This month’s featured gardener is Lars Neises. A math instructor at Spokane Falls Community College for more than 30 years, he’s also an expert gardener.
“What I like about gardening is that you can start with a seed and in just a few weeks, it’s going to be producing something useful and tasty,” he says.
“It’s never the same from year to year. It’s always challenging; there are always new things to learn and new hurdles to overcome.”
Neises and his wife, Rebecca, live on an acre in Spokane’s South Perry district. He primarily tends their garden and developed his green thumb at an early age.
“My parents came from farm families and grew up farmers,” he says. “We always had a pretty substantial family garden because my parents grew up during the Depression and always had the mentality that the Depression could come back at any time.”
While he grows tree fruits, several types of berries, perennials, shrubs and roses, Neises primarily focuses his attention on his intensely planted vegetable garden. Some of this year’s crops include corn, potatoes, carrots, peas, Russian kale, broccoli and cabbage.
He enjoys growing shelling beans to dry for use in soups and stews. The varieties in this year’s garden are King of the Early, Marfax, Coco Noir and Anasazi. Neises purchased the seeds from Pinetree Seeds (www.superseeds.com) and likes how their smaller seed packets help him avoid waste.
He is creative when it comes to growing veggies vertically to save space. An old swingset frame provides support for his Romano pole beans and cucumbers.
Forty-plus tomato plants grow along panels of metal fencing supported by metal fence posts. The tomato varieties include a favorite of his – SubArctic, which matures in 42 days – as well as slicing and salad types.
An unusual vegetable he grows is orach.
“We use the greens for salads or treat them like spinach,” Neises says. “Orach has more calcium and iron than spinach. It sprouts in early spring and grows very easily.”
Another interesting find are onion plants that come from Texas-based Dixondale Farms (www.dixondale farms.com).
“I’d always tried the standard onion sets from the garden centers but I never had any success,” Neises explains. “I’d buy the bulbs and they would just bolt (go to seed); it was really discouraging.”
Then he heard of Dixondale Farms and learned about short-day, intermediate-day and long-day onions. It turns out that onions are sensitive to the number of hours of sunlight they get in a day. The best type for our region are long-day varieties.
According to Dixondale’s website, these onions “do extremely well in the northern states and are excellent for long storage.”
This year, Neises chose Cippolini, Ringmaster, Red Zeppelin and Copra onion varieties. He adds bone meal to the soil at planting time to encourage root production and amends the soil with homemade compost.
All of his beds have a drip irrigation system made from T-tape that comes from Dripworks (www.dripworksusa.com). He is pleased with it and leaves it outdoors year-round.
On a recent visit to their impressive garden, it was clear Neises and his wife appreciate the bounty bestowed on them each growing season.
“Rebecca and I like the idea that we’re able to eat something from the garden every day of the year,” he says. “We preserve what we grow, which limits the food we have to purchase at the store. We like knowing where the majority of the things we eat comes from.”