When 75-year-old Eddie Smith saw his tomatoes being eaten off the vine, it was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.
“It was driving me nuts losing my vegetables," he says angrily. “I would harvest my tomatoes early and ripen them in the window before the squirrels would attack them, it was very frustrating.”
Last summer the Newton, Mass. gardener decided his precious homegrown veggies needed protection. He commissioned his long-time friend Julio to enclose the garden in a cage measuring 8 1/2 feet wide and 23 feet long by 8 feet tall, made of PVC and screening.
“There have been more animals over the last 40 years," Smith lamented. "There are no wild areas left. The animals seek my neighbor’s garden and my garden.”
This season he happily harvested garlic, tomatoes, parsley, other herbs, onions, celery, carrots and more — all safely growing inside his enclosed garden.
He’s gardened for a lifetime, taking time off during his college years. “When I was 4 years old, my grandmother had my playpen right outside her garden,” he said with a hint of a Long Island accent (where he grew up). “From there on, I was assigned to her garden for a long time.”
The two would venture to the ocean to collect seaweed together, which he would rinse three times before adding to the garden. For many gardeners, this type of work as a kid can turn them off to gardening, but not for Smith.
“[My grandmother] made it interesting,” he says. “She showed me how to build up the soil, which is the most important thing to me.”
His father and grandfather were fond of fishing and would bring their catches home for dinner, and after being cleaned, the remains were sent to the garden.
“My grandmother would hand me this bloody mess of fish," he said laughing. "And she would say ‘put it in that hole, and we’ll put shale over it so the animals don’t attack it. That’s where the tomatoes are going to go.’”
At 7 years old, Smith was hit on the head with a rock. The accident was devastating and meant he would never drive.
“So my entertainment basically is in the backyard," he says. "That turned out to be my garden.”
After college, Smith pledged he would plant a garden when he found a house. In 1978 he moved into his home in Massachusetts where he still gardens today. His grandmother came over to scope out the landscape and give her grandson some ideas.
“She gave me a good outline of what I should be doing,” he says. He incorporated a system of growing upwards with trellis’ and made the raised beds she recommended.
Since then he’s set up a comprehensive composting system that included open and rotating bins. “I love it. I feed this thing every day with kitchen scraps,” he says of the compost bins.
Every season shredded leaves are also turned into the garden.
He’s a big believer in adding trace minerals that are provided by rock dust called Azomite. The organic soil amendment adds micronutrients to the soil.
The dining room table offers a place for seed starting in late winter and an enclosed, unheated porch provides a place for them to grow as spring awaits. Right now, there are containers filled with celery on the porch — one of the crops he tried this season. “It’s so sweet, he says, I never knew celery could be so good.”
When he was locked down due to COVID, the garden provided more than solace. “Because of the pandemic I was really gardening a lot this year. I lost 34 pounds," Smith said.
Before that, he would let local chefs come and harvest herbs for their kitchens and in return received some of their fine cuisines.
“That’s maybe why I got so damn fat,” he said with a laugh.
Time in the garden though is one of the things helping him through the pandemic. “I read all these articles about people being depressed,” he remarks. “I guess I would be if I wasn’t a gardener. I’m so busy with gardening, I don’t have time to think about what’s going on around me.”
Next on his list is learning to can his bounty, as his freezer is full. The garlic fanatic harvests the root crop in July and then plants pole beans that are one of the crops stored in the deep freeze.
When asked how long he can continue gardening, the 75-year-old pauses and says, “I don’t know, I have a special exercise program of stretching every morning. When I wake up, I feel like I’m 90, after I do my stretches, I feel like I’m 60,” he says with a chuckle. Smith continues, “People grow too old too fast — they live a modern life. I don’t feel like I’m old. I’ll garden as long as I can.”