Five-year-old Ava Hogan wasn't happy with her pap David Taiclet when she got home from day camp. Deer had eaten her strawberry plants.
"You should have listened to me," she said sternly to her grandfather. The little girl walked over and took a circular cage off the fire pit and placed it over the remaining stems of the plants, protecting them from the four-legged marauders.
She wasn't upset for long, though, as Mr. Taiclet told her to go in the garden and pick a fresh juicy tomato. "I could eat a thousand tomatoes," she said with an innocent smile.
Mr. Taiclet's Ross garden is thriving, and he's been picking tomatoes for a week already. Like many gardeners, he took advantage of the warm spring to plant tender crops early. Most vegetables in our area are about three weeks early this season, as are blooms for many shrubs and perennials.
The 70-year-old gardener bought his plants on April 24 in 3-inch pots from Brenckle's Farms and Greenhouses i Reserve, a place he's visited since he was Ava's age.
The 20 transplants were put in his 22- by 10-foot plot the same day along with 30 pepper plants. Last year, he canned 65 quarts of peppers.
His tomato crop consists of 'Early Girl,' 'Sweet 100' and some heirloom tomatoes planted in the bed, which receives full sun.
The garden is protected by a 6-foot construction fence, and the plants have already reached the top of the fence. Last year, he measured a 'Sweet 100' vine that reached 23 feet by September.
His garden is amended with mushroom manure and top soil and the tomato plants were spaced at 2 feet. The garden is a jungle of plants.
"People say you can't plant tomatoes that close, but they will grow," he says. There are literally hundreds of tomatoes on the plants.
He waters with both a soaker hose and a nozzle.
Mr. Taiclet grew up with eight siblings in a Manchester row house and the family always gardened. That's where his grandfather taught him about Brenckle's.
"He would come down and pick us all up in his old truck, take us there, and then we would go plant everything. That was before seat belts," he said, laughing. "I love the place"
He's passed on his love of gardening to his granddaughter, who carefully navigated the stepping stones through the maze of plants.
For Ava the best part of being in the garden is "picking all the peppers and tomatoes because I like to eat them."
For her grandfather, there's more to it than that. "This is my relaxation. My granddaughter and I come out, she crawls in there and weeds everything. She's my sidekick; she's a tomato-eating girl," he says.
"Who cares about anything else as long as I can hang out in the backyard? That's my whole life."