potatoes.
Sonyia Douglas of Trade cans one to two days a week, year round. Not only does she preserve produce from her farm, but she also cans and freezes meat during the winter months. Douglas, who learned the basics from a neighbor, has been canning for 32 years. Years ago, canning vegetables was very much a way of life and necessary for survival. Canning and preserving gives people the opportunity to save money by putting up their produce, which is healthier and more nutritious than consuming commercially canned food.
Sonyia and her husband, Mike, are the owners of Sweet Spring Farms. Working an organic farm, the Douglases bring their extra produce to the local Farmer's Market in Johnson County. Homegrown vegetables, delectable and bursting with flavor, are grown and enjoyed without the use of harmful pesticides and chemicals. They offer a large variety of many heirloom vegetables, including some scrumptious tomatoes.
The Douglases have been the fortunate recipients of collard seeds that have been in the family for approximately 100 years. Heirloom plants and vegetables must come from a seed whose ancestors can be traced 50 or more years. Not only are heirloom vegetables survivors, they taste delicious. There is no comparison between what is found in the grocery stores to a good, ripe, juicy homegrown tomato. For tomato lovers, there is nothing better than enjoying a tomato sandwich, slathered with mayonnaise, salt and pepper, and of course, that perfect tomato that is still warm and fresh off the vine. Indulging yourself with an heirloom tomato sandwich, and yes, complete with white bread, is truly a taste of times gone by.
If you are plagued with a black thumb or do not have the time or desire to plant a garden, there are plenty of places in and around Johnson County to enjoy fresh produce. The local Farmer's Market on Route 167 is vegetable heaven for those who crave fresh herbs, cucumbers, bell peppers, hot peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, onions, garlic, eggplant, a variety of beans and corn. Twice a week, local farmers have a large selection of vegetables grown here in Johnson County. A friendly group, each one is more than willing to share their knowledge of gardening, canning and preserving.
If you are ready to jump feet first into gardening, perhaps it's time to start a community garden in your area. These gardens offer an excellent opportunity to teach, to learn and to share the secrets of growing your own produce. Drawing upon the individual talents of its members, a community garden is an excellent opportunity to pass some of the secrets of a successful garden from one generation to the next. For those of us who struggle with that black thumb, it just might be the perfect chance to learn some tricks of the trade.