From Dust to Dust (and in-between, Salinan Ted Zerger says, we garden) By GARY DEMUTH The Salina Journal To catch a glimpse of Ted Zerger's soul, all one has to do is take a stroll through his garden. For Zerger, 159 S. Simpson, planting and cultivating a home garden is something that should reflect a person's personality. It should be a form of self-expression, not merely something copied out of a book. "I always say that if a person wants to get to know me quickly, the best thing they can do is look at my garden," Zerger said. "It's a lot like me, not terribly organized." This from a man who has spent the past 35 years as a mathematics professor at Kansas Wesleyan. But after a busy day Zerger likes to unwind by retreating to his back yard to commune with nature. Spending time in his garden helps bring him closer to his higher powers. "It's said, 'We came from dust, we return to dust, and in-between we garden,' " Zerger said. Zerger's sanctuary is larger than most. Curling like a multi ; colored snake around his one- acre lot, Zerger's garden contains an eclectic mix of vegetables, fruits, herbs, perennial flowers and shrubs. The heart of the garden rests on the north side of the lot and measures about 25 by 70 feet. There, Zerger has planted such edibles as lettuce, spinach, carrots, rhubarb, asparagus, peas, onions, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, cantaloupes, watermelons and sweet potatoes. An herb garden by his house contains basil, sage, mint, licorice and other spices. Zermr figures that about 80 percent cTthe vegetables he and his wife eat come directly from the garden. "When we moved here 88 years ago, I started a small garden to help provide food fgr my growing family," Zerger said. "As the children vwMOT ate more, and so the garden Kept growing- I've always believed it's healthy to be involved in one's own sustenance. One enjoys and appreciates food more when one has the TOM DORSEY / The Salina Journal Ted Zerger's garden Is completely organic. When asked how he controls Insects, Zerger, 159 S. Simpson, said "I don't worry about them." experience of growing it." Zerger believes in gardening the natural way. He drops to his hands and knees and digs into the soil equipped with only hand tools and sweat. For him, it's a more peaceful way to work. In fact, Zerger can't remember the last time he used a spade, hoe or Roto-TUler. "A Roto-Tiller is a violent machine," Zerger said, shuddering at the thought. Zerger is also careful about what he puts into the soil. For one, he doesn't use any chemicals, even organically approved ones. "Maybe chemical fertilizers would make things grow better and bigger, but my wife and I don't need that much now that the children have left," Zerger said. "Besides, the best defense for a healthy garden is healthy soil." • For the best soil, Zerger creates his own compost. He will periodically drive to fairground sites and pick up loads of manure, then store it in a specially designated compost area at the center of his garden. There is n9thing better than plain compost'to destroy weed seeds and possible pathogens in the sou, he said. Another natural soil additive comes out of Zerger's old bathtub. Years ago, Zerger put in a new tub and wanted to find a good use for the old one. So he came up with the inspiration to bury the old bathtub in the backyard and deposit his garbage in it. That way, worms would come out of the ground and decompose the garbage, as well as leave worm shells, which also make excellent soil additives, Zerger said. "I find that shredded newspapers work well for worms to decompose," Zerger said. "I don't know if the Salina Journal works better than any other paper, but the worms seem to like it." Zerger conserves water by catching the rainwater that spills off the roof of his house. He's calculated that his 1,300-square-foot roof gathers about 760 gallons of water for every inch of rain, so he's placed two old farm fuel tanks, one 350 gallon and the other 900 gallon, on either side of his house to catch and store the fallen moisture. The water is then funneled regularly into the garden. "The advantage of rainwater is that it's always at air temperature, which makes it less stressful to plants," Zerger said. Zerger tries to spend about a half-hour each day maintaining his garden. He said many people who grow up in big cities haven't been exposed to gardens, so it is hard for them to appreciate how enjoyable cultivating one can be. "People always say that gardening takes too much time," he said. "That's why I do it, so I'll have something enjoyable and wholesome to do with my tune. It keeps me at home. If I didn't garden, I'd have to take vacations or something."
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