by Mary Jasch
Michael Mariani, excavator and mechanic of trucks and bulldozers, is a tactile man with a giving heart who enjoys sharing gifts from his favorite hobby – growing vegetables and moving dirt. His backyard may look like a farm in miniature with its 50-ish rows of crops but, truth be told, the 5,000 square foot suburban New Jersey lot is a veggie garden.
The long rows contain 110 regular and cherry tomato plants, 200 sweet and hot pepper plants, zucchini, eggplant (not too happening this year), pole beans, bush beans, onions, cucumbers (already processed into dill pickles by his sister), winter squash, arugula, bush beans and one giant Italian basil. All with a lush curtain of Emerald Green arborvitae behind them. “I grow these and give everything away,” he says.
Mr. Mariani enjoys his small share, while giving most of the bounty to family, friends and co-workers. Recently he picked almost 600 tomatoes and gave them away in three days, followed by four gallons of pole beans.
Halfway in the “yard” a Bobcat Skid Loader is parked at the ready, for Mariani loves playing with the earth. When not moving dirt around with the Bobcat, his favorite gardening tool, he enjoys testing the soil (pH is good, he says, but phosphorous is low), and laying compost eighteen inches deep, (eventually removed it after rotting the plants).
He admits to having used too much compost and playing with the soil too much. “I keep moving the soil,” he says. He put a drip system in all the rows and covered the soil around the plants with black plastic.
Michael’s love for vegetable gardens began at nine years old when he saw his aunt and uncle’s garden. He planted his first garden at fifteen and studied gardens at his sister’s house, his mother’s house, his family-in-law’s house and joined a community garden. He started his current garden about fifteen years ago and even took out his pool to have more space for planting. Now he spends four hours every day after work at Fullerton Grounds Maintenance and nine hours a day on weekends growing his own garden and sharing his backyard bounty.
Interestingly, when the tomatoes got aphids, he cut them back and they sprouted suckers with flowers. He is a gardener by instinct, experience and YouTube, he says. “If I’m losing a plant I go to YouTube. It’s filled with interesting advice.”
Since late August, the garden has been in transition. Next to the sprouting arugula, eight flats of broccoli and cauliflower now grow in a 1,000 square foot section. Soon, Michael Mariani will share his bounty. “This is my hobby. It’s a passion.”
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published September 22, 2020