Anyone who knew Jerry Reynolds from his childhood would never believe the gardener he's become. "I grew up in an apartment in Bridgeport, Ct., and we didn't have a garden. My grandfather did, but I hated it," says Jerry. When Jerry moved into his father's old house 20 years ago, he decided to start growing some tomatoes for his family. But what started as a small patch of tomatoes for a few sandwiches has blossomed into a part-time job, growing, marketing and selling tomatoes and peppers to area restaurants.
Jerry now grows more than 130 tomato plants and 60 pepper plants. "The garden has not only taken over our yard, it's spread to my neighbor's and in-laws' houses too," says Jerry. His hobby is now an income-producing retirement project. "I began by selling a few extra tomatoes in a small, local market. I got such rave reviews that I started to sell my tomatoes and peppers to markets and restaurants all around Southport and Fairfield, Ct.," says Jerry. "I even supply the famous Super Duper Weenie fast food stand in Fairfield," he boasts. The stand is famous for their hot dogs and the owner, Gary, has been on many television shows, such as David Letterman.
Over the years Jerry has come up with some tomato-growing techniques that really work. He says it all begins with variety selection. "I like growing 'Brandywine', 'Spring Giant', 'Goliath', 'Super Fantastic' and 'Burpee Burger' varieties," he says. Some of his favorite peppers include 'Hungarian Hot Wax', 'Biker Billy Jalapeno', 'Portugal' and 'Italian Roaster'. Jerry grows 80 percent of his own seedlings each winter using APS seedstarters. "I tried peat pots, but the APS worked much better," he says. After starting the seedlings in an APS, he transplants them into half-gallon milk cartons. "This allows the tomatoes to grow really big root systems and even start flowering before they get outside. With such big roots they have less transplant shock and I get earlier tomatoes," says Jerry.
Jerry grows most of his tomatoes in raised beds. He amends the soil with chicken manure. When it's time to put his transplants into the garden, he digs out a 12" diameter hole where each tomato will be planted and supplements the soil with more compost and organic fertilizer. "I don't have room to rotate my tomatoes, so I refresh the soil every year by adding compost and fertilizer under each plant," he says. About 90 percent of his tomatoes have red Tomato Savers around them. "I set the plastic collars and a soaker hose on the soil before planting. They preheat the soil so the tomatoes start growing faster," says Jerry.
Jerry uses a variety of different Gardener's Supply products to support his prize fruits. The Tomato Ladders, Vegetable Ladders and square Tomato Cages are great," he says. I use different size cages for different plants. For peppers, I use the small Vegetable Ladders. For the mid-sized tomato plants, I use the square Tomato Cages. For the super heavyweight tomatoes, such as the beefsteaks, I use the large Tomato Cages," he says. Jerry grows some tomatoes in containers, too. For those, the Tomato Rot-Stop spray is invaluable. "It's a great way to ensure I don't get blossom-end rot and get a good crop of blemish-free fruits from my containers," he says.
Jerry does manage to grow other plants besides tomatoes and peppers. "I have many annual flowers, such as dahlias, impatiens, petunias, cosmos, and marigolds mixed around the garden. It helps dress it up for the passers-by," he says. "I like using the self-watering containers for my annuals. I can pop them into the ground and since they're self-watering I don't have to worry about the plants. It gives me time to stay on top of my tomatoes and peppers."
Jerry says he's getting a few more aches and pains as he ages, and his wife often asks if he's going to cut back and not garden as much. "I'd miss it if I couldn't garden," says Jerry. "So I'll keep doing it as long as I am able. I wouldn't give up any part of it, even the weeding," he says. The way things are going, it will be a good long while before he sets down his spade and hoe.
Gardening Success Guaranteed
Garden Lab Designed & Tested
Support a Community that Cares
Expert Garden Advice