Bumper crops: Drought? Late freeze? Problems don't slow down these gardeners

By Staff
Clif Knight, Hartselle Enquirer
Springers stay busy as produce growers
"I work in the fields and let her do the selling," is how Henry Springer describes the small produce farm operation he and his wife Carolyn manage at 1517 Nanceford Road on Hartselle's west side.
"Growing tomatoes, corn, peas and watermelons is just natural to me," said the 75-year-old Alabama Farmers Cooperative retiree. "I've been doing it all my life, first with a horse and plow stock and now with a tractor and two-row cultivator."
"I used to work right alongside him," Carolyn recalled. "That was before I came down with osteoporosis and had to start using a motor chair to get around. Now I let him do the work but I still go out in the fields and check on the crops nearly every day.
"She's my salesman," Springer pointed out. "It helps me a lot to have her here at the house to wait on customers while I'm gathering the produce."
The Springers recently opened a produce stand in their three-bay carport. Before that, they sold produce at the Hartselle Farmers Market.
"We put up a sign at the driveway to let people know we have fresh homegrown produce for sale," Springer said. "The response has been good. We're getting new customers all along from word-of-mouth advertising."
The Stringers keep their produce stand stocked and open 24 hours a day. Everything is priced and customers are encouraged to pick the items of their choosing and pay for them by depositing their money in an "honor box" when the owners aren't present.
The Stringers take special pride in their watermelons and can offer their customers several sizes and varieties.
Their "Moon and Stars" melons stand out from the rest. They're dark green with a round shape and are covered with yellow markings from the size of a match head to a dinner plate.
"We bought one of them at Lacon trade Day last summer and these came from the seed we saved," Springer said. "We've had fun watching them grow."
Springer grows his produce on about 10 acres of a 40-acre farm that has been in his family since 1943.
"I rotate crops and keep something growing all the time," he said. "I've just planted my first patch of turnip greens and set out some tomato plants that will start bearing just before the first frost."
Growing success is a family tradition
Jeff Johnson's success growing tomatoes is not something he managed on his own. He got help from his late grandfather, Willie M. Johnson, who farmed in the Punkin Center community for many years prior to his death in 2000.
"As a kid, I loved going to his tomato patch with him," Johnson said. "Typically, he had 16 to 20 plants, and I was always amazed at their size and productivity. In 1999, the last year he had a garden, we picked ripe tomatoes on Christmas Day. How many people can brag about that?
"He taught me how to prepare the soil, nurture them, grow strong, tall plants and keep them producing for a long time. The lessons he taught me is a secret that only he and I share to this day. Although I haven't been as consistently successfully as he was, I love tomatoes and I enjoy carrying on his tradition. When I have a bumper crop like this year it makes me feel a closeness to him even though he's not around anymore."
Johnson's 2007 tomato crop is a whopper of a success.
The seven plants (five Better Boys and two Big Beefs) he has growing in his backyard at 1598 Parker Road have reached a height of eight feet and are still climbing. They're producing tomatoes up to two pounds each and he is harvesting about 30 pounds every other day.
The plants are growing in two tons of topsoil that was removed from the Johnson family farm in Punkin center. They are planted in two rows, four feet apart, in a raised bed. The plants are attached to a nine-foot frame for support.
Johnson said he feeds his tomatoes with Miracle Gro fertilizer after they get three feet tall and keeps them watered, as needed.
"They still look strong and healthy," he said. "I think they'll reach nine feet and produce until frost. I don't grow tomatoes to sell, I grow them for my wife and I to enjoy and to share them with family members, neighbors and friends."

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