The Unkempt Gardener
Our March Gardener of the Month (@theunkemptgardener) may not have the prettiest, most Instagram-able garden, but it yields RESULTS! He’s a great resource for beginner gardeners and has a special place in his heart for tomatoes -- something we have in common. We’re humbled that he chose to share a very personal part of his life with us at the end of the blog this month. Make sure to comment or let him know how gardening has impacted your own life, as well.
If you were to give yourself a gardener name, what would it be?
The Unkempt Gardener! I use a lot of stuff in my garden that other people might throw away (and some things that other people *have* thrown away)! I see all these neat and tidy setups with perfect right angles on social media... yep, that ain’t me! My goal is results, while saving as much and wasting as little as possible. It’s something my father taught me a long time ago and has always stuck with me. Plus, I can look pretty scruffy on my days off, so the nickname works both ways!
What inspired you to start gardening?
A tomato. Seriously! My cousin and I snuck into my grandmother’s garden when we were kids, and she dared me to take a bite out of one of the tomatoes on the vine. (She knew I hated them). I remember the taste to this day. (You didn’t think I was going to back down on a dare, did you?). It completely changed my perspective on what it means to enjoy life. Do you want to be a worker bee and buy mediocre produce to save time, or do you want to invest some time into creating something nourishing and enjoyable? It took a while for me to establish myself as an adult, but once I did, I shouldered the gardening mantle with 100% focus. To this day, when I’m pruning my tomato plants, I’ll stuff a snipped branch into my pocket while I garden. The smell is intoxicating to me and always takes me back to that childhood memory!
Describe your garden.
Last year it was 50/50 container gardening and in-ground planting, and I used my greenhouse during the winter and early spring. This year I’ve begun building raised beds and will use container gardening more sparingly, probably mainly with determinate variety tomatoes with my greenhouse to get an early jump with them. I’m also expanding my garden a bit to include a partial shade area, since summers here are brutal and last year the heat destroyed much of what I had in July. I’m also excited because I overwintered some pepper plants from 2018 and have them stashed in the greenhouse hibernating. I can’t wait to bring them back out and replant them to see how well they do! I’m starting many of my spring veggies indoors right now, and it’s looking like I’m going to have a TON of different stuff going at once. It’s really exciting!
Do you cook? What’s your favorite dish to make with your harvest?
I do! My favorite dish is pretty simple: ground beef, okra, tomatoes, and jalapeño peppers. For spices I use onion powder, garlic powder, salt, pepper, paprika, cayenne pepper, and a little cinnamon. It’s a great summer dish when the veggies are in season, and if you harvest them and then cook them right then and there, the ground beef really takes a back seat to the depth of flavors you get from the okra, tomatoes, and peppers. For a side dish I like to roast squash, zucchini, and/or brussels sprouts and serve the whole thing with chipotle rice. (I just boil rice in chicken or vegetable broth and throw in store-bought diced chipotle peppers.) You’ll sweat and smile!
Do you have any other hobbies?
I’m an admin in the Facebook group Gardening for Beginners. Look us up, we have over 70,000 members and continue to grow! I’m also a budding YouTube gardening dude, so I guess you can add video editing to my list of hobbies. I knew nothing about video editing until I started the channel, and it’s actually kind of neat to watch how my videos get better with each upload. My channel is Augie with Gardening for Beginners. Other than that, I like to drink beer and sing karaoke with friends. Brandy by Looking Glass is probably my favorite song to sing. I’ve been doing karaoke for about 18 years now and that song is the only one that’s always been in my rotation.
If you had a personal theme song, what would it be?
Rubberband Man by the Detroit Spinners, no question about it! That song has the rhythm, flavor, eccentricity, and whimsical energy that I want to bring to gardening. I love dropping my Bluetooth speaker in the garden and cranking up some soul or funk. It gets me walkin’ like I’m talkin’!
Anything else you’d like to share?
Gardening has helped me keep my life moving. It feels weird sharing this, but I’ve had problems with substance abuse in my past, and gardening has helped me when twelve step programs could not. It’s more than just something that has occupied my time, it’s ignited certain passions within me that challenge me to create goals and hunger for self-improvement. My five year plan is to be self-sufficient on veggies and possibly chicken eggs, and eventually if and when I retire I’d love to run a non-profit that teaches kids and their parents how to grow vegetables. Little ones have this natural curiosity about growing stuff at home, and I want to help their parents cultivate that!