Garden spotlight: This Locust Road gardener is inspired by the large, full gardens of his past

Cora, 3, left, and Josie, 5, worked all day Saturday picking corn from the garden with their grandfather, John Steffensen.

Gainesville residents John and Judy Steffensen say John’s large, 40-by-80-foot garden plot is inspired by gardens his family had when he was growing up.

The Steffensens get lots of help from family during the summer garden harvest season, including picking bush green beans, pictured here.

The family harvested four bushels of corn this year and gave one row of corn to friends to pick. After the harvest, Josie told Steffensen, “I can’t wait till next year to pick corn!”

The Steffensens say one of their favorite parts of gardening revolves around including their 10 grandchildren. Pictured, from left, Josie, Abigail, Shelby, Tiffany, Brody, Colton, Lacie, Tessa, Kaylen and Cora.

After taking the recommendation of an old “truck patcher” from St. Louis, the Steffensens only grow one variety of tomato in their garden, Jet Star. Left: This Jet Star vine is loaded with the variety’s typical big yield of large, clean fruit.

The gardeners: 

John Steffensen (with wife, Judy), Locust Road (Ozark County Road 603), Gainesville


Garden size and format: 

Our garden is 40 by 80 feet. We only grow what we use, which are the standards; however, some years I get carried away and plant too much. Then, we share. This year we have bush green beans, tomatoes, green and yellow summer squash, sweet yellow corn, cucumbers, okra, hot and green peppers and we’ll have turnips in the fall. Because of the large size of our garden, we have the opportunity to have considerable space between the rows. For example, our tomatoes are 18 inches apart in the row, but the rows are 60 inches apart.


What inspires you in your garden? 

I remember having huge gardens growing up, so it has always been my desire to continue. It was definitely a necessity then, which is different than today. Coming from an agriculture background, I just like to see things grow and produce.  


Favorite things to grow: 

Probably my favorite things to grow are sweet yellow corn and tomatoes. 


How do you use it after it’s grown? 

My wife Judy cans and freezes several things: corn, beans, tomatoes (for pizza sauce and salsa), okra and makes wonderful zucchini bread.


Tips or tricks: 

You need nutrients for plants to grow. I visit the ag store and get a 50-pound bag of triple-13 fertilizer. The whole bag goes on the garden and is tilled in. If your garden will be very small, just get a bag of cow manure and use it all. I also side-dress vegetables that produce all summer, including tomatoes and okra, with more fertilizer.

Determine how much space you need for different things you will plant and buy good seeds. I usually only plant Jet Star tomatoes (we purchase them from the Town & Country garden center). It’s a trick I learned from an old St. Louis truck patcher. I also purchase seeds from Harris Seed Co. in Pennsylvania. 

For very small seeds, just plant the seed to the depth of its thickness. Read the seed package label. Don’t be discouraged if some of your seeds don’t come up. A hard rain can pack the ground or, in this country, a rock can be over the seed.

Probably the most important tip would be to try and keep the weeds out after the plants come up. Use your hoe. With 40-plus inches of rain at our farm this year, it has definitely been a challenge for us. I’m even using my weedeater between the rows before I till.  

Don’t forget to water because we really don’t have soil, but fine sand.

For new gardeners, start small and get to the size you want. Maybe only plant four tomatoes this year, and next year plant tomatoes and peppers.

I always tell friends we don’t plant potatoes because they get holes in them. The holes come from growing around rocks in my garden, and they’re hard to peel.


Favorite/least favorite part of gardening: 

All 10 of our grandchildren have at one time been in the garden harvesting, which is heartwarming – unless they’re picking something that is far from ready.  Several have been in the kitchen with Judy peeling tomatoes, breaking beans and filling jars. Just this weekend our granddaughter Josie, who is 5, said, “I can’t wait till next year to pick corn.” 

The taste of homegrown vegetables straight from the garden cannot be beat.

Ozark County Times

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PO Box 188
Gainesville, MO 65655

Phone: (417) 679-4641
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