Originally created 06/28/02

Bountiful harvest

Ray Walden's corn is as high as an elephant's eye, and his tomatoes aren't far behind.

The corn in his garden on Getzen Drive in south Augusta stands nine to 10 feet tall, while 7-foot tomato vines tower above the confines of their cages.

Abundance abounds throughout the garden that easily could supply a small truck farm. The green peppers - some 6 inches long - had to be caged to keep the limbs from breaking. Cucumbers and squash are so plentiful, Mr. Walden's wife, Mary, has trouble keeping up with the harvest. And tomatoes by the hundreds hang in green clusters like grapes.

He owes his success to 10-10-10 fertilizer and an application of cow manure when he first plants.

Passers-by often stop their vehicles on the street to marvel at the garden. Some come to buy a few tomatoes, peppers or ears of corn, Mr. Walden said.

"A garden is a good way to get to know your neighbors," Mrs. Walden said.

Throughout other areas of the Walden's yard, azaleas, canna lilies, impatiens, lantanas, petunias and giant elephant ears grow in beds or along the fence. Two tall Bradford pear trees and pines shade the front yard.

The garden was mainly his until she retired from Veterans Affairs three weeks ago.

"He's kept me pretty busy," she said.

She freezes much of the harvest. And this year, her husband wants her to make chow chow with the green peppers.

There are no visible insects and few stray weeds in Mr. Walden's garden. He sprays with a chemical farmers use, he said.

"You don't find no bugs in your tomatoes. You don't find no weevils in your peas. You don't find no worms in your corn," he said.

He keeps the weeds and grasses at bay by tilling in between rows and hoeing around the plants.

This year, he has three varieties of green peppers and two varieties of tomatoes. He started out with 62 tomato plants.

"He just gets carried away," Mrs. Walden laughed. "He was going to plant 10 tomatoes and ended up with 60."

With good reason, he said.

"I was paying 35 cents apiece for the plants, so I went to a nursery out there in Hephzibah, and she had a whole flat for $10, and I just bought the whole flat," he said.

"I tell him that when he starts planting, he can't stand to see a piece of dirt that he don't put a plant in," she said.

That's because he has farming in his blood.

"I was born and raised on a farm in Gibson," he said. "There were six boys and five girls. All the girls graduated from high school, and the boys didn't because we were working in the fields. I made it to the 10th grade and just quit."

He started driving a truck in 1962 and retired as a heavy equipment operator from Beam's Paving and Maintenance Co. in 1999.

Mrs. Walden came from Hephzibah.

"We were both country people," she said.

The couple met at the old "Number 1" drive-in theater on U.S. Highway 1 in the early 1960s.

"I pulled up beside of her and started talking to her," he said. "She gave me the wrong name but the right telephone number."

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylviaco@augustachronicle.com.


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