Howard Magazine - Page 40 - Home Grown (3)

Howard Magazine
- Page 40
Home Grown (3)

“One of the biggest complaints I hear [from gardeners] is ‘Why aren’t my plants growing?’ Because of the fertility of the soil,” he said. “It’s all about the dirt.”


Annually, he adds at least six inches of organic matter to his plots— obtained from the hearty compost culled from the leaves, lawn clippings and food scraps delivered to the county’s Alpha Ridge Landfill in Marriottsville. There, the waste is heated in aerated piles, returned to humus, tested for contaminants and sold to the public for $23 a cubic yard.


But wait, there’s more.


“The microbes from that compost don’t wake up until the weather warms,” Phillips said. “So, in spring, I supply added nitrogen — blood meal or fish emulsion — to feed early plants until the compost starts releasing its own.”


To minimize disease, he grows his own seedlings, starting tomatoes and other summer crops under plant lights indoors “so I’m not importing wilts and blights from store-bought transplants. That helps, but the reality is that most fungi come in by air, so there’s no way around it other than to plant resistant varieties — and there aren’t a lot of them out there.”


To boost pollination, Phillips keeps a small apiary in the backyard. Come autumn, he’ll give the bees wide berth, having been stung 12 times in 10 minutes one day last year. “Bees get cranky in the fall,” he said. His best advice to home gardeners?


“Grow what you like and what’s expensive in stores,” he said. “I love Brandywine tomatoes, an heirloom variety that will cost you three bucks a pound if you can find them. The $1.75 that you’ll pay for a packet