For more than two decades, his profession was police officer in Kearny but Bob Edwards has been a practicing gardener for twice as long.
And this summer, he’s patrolling his corner of cultivation as one of the new members of the Kearny Community Garden, coaxing tomatoes and herbs (basil and rosemary) out of the ground.
“The last two years, I’d drive by and see [the garden],” Edwards said. “Last year, my wife called for the particulars and I went to the library to sign up and I paid the $20 [entry fee].”
Edwards, who retired from the police force in 1994, and his wife are among the 60 families who joined up this season. About 90% are returnees, according to Jenny Mach, who with her spouse David and other core members, organized the garden three years ago in a section of Riverbank Park.
Like the garden itself, Jenny said, “we’ve experienced growth, going from 250 straw bales last year to over 300 this year.” And, she added, “we’ve got five families on the wait list.”
“We kind of feel we’re at capacity now, given the limitations of our watering system,” Jenny said. To accommodate this season’s influx, “we added another row of bales and extended some longer ones.”
Gardeners use the bales as planting beds for various types of produce and flowers. The bales are arranged in 13 rows, each about 100 feet long, and watered by an irrigation hose system.
Jenny pointed out a new wrinkle devised for this season’s “entries.” Next to a row of compost bins is an “experimental” garden containing both free-standing and raised planting beds in bales recycled from last season – as opposed to all new bales used in the “regular” garden. Plantings in the experimental section are watered by a hand-held hose.
Also, five more volunteers were trained in the overall tending and watering of the garden “so we get a different person every day,” she said.
This season, gardeners began planting in May and, last week, Mach said, “we were just getting to see some things ripening.”
For the most part, everything being cultivated – including cucumbers and some other items that had a tough time last year – is thriving, she said.
Most of the produce grown is enjoyed by plot “owners,” but Jenny said this season, the First Presbyterian Church of Kearny asked about the possibility of the Community Garden donating some of its fresh produce to its emergency food pantry and that proposal is being explored.
Meanwhile, the current crop of growers is busy with the plantings.
“I really miss my fresh tomatoes,” Edwards said. “I can’t wait to get the first one.” Each of his eight plants will be generating multiple tomatoes. “We’ll be having lots of lettuce and tomato sandwiches,” he said. And he’ll be using them on burgers and “I can cut them up for salads.” As for the herbs, they’ll be spicing up his Italian sauce.
Another garden newbie is a Harrison couple: Juliana Trovato and her husband Andrew, who made it off the wait list as “regulars” this season.
Juliana, who works in financial services, and Andrew, who is in the pharmaceutical industry, “eat very healthy,” said Juliana, “and we try to stay as organic as possible.”
To that end, the Trovatos are growing a full menu of scrumptious produce: squash, zucchini, white and dark egg plant, string beans, strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, “a plethora of hot peppers” and basil.
Juliana figures she’ll “make a lot of pesto” with the basil, along with “Margherita pizza, spicy guacamole and Caprese salad.”
The payoff for the work in the field, said Juliana, “is that both of us like to cook and this makes the cooking a lot more fun.”