Killingly farmer offers sage advice on vegetable gardening

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Killingly - posted Mon., Apr. 22, 2013
Frank Anastasio tells Carol Adams how to protect plants against cutworms during a Vegetable Gardening for Beginners workshop in East Killingly. Photo by Denise Coffey.
Frank Anastasio tells Carol Adams how to protect plants against cutworms during a Vegetable Gardening for Beginners workshop in East Killingly. Photo by Denise Coffey.

Twenty people squeezed into a bank of chairs set up in a greenhouse at Wagon Road Greenhouses in East Killingly on April 20. They came for the Vegetable Gardening for Beginners Workshop. They came with the hope of turning small plots and raised beds into productive gardens. They came to soak up as much information as they could from Frank Anastasio who has been growing vegetables for 34 years.

“We made tons of mistakes over the years,” he told the neophytes, “but the biggest was never having our soil tested. It's the same mistake many gardeners make. They believe, like I used to, that nutrients are already in the soil,” he said.

But nutrient levels vary depending on where soil samples are taken: one section of yard may have higher levels of nitrogen than another. And nutrient requirements vary depending on the crops to be grown, he said. Snap beans require lower nutrient levels than tomatoes, for example.

Anastasio passed out a chart with commonly grown vegetables, estimated yields per acre and the amount of five major nutrients each vegetable removes over the course of the season. It showed just how different one plant was from another, which has implications for fertilizing and crop placement. Knowing what's in the soil to begin with and what different plants require goes a long way towards ensuring a  better yield come harvest time. And that's true whether you're growing 10 tomato plants or two acres of corn.

For more than an hour, Anastasio taught his class of aspiring gardeners what they needed to do before planting seeds or plants. He touched on cross pollination, plant breeding, chemistry and composting. He explained the importance of soil pH. He gave suggestions for spacing common plants such as tomatoes, beans, peppers and eggplant. He spoke about mulch and row covers. He waxed eloquent on plant diseases, bug problems and possible solutions. And he answered every question his audience threw at him.

East Killingly resident Mike Campbell attended the session to get information before creating a raised bed garden. “I've made multiple attempts at gardening,” he said, “but there's been no production to speak of.” He has a pile of top soil ready to use, but his first step will be to have it tested.

Carol Adams came from Brooklyn for the session. She wanted to know how to stop cutworms from destroying her tomato plants. Anastasio gave her this tip: put a piece of tin foil around the stem of each plant. Make sure the foil is snug around the stem and reaches below and above the soil line. The foil will expand with the plant as it grows.

Anastasio and fellow agriculture commission members have hosted several workshops in town this spring. Workshops on keeping bees and raising pigs were held in March and early April. Another is slated to be held in May on raising goats. Anastasio and others would like to see farm-friendly ordinances incorporated into the town's statues. Commission members are working on coming up with suggestions for the Planning and Zoning Committee to consider for future ordinance revisions. And they are working to promote agriculture in town. They plan to hold a region wide tomato festival in late summer and have plans to promote gardening in the schools with a fourth grade tomato growing contest.


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