Jerry Apps recently featured his book “Garden Wisdom: lessons Learned from 60 Years of Gardening” during a centennial celebration at the Cedarburg library. In the book he tells about dealing with pests, growing specific vegetables and fruits, harvesting the produce, and eating and preserving the harvest. The book includes basic, easy-to-follow garden and fruit recipes from his wife, Ruth, who attended the event with him. Photo By Gloria Hafemeister
Apps provides 60 years of garden wisdom
In honor of Cedarburg Public Library's 100th anniversary, the Friends of the Library invited Jerry Apps, storyteller, historian, professor emeritus and author of 25 books to offer ideas from his latest book, "Garden Wisdom: Lessons Learned from 60 Years of Gardening."
In the book, Apps describes the gardening methods he employs on his 125-acre Wild Rose farm.
Of course not all that land in Waushara County is devoted to garden. Most of it is a tree farm and he converted about 10 acres into prairie restoration.
He builds up the organic matter in the sandy soil of the part of the land that is his garden by planting cover crops and working in the trash from harvested crops. The only thing he doesn't keep is the tomato vines because of fear of spreading disease.
"Most of what I learned in the garden I learned from my mother and dad," Apps told the gathering. "I still use the wooden marker that my dad built more than 60 years ago to mark the rows."
His gardening book features photos done by his son, Steve, who is a professional photographer for a Madison newspaper. Included is a photo of the crude marker, made of two-by-fours with a handle to drag it through the garden marking 30-inch rows.
"Of course you don't need to have your rows that far apart," Apps told the gardeners in the audience. "Mine are that far apart so I can get my rear tine roto-tiller through between rows."
Other photos are of various plants and the garden at different stages.
"A working garden is not always a piece of beauty," he states. "It starts to look tired as the year goes along."
FROM THE FARM
Along with describing his gardening techniques, Apps talked a bit about growing up on the farm and helping with gardening chores.
He recalls attending a one-room country school.
"As a kid we had 20 or 30 acres of potatoes," he said. "A lot of families in Waushara County did and every year in about October we had a two-week 'potato' vacation from school so the kids could stay home and help pick potatoes."
He describes his dad's enthusiasm for gardening and his interest in trying new ideas.
He once sent for a mail order gadget that promised to get rid of potato bugs. When it arrived he found two blocks of wood with instructions: take block A, place bug on it; use block B to hit the bug.
His dad also believed in planting something unusual every year, just for fun. When he was growing up his family did broom corn one year and Mexican Corn that grew to 20 foot tall.
"Neighbors asked Dad why he planted those worthless plants," Apps recalls. "He just quietly replied 'because I like to look at it.'"
Now he is carrying out his dad's philosophy in his own gardening.
"A garden is so much more than just a source of food. You need to enjoy it," he says. "It should be a place to relax. And it's a place to teach our kids and grandkids about where food comes from and what it takes to get food."
"With gardening we can teach our children about the relationship of human beings to their environment and about the importance of the land and soil," Apps continues. "It is the foundation of our very existence."
Speaking to the group on the weekend of Earth Day, he commended Gaylord Nelson who inspired the celebration of Earth Day for recognizing the connection of people to the land.
Along with fruits and vegetables, Apps grows gourds just for fun. He also raises sunflowers. He says, "Sunflowers say 'Good morning, Jerry' when I come out to the garden. I sometimes speak back ... and now you know more about me than you need to."
GOAL TO PROVIDE
In an interview following the presentation, Apps told the Wisconsin State Farmer that he grew up on a small farm in central Wisconsin.
"One of my missions these days is to help everyone become acquainted with Wisconsin agriculture," he said.
The author, historian and storyteller has penned more than 25 books, including many about rural history, country life and agriculture in Wisconsin. He has written about Wisconsin's cheese industry, one-room country schools, and farming in general.
He describes his own experiences growing up on a farm in his 2008 book, "Old Farm: A History." He has also written several historic novels and children's books.
Apps likes to encourage his audiences to record their own family stories, either by describing people, through photography or through biographical diaries.
His appearance at the Cedarburg Library was a part of the year-long celebration of the 100th anniversary of the library in this Ozaukee County community. The event also included children's activities and birthday cake.
In conjunction with this event, some members of the Wisconsin Antique Power Reunion organization brought their tractors to the library. According to Steve Ruggieri, vice president of the Cedarburg Library Trustees, "We were hoping the visual effect of these antique tractors parked on our front lawn would draw attention to our event."
He said the library is planning numerous events throughout the year to celebrate its 100th anniversary.