Fred Johnson, Haviland, uses a special trick he learned from his father on the farm many years ago to make his town garden and neighborhood beautiful.
Fred Johnson learned to garden working with his mother but it was a trick learned from his father that has the 80-plus-year-old garnering oohs and aahs from friends, neighbors and passersby of his corner lot on northeast side of Haviland.
"I've had a lot of people come by and look at it," Johnson said. "The neighbors they like it. They've been very vocal about it."
Not only has Johnson been able to grow more than six-foot tall productive tomato plants and dinner-plate size dahlia flowers this year, he has turned a pig-weed infested curbside into a garden of beauty.
"I've been gardening all my life," Johnson said. "I was the third child in our family. My sister helped my mother, my older brother helped my dad. When my sister grew up and got married, I just got put into the slot of helping mother in the garden."
The Johnson family garden featured potatoes, onions, green beans and corn, staple products to feed a hungry farm family.
"The more my mother could can, the happier she was," Johnson said. "I guess it's in my blood to garden."
Since he lost his wife about five years ago, Johnson said his focus in gardening has moved more to flowers and decorative items as he just doesn't need a whole garden of vegetables to eat. However, an old farming trick he learned from his father has his flowers and other plants soaring to the enjoyment of visitors in his neighborhood.
"My father bought a plot of poor ground that he wanted to turn back to grass," Johnson said. "First he plowed it and planted mung beans. I don't know where he got them, but he planted the whole field. Well, almost the whole field there was section where he ran out. He turned the mung beans over right into the soil once they were grown, then he planted in wheat as a cover crop to hold the soil."
Once the wheat grew, Johnson said he noticed a big difference from where the mung beans had grown and the section where they had run out of seed.
"That field was greener, the wheat healthier and thicker where those beans had been," he said. "I guess that is something that just stuck with me through all these years. Those bean put loads of nitrogen back into the soil and enriched it. I do the same thing now."
When Johnson gets ready to plant a new bed of flowers or revive and older bed, he cleans the plot, then broadcasts mung beans over the area. Sometimes he grinds up left-over mung bean seeds and adds that to the soil. He lays the plants over after harvesting the bean pods to be worked back into the ground.
"It helps the soil be soil, especially in this clay," he said. "It decays and gives cover to what I am going to plant next."
Johnson's garden is blossoming with cannas, roses, sweet myrtle and huge yellow dahlia's.
"They really are the size of dinner plates," said Linda Broce from Pratt who recently toured Fred's gardens with her garden club. "And his tomatoes are over 6-feet-tall!"
Johnson enjoys entertaining tour groups or those who happen by, eager to tell about his mung bean enrichment and water-cache system that alleviated a building problem.
"I had a standing water problem between the two buildings," he said. "It was a design problem really with water running off both buildings down between and collecting on the ground."
To solve the problem, Johnson had a 4- X 8-foot concrete rectangle cache put in, sloped to one side, so the water could collect and then run-off into his flower beds and lawn, instead of standing and becoming a mosquito draw.
He also installed an old-fashioned hand well-pump with a motor that siphons the water out of the collected pool, moving it through an umbrella fountain creating a rainbow effect.
"I always say if you can't beat 'em, join 'em," Johnson said. "I couldn't stop that water so I figured out how to use it."
Johnson also figured out how to turn a 10' by 15' curb area across the street from his home on a dead-end street from a pig-weed plantation into a garden of beauty.
"I just hired some Barclay College girls that were wanted to raise money for their junior trip to come over and help me," he said. "We measured out 10, 15-foot sections and transplanted canna bulbs that I had extra over at my house, and volunteer juniper shrubs. In the middle we put some special evergreens."
Johnson's neighbors appreciate his efforts as the improvement to the area is very noticeable.
"You just have to see it and take it all in for what he has done here," said neighbor Carol Fast. "He seems to run circles around the rest of us with his gardening skills."
Johnson did admit he also deploys Miracle Grow granules on some of his plants when transplanting, but for the most part relies on the natural dissemination of nitrogen from mung beans when making his garden grow.