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The gardening master

June 16, 2011
By LINDA COMINS - For The Times Leader , Times Leader

"Going green" or "growing green" is nothing new for Belmont County resident Herman Pfrogner, who has been utilizing sustainable methods of gardening for decades.

At 94, the avid gardener maintains a bountiful flower garden and grows a wide variety of vegetables and fruits every summer. He also continues to make his own mulch and compost for the numerous garden beds that dot his tidy lawn. In addition to planting, nurturing and harvesting crops, he mows the 1.5-acre property in a quiet neighborhood of rural Belmont County.

Gardening success came early this season for Pfrogner, who had ripe tomatoes on the vine in his garden early last week. He picked the first of that ripe crop Thursday, May 26. "I've had ripe tomatoes for two or three days now," he said. "That's the earliest I've had them in May," he added.

Article Photos

Herman Pfrogner, 94, has been a master of the backyard garden for decades. His first ripe tomatoes of the season started showing in late May. Photo/LINDA?COMINS

Asked to share the secret of his gardening prowess, he said, "When I plant tomatoes, I plant the tomatoes deep and I mulch them right away. I don't use any fertilizer. I use compost that I make myself."

He begins planting in the first part of May, when weather conditions permit. "This year, it didn't permit very much," he acknowledged.

"I buy my plants at the Holub greenhouse (near St. Clairsville). He does have nice plants," Pfrogner said.

Pfrogner said he has lived at his current residence for 50 years or longer. He grew up in the countryside of Belmont County, in the area between Bridgeport and St. Clairsville. "I've lived here all my life in this location," he remarked.

Before retirement, he worked for 35 years at the former Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp. plant in Martins Ferry.

The retiree figures that he also has been gardening "probably all my life." He remarked, "It has been a hobby of mine ... I've always gardened." The last survivor among his siblings, Pfrogner said his parents also were gardeners.

His friend, Dolores Fisher, helps him with the gardening chores. "She does the biggest part of the flowers," he said.

The vividly-colored flowers growing in their neatly tended beds, pots and planters include peonies, rhododendron, azaleas and petunias.

Variety is the spice of planting for Pfrogner. "I don't grow too much of anything, but I grow a little of everything," he explained.

In addition to tomatoes, Pfrogner's garden includes asparagus, squash, zucchini, cauliflower, green beans, cucumbers, onions, garlic and horseradish. He also plans to grow watermelons, muskmelons, cantaloupes, blueberries and raspberries this summer.

He grows ferns and two different kinds of mint. He also has some sunflowers planted. "I don't have a very big patch of anything, but a little bit of everything," he commented.

Currently, Pfrogner has two rows of green beans planted. "I spade all this by hand," he said, pointing to the bean patch. "When they get a little larger, I'll plant some more rows."

Asked what he does with his harvest of vegetables and fruit, Pfrogner said, "We can and freeze some. We give a lot of it away."

Walking on his property and pointing to the various garden plots, he said, "You have to mulch real heavy." He explained that a heavy layer of mulch deters weed growth.

For the mulch, Pfrogner puts down a layer of newspaper on the garden beds, then adds hay or old grass clippings. "I use that mulch and then I don't have to weed my garden," he said. "I have everything pretty well weed-free, so far.

'The mulch keeps the moisture down (in the beds). You don't have to water too much," he said.

Citing another advantage of having mulch covering the ground, the gardener explained, "When things get ripe, they don't get mud on them from the dirt."

Showing the compost pile that he maintains behind his gardens, he said, "I've been making compost a long time."

Despite the rainy spring, Pfrogner's garden is thriving, although, he said, "it's not as nice as it should be."

While deer - the bane of many home gardeners - visit Pfrogner's property, they stay out of his gardens. "They haven't been bothering my tomatoes or anything. They like the pine trees," he said.

The extensive gardening activity keeps Pfrogner fit and healthy. As for other secrets to his longevity, he added with a smile, "I drink a little glass of homemade wine. I made the wine myself."

Pfrogner used to grow his own wine grapes, "but I don't now," he said, adding, "I've even made my own maple syrup."



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