Green Advice: You can see these guys every week at the Farmers Market in Ironton

Steve Blanton of Dad’s Garden in rural Ironton (far right) and his friend Gene Austin of Ironton stand by a flourishing tomato plant in a greenhouse at Dad’s Garden.

Outside it is 40 degrees and windy, but inside the greenhouse, healthy tomato plants hold beautiful red and orange-yellow fruits, green onions stand ready to chop and lettuce overflows from a tower pot. A particularly striking tomato plant is six or seven feet high and pushes at the top of the greenhouse.

“That’s a Kellogg’s Breakfast, a really good-tasting variety,” said Steve Blanton, owner of Dad’s Garden on Highway 72 in rural Ironton. “I’ve cut him back several times and hauled wheelbarrows full of clippings out of here and he keeps going.”

The plant produces a yellow, low-acidic fruit. This particular plant was planted in November 2017.

Steve and his friend, Gene Austin are busy planting in the greenhouse and in their large outdoor garden plots. Both are anticipating the opening of the Ironton Farmers Market on Friday, May 4.

“We split the cost on potting soil and stuff,” Steve explains nodding toward Gene. “He helps me cut wood. We’ve become good friends from working the market together.”

A lot of wood is needed to fire the outdoor wood furnace that circulates hot water to heat both Gene’s house and his greenhouse. It manages to keep the greenhouse at least 62 degrees year round.

With Steve’s hydroponic setup for the plants, it also keeps his family - and relatives - supplied with fresh produce year round.

The duo, like most gardeners, like to talk plants and are willing to share opinions with fellow gardeners, such as:

•Best tomato varieties for this area - Mountain Fresh and Goliath (a good beefsteak tomato).

•Best lettuce varieties - Nevada (a good, green-leaf lettuce) and Red Sails (slow 

to bolt and a really good flavor).

•What is the first thing a beginning gardener should do?  Take a soil sample to the local MU Extension office for testing. For $15, you can adjust your soil nutrients for optimum growth.

Dad’s Garden was named for Steve’s dad, Johns Blanton, Sr.) who bought the land the business sits on back in 1952.

“I was born in 1951,” Steve said. “My grandfather, Irvin Degonia, had the Killarney Drive-In Theater (just down the road) and had Degonia’s Merchandise in town.”

His grandfather and his father started a garden on the place in 1952.

“I remember as a kid, my dad would say, ‘Let’s go to the garden,” Steve recalled. “I didn’t want to go out there in the heat. I hated it.

“I was in my 50s when dad got lung cancer and he asked me, ‘Are you going to plant a garden this year?’

“I said, ‘Well, Dad you know I don’t know how to garden.  I hate gardening.’”

He helped me the first year, showed me what to do, helped me get started. The second and third year were each a little bit better. The fourth year dad died from lung cancer and I was hooked on gardening. I basically kept the garden going to help feed the family, mine and relatives. Finally somebody asked me why I didn’t go to the Farmers Market.

“I set up next to Gene the first day.  I didn’t have a clue as to what I was doing, so I watch Gene. After that first summer, I was hooked.”

Steve is proud of the fact that his grandson, Hunter Blanton, is now the fourth generation on the place interested in gardening (The lettuce tower in the greenhouse belongs to Hunter).

“He is going to sharecrop in the garden with me this summer,” he said, which means you will probably seek Hunter at the Farmers Market, too.

Steve and Gene both encouraged local gardeners to sell their excess produce at the market.

“Come to the market, learn the rules,” Steve said. “It doesn’t cost anything and we welcome new people to come and sell their stuff.

Gardening is a great pasttime Gene said, “It is hard work, but it relaxes me, too. It is nice to just rear back and look at what you’ve accomplished.”

Added Steve, “It is nice to go to the gardent, sometimes just to sit by yourself, pull a few weeds, prune your tomatoes. It is just peaceful.”