Sunday, June 19, 2005
My Dad, Master Gardener
There are lots of great things I can say about my dad. He raised seven daughters. He's had a great career in the agribusiness world. He's the guy you go to if you need help moving to a new apartment or fixing something around the house. He's one good cook. In fact, with my dad, Sunday's are just not complete without whipping up a batch of fudge. basically, he's an all-around terrific guy.

Dad's always had an interest in growing things. We had a 10-acre almond orchard while I was growing in up California. Later, he and a friend ran an apple and pear orchard in Oregon. A couple of years ago, my folks moved to Utah to a town named Mapleton, just south of Salt Lake City and not far from Brigham Young University. They bought 2.75 acres right at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains.

Their latest homestead was bare earth when they arrived. Last year, Dad got the idea to start a small U Pick berry farm. He's dubbed the place the McBriar Patch, and he and Mom have planted thousands of new plants. Last year for Christmas, they gave family members a small bottle of strawberry jam made from their new plants. I can honestly say, without any exaggeration or overstatement, it was some of the best stuff on earth. For Father's Day, Dad let me interview him over the phone for PrairieTide. As someone who has been involved with farming his whole life, I thought he'd have some good advice for new gardeners like me.

So how many plants have you put in the ground in the last two years?
I'd say we have about one and a half acres planted in berries. That's about 3,000 everbearing strawberry plants. Some of the strawberries are in raised boxes. This year, we put them into rows in the ground instead of boxes. So that's a total of 9 boxes and 7 1/2 rows, each 150 feet long.

We have 14 rows of raspberries. The rows are 6 feet apart, and they're 150 feet long. We have both summer bearing and fall bearing varieties. This year, we added 300 thornless blackberry plants in three different varieties: Arapaho, Chester, Triple Crown. That's seven rows of blackberries, each 150 feet long.

Yesterday was our first day of operating the U Pick strawberry business. We put on one sign in front of the house, and one sign at the end of the street. Your mother worried all morning that no one would show up. But by the end of the day, we'd earned $140. Not bad for the first day.

You and Mom have done an amazing amount of work putting in all these plants. Tell me about your goals for the place.
Totally financially independence. [In the background, I can hear my mom laughing]. We're going to do a few farmer markets. The U Pick business suits us fine. Plus we have some friends with a fruit stand in Santa Quinn. They'll let us bring some berries in to sell at the stand.

Next year, I want to plant two more types of raspberries. I also want to add a patch of daisies for U Pick flowers. Maybe pumpkins next year. I also have this idea of planting acorns and selling nursing stock oak trees. Buy your own BYU oak tree. Doesn't that sound great? [Editor's note: Hmmmm.]

Do you think the U Pick business will work in your area?
There are a lot of new houses being built on the farm land around here. Because this is Utah, there are lots of families in our area. Yesterday, we were surprised to see so many families show up to pick berries. The parents wanted to show their kids where berries come from.

So tell me about the Master Gardener class you completed last year.
I am a master gardener. [In the background, I can hear my mom say "Except..."]. Except I haven't done any of my summer volunteer hours like I'm supposed to. But I'll get to it! I did a pruning demonstration during the spring. When the farm bureau did their annual "Ag Day", I helped out. This is where they bring in about 40 buses full of kids from the schools to learn about farming. It was held at a local farm with a super fancy riding stable. FFA students were the guides and helped at the booths. The chicken people where there. Folks from the milk industry. The pork people and the beef people were there. I talked about raising apples. See, kids have to realize that food comes from other places than 7-11 and Wal-Mart.

What was the Master Gardener class like?
It covered the basic things you would take in Botany 101. We talked about plant propagation, plant diseases, weed identification, you know. I had to write a paper, so I did one on mushrooms.

I've been thinking about buying one of those mushroom growing kits and seeding it in the woods behind our house.
Get a lot of organic matter and keep it really wet. And make sure you pick the ones you planted, not the ones that come up naturally. While I was working on my paper, I found out three popes were poisoned with mushrooms back in the middle ages. Doing the research for the paper, I toured a local mushroom factory. They don't usually give tours, but they showed me around since it was for a class. They grow their mushrooms on sawdust and straw that's been composted--no manure. The mushrooms grow in the compost for about six months. After a couple of flushes of mushrooms, the soil is sterilized and sold to a compost company.

Since you already knew a lot about agriculture, would you say the class was worthwhile?
It was very worthwhile. I've been involved in ag for years, but I haven't done much in the garden. Then we bought this huge piece of land without anything on it. Since I took the class, we've filled up about half the space with the berries, and we have another acre to go. Your mother is going to take the class next year. Then she'll become the mistress of the garden.

What advice can you give me for new gardeners?
Make enough money so you can hire help. Ha! Just kidding! Gardening is a lot of fun. I killed the lawn last year, and now all we have is a weed patch out front. So I'm going to get out there and plant something new for a lawn. The big thing is to just get out and do it. Try things. Just do the things that you like. It may not be the latest style, but if you like it, it's good.

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